Rosie Sherry is both an unschooling parent and the founder of the Ministry Of Testing. There's a disproportionate number of bootstrappers who homeschool their kids, and maybe it's for the same reason why they built something themself instead of fitting into the mold, they think they can do it better.
Ministry of Testing is a company Rosie founded, officially as an online community in 2007, but then formally as a business in 2011. It's a community of software testers who geek out on testing, host conferences, have online talks, host trainings, and participate in an online community.
You can't fake a community like that. You can growth hack numbers, members, et cetera. But, you can't fake community. A strong community has to have people who care, that's what it generally comes down to. The people who lead it have to care, show that they care, and care about the industry as a whole.
Joel Hooks: Hi, Rosie.
Rosie Sherry: Hey, Joel.
Joel Hooks: How are you doing?
Rosie Sherry: I'm good, how are you?
Joel Hooks: I can't complain. I'm super excited to talk to you. We have a lot in common, and I'm really excited to talk to you about your community work because I think it's incredibly interesting. But, I wanted to start on something else that we both have in common. One, having a lot of children and choosing to unschool them. And, I'm wondering, can you tell me what unschooling is and what it means to you when we talk about unschooling our kids?
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, I mean I guess for me it's like what does it mean to me rather than what it means to everyone else because-
Joel Hooks: Sure. There's like an official definition, right? But, what does it mean to you, I guess is what?
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's like over the years I've kind of, I think detached myself a bit from the official definition, and you get different types of unschoolers these days, and kind of sub-communities of them as well. So, you get like unschooling, and you get radical unschoolers and things like that.
Rosie Sherry: But, it's when we get into community and stuff it's like, oh, my God, it's a whole different world. So, just to, I guess keep a bit of sanity for myself, I just go with what works for me. And, I think what works for us as a family, and what we've kind of become comfortable with over time, is unschooling is just kind of living life and following the things that we want to follow and that we're interested in. And-
Joel Hooks: Yeah, we started... Because we're like 20 years into home education too, and we started out, and it was very curriculum heavy. Like we were running a school, right? Like what people would call homeschool. And, then over time it was like, "Wow, this is really hard for us and the kids, like there's a lot of pressure in their relationships." So, we've migrated to what would be unschooling as well, but probably not, like if you looked on Google for unschooling, it's not going to line up with necessarily our house and how it works.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, I mean exactly. It's like I think a lot of people think unschooling is child led. I kind of think of it as family led these days. It's not all about the child. It's about the parents as well. It's about the family as a whole. It's like we all have needs and we're not... I don't drop everything to cater for my kids and what they need. I made sure they looked after. I make sure that I kind of listen to what I think they need and what they're telling me. But, at the end of the day it's like I've got needs as well. And, yeah, previously I used to be torn between like my career or my kids, but now I'm just like, I have to make it work for both. Otherwise I kind of end up going insane. Because, I love my work. I love like the community building stuff that I do. And, I think if I was to give that up then I don't think that'd be a great thing for our family, financially and otherwise, but you know it's like-
Joel Hooks: Yeah, it's not really... It's like setting a bad example in a way too, right? Like they need... Not a bad example, but you're setting an example for your children, and you're showing them balance and how to approach life in a lot of respects, I think.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. And, they take it in. You know? They definitely take it in, and they see the things I do, and they see that I'm like the only mom who brings her laptop around with her everywhere. You know, stuff like that. And, my eight year old listens to the Indie Hacker Podcast and stuff like that, when we're driving around in the car, stuff like that. So, it's like-
Joel Hooks: Yeah, one of my older ones will actually edit this podcast, so he works with us. So, he listens to them all, but because it's a job. So, they ended up in the family business as a result of the home education. It just kind of was a natural fit.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. Yeah. I'm trying to do that, but I've not quite gotten there yet.
Joel Hooks: It takes a while. It's a really, it's a long game, and I don't know return on investment, if you start breaking it down. How did you originally make that decision? Because I think that's something people are curious about. And, I have my own ideas on why we did it, but I'm curious why you decided as a family with Graham, your husband, how did y'all decide to home educate?
Rosie Sherry: It's the school system kind of sucks is the general gist of it for me. It's like the more I looked into it, the more I couldn't justify sending my kids to school. We've got five kids, just for reference for everyone else, that currently age between two and 16. So, my two oldest boys are 14 and 16, and they went to school for like three or four years. And, before sending them to a typical public or government school here in the UK, it's like we tried a private school, a small kind of had like 50 kids in the whole of primary, up to the age of 11. And, we were trying to go for something alternative that wasn't like what the government had to offer. The class sizes were mixed and small, and it kind of was along what I believed would be a good solution instead of like homeschooling.
Rosie Sherry: But, to be honest, we had a really bad experience in our second year, and that was at that point I just said to myself, it was like, "No one's going to give a damn about my kids more than we are as the parents."
Joel Hooks: Yeah, that's a fact.
Rosie Sherry: And, that's what stuck with me. And, I believe that to the core of my heart. It's like no school, no teacher, nor anyone out there will stick their head out for your kids. They won't understand that the system changes too much. Years change every year. They'll never get to know your kids like you get to know them as a parent.
Joel Hooks: Yeah. And, it's not to me, like there's really great teachers out there, but you're always like every year you're rolling a 20 sided die. I think it's just chance, right?
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. Yeah. It's not like disrespect to the teachers or anything. It's just the system. It just doesn't sit well with me. So, I've got no regrets. It doesn't mean that it's easy. And, like how we approach things have changed over time, and we've kind of gotten a bit stricter with our eight year old than we were with our teens. But, you know, it's still we make him do some math and writing every day at the moment, but we've only recently done that. So, he's like he's ready for it, and he's not complaining too much. But, it's not a lot kind of thing. And, I don't know how long we'll stick with it, to be honest, but we'll see how it goes.
Joel Hooks: We've always like, you have to read, and then there's some math involved. And, then beyond that, what are you into? And, it doesn't really matter what you're learning to us. It just matters that you're progressing in something. It can be literally anything. What are you interested in? Let's explore that. And, to me it's been great. It's really, really kind of nice and pleasant in practice.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, exactly. I remember my eldest son, he's quite good but he did an online math thing, and he did like the equivalent of three years of maths in like three months. So, he just like whizzed through it. And, he did like two or three hours a day, just because he's like that's how his brain works.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, he was enjoying it.
Rosie Sherry: He dives deep in, and then he gets bored, and he's like, "I'm not doing it anymore." But, you know, he did three years' worth of math in three months. So, it was like, why would I make him keep going when he does stuff like that? It's like, what's the point?
Joel Hooks: I was talking to Rob Walling who who founded Drip and other things, and has moved on from that, at MicroConf, which is the conference he puts on. And, there's this weird disproportionate number of home educators at MicroConf, which is like a bootstrap entrepreneur conference. And, his theory is that we tend to just think that we can do it better. And, I was like, "Well, that's probably true on several levels. One, we think that. And, then maybe we actually are able to do that as well." And, that's always stuck with me.
Joel Hooks: One, about the ratio just because it's interesting if you go to those things, that there's just a huge number of home educators. But, then you know like that idea that we just kind of, "Oh, well we can probably do this in the same way that we will start a business or whatever," to like scratch that particular professional itch we think we can also educate and do that. And, it turns out to be true.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, I don't know about better, I think different. And, I definitely think like my experience of building up Ministry of Testing has influenced how I think about my kids, and what I want them to do, or what I want to make them do, I guess, and what's important in life as well.
Joel Hooks: So, you mentioned Ministry of Testing.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah.
Joel Hooks: What is that? Can you explain that to me? What is Ministry of Testing, and how did it come about?
Rosie Sherry: So, Ministry of Testing is a company I founded, officially like as just an online community in 2007, but then like as a business formally in 2011. It's a community for software testers or software testing, however you prefer to say it. And, we basically geek out on testing, and we do conferences. We do online kind of talks, and training, and online community.
Joel Hooks: What's the relationship between software development and software testing? Like how does that symbiotic relationship work?
Rosie Sherry: It's an interesting one. I think it's one that's changed for the better over over the years. It's like when I first started in testing, I used to be tester myself, which is how it kind of came about. Testing was very much separated from development and waterfall style, I guess. These days it's much more integrated ideally.
Rosie Sherry: And, there's I believe a lot more respect for testing, but there's still a long way to go from all angles. I think testers need to do better to improve testing, and likewise for not just developers but designers, product owners. I think there's still huge room for improvement. Just understand what testing is, and how like testing doesn't have to be negative, and how it can be hugely supportive to the whole creation of a product. And, I still feel a bit like we've made huge strides to make testing better, but so much work is yet to be done, I think.
Joel Hooks: Right. There's always like that healthy tension, sometimes healthy. There's always a tension between... It feels like, and maybe you're talking about this a little bit, like between, you have development, and then it goes through testing. And, they're finding bugs. And, if you don't have testing and you don't have software testers, professionals doing this, then you're putting that burden, who, on your users, right? Like that's ultimately who has to test it, or like that's, I think a benefit of having that thing. It's almost like a privilege to work on software that has professional testers.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, I definitely think so. I think it's like people who... A lot of people don't get that benefit, especially in smaller teams. They just can't justify the cost, understandably. Me and my work in Indie Hackers, for example, most of the small bootstrap companies in there might never have a tester on board. And, they might never experience what it means to have that feedback loop.
Rosie Sherry: But, definitely if you can get good testers on board, it can make be hugely helpful. There's also the aspect of the whole, I think generally in the industry is that there's a kind of unfair focus on like automation for everyone that wants to automate stuff. But, actually there's a lot more to testing than just automating the testing.
Joel Hooks: I spent the last year removing robots on one of our systems. Because I had built it up over the course of our six years of egghead, and built all these cool automated robots, and then realized that's not the way necessarily all the time.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. It's straight in. It's like so hard to... I still don't know what the right way is to challenge that. Partly I think testers need to kind of thrive more, and step up more, and be proud of the work they do, and be able to show the work they do. But, then it's like it's hard to show the work that you do as testers. It's like developers often-
Joel Hooks: Yeah, it's almost-
Rosie Sherry: Sorry, developers often show off like this bit of code. It's like, what do testers have to show. It's a lot harder.
Joel Hooks: It's like invisible labor, in some ways. Right?
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, yeah. So, how do we as a community express that better, to show the value? And, quite often, when it comes out, as you say, like one they use is finding bugs. And, then even then it's like the eyes go back towards the testers. They're like, why didn't you find this bug?"
Joel Hooks: Yeah. So, either way, like if they don't find any bugs, it's like, "Why do we have testers?" If they do find bugs, it's like, "Why didn't you test?" So, either either way you kind of... And, Ministry of Testing is, it feels like part of the idea is to build this community and give more voice to these people doing this important work.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, I think that's very much at the heart of it. And, it's like when I started like this online community, what I wanted to achieve was just moving towards better testing and trying to find ways to create better products. Obviously, it's like the world has changed a lot in that time, and I had no clue what I was doing. But, that's definitely what I had in mind.
Joel Hooks: We're all kind of just making it up as we go along. So, Ministry of Testing started out, and you started conferences, and you have a local conference there in your hometown. And, now it's grown to this point where there's nine global conferences that happen? Test bashes.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, something like that. We kind of change a bit every year. I think next year it might be eight. I can't remember. Sorry. I don't get involved in the day-to-day these days.
Joel Hooks: What does it take to run conferences globally, like personally? And, I know you've kind of worked really hard to step out of the day-to-day running of that, but still what kind of effort is it to put on a conference in a totally different part of the country than you live in?
Rosie Sherry: It's hard. People they see like the first conferences we did, and for us it was like... Because we had like an online presence and online global community, and we did like Brighton in the UK for the first three, four years. And, people started saying, "Oh, I want one in my hometown," or this country, this country. I was resisting it for a long time, and then I started saying yes. And, the first one we did outside of the UK was New York, which, you know, it was fine. We had like 160-170 people.
Rosie Sherry: But, the approach we took was, I knew that I didn't know like the local areas. So, it was like, if we were to like host a conference in the new locations, there's lots of logistical things that are really stressful. For me it's stressful. Maybe for another proper event organizer they're like that excites them. But, for me it's like a lot of unknowns about new event locations, new cities, new like where do you stay. How do you choose the right location? How do you know it's a good location? Things like that.
Joel Hooks: Every aspect of it is something that you have to, like it's a huge checklist that you have to tick all these boxes. And, you are in a different time zone, many, many hours ahead of this, this hemisphere. It seems like it'd be... We haven't, like we've resisted the urge at egghead to get into conference organizing, even though we've been been asked. I'm like, "Ooh." I don't know. I personally couldn't do it. It would be overwhelming. I'm always impressed when somebody can pull it off.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, I mean it's great. It's amazing to bring people together. But, the logistics of it is, it is hard. And, the way we decided to do it is to try to partner up with local testers, to help us, people who'd know the local area, and they would help us try to find the-
Joel Hooks: Boots on the ground.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. And, that's kind of what we've done, and it's worked okay. It's like sometimes it's better than others. And, really, I think it'd be great to have proper event organizers who know about negotiating venues and things like that. But, we don't have that luxury. And-
Joel Hooks: It's kind of like when you go to hang drywall in your house, and you could do it yourself or you could hire somebody that does it all day, every day. And, both will work. But, you know, professionals are professionals for a reason, I guess.
Rosie Sherry: And, it's only now that we've just hired a proper event organizer. We haven't had one until now.
Joel Hooks: I don't know, after doing this for so many years, I have to imagine you become one. But, then you're like, "Eh, maybe it's time to retire," at the same time.
Rosie Sherry: So, it's like-
Joel Hooks: Maybe not.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, I mean I did it, and then I passed all my knowledge onto our current CEO. And, then he did it for a while. And, then we hired a community manager, and then she basically has done it for a while. But, now I'll say we need a proper events, full-time person to manage everything. So, hopefully we have someone new coming on board in January. So, yeah. But, it sounds silly that it's taken us that long, but it is how it is.
Joel Hooks: Well, I've only ran a business for six years. I fully understand. It's like stuff that looks obvious is so hard to actually get into production. The logistics of everything is complex. Life is complicated.
Rosie Sherry: And, actually one of the most annoying parts is like taxes for each different location that you do an event in.
Joel Hooks: Oh, I didn't even think of that.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, so like the U.S. is quite straightforward, but anywhere in Europe, and we've done events in Australia and New Zealand, you have to register for tax in each of the locations. And, then every month, or every quarter, or whatever their rules are, you have to submit returns. So, it's like a few multiple events a year, then all of a sudden it was like there's this accounting burden that you have to kind of deal with. And, it's not fun. It's like these are-
Joel Hooks: No, no, that's like my least favorite aspect of running any sort of business is the compliance accounting. Ooh. So, I want to like switch it up. Because you talk about community, and building community, and Ministry of Testing ultimately isn't a conference, it's a community. What are the characteristics of a strong community?
Rosie Sherry: People who care. I think it's that, that's what it generally comes down to. It's like the people who lead it have to care. They have to show that they care. And, you know, they care about the industry as a whole, and they care about the people. And, they're essentially driven by creating something better, rather than the money that comes with it.
Joel Hooks: I think... I don't know if this is your observation, but I have observed this idea of in the last several years, the idea of growth hacking and treating community maybe as a marketing gimmick. And, I'm wondering what are your thoughts on that, and is that effective in terms of actually building community?
Rosie Sherry: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I pretty much dislike the whole growth hacking approach. It kind of feels fake to an extent. And, it's like growth at, not at all costs, but it's like focusing on the wrong things.
Rosie Sherry: And, I came across something recently, and it was a tweet. I can't even remember who said it. But, it was like it really kind of resonated with me. Is that communities don't scale. It was like the work for communities doesn't scale. So, everything you have to do is hands-on. And, it's like you can't grow a community, not a real community where people feel like they belong. You can grow numbers. You can grow members, but I honestly believe that you just can't fake community. And, that's why like communities like Ministry of Testing work, is because I've never done any of that kind of daft like growth hacking at all costs.
Rosie Sherry: I've never sold out on the community. And, in our conferences, we don't have exhibition booths or sales stands, because we don't believe that adds value to the community. Which costs us a lot of money. People would say that, but does it really cost us money when we don't have to spend money on advertising, and when we don't have to spend our time and effort on salespeople and things like that? So, I would debate that without a problem.
Rosie Sherry: And, actually it's like comparing it to Indie Hackers is like it's very similar. It's like everything that Cortland has built up is the same. It's like doing things that don't scale. It's like hands-on stuff to bring value and make people feel welcome. And, I very much see Ministry of Testing very similar to Indie Hackers, just in a complete different sector.
Rosie Sherry: But, you know, they have meet ups. We have meet ups as well. The only thing they don't do is conferences. Yeah. I keep trying to convince Cortland, but not yet. But, yeah, I mean the vibe is very similar between the communities, which is to be honest, you know, one of the only reasons that I considered working for Indie Hackers. Because, if it was any other community, I would probably say no. But, I felt like that-
Joel Hooks: Yeah. I was actually wondering that. Because, it surprised me, honestly, when I saw you pop up as the Indie Hackers community manager. It surprised me on some levels, and then I understand it. I know Cortland. He's awesome, and what he has built is great. But, what drew you to Indie Hackers as a community?
Rosie Sherry: Precisely, just everything that Cortland has built up, in addition to the fact that I kept trying to hang out there, and I couldn't justify my time. So, I thought-
Joel Hooks: Oh, nice.
Rosie Sherry: Well, why don't I get paid to do it? And, to be honest, it's been ideal. It's like even though I've built up my business and I understand that indie hacking, or bootstrapping, whatever you want to call it, is like I felt like I was kind of losing touch a bit, because my mind was so focused on Ministry of Testing. And, I couldn't justify the time to go and learn what others were doing.
Rosie Sherry: So, yeah, I was trying to hang out at Indie Hackers, and I didn't develop that habit. But, I went there a few times, and I saw Cortland was looking for some social media help. And, I was like, "I can do that." He was a bit confused at first when I said that, because he was like, "What happened to the Ministry of Testing?" And, I had done one of the early interviews with him. So, based on that we just had a conversation, and then he gave me a community manager job instead, which is cool.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, it makes sense. I imagine his confusion was similar to mine. But, then when you see it in action, it totally makes sense. And, can we rewind just a little bit and tell people what Indie Hackers is? Because I don't know that we've mentioned it too much.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. Indie Hackers is a community for indie hackers, which are founders, bootstrappers mostly. But, mostly it's about people who are trying to build a business in their own way. But also, you know, Cortland is very open in the fact that he doesn't like to kind of, I guess discriminate against people who go for a funded route as well.
Joel Hooks: Sure.
Rosie Sherry: So, they're just like bunch of people trying to explore good ways of doing business. That's how I see it. And, just originally started with like text-based interviews where people had to be very open about their finances. And, these days that's still popular. And, the podcast that Cortland does is really popular. And, the community at the moment, is just really kind of like growing a lot. So, for me that's quite exciting. And, let's say my head's in there every day trying to try to help all these people, and try to figure out what their needs are and how we can help them.
Rosie Sherry: And, for me it's quite nice, because it's like, I compare it a lot to the Ministry of Testing. But, it's like one of the biggest differences is that Stripe bought Indie Hackers quite early on. So, Cortland doesn't, obviously he has to report back in certain ways to get like budget approvals and things like that. But, he doesn't have to focus on selling a product. So, it's like that kind of makes it quite unique. And, from my perspective I think that's quite, I guess honorable of Stripe to do that. And, it's from the insight that I get, it's not huge insights, but it's really nice to see how hands off Stripe are, and how much control Cortland still has at the moment to kind of do what he believes is right.
Joel Hooks: Stripe impresses me on so many levels. But, Indie Hackers is probably, that and Stripe Press are like two of my things that I look at Stripe and I'm like, "You don't have to do this." There's no meeting where you're sitting down, "What's the ROI on this?" Because, there is none. And, there's no like ads. And, there's no like direct funnel to Stripe. And, Stripe is the obvious choice for a lot of people that participate in Indie Hackers, but it's not... Like you don't even notice it on the site. And, there's no big fanfare made that this is a Stripe joint at all. And, it just keeps getting to focus strictly on the community. And, not thinking about generating revenue is such a a great service to the broader community.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. And, I think with a small team they achieve so much with what they have. And, sometimes I wish that someone would buy out Ministry of Testing, and do that. I'm like, there's so many testing companies out there that could do that. I was like, "Why won't they do that? They would get so much value if they did that with Ministry of Testing."
Joel Hooks: Yeah. And, like you talk about the value and the upside for the company. It's something that, I don't think it's obvious necessarily, but the idea of a thriving community, it's such a good thing, because it has to be... There is no such thing as an engineered community. It has to kind of form around the needs of the community and the people organizing it. And, you know, you can't fake it. You can't. It has to be authentic, or it doesn't exist
Rosie Sherry: And, it's hard to... It's like the classic of it's like whenever a company gets bought out, the first thing you start to think of is that our company's going to go downhill. And, it's hard to have control over that, or know what's going to happen. But, I really wish more companies would do what Stripe have done. I think it's pretty, pretty amazing.
Joel Hooks: I think it's smart on their part. I think Stripe, it's a good investment for them, and probably doesn't affect their bottom line much at all. It's like a rounding error for them to help others think differently.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah, exactly.
Joel Hooks: And, it's really amazing. So, kudos to them for making that decision. So, I want to kind of close out, and talk about this idea of making friends and building relationships as a business strategy. My general contractor said to me the other day, he said it was sad but not being a total piece of shit is a competitive advantage in business today. And, I think that kind of relates to what we're talking about. I'm wondering, like how do we do that? How do we build relationships and friendships, and make that serve our professional needs, and help us grow ultimately as community members and advocates?
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. It's an interesting one. I think the people, not so much at the top, but maybe a bit at the top, a bit in the middle, I think they should be doing a lot more to reach out to the next generation of people. And, I wish more people would do that, and figure out ways to help each other out, and remember where they came from as well.
Rosie Sherry: I see a definite trend is like when people find that courage to come out and participate for X amount of time. They really do grow as a person. And, that's probably the biggest thing that I get out of building communities, is watching people grow. And, that's really what drives me. I think the hard part is trying to reach out to the lurkers, the people who prefer to be quiet but often need help.
Rosie Sherry: And, sometimes I spot profiles or people that I kind of identify with. For me it's like more kind of women and mothers, who I think are often like not represented fairly in the workforce, or in the business world. And, sometimes I'll reach out. And, they'll always appreciate it, and they'll always respond. And, they'll slowly come out and share their story. And, it always, not surprises me, but kind of in the most cheesy sense kind of touches my heart when they open up to you. So, it was like I wish more people would reach out to help others. And, and it's hard to say it when, I guess people are so busy all the time, especially like as they grow older. They have family, business, work, whatever, it all takes over. But, the real value for me is always helping people and finding ways to help people.
Joel Hooks: That's amazing, and there's a lot of opportunities. I think once you start opening your mind and your eyes to those folks, and what you can do, and how you can use your position and your advantages in life to help others, it's really out there, and there's really a lot of opportunity for people to do that. And, it's so rewarding, like to me, to be somebody that can help people. And, like you said, you called it cheesy. I don't think it is at all. I think you can, like when you lift people up, and you know, you get paid with really good feelings when you do that. Like it to me is part of the reward for that is feeling really good.
Rosie Sherry: Yeah. I think that's what people don't actually see, is when you think you have enough, you think that's okay. But, actually these people who need you, it's like you almost need them as much as they need you, but you have to start that conversation somehow. And, I think they're much more unlikely to start that conversation, because they don't have the confidence to do it. Whereas, it's like, if I have a bit of time, I will spend a few minutes just reaching out to people to see if I can help, or to see if I can compliment them, or just even putting out random compliments online. It's like it just surprises people, and it gives them that first little step to help them.
Joel Hooks: Yeah. That's such a great example. I really appreciate what you do, Rosie. I appreciate what you do with Indie Hackers and Ministry of Testing. It's something that I've admired for a while. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your evening to chat with me. I really appreciate it, and I'll talk to you soon.
Rosie Sherry: Thanks, Joel.