Work Hasn’t Been Horrible, Lately

As hectic, busy, and downright exhausting as work has been recently, I’ve actually been enjoying it more. I don’t know if it’s because I have stuff going on in my evenings again or it’s just because I’ve been working more with people I like who appreciate my thoughts and no longer feel like the work I’m doing doesn’t matter. Well, now that I’ve typed it out, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. Or, you know, both of them with most of the change in outcome being a result of the latter. Feeling like the work I’m doing matters is kind of a big deal to me because there is little more I hate than feeling like I’m wasting my time and going to work every day at a job that felt like it was wasting my time was really not a happy place for me to be, mentally speaking. I mean, I knew the work I was doing mattered, but there were sure a lot of days that it didn’t feel like it did, no matter how much I reassured myself otherwise.

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In Memory of Being Unkown

Most of my coworkers have been with our employer for over a decade (one has even been here longer than I’ve been alive), many of them starting on other teams and in other roles before making their way to the Research and Development team for which we all currently work. They’re widely known and respected in the company, to the degree that we’ve struggled to get work done over the past year as our smoothly-operating department has been (temporarily) picked apart to assist other teams who were struggling (mostly for external reasons–2022 was a wild year to work in technology and electronics). A frequent complaint at our watercooler (which looks more like a cozy sitting/dining room tucked away in a corner of our lab than a bland water dispenser) is the number of emails they’re included on and how frequently they’re asked to split their attention to help others within the company.

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Baldur’s Gate 3 is Better But Still Not Worth Full Price for Early Access

I finally managed to get through a significant chunk of the Baldur’s Gate 3 early access game. There’s clearly still a lot more to go, based on the number of objectives that still remain in my to-do list, but I will admit that some of the fun I had while playing the game has vanished now that I’ve reached the maximum level for this early access version of the game and my power can’t grow ever greater. It’s not that I need to be more powerful to continue playing the game or to get through specific bits of content since I’ve absolutely wrecked every fight I’ve come across by abusing mechanics or stockpiling potions, I just want to keep accumulating experience points and right now I can’t. They just pop up on screen and then vanish into the ether.

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Is It Pessimism If You’re Right?

I was accused of being a pessimist today. It was a fairly routine conversation at work, a discussion of projects, timelines, and expectations for what is going to happen over the course of a project. My boss and my coworker were discussing their optimistic outlook and some information they’d gotten recently that made them expect good things. I contend that I merely brought them back to reality by reminding them of some important bits of information about the project and the course of similar projects in the past, but they felt that I was just looking for a reason to be miserable. I told them that I’d stop saying things like this when I was proved wrong and we all walked away from the conversation feeling discontent.

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Another Rant About Beta Testing Video Games

As I’ve been trying to make my job less mentally taxing and find ways to reinvest myself in the work I’m doing that actually pays bills, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to test software and what it means to play video games in beta or early access. I’m not going to go on another full rant about it, not so soon after the last one, anyway, but given how much of my life is given to testing software and how much is given to video games, it’s difficult to avoid considering the place those two things intersect.

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I’m Just Going To Rant A Bit

I don’t talk about my day job in any specifics too frequently, but I test software for a living. Techincally software and hardware, but I focus mainly on software and the proprietary hardware said software runs on. I’ve done electrical testing, mechanical testing, software testing, and, my personal favorite, destructive testing. While the specifics vary from project to project, each type of testing is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As of this writing, I’ve been in the industry for almost eight years and have pretty much reached a point where I have the skills required to tackle just about any project.

What all of this means is that I have a pretty good grasp of the testing effort that goes into software production and, as part of keeping up on the industry I work in, I have a pretty good idea of what testing all software, except the most proprietary and niche stuff, will look like. So when I say the testing and release for most triple AAA games is bullshit, I mean it and you can trust, at least a little bit, that I know what I’m talking about.

I mean, have you ever looked at the credits for a game and noticed how few QA and testers (the job name changes from company to company since there’s nothing to really enforce consistency across the various industries that employ software testers) there are in comparison to developers? In my industry, it is pretty much required to have at least one tester to every one or two software developers. The best bet is to have a one-to-one ratio since it can otherwise force testers to work extra hours to make up the difference or to cut corners in order to finish on the required deadline. Because let me tell you, testing is the first thing to be given less time to work when there’s a looming deadline and the developers need more time to work.

It is the easiest to do that in industries where no one’s life is at stake. I work for a company that produces a lot of different types of software and products that use that software, so while my testing has to be done with the thought in mind that the worst case scenario can involve bodily harm or even death, that’s not really a concern for most of my coworkers. Which is why my team has three testers to work with four and a half (one outside consultant who works part time) developers. We’re a bit short staffed, since those three testers are also responsible for working with the electrical and mechanical engineers as well as the software developers, but we just need a fourth person to keep up with the work that needs doing and maintaining records, test equipment, etc. We’re not falling behind (yet).

So when you see a dozen or so testers at the end of a video game’s credits, following a few hundred software developers, I think you can start to see why so new games seem to be getting buggier and buggier as time goes on.

Like most problems, this one is also multi-faceted. Developers who have the opportunity to rest do better work. Developers allowed to work on a single piece of the project, start to finish, do better work. The current methods of just throwing more bodies at problems and expecting the work to get done faster ignores the limits of human consciousness and just how much time gets wasted by bringining someone up to speed so they can peck away at a problem for a day or two before it gets handed off to someone else.

Not every studio does that, of course, or else the industry probably would have collapsed by now. But as work gets spread out and testing employees get cut infavor of customer betas or alphas and the work of actual testing is placed on the shoulders of people who preordered the game and have no knowledge of how the software works (or how testing should happen), quality goes down. More and more games, as a result of pre-sales, are putting testing work on their customers and trying to frame getting people to pay them to work on the game as an incentive or bonus for paying sometimes years ahead of the game’s release (and who knows how long after that it’ll be actually playable).

As someone who works in the industry, I find the practice abhorrent and kind of insulting. It takes a lot of work and skill to be good at finding, investigating, writing up bugs. I spend 40-50 hours a week doing that, most months, and now it is not only culturally acceptable for companies to expect me to pay for the privilege to do that for their games, but I get people telling me that they’d make great software testers just because they’ve played a lot of games on Steam prior to their actual release. I’ve even had a few tell me my job isn’t demanding or tiring because it must be so easy since anyone can do it.

Saying anyone can test software is like saying anyone can write. Sure, that is technically true, but there’s a pretty wide gulf of practice, experience, and skill between testing and doing it professionally. And if you rely on people who have no professional skills to do all your testing, your product is going to fall apart the instant it reaches a wider audience. Turning game pre-orders into Betas and Alphas is one of the worst things to happen to my industry, let alone my hobby, and I’m so sick of 2-4 weeks of bugs followed by 1-2 months of patching all the things fixing those bugs fucked up becoming the industry norm.

Which, of course, isn’t to say that user feedback or end-user testing isn’t a valuable tool in the development process. It is an incredibly valuable tool, since there’s testing that can’t even be done without end users (stress testing is a big one that frequently comes up in the video game industry), but it shouldn’t be a testing solution.

Rant over. Stop paying to do the work companies don’t want to pay people to do. Don’t preorder games. Any game scarcity at this point is manufactured thanks to digital downloads and they’re just trying to offload costs more than ever so they can throw 500 developers at a triple-A game only for it to suck until the community finds and points out all the problems to them. Nothing’s going to change so long as people keep this up.

Testing, Testing

Testing, testing. One, two…

“Alice, can we-”

“Sorry, Kurt, I’ve gotta run to class.”

“It’ll only take a minute.”

“I’m already late.” Alice smiled and held her hand up to mimic a phone. “I’ll call you after.”

Kurt watched her go, vague unease still clinging to his gut as his girlfriend hurried across campus toward the arts building. He breathed deeply and, once she was out of sight, walked away.

Testing, testing. One, two, three, four… Hello?

“Heya, Kurt! Just the man I was looking for!”

“Hey, Steve. I was hoping we could-”

“I need someone to cover my shift this afternoon. I’ve got a woman to see about a class she’s skipping.” Jim winked and clapped Kurt on the shoulders. “Affection delivered. Request status?”

“Denied. I’ve got someplace I’ve gotta be.” Kurt shrugged Jim’s hands off and walked away. A few minutes later, he slumped against a wall. He breathed deeply to banish the icy dread in his stomach and, after watching a few cars pass on the road in front of him, walked toward his dorm.

Testing, testing. One, two, three, four. Hello? Can anyone hear me? Anyone?

Stewart and Nathan were out when he got home and Drew didn’t look up from the game he was playing. Kurt went into his room, sat down at his desk, and tried to lose himself in his work. Thirty minutes later, his work sat abandoned on his desk as he flipped through his phone, sending messages and texts to his local friends. Half an hour after that, when Alice was supposed to have been out of class for twenty minutes, Kurt set his phone on his desk and climbed into bed. For a minute, the screen displayed his last text before it went dark.

Hello? I just wanted to talk.


Friday Morning Musing

I have a great poem I’m working on that I’ll post soon, but I’m almost literally frying my brain in a reduction of stress and Overtime this week, so I’m saving it until I’ve got the time and energy to make it as good as I know it can be. I really want to write more poetry and actually stick to my plan of posting a poem a week, but it takes even more energy and time than writing a long piece for every Tuesday’s Coldheart and Iron post. When things are stressful or super busy, I just don’t have the energy and the past few weeks have been both. I’m still amazed I got something up for last week. I’d like to say I’ll definitely have it done for next week, but I might actually have to work this weekend (a first at my current company), so we’ll see how it goes. No promises, but I probably want to get a poem posted more than you want me to post a poem.

As much as I hate my long hours and how tired I am, I still appreciate that I can work these long hours and actually get paid for all of them. I know a lot of people still working long weeks who don’t get adequately compensated, either because they don’t get overtime, because they’re salaried, or because their hours are split between several low-paying jobs and would get fired if they asked for overtime pay or anything like that. Thanks to paying off my car loan, I appreciate my current position even more, since I don’t even need overtime to make ends meet or have a little freedom in my finances. It feels good to get paid.

On the other hand, I’m only working this long because of some questionable organizational decisions made by some of the people I work with and, while I’ve got a plan to fix our processes so this doesn’t happen again, it unfortunately hinges on a lot of people who would rather complain about problems than fix them. To be entirely fair to them, they mostly do that because they’ve tried to fix them and nothing worked. Only one or two of them are frustrating and they’re frustrating for incredibly different reasons that actually cause each other, to some extent. It’s a kinda weird situation if I’m being honest. It creates and perpetuates itself. If I could figure out how to harness the energy that goes into it, I could solve world hunger or the looming energy crisis when the world runs out of oil and all we’ve got left is renewable resources my current government is refusing to harness. I’m a bit bitter today, sorry.

I’ve been struggling to stay focused and forward-thinking lately because I’m seeing a lot of parallels between my current job and the I job I left because it was destroying my soul. The reasons I’m staying late every day are matching up what happened at my old job to sink me further into depression and crush my soul, ultimately forcing me to quit in order to save my mental and physical health. They’re not nearly as bad yet, but the fact that I can draw any similarities between them is incredibly worrying. I still think I can head these problems off before they show up and I’ve actually got people on my side in my current job (including my manager), so I should be able to avoid another situation where I need to choose my livelihood or my health. That was a pretty awful decision to need to make and it has had a lasting impact on me. I actually almost had a panic attack today when I realized what is happening now is incredibly similar to how things started going wrong at my old job. Throw in the fact that I’ve had a few “I told you so” situations already this summer with people at work and I’m having a hard time believing things will wind up different, despite tons of evidence to the contrary.

I still hope they will be, though. I’m nowhere ready to abandon ship yet and I really want to believe I can change things so everyone is happier with how things related to my job work. And it will do that, if everyone does their part. I’ve spent the last year and a half listening to people talk about what they want, how things should work, and what bothers them, and this plan should make no one happy but everyone content. Well, I’ll be happy if it works, but that’s because I take incredible satisfaction in a job well done rather than because I tweak the process so it make my life easier. It’ll actually give me the most extra work since I’ll be taking over a few things that either no one does or that other people aren’t doing the way the process requires. Stuff like running meetings, holding people accountable, and enforcing the agreements we make during meetings. I’ll basically be setting myself up as the benevolent dictator of testing and, as long as everyone agrees to let me rule them, we shall have peace and prosperity.

Sounds real nice, right? I figure it has a twenty-five percent chance of working, given that it requires people granting me authority over them in certain matters. It’s a lot like democracy or peace treaties. It only works so long as every agrees to play by the rules and then actually plays by the rules. If you start breaking the rules or altering them to help you at the cost of others, then it all falls apart. It also didn’t hurt its chances that it requires people to actually follow-through on the commitments we’re making to have each other’s back and stand together at all times so we can actually gain some authority for me to wield. There are a lot of points of failure, but even a partial adoption would be great. I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone else wound up with all the authority. I’m not much of one for the spotlight and I really dislike conflicts or confrontations, both of which would be common for whoever winds up with all the power since they’d actually have to wield it against everyone at some time or another.

Still, it’s better than keeping my head down and hoping things get better on their own. Change has to start somewhere and I value my time too much to let it get wasted like this. I’ll do what I need to and I hope that only means taking a stand against poor planning (well, probably a lack of planning) and asserting the right to have everyone’s voices heard when we make commitments.

I hope you have a great Friday and I’ll do my best to get some poetry up soon! These crazy weeks can’t last forever.