Use what you make and default to open

My team at Automattic, Flow Patrol, is ”building testing culture in continuous delivery”.

More and more, we work in places where continuous development is championed, MVPs are common, pre-release testing is limited, and the pressure is on to constantly redefine features in newer, faster, better ways. Updates happen constantly, without notice, and the way things work shifts under our feet more often than not. This kind of fast-paced, constant change moves the web forward and challenges traditional testing practices. Let’s talk about how testing is changing and how we can build a better, stronger culture of testing.

The Flow Patrol team continuously dogfoods what we make with our own creaking humanity in mind. Universal design, design for real life, neurodiversity, and the social model of disability inform us as we continuously confront what we make as users, as people with lives and backstories, aches and pains, and bad days. Continuous development requires continuous outspoken humanity. We’re designated dissenters, public editors, and ombudsfolk advocating for users.

A few years ago, I stepped back from coding and my role as a lead developer of WordPress. I did so to let new perspectives control the levers, to recover mind and body after stressful years in a public hot seat, and to become a user again. Knowing the gory details behind the making is asymmetrical information that can distance you from your audience. With expertise comes callouses and desensitization. I shed my old roles and their privileges and experienced what we wrought anew.

With relentless coding out of my life, I became a relentless user of everything we make. As a developer, a lot of my usage of our products was testing. Test flows aren’t the same as authentic user flows. They’re shallow and canned. Real outcomes aren’t on the line. Although we run our company using what we make, our flows are particular, ingrained, and augmented. I jumped out of our company flows and immersed myself in the flows of our users. I sought authentic user flows and experiences in the field and brought them into my daily life. I made those patterns mine. I made those frustrations mine. I made those goals and outcomes mine. I immersed myself in perspective and bashed myself against our products and processes. I documented everything along the way, down to individual screenshots and interactions. I shared my dogfooding sessions live with my coworkers, frankly communicating my frustrations as a user. I shared how my neurological disease, chronic pain, and autistic operating system affected my relationship with the things we make.

Microsoft, SAP, Automattic and others are investing in neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and design for real life. We’re hiring for diversity of perspective and trying to actualize the aspiration of making inclusion the new normal. We’re humans making things for and with other humans. When our teams reflect the real world and we use what we make, we build better products and reach more people.

Much of what Flow Patrol does at Automattic and WordPress is public to the world. When we share and collaborate in the commons, we create serendipity. We are responsible for humanizing flow in the systems we inhabit. We do that best when we default to open.

Using what you make and defaulting to open are useful not just in tech and industry, but in education as well. Agile, inclusive, self-organizing teams designing and making for the riot of diversity that is real life is a future for both work and education. The best of inclusive hacker culture coupled with the social model for minds and bodies is powerful. To fulfill the promise of a public education that is “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”, adopt a hacker mindset of flexible improvisation and passion-based maker learning and a social model mindset of inclusion and acceptance.

Embrace the open schoolhouse; use what you make; and default to open.

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