Jerry Weinberg’s Last Worry

Jerry Weinberg has died. Jerry was my teacher more than any other single person. As I have told my students and clients for years: my work is an elaboration and improvisation on his work.

In November of 1999, I was a newly independent consultant, having rage-quit my previous job. I had already made a name for myself as a trouble-maker in software testing– and a few colleagues and I had only that month declared the Context-Driven school of software testing– but I had not yet crystallized the Rapid Software Testing methodology which would become the focus of my business. I was working on a book that had become a quagmire. My life was very stressful right at that moment.

In the midst of that, Jerry invited me to hang out with him in Albuquerque for a week to talk about life the universe and everything. I don’t know why he did that. I don’t remember him giving a plausible explanation. But the result was that I spent dozens of hours talking to Jerry, just me and him. We spoke about writing, testing, industry activism, collegiality, general systems thinking. We gave each other homework. He told me about the “fieldstone” approach to writing, which he later turned into a book.

At the time it was great fun. But now I know: that was the week I became who I am, professionally.

Who I am is in no sense a copy of Jerry. I vehemently disagree with him on certain issues of style and substance. I don’t seem to get along with most of his followers.

But none of that matters. What I took from Jerry was not his specific solutions or political preferences, for the most part. What Jerry showed me is how to be authentic without being cruel; how to have integrity in a world of mendacity; how to live confidently with uncertainty; how to debate your teacher while learning from him; how to transition from student to colleague; how to achieve your own agency without seeking anyone’s consent to do so.

None of those things are specific judgments or techniques. They are ways of being. Jerry taught partly by example, partly by story, partly by argument, but mostly through the little experiences and challenges he took his students through. “Authentic teaching” he called it.

Three Worries

Before I knew Jerry I suffered from periodic physical breakdowns related to work stress. Jerry taught me to arrange my professional life to minimize stress. The key is to discover what you are happy doing and what you don’t want to do, then systematically stop doing all those things that weigh you down and stress you out. Learn to listen to that inner voice that is telling you “enough!” Learn to say no without rancor. Let go of other people’s reactions.

While lecturing me on this he challenged me to write down my three biggest professional worries on a napkin. He did the same. On my napkin I wrote about two client reports that were past due, and the need to market my new business.

On his napkin he wrote only this: “I must get my hair cut once in a while.”

I laminated that napkin. It’s in a box somewhere or I would show it to you now.

I have many worries today, but I have a new and easier relationship to them. After that week in ’99, I gave over all control of my finances to my wife, who has managed them ever since. My only job, now, is daydreaming and talking to clients. I did go on to finish my Buccaneer book, with a much relaxed attitude, as well as writing another very fieldstone-ish book called Lessons Learned in Software Testing.

Knowing Jerry helped me come into my own as a thinker. I am determined to pass that gift on.

(Consider reading A Gift of Time, to see how Jerry influenced other people.)