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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.

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