Testing in Context Conference Australia 2019

The third annual conference of the Association for Software Testing (AST) outside of North America took place in Melbourne in the shape of Testing in Context Conference Australia 2019 (TiCCA19) on February 28 & March 1. The conference was held at the Jasper Hotel near the Queen Victoria Market.

The event drew a crowd of about 50, mainly from Australia and New Zealand but also with a decent international contingent (including a representative of the AST and a couple of testers all the way from Indonesia!).

I co-organized the event with Paul Seaman and the AST allowed us great freedom in how we put the conference together. We decided on the theme first, From Little Things Big Things Grow, and had a great response to our call for papers, resulting in what we thought was an awesome programme.

The Twitter hashtag for the event was #ticca19 and this was fairly active across the conference.

The event consisted of a first day of workshops followed by a single conference day formed of book-ending keynotes sandwiching one-hour track sessions. The track sessions were in typical AST/peer conference style, with around forty minutes for the presentation followed by around twenty minutes of “open season” (facilitated question and answer time, following the K-cards approach).

Takeaways

  • Testing is not dead, despite what you might hear on social media or from some automation tooling vendors. There is a vibrant community of skilled human testers who display immense value in their organizations. My hope is that these people will promote their skills more broadly and advocate for human involvement in producing great software.
  • Ben Simo’s keynote highlighted just how normalized bad software has become, we really can do better as a software industry and testers have a key role to play.
  • While “automation” is still a hot topic, I got a sense of a move back towards valuing the role of humans in producing quality software. This might not be too surprising given the event was a context-driven testing conference, but it’s still worth noting.
  • The delegation was quite small but the vibe was great and feedback incredibly positive (especially about the programme and the venue). There was evidence of genuine conferring happening all over the place, exactly what we aimed for!
  • It’s great to have a genuine context-driven testing conference on Australian soil and the AST are to be commended for continuing to back our event in Melbourne.
  • I had a tiring but rewarding experience in co-organizing this event with Paul, the testing community in Melbourne is a great place to be!

Workshop day (Thursday 28th February)

We offered two full-day workshops to kick the event off, with “Applied Exploratory Testing” presented by Toby Thompson (from Software Education) and “Leveraging the Power of API Testing” presented by Scott Miles. Both workshops went well and it was pleasing to see them being well attended. Feedback on both workshops has been excellent so well done to Toby and Scott on their big efforts in putting the workshops together and delivering them so professionally.

Toby Thompson setting up his ET workshopScott Miles ready to start his API testing workshop

Pre-conference meetup (Thursday 28th February)

We decided to hold a free meetup on the evening before the main conference day to offer the broader Melbourne testing community the chance to meet some of the speakers as well as hearing a great presentation and speaker panel session. Thanks to generous sponsorship, the meetup went really well, with a small but highly engaged audience – I’ve blogged in detail about the meetup at https://therockertester.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/pre-ticca19-conference-meetup/

Aaron Hodder addresses the meetupGraeme, Aaron, Sam and Ben talking testing during the panel session

Conference day (Friday 1st March)

The conference was kicked off at 8.30am with some opening remarks from me including an acknowledgement of traditional owners and calling out two students who we sponsored to attend from the EPIC TestAbility Academy. Next up was Ilari Henrik Aegerter (board member of the AST) who briefly explained what the AST’s mission is and what services and benefits membership provides, followed by Richard Robinson outlining the way “open season” would be facilitated after each track talk.

I then introduced our opening keynote, Ben Simo with “Is There A Problem Here?”. Ben joined us all the way from Phoenix, Arizona, and this was his first time in Australia so we were delighted to have him “premiere” at our conference! His 45-minute keynote showed us many cases where he has experienced problems when using systems & software in the real world – from Australian road signs to his experience of booking his flights with Qantas, from hotel booking sites to roadtrip/mapping applications, and of course covering his well-publicized work around Healthcare.gov some years ago. He encouraged us to move away from “pass/fail” to asking “is there a problem here?” and, while not expecting perfection, know that our systems and software can be better. A brief open season brought an excellent first session to a close.

Ben Simo during his keynote (photo from Lynne Cazaly)

After a short break, the conference split into two track sessions with delegates having the choice of “From Prototype to Product: Building a VR Testing Effort” with Nick Pass or “Tales of Fail – How I failed a Quality Coach role” with Samantha Connelly (who has blogged about her talk and also her TiCCA19 conference experience in general).

While Sam’s talk attracted the majority of the audience, I opted to spend an hour with Nick Pass as he gave an excellent experience report of his time over in the UK testing virtual reality headsets for DisplayLink. Nick was in a new country, working for a new company in a new domain and also working on a brand new product within that company. He outlined the many challenges including technical, physical (simulator sickness), processes (“sort of agile”) and personal (“I have no idea”). Due to the nature of the product, there were rapid functionality changes and lots of experimentation and prototyping. Nick said he viewed “QA” as “Question Asker” in this environment and he advocated a Quality Engineering approach focused on both product and process. Test design was emergent but, when they got their first customer (hTC), the move to productizing meant a tightening up of processes, more automated checks, stronger testing techniques and adoption of the LeSS framework. This was a good example of a well-crafted first-person experience report from Nick with a simple but effective deck to guide the way. His 40-minute talk was followed by a full open season with a lot of questions both around the cool VR product and his role in building a test discipline for it.

Nick Pass talks VR

Morning tea was a welcome break and was well catered by the Jasper, before tracks resumed in the shape of “Test Reporting in the Hallway” with Morris Nye and “The Automation Gum Tree” with Michelle Macdonald.

I joined Michelle – a self-confessed “automation enthusiast” – as she described her approach to automation for the Pronto ERP product using the metaphor of the Aussie gum tree (which meant some stunning visuals in her slide deck). Firstly, she set the scene – she has built an automated testing framework using Selenium and Appium to deal with the 50,000 screens, 2000 data objects and 27 modules across Pronto’s system. She talked about their “Old Gum”, a Rational Robot system to test their Win32 application which then matured to use TestComplete. Her “new species” needed to cover both web and device UIs, preferably be based on open source technologies, be easy for others to create scripts, and needed support. It was Selenium IDE as a first step and the resulting framework is seen as successful as it’s easy to install, everyone has access to use it, knowledge has been shared, and patience has paid off. The gum tree analogies came thick and fast as the talk progressed. She talked about Inhabitants, be they consumers, diggers or travellers, then the need to sometimes burn off (throw away and start again), using the shade (developers working in feature branches) and controlling the giants (all too easy for automation to get too big and out of control). Michelle had a little too much content and her facilitator had to wrap her up at 50 minutes into the session so we had time for some questions during open season. There were some sound ideas in Michelle’s talk and she delivered it with passion, supported by the best-looking deck of the conference.

A sample of the beautiful slides in Michelle's talk

Lunch was a chance to relax over nice food and it was great to see people genuinely conferring over the content from the morning’s sessions. The hour passed quickly before delegates reconvened for another two track sessions.

First up for the afternoon was a choice between “Old Dog, New Tricks: How Traditional Testers Can Embrace Code” with Graeme Harvey and “The Uncertain Future of Non-Technical Testing” with Aaron Hodder.

I chose Aaron’s talk and he started off by challenging us as to what “technical” meant (and, as a large group, we failed to reach a consensus) as well as what “testing” meant. He gave his idea of what “non-technical testing” means: manually writing test scripts in English and a person executing them, while “technical testing” means: manually writing test scripts in Java and a machine executing them! He talked about the modern development environment and what he termed “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”, supported by examples. He mentioned that he’s never seen a persona of someone in crisis or a troll when looking at user stories, while we have a great focus on technical risks but much less so on human risks. There are embedded prejudices in much modern software and he recommended the book Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. This was another excellent talk from Aaron, covering a little of the same ground as his meetup talk but also breaking new ground and providing us with much food for thought in the way we build and test our software for real humans in the real world. Open season was busy and fully exhausted the one-hour in Aaron’s company.

Adam Howard introduces Aaron Hodder for his track

Graeme Harvey ready to present

A very brief break gave time for delegates to make their next choice, “Exploratory Testing: LIVE!” with Adam Howard or “The Little Agile Testing Manifesto” with Samantha Laing. Having seen Adam’s session before (at TestBash Australia 2018), I decided to attend Samantha’s talk. She introduced the Agile Testing Manifesto that she put together with Karen Greaves, which highlights that testing is an activity rather than a phase, we should aim to prevent bugs rather than focusing on finding them, look at testing over checking, aim to help build the best system possible instead of trying to break it, and emphasizes the whole team responsibility for quality. She gave us three top tips to take away: 1) ask “how can we test that?”, 2) use a “show me” column on your agile board (instead of an “in test” column), and 3) do all the testing tasks first (before development ones). This was a useful talk for the majority of her audience who didn’t seem to be very familiar with this testing manifesto.

Sam Laing presenting her track session (photo from Lynne Cazaly)

With the track sessions done for the day, afternoon tea was another chance to network and confer before the conference came back together in the large Function Hall for the closing keynote. Paul did the honours in introducing the well-known Lynne Cazaly with “Try to See It My Way: Communication, Influence and Persuasion”.

She encouraged us to view people as part of the system and deliberately choose to “entertain” different ideas and information. In trying to understand differences, you will actually find similarities. Lynne pointed out that we over-simplify our view of others and this leads to a lack of empathy. She introduced the Karpman Drama Triangle and the Empowerment Dynamic (by David Emerald). Lynne claimed that “all we’re ever trying to do is feel better about ourselves” and, rather than blocking ideas, we should yield and adopt a “go with” style of facilitation.

Lynne was a great choice of closing keynote and we were honoured to have her agree to present at the conference. Her vast experience translated into an entertaining, engaging and valuable presentation. She spent the whole day with us and thoroughly enjoyed her interactions with the delegates at this her first dedicated testing conference.

Slide from Lynne Cazaly's keynotelynne2Slide from Lynne Cazaly's keynote

Paul Seaman closed out the conference with some acknowledgements and closing remarks, before the crowd dispersed and it was pleasing to see so many people joining us for the post-conference cocktail reception, splendidly catered by the Jasper. The vibe was fantastic and it was nice for us as organizers to finally relax a little and enjoy chatting with delegates.

Acknowledgements

A conference doesn’t happen by accident, there’s a lot of work over many months for a whole bunch of people, so it’s time to acknowledge the various help we had along the way.

The conference has been actively supported by the Association for Software Testing and couldn’t happen without their backing so thanks to the AST and particularly Ilari who continues to be an enthusiastic promoter of the Australian conference via his presence on the AST board. Our wonderful event planner, Val Gryfakis, makes magic happen and saves the rest of us so much work in dealing with the venue and making sure everything runs to plan – we seriously couldn’t run the event without you, Val!

We had a big response to our call for proposals for TiCCA19, so thanks to everyone who took the time and effort to apply to provide content for the conference. Paul and I were assisted by Michele Playfair in selecting the programme and it was great to have Michele’s perspective as we narrowed down the field. We can only choose a very small subset for a one-day conference and we hope many of you will have another go when the next CFP comes around.

There is of course no conference without content so a huge thanks to our great presenters, be they delivering workshops, keynotes or track sessions. Thanks to those who bought tickets and supported the event as delegates, your engagement and positive feedback meant a lot to us as organizers.

Finally, my personal thanks go to my mate Paul for his help, encouragement, ideas and listening ear during the weeks and months leading up to the event, we make a great team and neither of us would do this gig with anyone else, cheers mate.

 

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