Sunday 10 October 2021

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

 I used to read books about software testing.

And when I moved to Product Management, I started reading books about Product Management.

But last year, when the whole world changed upside down because Covid-19 and I got fired, I was unable to read anything work related.

The only thing I could read was Terry Prachett's Discwork books.

I started reading them for my kids as bedtime stories, and as they grew up and didn't want bedtime stories anymore, I continued reading them for myself. I found very pleasant to read about Discworld, it would allow me to catch sleep in very difficult times, and I got over the first 20 books in one year.

Sam Vimes it has been a pleasure meeting you, but I really feel like going back to reading about software testing, and quality, whatever that is.

This is the second time I read this book. The first time must have been around 2009, when we started writing blogs and learning about testing and quality. It's fun to observe how different the book feels when you read it for the second time, 13 years after, since the book has not changed, it must have been me!

The book is an autobiographical story about a bike trip that Robert M. Pirsing went to across United States in 1968 with his 11 Year old son riding a small Honda.

I like riding motorcycles, and last month we went for a 3 day trip with my wife and out 13 year old kid.

What might have changed in 50 years of motorcycle road trips according to this book ...

Pirsing did his trip in a Honda CB 450, a medium sized bike that would do 180 kmh with his 43hp twin engine.

We did our trip in a couple of Honda CMX 500, a low seat cruiser that has a 47 hp twin engine, and whose top speed I'm not aware of, since I never bothered to test.
On paper, you would say both motorcycles look very similar.

They are not.

Pirsing depicts how he would service the bike, change oil, adjust carburation, tighten valves, weld a loose chain guard and perform several other maintenance tasks.
I did none of that. These newer bikes require a service every 12.000 km, this means I could ride from Valencia (Spain) to Moscow, ride back home, and then do the whole trip again before needing a new oil change. Motorcycles have gone a long way when it comes to maintenance.

Now we have fuel injection, so we don't need to adjust the carburator needles when reaching higher grounds, we have ABS so we don't worry about riding in wet weather, we have bluetooth comms so we communicate from rider to rider the whole trip.

Of corse you need to take care about things when you are riding. You still need to get fuel, food and rest when tired, those things remain the same.
Your intercom devices need recharge and they don´t like getting wet, your mobile phone can run out of signal or battery, so you better know where you want to be riding, just in case your Google maps is not able to tell you where you are.

To became one with the landscape, to be part of it, to get cold when crossing long tunnels and high peaks, to get burnt by the sun and to become amazed, when a road suddenly opens to a landscape you did not expect.

To feel alive, to understand that 11 months of working from home are worth if you can ride one week out in the wild.

This has not changed in 50 years, and I hope it does not for the time I will be around.

I think that the same thing applies to Software Testing.

Yes, the tools are evolving, we now automate a lot of the setup, the testing, the monitoring, our systems require a lot less of maintenance than before, and are able to scale way better.

But yet, it is about the people who are working on a project, it is a matter of the relationships we have inside the team and the company.

It is about describing problems, helping others understand the risks and what coices we have.

Yet we have not figured out quality, we are not able to bake it into the product, it can not be created afterwards, it has to be the most important thing to consider when building a product, or it won´t be.

I might get back to this book some years from now. I plan to continue riding, and to make software testing a living for a while.

And to ride with my kids.

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