I’ve been working from home since I’ve been independent (3 years ago) and as an introvert, I must admit that I like it a lot. I see a lot of advantages, and almost no disadvantages.
But now that we all have to stay at home because of COVID-19, it is becoming very difficult to work from home for one simple reason: I am no longer alone.
No problem with my wife who now also works at home, but with a 7 year old boy who has to do home schooling at the same time, I decided that it was more reasonable not to start a new contract (unless it was the lack of interesting opportunities linked to the period that forced me to do so) and I am now his temporary teacher in contact with his school (Montessorian pedagogy which can be summed up by this quote: “Help me to do it alone”).
Improvise as a teacher
I know how to read and write and I know how to count, but I have no experience of teaching, especially teaching one’s own child who has the particularity of having an attention deficit disorder and who does not have a pronounced taste for effort. He has the advantage of being in a small school (24 children) with small groups of 4/5, but now at home with his 2 parents and a cat, it’s a completely different environment.
What did I try?
- Have a fixed schedule of activities for each day
- Giving more or less clear objectives
- Reward the work done with points to be consumed for other fun activities
- Changing teacher
- Changing the work environment
- Learning while doing something else
What have I learned and what reminds me of my job?
Having a clear schedule is a good thing for a team. For someone who doesn’t go to public school, it’s unfortunately not going to work for very long.
If we say we are going to do math from 9 to 10, then read from 10 to 11, then write from 11 to 12, it is almost impossible to follow that schedule every day. As in any agile project, we learn at each step and we have to adapt. We really don’t care when things are done, the main thing is that they are done! We are supposed to share the same space 24/7, so I can conclude that a fixed schedule is a bad idea.
Testing a very small perimeter at a specific time of the day, and always on the same day of the week, can be relevant especially with an exploratory testing mindset, but it means that you have to change this perimeter each time according to a lot of parameters (risk, history of changes, etc). On the other hand, not doing it at another time is probably a bad idea, since so many things can’t be planned a long time in advance, except in the speeches of political programs!
Lately, I wrote a list of what we plan to do. Even though I’ve been doing this for several weeks, I still can’t estimate exactly what can be done because of many unexpected things: one of the exercises implies writing (and writing is the painful part), a video conference with (real) teachers and other children, the willingness to read an unplanned but time-consuming story. Is this a problem? Of course not, the only goal that should be written is: we want to learn new things and improve our skills.
When testing, if your goal is to test function X and you lack information (and can’t find it), it’s probably best to focus on function Y, right? And I’m sure you’ve experienced the situation where you can’t finish what you planned because you had a very long and tedious email to send, an unexpected meeting you had to attend, and a long conversation with a colleague you couldn’t avoid. Does this mean that you didn’t achieve your goals and you’re the only one to blame?
Lately, I also started giving out awards. You earn points for every exercise you do, and then doing activities outside of school costs you points, which means that if you work well, you will be allowed to watch TV, play a game of chess with the teacher or go out for a rollerblade ride around the building.
It all looks really bad, I know. The fact is that my son needs challenges to motivate himself and so far, it seems to be really having positive results, especially since it’s a good way to refocus him.
It reminds me of Crowd Testing, where you are financially rewarded for every bug you report (and accept). See my article about it. The downside is that you may be tempted to stop working when you think you’ve done enough (in terms of potential gain). And what’s the best strategy if your goal is to make money: find a lot of typos for 2€ each, or find a critical problem for 10€? In this case, you are almost sure you are not focusing on the risk and the most critical parts! During this kind of tests, I was very good at finding typos in French because there are often a lot of them! But believe me, it quickly becomes boring because you spend 90% of our time doing bug report secretarial work!
The rewards I decide are not fixed and change every day depending on the context. For example, if I want him to do math and insist on making a cake (basic, being greedy, I’m of course more in favour), then I’ll tell him that it can only be done if the math has been done. The hardest thing is to respect this rule, because even without math, you have to face the facts: homemade cakes are good! And in this time of confinement, we have all become the best pastry chefs in the world, haven’t we?
Following test cases is (another) boring activity, as is doing any job several times under similar conditions. And because of this, the activity becomes more and more useless because the actions you do become automatic or worse, you don’t really do them anymore because you think it is useless (see risk compensation cognitive bias).
Just like teaching a child, it is very important to vary the environment (me or my wife as a teacher or simply a new place) and the types of exercises. Working on additions on a paper exercise is not the same as learning basic math by baking a cake. When you work at home, you probably notice that the change in your work environment has a significant impact on your productivity and concentration. I often change the way I work: sitting or standing, in a normal chair or a lap chair, in a room, on the couch or on the living room table, and sometimes in a co-working space. Changing environments regularly is a good way to get your brain back in shape (or reset), so you should do it with children too. And it’s an advantage at home compared to a conventional classroom.
Exploratory testing and serendipity are essential in a good testing strategy; they are also very effective with children who cannot tolerate imposed and rigid activities. We can teach anywhere, anytime. Reading books is good, but reading something else (signs, package names, street names, maps, or just the name of cars in the parking lot) is enough at this level to make learning to read easier.
Even when walking outside (here in France, during COVID, you can only walk one hour and less than 1 km), you can read a lot of things, but you can also count, add and subtract everything you find (trees, flowers, the number of times the bus passes, points by inventing some kind of game, etc.). I admit it’s less organised than an ET session, but it works and we all need regenerating breaks too!
To make a connection with testing activities, we all learn a lot of things we didn’t expect to learn when we had planned a specific activity, and we can come across some very interesting problems on parts we hadn’t planned to explore simply because we had to go through them. In short, wouldn’t that be the definition of serendipity after all?
I hope you all enjoy working from home if this is still your current situation. Those of you with children probably noticed that they weren’t really helping us out. Everyone has to find out how it works best because there are no rules of thumb! Being an improvised teacher is also very difficult, I give all my respect to teachers who do it full time with 30 times as many children. But they have the advantage of having learned pedagogy, patience, child psychology and how to pass from one piece of knowledge to another. What’s more, they are paid for it, but it’s certainly a profession that’s not given to everyone: I wouldn’t do it all my life, even if I’m enjoying it very much at the moment! Besides, it helps to do it for one’s offspring rather than for others.
If you’re a teacher and you’ve read this, I hope I didn’t shock you too much and that you’ll be lenient in your comments.
A shorter version was first written for this collaborative book project: Software people work from home