Category Archives: Volunteer work

Interview with Rob Sabourin for McGill University undergraduates (8th November 2022)

Thanks to the wonders of modern communication technology, I was interviewed by Rob Sabourin as part of his course on Software Engineering Practice for McGill University undergraduates in Montreal, Canada.

I took part in a small group interview with McGill students back in February 2016, as I wrote about in my blog post, A small contribution to the next generation of software engineering professionals I did another interview in April 2022 for the same Software Engineering Practice course and was more than happy to repeat that experience when Rob invited me to join his Fall cohort.

The early evening timeslot for Rob’s lecture on “Estimation” was perfect for me in Australia and I sat in on the lecture piece before my interview.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Rob’s company over the years, in both personal and professional settings, watching him give big keynote presentations, workshops, meetup group talks and so on. But I’d never witnessed his style in the university lecture setting so it was fascinating to watch him in action with his McGill students. He covered the topic very well, displaying his deep knowledge of the history of software engineering to take us from older approaches such as function point analysis, through to agile and estimating “at the last responsible moment”. Rob talked about story points (pointing out that they’re not an agile version of function points!) and estimating via activities such as planning poker. He also covered T-shirt sizing as an alternative approach, before wrapping up his short lecture with some ideas around measuring progress (e.g. burndown charts). Rob’s depth of knowledge was clear, but he presented this material in a very pragmatic and accessible way, perfectly pitched for an undergraduate audience.

With the theory over, it was time for me to be in the hot seat – for what ended up being about 50 minutes! Rob structured the interview by walking through the various steps of the Scrum lifecycle, asking me about my first-person experience of all these moving parts. He was especially interested in my work with Scrum teams in highly-distributed teams (including Europe, Israel, US, China and Australia) and how these team structures impacted the way we did Scrum. It was good to share my experiences and present a “real world” version of agile in practice for the students to compare and contrast with the theory.

It was a lot of fun spending time with Rob in this setting and I thank him & his students for their engagement and questions. I’m always open to sharing my knowledge and experience, it’s very rewarding and the least I can do given all the help I’ve had along the journey that is my career so far (including from Rob himself).

ER: acting as a Rapid Software Testing Explored “peer advisor” (7-10 February 2022)

A relatively rare scheduling of the online version of the Rapid Software Testing Explored course for Australasian timezones presented me with an invitation from presenter Michael Bolton to act as a “peer advisor” for the course running from 7-10 February.

I had already participated in RST twice before, thanks to in-person classes with Michael in Canada back in 2007 and then again with James Bach in Melbourne in 2011, so the opportunity to experience the class online and in its most current form were both very appealing. I was quick to accept Michael’s offer to volunteer for the duration of the course.

While the peer advisor role is voluntary and came with no obligation to attend for any particular duration, I made room in my consulting schedule to attend every session over the four days (with the consistent afternoon scheduling making this a practical option for me). Each afternoon consisted of three 90-minute sessions with two 30-minute breaks, making a total of 18 hours of class time. The class retailed at AU$600 for paying participants so offers incredible value in its virtual format, in my opinion.

As a a peer advisor, I added commentary here and there during Michael’s sessions but contributed more during exercises in the breakout rooms, nudging the participants as required to help them. I was delighted to be joined by Paul Seaman and Aaron Hodder as peer advisors, both testers I have huge respect for and who have made significant contributions to the context-driven testing community. Eugenio Elizondo did a sterling job as PA, being quick to provide links to resources, etc. as well as keeping on top of the various administrivia required to run a smooth virtual class.

The class was attended by over twenty students from across Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. Zoom was used for all of Michael’s main sessions with breakout rooms being used to split the participants into smaller groups for exercises (with the peer advisors roaming these rooms to assist as needed). Asynchronous collaboration was facilitated via a Mattermost instance (an open source Slack clone), which seemed to work well for posing questions to Michael, documenting references, general chat between participants, etc.

While no two runs of an RST class are the same, all the “classic” content was covered over the four days, including testing & checking, heuristics & oracles, the heuristic test strategy model & product coverage outlines, shallow & deep testing, session-based test management, and “manual” & “automated” testing. The intent is not to cover a slide deck but rather to follow the energy in the (virtual) room and tailor the content to maximize its value to the particular group of participants. This nature of the class meant that even during this third pass through it, I still found the content fresh, engaging and valuable – and it really felt like the other participants did too.

The various example applications used throughout the class are generally simple but reveal complexity (and I’d seen all of them before, I think). It was good to see how other participants dealt with the tasks around testing these applications and I enjoyed nudging them along in the breakouts to explore different ways of thinking about the problems at hand.

The experience of RST in an online format was of course quite different to an in-person class. I missed the more direct and instant feedback from the faces and body language of participants (not everyone decided to have their video turned on either) and I imagine this also makes this format challenging for the presenter. I wondered sometimes whether there was confusion or misunderstanding that lay hidden from obvious view, in a way that wouldn’t happen so readily if everyone was physically present in the same room. Michael’s incredibly rich, subtle and nuanced use of language is always a joy for me, but I again wondered if some of this richness and subtlety was lost especially for participants without English as their first language.

The four hefty afternoons of this RST class passed so quickly and I thoroughly enjoyed both the course itself as well as the experience of helping out in a small way as a peer advisor. It was fun to spend some social time with some of the group after the last session in a “virtual pub” where Michael could finally enjoy a hard-earned beer! The incredible pack of resources sent to all participants is also hugely valuable and condenses so much learned experience and practical knowledge into forms well suited to application in the day-to-day life of a tester.

Since I first participated in RST back in 2007, I’ve been a huge advocate for this course and experiencing the online version (and seeing the updates to its content over the last fifteen years) has only made my opinions even stronger about the value and need for this quality of testing education. In a world of such poor messaging and content around testing, RST is a shining light and a source of hope – take this class if you ever have the chance (check out upcoming RST courses)!

(I would like to publicly offer my thanks to Michael for giving me the opportunity to act as a peer advisor during this virtual RST class – as I hope I’ve communicated above, it was an absolute pleasure!)

2021 in review

As another year draws to a close, I’ll take the opportunity to review my 2021.

I published 14 blog posts during the year, just about meeting my personal target cadence of a post every month. I wrapped up my ten-part series answering common search engine questions about testing and covered several different topics during my blogging through the year. My blog attracted about 25% more views than in 2020, somewhat surprisingly, and I continue to be really grateful for the amplification of my blog posts via their regular inclusion in lists such as 5Blogs, Testing Curator’s Testing Bits and Software Testing Weekly.

December 2021 has been the biggest month for my blog by far this year with a similar number of views to my all-time high back in November 2020 – interestingly, I published a critique of an industry report in December and published similar critiques in November 2020, so clearly these types of posts are popular (even if they can be somewhat demoralizing to write)!

I closed out the year with about 1,200 followers on Twitter, again up around 10% over the year.

Conferences and meetups

2021 was my quietest year for perhaps fifteen years in terms of conferences and meetups, mainly due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

I was pleased to announce mid-2021 that I would be speaking at the in-person Testing Talks 2021 (The Reunion) conference in Melbourne in October. Sadly, the continuing harsh response to the pandemic in this part of the world made an in-person event too difficult to hold, but hopefully I can keep that commitment for its rescheduled date in 2022.

I didn’t participate in any virtual or remote events during the entire year.

Consulting

After launching my testing consultancy, Dr Lee Consulting, towards the end of 2020, I noted in last year’s review post that “I’m confident that my approach, skills and experience will find a home with the right organisations in the months and years ahead.” This confidence turned out to be well founded and I’ve enjoyed working with my first clients during 2021.

Consulting is a very different gig to full-time permanent employment but it’s been great so far, offering me the opportunity to work in different domains with different types of organizations while also allowing me the freedom to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle. I’m grateful to those who have put their faith (and dollars!) in me during 2021 as I begin my consulting journey and I’m looking forward to helping more organizations to improve their testing and quality practices during 2022.

Testing books

After publishing my first testing book in October 2020, in the shape of An Exploration of Testers, it’s been pleasing to see a steady stream of sales through 2021. I made my first donation of proceeds to the Association for Software Testing (AST) from sales of the book and another donation will follow early in 2022. I also formalized an arrangement with the AST so that all future proceeds will be donated to them and all new & existing members will receive a free copy of the book. (I’m open to additional contributions to this book, so please contact me if you’re interested in telling your story via the answers to the questions posed in the book!)

I started work on another book project in 2021, also through the AST. Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester provides responses to common questions and statements about testing from a context-driven perspective, with its content being crowdsourced from the membership of the AST and the broader testing community. There are responses to six questions in the book so far and I’m adding another response every month (or so). The book is available for free from the AST’s GitHub.

Podcasting

It was fun to kick off a new podcasting venture with two good mates from the local testing industry, Paul Seaman and Toby Thompson. We’ve produced three episodes of The 3 Amigos of Testing podcast so far and aim to get back on the podcasting horse early in 2022 to continue our discussions around automation started back in August. The process of planning content for the podcast, discussing and dry-running it, and finally recording is an interesting one and kudos to Paul for driving the project and doing the heavy lifting around editing and publishing each episode.

Volunteering for the UK Vegan Society

I’ve continued to volunteer with the UK’s Vegan Society and, while I’ve worked on proofreading tasks again through the year, I’ve also started contributing to their web research efforts over the last six months or so.

It was exciting to be part of one of the Society’s most significant outputs of 2021, viz. the Planting Value in the Food System report. This 40,000-word report was a mammoth research project and my work in proofing it was also a big job! The resulting report and the website are high quality and show the credibility of The Vegan Society in producing well-researched reference materials in the vegan space.

Joining the web research volunteer group immediately gave me the opportunity to learn, being tasked with leading the research efforts around green websites and accessibility testing.

I found the green website research particularly engaging, as it was not an area I’d even considered before and the carbon footprint of websites – and how it can easily be reduced – doesn’t seem to (yet) be on the radar of most companies. The lengthy recommendations resulting from my research in this area will inform changes to the Vegan Society website over time and this work has inspired me to look into offering advice in this area to companies who may have overlooked this potentially significant contributor to their carbon footprint.

I also spent considerable time investigating website accessibility and tooling to help with development & testing in this area. While accessibility testing is something I was tangentially aware of in my testing career, the opportunity to deep dive into it was great and, again, my recommendations will be implemented over time to improve the accessibility of the society’s own website.

I continue to enjoy working with The Vegan Society, increasing my contribution to and engagement with the vegan community worldwide. The passion and commitment of the many volunteers I interact with is invigorating. I see it as my form of vegan activism and a way to utilize my existing skills in research and the IT industry as well as gaining valuable new skills and knowledge along the way.

Status Quo projects

I was honoured to be asked to write a lengthy article for the Status Quo official fan club magazine, FTMO, following the sad passing of the band’s original bass player, Alan Lancaster in September. Alan spent much of his life here in Australia, migrating to Sydney in 1978 and he was very active in the music industry in this country following his departure from Quo in the mid-1980s. It was a labour of love putting together a 5000-word article and selecting interesting photos to accompany it from my large collection of Quo scrapbooks.

I spent time during 2021 on a new Quo project too, also based around my scrapbook collection. This project should go live in 2022 and has been an interesting learning exercise, not just in terms of website development but also photography. Returning to coding after a 20+ year hiatus has been a challenge but I’m reasonably happy with the simple website I’ve put together using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and a MySQL database. Gathering the equipment and skills to take great photos of scrapbook clippings has also been fun and it’s nice to get back into photography, a keen hobby of mine especially in my university days back in the UK.

In closing

As always, I’m grateful for the attention of my readers here and also followers on other platforms. I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy my posts and other contributions to the testing community to come through 2022!

A year has gone…

Almost unbelievably, it’s now been a year since I left my long stint at Quest Software. It’s been a very different year for me than any of the previous 25-or-so spent in full-time employment in the IT industry. The continuing impact of COVID-19 on day-to-day life in my part of the world has also made for an unusual 12 months in many ways.

While I haven’t missed working at Quest as much as I expected, I’ve missed the people I had the chance to work with for so long in Melbourne and I’ve also missed my opportunities to spend time with the teams in China that I’d built up such a strong relationship with over the last few years (and who, sadly, have all since departed Quest as well as their operations there were closed down this year).

I’ve deliberately stayed fairly engaged with the testing community during this time, including giving a talk at at meetup, publishing my first testing book, launching my own testing consultancy business, and blogging regularly (including a ten-part blog series answering the most common search engine questions around testing).

Starting to work with my first clients in a consulting capacity is an interesting experience with a lot of learning opportunities. I plan to blog on some of my lessons learned from these early engagements later in the year.

Another fun and testing-related project kicked off in May, working with my good friends from the industry, Paul Seaman and Toby Thompson, to start The 3 Amigos of Testing podcast. We’ve always caught up regularly to chat about testing and life in general over a cold one or two, and this new podcast has given us plenty of opportunities to talk testing again, albeit virtually. A new episode of this podcast should drop very soon after this blog post.

On more personal notes, I’ve certainly been finding more time for myself since ending full-time employment. There are some non-negotiables, such as daily one-hour (or more) walks and meditation practice, and I’ve also been prioritizing bike riding and yoga practice. I’ve been reading a lot too – more than a book a week – on a wide variety of different topics. These valuable times away from technology are foundational in helping me to live with much more ease than in the past.

I’ve continued to do volunteer work with The Vegan Society (UK). I started off performing proofreading tasks and have also now joined their web volunteers’ team where I’ve been leading research projects on how to reduce the carbon footprint of the Society’s website and also to improve its accessibility. These web research projects have given me the welcome opportunity to learn about areas that I was not very familiar with before, the “green website” work being particularly interesting and it has inspired me to pursue other opportunities in this area (watch this space!). A massive proofreading task led to the recent publication of the awesome Planting Value in the Food System reports, with some deep research and great ideas for transitioning UK farming away from animal-based agriculture.

Looking to the rest of 2021, the only firm commitment I have in the testing space – outside of consulting work – is an in-person conference talk at Testing Talks 2021 in Melbourne. I’ll be continuing with my considerable volunteering commitment with the Vegan Society and I have a big Status Quo project in the works too! With little to no prospect of long-distance travel in Australia or overseas in this timeframe, we will enjoy short breaks locally between lockdowns and also press on with various renovation projects on our little beach house.

(Given the title of this blog, I can’t waste this opportunity to include a link to one of my favourite Status Quo songs, “A Year” – this powerful ballad morphs into a heavier piece towards the end, providing some light amongst the heaviness of its parent album, “Piledriver”. Enjoy!)

Donation of proceeds from sales of “An Exploration of Testers” book

In October 2020, I published my first software testing book, “An Exploration of Testers”. As I mentioned then, one of my intentions with this project was to generate some funds to give back to the testing community (with 100% of all proceeds I receive from book sales being returned to the community).

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve now made my first donation as a result of sales so far, based on royalties for the book in LeanPub to date:

LeanPub royalties

(Note that there is up to a 45-day lag between book sales and my receipt of those funds, so some recent sales are not included in this first donation amount.)

I’ve personally rounded up the royalties paid so far (US$230.93) to form a donation of US$250 (and covered their processing fees) to the Association for Software Testing for use in their excellent Grant Program. I’m sure these funds will help meetup and peer conference organizers greatly in the future.

I will make further donations of royalties received from book sales not covered by this first donation.

“An Exploration of Testers” is available for purchase via LeanPub and a second edition featuring more contributions from great testers around the world should be coming soon. My thanks to all of the contributors so far for making the book a reality and also to those who’ve purchased a copy, without whom this valuable donation to the AST wouldn’t have been possible.

2020 in review

It’s time to wrap up my blogging for the year again, after a quite remarkable 2020!

I published 22 blog posts during the year, a significant increase in output compared to the last few years (largely enabled by the change in my employment situation, but more on that later). My blog attracted about 50% more views than in 2019 and I’m very grateful for the amplification of my blog posts via their regular inclusion in lists such as 5Blogs, Testing Curator’s Testing Bits and Software Testing Weekly. November 2020 saw my blog receiving twice as many views as any other month since I started blogging back in 2014, mainly due to the popularity of my critique of two industry reports during that month.

I closed out the year with about 1,100 followers on Twitter, up around 10% over the year – this surprises me given the larger number of tweets around veganism I’ve posted during the year, often a cause of unfollowing!

COVID-19

It wouldn’t be a 2020 review blog without some mention of COVID-19, but I’m not going to dwell too much on it here. I count myself lucky in so many ways to have escaped significant impact from the pandemic. Living in regional Australia meant restrictions were never really too onerous (at least compared to metropolitan Melbourne), while I could continue working from home (until my COVID-unrelated retrenchment).

The only major inconvenience caused by the pandemic was somewhat self-inflicted when we made the unwise decision to travel to the UK in mid-March, arriving there just as restrictions kicked in. It was a stressful and expensive time finding a way back to Australia, but I’m very glad we escaped when we did to ride out the pandemic for the rest of the year at home in Australia. (I blogged about these interesting international travels here and here.)

The end of an era

My 21-year stint at Quest Software came to an end in August. It was an amazing journey with the company, the only job I’ve had since moving to Australia back in 1999! I consider myself lucky to have had such a great environment in which to learn and develop my passion for testing. Of course, the closing out of this chapter of my professional life took a while to adjust to but I’ve spent the time since then focusing on decompressing, helping ex-colleagues in their search for new opportunities, looking to new ventures (see below) and staying connected with the testing community – while also enjoying the freedoms that come with not working full-time in a high pressure corporate role.

Conferences and meetups

I started the year with plans to only attend one conference – in the shape of CAST in Austin – but 2020 had other ideas of course! While in-person conferences and meetups all disappeared from our radars, it was great to see the innovation and creativity that flowed from adversity – with existing conferences finding ways to provide virtual offerings, meetups going online and new conferences springing up to make the most of the benefits of virtual events.

Virtual events have certainly opened up opportunities for attendance and presenting to new people in our community. With virtual conferences generally being very affordable compared to in-person events (with lower registration costs and no travel & accommodation expenses), it’s been good to see different names on attendee lists and seeing the excitement and passion expressed by first-time conference attendees after these events. Similarly, there have been a lot of new faces on conference programmes with the opportunity to present now being open to many more people, due to the removal of barriers such as travelling and in-person public speaking. It feels like this new model has increased diversity in both attendees and presenters, so this is at least one positive out of the pandemic. I wonder what the conference landscape will look like in the future as a result of what organisers have learned during 2020. While there’s no doubt in my mind that we lose a lot of the benefits of a conference by not being physically present in the same place, there are also clear benefits and I can imagine a hybrid conference world emerging – I’m excited to see what develops in this area.

I only attended one meetup during the year, the DDD Melbourne By Night event in September during which I also presented a short talk, Testing Is Not Dead, to a largely developer audience. It was fun to present to a non-testing audience and my talk seemed to go down well. (I’m always open to sharing my thoughts around testing at meetups, so please let me know if you’re looking for a talk for your meetup.)

In terms of conferences, I participated in three events during the year. First up, I attended the new Tribal Qonf organised by The Test Tribe and this was my first experience of attending a virtual conference. The registration was ridiculously cheap for the great range of quality presenters on offer over the two-day conference and I enjoyed catching up on the talks via recordings (since the “live” timing didn’t really work for Australia).

In November, I presented a two-minute talk for the “Community Strikes The Soapbox” part of EuroSTAR 2020 Online. I was in my element talking about “Challenging The Status Quo” and you can see my presentation here.

Later in November, I was one of the speakers invited to participate in the inaugural TestFlix conference, again organised by The Test Tribe. This was a big event with over one hundred speakers, all giving talks of around eight minutes in length, with free registration. My talk was Testing Is (Still) Not Dead and I also watched a large number of the other presentations thanks to recordings posted after the live “binge” event.

The start of a new era

Starting a testing consultancy business

Following my unexpected departure from Quest, I decided that twenty five years of full-time corporate employment was enough for me and so, on 21st October, I launched my testing consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. I’m looking forward to helping different organisations to improve their testing and quality practices, with a solid foundation of context-driven testing principles. While paid engagements are proving elusive so far, I’m confident that my approach, skills and experience will find a home with the right organisations in the months and years ahead.

Publishing a testing book

As I hinted in my 2019 review post at this time last year, a project I’ve been working on for a while, both in terms of concept and content, finally came to fruition in 2020. I published my first testing book, An Exploration of Testers, on 7th October. The book contains contributions from different testers and a second edition is in the works as more contributions come in. All proceeds from sales of the book will go back into the testing community and I plan to announce how the first tranche of proceeds will be used early in 2021.

Volunteering for the UK Vegan Society

When I saw a call for new volunteers to help out the UK’s Vegan Society, I took the opportunity to offer some of my time and, despite the obvious timezone challenges, I’m now assisting the organisation (as one of their first overseas volunteers) with proofreading of internal and external communications. This is a different role in a different environment and I’m really enjoying working with them as a way to be more active in the vegan community.

Thanks to my readers here and also followers on other platforms, I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy my posts to come through 2021.

I’ll be continuing my ten-part blog series answering common questions around software testing (the first four parts of which are already live) but, please remember, I’m more than happy to take content suggestions so let me know if there are any topics you particularly want me to express opinions on.

Publishing my first testing book, “An Exploration of Testers”

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been working on a testing book for the last year-or-so. With more free time since leaving full-time employment back in August, I’m delighted to have now published my first e-book on testing, called An Exploration of Testers.

The book is formed of contributions from various testers around the world, with seventeen contributions in the first edition. Each tester answered the same set of eleven questions designed to tease out testing, career and life lessons. I was humbled by how much time and effort went into the contributions and also by how willing the community was to engage with the project, with almost every tester I invited to contribute then committing to doing so. A number of contributions will be added in the coming months (and additional versions of the book are free after your initial purchase, so don’t be afraid to buy now!).

My experience of using LeanPub as the publishing platform has been generally very good. When I was researching ways to self-publish, LeanPub seemed to get good reviews and it was free to try so I gave it a go, then ended up sticking with it. I’m still on the free plan and it suffices for now for this project. The platform makes most aspects of creating, publishing and selling a book really straightforward and the markdown language used for writing the manuscript is easy to learn (though sometimes comes with frustrating limitations on the control of layout). I would recommend LeanPub to others looking to write their first book.

At the very start of the project, I decided that any proceeds from sales of the book would be ploughed back into the testing community and this fact seemed to encourage participation in the project. I will be transparent about the money received from book sales (with the only expenses being those taken by LeanPub as the publishing & sales platform) and also where I decide to invest it back into our community. It seems only fair to give back to the community that has been so generous to me over the years and also generated the content for the book.

For more details and to buy a copy, please visit https://leanpub.com/anexplorationoftesters

Pre-launch announcements for my new projects

After six weeks or so of resetting following my unplanned exit from Quest, I’m getting close to publicly announcing more details on a couple of new projects.

One of these has been in the making for about a year, while the other has arisen as a direct result of leaving full-time employment.

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of writing a book and I will finally realize this idea with the release of a testing-related e-book very soon. It’s been a highly collaborative effort with input from many members of the testing community. Having more free time since finishing up at Quest has given me the opportunity to wrap up what I think is worthy of publishing as a first edition. I will return all proceeds from sales of this book to the testing community. Look out for more details of the book via this blog and my social media presences in the coming weeks!

My other project is a new boutique software testing consultancy business. The intention is to offer something quite different in the consulting space, utilizing my skills and experience from the last twenty years to help organizations to improve their testing practices. This consultancy won’t suit everyone but I hope that my niche offering will both help those who see the value in the way I think about testing and also give me the chance to share my knowledge and experience in a meaningful way outside of full-time corporate employment. I expect to launch this business before the end of the year, but feel free to express interest in securing my services now if you believe that my thinking around software testing could be of value in your organization. Note that I will not be making myself available full-time (as I’m deliberately carving out time for volunteer work and to focus on my wellbeing), so now is a good time to secure some of my limited future availability before the formal launch of the consultancy. Again, keep an eye on this blog and my socials for more details of the testing consultancy project.

ER of presenting at DDD Melbourne By Night meetup (10th September 2020)

In response to a tweet looking for speakers for an online meetup organized by DDD Melbourne By Night, I submitted an idea – “Testing is not dead!” – and it was accepted.

I had a few weeks to prepare for this short (ten-minute) talk and went through my usual process of sketching out the content in a mindmap first (using the free version of XMind), then putting together a short slide deck (in PowerPoint) to cover that content.

I find it harder to nail down my content for short talks like this than for a typical longer conference track talk. The restricted time forces focus and I landed on just a few key points: looking at the claims of “testing is dead”, defining what “testing” means to me (and contrasting with “checking”), where automation fits in, and wrapping up with a few tips for non-specialist testers (as this is primarily a meetup with a developer audience).

I did two practice runs of the talk over the same conference call technology that the meetup would be using (Zoom), even though my willing audience of one (my wife) was only in the next room at home! I find practice runs to be an essential part of my preparation and I was pleased to find both runs coming in very close to the ten-minute timebox.

The September DDD by Night meetup took place on the evening of 10th September and featured nine lightning talks with some preamble and also time for questions between each talk. I was third up on the bill and managed to whizz through my talk in a few seconds under ten minutes! The content seemed to be well received and some of my ideas were clearly new to this audience, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to spread my opinion about testing to a different part of the Melbourne tech community.

Lee kicking off his talk

It was also great to see Vanessa Morgan as a first-time presenter during this meetup and her talk was a very polished performance.

Thanks to the DDD Melbourne crew for putting on meetup events during these interesting times and, as a newcomer, the friendly community spirit in this group was obvious.

You can watch my talk on YouTube.

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.