Just thought of creating i-got-lucky.com, where successful people could describe how it wasn’t just their virtues that gave them success. They could describe how much sheer luck mattered.

It might be useful because an amazing number of people don’t believe luck played a part in their success. Their minds won't be changed, but they get a lot of attention. Far too many fans buy their fable. That's bad.

For my part, I got lucky because:

  • My parents arrived at the US in 1958, a time when the fact that neither of them had graduated from high school didn’t matter much.
  • My dad built houses in a time of a huge housing boom, the late '60s and '70s. (Yes, it also helped that he was a hard worker and savvy judge of the market – and was especially good at not overextending his business, so he could ride out crashes – and that my mom was good at handling the financials.)
  • My parents had the traditional German deference to teachers. So a middle school teacher convinced my father I shouldn’t be forced to follow him into construction, where I would have failed.
  • In 1976 (high school), I stumbled across the PLATO computer system at a local community college. PLATO had games. To play the good games, I had to get a summer job as a programmer. I did.
  • Because of programming, I had a fallback major when I discovered I wasn’t smart enough to get an Astronomy degree from CalTech.  
  • I transferred to U Illinois. After I graduated from college, I, like my parents, hit the job market at a time when my particular talents (programming) were in high demand.
  • After a decade at a startup that got bought by two large companies that later failed, I conceived the idea of parlaying an internal test coverage tool I'd written into a career as an independent consultant. The idea was that I'd get paid to customize the tool. (Hey, Richard Stallman funded himself with GNU C Compiler customizations at the time.) I'd married Dawn, and she had health insurance, so it was safe-ish.
  • In the first year, I made $500. It was awkward when my mother-in-law asked, "So how's business?"
  • I happened to talk to Keith Stobie at a conference, and he suggested I bid on creating a set of four testing courses for Tandem Computers. I did. Keith told me my bid was ridiculously low and wouldn't be taken seriously. I upped it, and got the gig. That saved my business.
  • I wrote a book in the early '90s on programmer testing. The '90s happened to be the time when corporate America was terrified that the Japanese would do to the software industry what it had done to the auto industry. Japanese style was to catch errors as soon as possible after they were made. (US style was to do all error-detection after the whole vehicle had been assembled.) My book made me appealing at the time. So I did enough training to do good business.
  • Training dried up when the web arrived and management could no longer force programmers to test. (That was before jUnit made programmer testing popular.) But I was able to jump to "black box" system testing.
  • About that time, I engaged with Cem Kaner on a testing mailing list, and he took the time to strip away some of my preconceptions. As a result, I became one of the mouthpieces, perhaps a thought leader (opinions vary!), for context-driven testing. I got business from that.
  • Back when I had a Real Job, I'd still been hanging out with Ralph Johnson's U Illinois patterns reading group as I s-l-o-w-l-y finished a Master's and failed at a PhD. As a result, I came to the attention of Martin Fowler because we reviewed drafts of his books.
  • Roughly at the same time, I started shifting back to programming. Based on my Vast Experience, I opined in the early days of Extreme Programming that TDD wouldn't work (preferring the approach of my book). Ron Jeffries took the time (much as Kaner had earlier done) to engage with me seriously. I was finally persuaded to try to write a substantial Java program TDD style. That experience made me get it, and I became the TDD advocate that I am today.
  • A consequence of Fowler's exposure to me was that he pressed for me to be invited to the workshop that wrote the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
  • That turned out well. I became "Mr. Agile Testing Guy" until I decided I was too programmer-centric to be a good representative, whereupon I ceded authority to people like Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory.
  • I guess I've been coasting since then.

The thing that's amazing to me is how easily my life could have gone differently.

I get very annoyed with people who behave as if they made it all on their own, because of their Unique Genius.