“Changing Times – Quality for Humans in a Digital Age” (Rich Rogers)

It’s always good to see someone from our community of software testers taking the plunge to write their first book, as Rich Rogers has recently done with “Changing Times – Quality for Humans in a Digital Age” (available in both paperback and electronic formats).

The book is written in an easy to read style, with a story about a journalist called Kim running throughout. Her daily engagements with technology – as both positive and negative experiences – are described as she goes about her work and personal life. The story line makes it very easy to relate to the topics and Rich follows each chapter of her story with an exploration of its themes around quality and technology. It is these regular dives into the quality aspects of Kim’s experiences that makes his narrative so engaging and easy to consume.

Rich uses a model called the “Three Dimensions of Quality” and illustrates each dimension again by reference to Kim’s experiences. The three dimensions are Desirable, Dependable and Durable and he identifies a number of aspects within each dimension for further exploration (for example, “Dependable” is broken down into accurate, available, clear, private, protected, reactive, stable and tolerant).

For testers, I think this is a worthwhile read as it draws everything back to thinking about quality. But the book makes for a very enjoyable read for a much broader audience, from those with no real experience of the “nuts and bolts” of producing IT systems to anyone with an interest in “quality” and how we can improve it in the software we help to build. Well done, Rich!

Advertisements

The No Asshole Rule (Robert Sutton)

One of the few joys of long haul travel for business is time to browse that staple of airports everywhere, the bookshop. During a few hour stopover at Dallas Fort Worth airport recently, a couple of new paperbacks ended up in my hand luggage ready to help with the sixteen hour flight back to Australia. Though neither of the books actually made an appearance during the flight, I’ve managed to get through one of them since I got home, in the shape of The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton.

The author makes a distinction between “temporary assholes ” (people who are having a bad day or a bad moment) and “certified assholes” (persistently nasty and destructive jerks) and details the kinds of behaviours and damage done by them (not only to their direct victims, but also to bystanders, themselves and their organizations). He recommends implementing a “no asshole” rule and enforcing it, by “linking big policies to small decencies” (e.g. hiring and firing policies).

Tips for surviving nasty people and workplaces are also provided here: look for small wins, limit exposure, build pockets of safety, support & sanity, and fight & win the right small battles.

Robert also acknowledges the virtues of assholes, with Steve Jobs being used as a classic example of motivating fear-driven performance and perfectionism. These virtues are dangerous though given that the “weight of evidence shows that assholes, especially certified assholes, do far more harm than good”.

He also encourages us to look at ourselves and encourages us to find ways to “stop your “inner jerk” getting out”. I liked this mantra: “be slow to label others as assholes, but quick to label yourself”.

A couple of quotes sum up most of what this book is all about for me:

We all die in the end, and despite whatever “rational” virtues assholes may enjoy, I prefer to avoid spending my days working with mean-spirited jerks and will continue to question why so many of us tolerate, justify, and glorify so much demeaning behaviour from so many people

We are all given only so many hours here on Earth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could travel through our lives without encountering people who bring us down with their demeaning remarks and actions?

This book is aimed at weeding out those folks and at teaching them when they stripped others of their esteem and dignity. If you are truly tired of living in Jerk City – if you don’t want every day to feel like a walk down Asshole Avenue – well, it’s your job to help build and shape a civilized workplace. Sure, you already know that. But isn’t it time to do something about it?

I’ve only worked for two employers in my twenty-odd years in the IT business and, after having read some of the stories in this book, I consider myself pretty lucky not to have encountered too much in the way of asshole behaviour. There have been a number of “temporary assholes” along the way, but I can only think of two “certified assholes” that have unfortunately crossed my path.

One was a manager who definitely went on the certification course and was only removed after a group of people were brave enough to “out” their awful behaviour (sadly, this person continues to be a people manager in a different company.) The other was a developer on a team for which I was the only tester and he let it be known that if I raised another bug against his work, he’d be waiting for me in the car park to exact his revenge. At the time, this was both amusing and of course somewhat frightening – and management did a good job of making sure he wasn’t with us too much longer.

While my own experiences are overwhelmingly positive in the IT industry, it’s obvious that many people (especially females) have a really hard time and at least some of the terrible behaviours are being publicly called out (e.g. the recent Uber stories). Closer to home, my good friend Paul Seaman recently wrote a blog post, The Standard You Walk Past , in which he clearly details the actions of what Sutton would deem a “certified asshole”.

We all deserve a safe and comfortable workplace, so it’s contingent on us to call out asshole behaviour whenever we see it (and that includes anyone who works with me!). This simple statement from the book says it all: “treat the person right in front of you, right now, in the right way”. That’s something we can all do to help make our workplaces and the world at large just that little bit better for everyone.

Attending and presenting at CAST 2017 (Nashville)

Back in March, I was delighted to learn that my proposal to speak at the Conference of the Association for Software Testing in Nashville was accepted and it was then the usual nervous & lengthy gap between acceptance and the actual event.

It was a long trip from Melbourne to Nashville for CAST 2017 – this would be my first CAST since the 2014 event in New York and also my first time as a speaker at their event. This was the 12th annual conference of the AST which took place on August 16, 17 & 18 and was held at the totally ridiculous Gaylord Opryland Resort, a 3000-room resort and convention centre with a massive indoor atrium (and river!) a few miles outside of downtown Nashville. The conference theme was What the heck do testers do anyway?

The event drew a crowd of 160, mainly from the US but with a number of internationals too (I was the only participant from Australia, unsurprisingly!).

My track session was “A Day in the Life of a Test Architect”, a talk I’d first given at STARWest in Anaheim in 2016, and I was up on the first conference day, right after lunch. I arrived early to set up and the AV all worked seamlessly so I felt confident as my talk kicked off to a nicely filled room with about fifty in attendance.

room

I felt like the delivery of the talk itself went really well. I’d rehearsed the talk a few times in the weeks before the conference and I didn’t forget too many of the points I meant to make. The talk took about 35 minutes before the “open season” started – this is the CAST facilitated “Q&A” session using the familiar “K cards” system (borrowed from peer conferences but now a popular choice at bigger conferences too). The questions kept coming and it was an interesting & challenging 25 minutes to field them all. My thanks to Griffin Jones who facilitated my open season and thanks to the audience for their engagement and thoughtful, respectful questioning.

room2

A number of the questions during open season related to my recent volunteer work with Paul Seaman in teaching software testing to young adults on the autism spectrum. My mentor, Rob Sabourin, attended my talk and suggested afterwards that a lightning talk about this work would be a good idea to share a little more about what was obviously a topic of some interest to this audience. And so it was that I found myself unexpectedly signing up to do another talk at CAST 2017!

lightning

With only a five-minute slot, it was still a worthwhile experience giving the lightning talk and it led to a number of good conversations afterwards, resulting in some connections to follow up and some resources to review. Thanks to all those who offered help and useful information as a result of this lightning talk, it’s greatly appreciated.

lee_lightning

With my talk(s) over, the Welcome Reception was a chance to relax with friends old and new over an open bar. A photo booth probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but people always get silly as evidenced by the following three clowns (viz. yours truly, Rob Sabourin and Ben Simo) who got the ball rolling by being the first to take the plunge:

booth

I thought the quality of the keynotes and track sessions at CAST 2017 was excellent and I didn’t feel like I attended any bad talks at all. Of course, there are always those talks that stand out for various reasons and two tracks really deserve a shout out.

It’s not every conference where you walk into a session to find the presenter dressed in a pilot’s uniform and asking you to take your seats in preparation for take off! But that’s what we got with Alexandre Bauduin (of House of Test, Switzerland) and his talk “Your Safety as a Boeing 777 Passenger is the Product of a ‘Big Gaming Rig'”. Alexandre used to be an airline pilot and his talk was about the time he spent working for CAE in Montreal, the world’s leading manufacturer of simulators for the aviation and medical industries. He was a certification engineer, test pilot and then test strategy lead for the company’s Boeing 777 simulator and spent in excess of 10,000 hours test flying it. He mentioned that the simulator had 10-20 million lines of code and 1-2 million physical parts, amazing machinery. His anecdotes about the testing challenges were entertaining but also very serious and it was clear that the marriage of his actual pilot skills with his testing skills had made for a strong combination in terms of finding bugs that really mattered in this critical simulator. This was a fantastic talk delivered with style and confidence, Alexandre is the sort of presenter you could listen to for hours. An inspired pick by the program committee.

777

Based purely on the title, I took a punt on Chris Glaettli (of Thales, Switzerland) with “How we tested Gotthard Base Tunnel to start operation one year early” – and again this was an inspired move! Chris was part of the test team for various systems in the 50km Gotthard base tunnel (the longest and deepest tunnel in the world) from Switzerland to Italy creating a “flat rail” through the Alps and it was fascinating to hear about the challenges of being involved in such a huge engineering project, both in terms of construction and test environments (and some of the factors they needed to consider). Chris delivered his talk very well and he’d clearly made some very wise choices along the way to help the project be delivered early. In such a regulated environment, he’d done a great job in working closely with auditors to keep the testing documentation down to a minimum while still meeting their strict requirements. This was another superb session, classic conference material.

I noted that some of the “big names” in the context-driven testing community were not present at the conference this year and, perhaps coincidentally, there didn’t seem to be as much controversy or “red carding” during open seasons. For me, the environment seemed much friendlier and safer for presenters than I’d seen at the last CAST I attended (and, as a first-time presenter at CAST, I very much appreciated that feeling of safety). It was also interesting to learn that the theme for the 2018 conference is “Bridging Communities” and I see this as a very positive step for the CDT community which, rightly or wrongly, has earned a reputation for being disrespectful and unwilling to engage in discussion with those from other “schools” of testing.

I’d like to take this chance to thank Rob Sabourin and the AST program committee for selecting my talk and giving me the opportunity to present at their conference. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

ER of presenting at the ANZTB SIGiST (Melbourne, 27th July 2017)

Continuing our recent run of presentations together, Paul Seaman and I were happy to accept an invitation to deliver our talk “A Spectrum of Difference – Creating EPIC Software Testers” at the Melbourne ANZTB SIGiST on 27th July.

The Australia New Zealand Testing Board holds these Special Interest Groups in Software Testing a few times a year all around Australia and this particular chilly July evening drew a crowd of about sixty, lured by the promise of a couple of good presentations (and some free food & drinks!) It was a pretty slow start but a swag of arrivals around the 5.30pm start time meant that, as the first presenters of the evening, we had a good crowd in front of us. Michael Pollino did the ANZTB spiel to kick things off before we were up.

The presentation again went really well and co-presenting is becoming more and more comfortable for Paul and I. We were delighted that so many people came up to us after the talk to express their interest in what we’re doing, offer their help, or just say thanks. It’s always a nice feeling as a presenter when people make the effort to catch up for a chat afterwards, so thanks to everyone who did that. We’ve also had follow ups in the days after the talk, which is fantastic too.

Lee at the ANZTB SIGIST

The mid-session food was quickly demolished and the well-stocked bar also did good trade. Jules Barnes (from AccessHQ) rounded out the evening with his talk “How to be a testing Gladiator”.

Thanks to the ANZTB for the opportunity to share our story. If you know anyone who might be suited to the software testing training we offer through EPIC Recruit Assist, please encourage them to apply.

(You can also read about this event via the ANZTB blog.)

Same story, different companies

I’ve recently had the chance to deliver presentations in the offices of a couple of different companies. Both of these opportunities arose out of the work I’ve been doing with Paul Seaman in running software testing training for young adults on the autism spectrum through EPIC Recruit Assist and our programme, the EPIC TestAbility Academy (ETA).

Having delivered a presentation about ETA at the Melbourne LAST conference, one of the audience members from our talk – Darko Zoroja – reached out to us to see if we’d be willing to deliver the same talk again, this time at his workplace, Seek. Both Paul and I are keen to spread the ETA message as much as we’re able so we immediately said yes and were soon heading along St Kilda Road to Seek’s headquarters to meet Darko. Running the ETA presentation as a “brown bag” over lunch worked well, with a good crowd in the big open kitchen/lunch/presentation space gathering to hear our talk. We got a lot of thoughtful questions from this audience too and some interest was shown in EPIC and ETA (and maybe we even found a candidate for the next run of ETA as well). Thanks to Darko and everyone we met at Seek for their warm hospitality and excellent presentation facilities – and for giving up lunch breaks to listen to Paul and I !

Lee presenting at Seek

The next opportunity came thanks to Paul’s employer, Travelport Locomote, so it was another trip down St Kilda Road to give the ETA presentation again, this time as a “lunch and learn” session in their open space (which comes handily equipped with an incredibly distracting wide view over Albert Park lake and Port Phillip Bay). It was a small but engaged bunch of Paul’s colleagues and there were some great questions at the end as well as another offer of assistance in running future ETA sessions. Thanks to this group also for giving up their lunch hour to spend listening to us telling our story.

A big “Thanks” to everyone who’s already shown interest in what we’re doing with EPIC and, of course, to my mate Paul without whose grit and determination in finding an organization to get this thing off the ground we’d have no story to tell.

If your organization has a genuine interest in diversity and would be keen to find out more about the EPIC TestAbility Academy, we’d be more than happy to give our talk on your premises too so just reach out if that’s of interest.

ER of presenting at the LAST conference (and observations on the rise of “QA”)

As I’ve blogged previously, I was set to experience three “firsts” at the recent LAST conference held in Melbourne. Now on the other side of the experience, it’s worth reviewing each of those firsts.

It was my first time attending a LAST conference and it was certainly quite a different experience to any other conference I’ve attended. Most of my experience is in attending testing-related conferences (of both commercial and community varieties) and LAST was a much broader church, but still with a few testing talks to be found on the programme.

With about a dozen concurrent tracks, it was a tough job choosing talks and having so many tracks just seems a bit OTT to me. It was the first person experience reports that made for highlights during this conference, as is usually the case. The Seek guys, Brian Rankin and Norman Noble, presented Seek’s agile transformation story in “Building quality products as a team” and this was a compelling and honest story about their journey. In “Agile @ Uni: patience young grasshopper”, Toby Durden and Tim Hetherington (both of Deakin University) talked about a similar journey at their university and the challenges of adopting more agile approaches at program rather than project levels – this was again good open, honest and genuine storytelling.

(I also made an effort to attend the talks specifically on testing, see later in this blog post for my general thoughts around those.)

The quality of information provided by the LAST organizers in the lead up to the conference was second to none, so hats off to them for preparing so well and giving genuinely useful information to presenters. Having said that, the experience “on the day” wasn’t great in my opinion. It still amazes me that conferences think it’s OK to not have a room helper for each and every session, especially for those conferences that encourage lots of new or inexperienced presenters like this one. A room helper can cover introductions, facilitate Q&A, keep things on track timewise, and assist with any AV issues – while their presence can simply be a comfort to a nervous presenter.

Secondly, this was the first time I’d co-presented a talk at a conference and it turned out to be a very good experience. Paul Seaman and I practiced our talk a few times, both via Skype calls and also in front of an audience, so we were confident in our content and timing as we went into the “live” situation. It was great to have some company up there and sharing the load felt very natural & comfortable. Paul and I are already discussing future joint presentations now that we know we can make a decent job of it. (The only negatives surrounding the actual delivery of the talk related to the awful room we had been given, with the AV connection being at the back of the room meaning we couldn’t see our soft-copy speaker notes while presenting – but neither of us thought this held us back from delivering a good presentation.)

Lee and Paul kicking off their presentation at LAST

Thirdly, this was the first time I’d given a conference talk about my involvement with the EPIC TestAbility Academy. The first run of this 12-week software testing training programme for young adults on the autism spectrum has just finished and Paul & I are both delighted with the way it’s gone. We’ve had amazing support from EPIC Recruit Assist and learned a lot along the way, so the next run of the programme should be even better. My huge thanks to the students who stuck with us and hopefully they can use some of the skills we’ve passed on to secure themselves meaningful employment in the IT sector. The feedback from our talk on this topic at LAST was incredible, with people offering their (free) help during future runs of the training, describing what we’re doing as “heartwarming” and organizations reaching out to have us give the same talk in their offices to spread the word. This was a very rewarding talk and experience – and a big “thank you” to Paul for being such a great bloke to work with on this journey.

Turning to the testing talks at LAST (and also the way testing was being discussed at Agile Australia the week before), I am concerned about the way “QA” has become a thing again in the agile community. I got the impression that agile teams are looking for a way to describe the sort of contributions I’d expect a good tester to make to a team, but are unwilling to refer to that person as a “tester”. Choosing the term “QA” appeared to be seen as a way to talk about the broader responsibilities a tester might have apart from “just testing stuff”. The danger here is in the loading of the term “QA” – as in “Quality Assurance” – and using it seems to go against the whole team approach to quality that agile teams strive for. What’s suddenly wrong with calling someone a “tester”? Does that very title limit them to such an extent that they can’t “shift left”, be involved in risk analysis, help out with automation, coach others on how to do better testing, etc.? I’d much rather we refer to specialist testers as testers and let them show their potentially huge value in agile teams as they apply those testing skills to more than “just testing stuff”.

Attending the Agile Australia conference (June 22 & 23, 2017)

Although the Agile Australia conference has been running for nine years, I attended it for the first time recently when it took place in Sydney. It was again sold out (and oversold if the “standing room only” keynotes and rumours of mass late registrations from one of the larger sponsors were anything to go by) and it’s become a massive commercial conference, set to celebrate its tenth anniversary next year in Melbourne.

There was a big selection of talks, with each day being kicked off by three back-to-back forty-minute keynotes before splitting into multiple tracks (with one track comprised of so-called “sponsored content”).

The keynotes on both days were of high quality and certainly some of the best talks of the conference for me. Barry O’Reilly was entertaining and engaging in his talk on lessons learned in trying to deploy lean in enterprise environments, while Jez Humble busted a few myths on the deployability of continuous delivery in various organizations. He won me over when he mentioned Exploratory Testing as part of the CD pipeline, the only time I heard mention of ET during the entire event. Neal Ford did a good job in his keynote, talking about how best practices turn into anti-patterns and Sami Honkonen‘s effort was a highlight of the conference in talking about the building blocks required to build a responsive organization.

In terms of track sessions, there wasn’t a single session dedicated to testing and maybe everyone with a good testing story to tell has simply given up submitting to this conference now (my last two submissions haven’t got up) but there was plenty to keep me occupied. Highlights were John Contad‘s passionately delivered talk about mentoring at REA Group, Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith‘s fascinating presentation on dark matter, and Estie & Anthony Boteler‘s talk about working with an intern software tester on the autism spectrum, also at REA Group. This talk resonated strongly with me thanks to my recent work with Paul Seaman and EPIC Recruit Assist in delivering the EPIC TestAbility Academy software testing training programme for young adults on the autism spectrum.

My takeaways were:

  • The focus in the agile community has moved away from “doing Scrum better” to looking at the human factors in successful projects.
  • Talks on psychological safety, neurodiversity, mentorship and such were great to see here, as the importance of people in project success becomes better understood.
  • Testing as a skilled craft is still not being valued by this community, with the crucial role of exploratory testing being mentioned only once in all the talks I attended.

Out of the thousand or so official photos from this conference, there’s only one to provide evidence of my attendance – waiting in line at the coffee cart, kind of says it all really.

35418873912_aa16905aa2_o