“Lighting the way; Educating others and ourselves about software testing - (raising a new generation of thinking creative testers)”
This topic is of huge interest to me - I'm not only a qualified and certified teacher of science, but also have spent a good amount of time in higher education, even being self-taught in software development (and before you ask, I was a damn fine programmer as well).
Helping to develop in others an understanding of what testers do and our methods is I think a core part of the profession, whether it's developing junior staff, or demystifying our role to project managers and developers.
So what is a peer conference?
In other types of conference you tend to be lectured to by someone who has found an idea or strategy. They use lots of powerpoint slides, and with luck a few questions are possible afterwards.
A peer conference, however, is much more interactive.
It's based around the idea of experience reports. Any attendee can choose to give a 5-10 minute talk about an experience they've had which relates to the main topic. At the end, that experience is given over to the group, who can explore that situation with a series of questions.
Unlike the standard conference where you're just really pooling the speakers experience, this means that the situation is expanded and explored by the sum experience and intelligence of those in the room. Thus a peer conference is much more exploratory of the subject matter. You can't look at an agenda and know where you'll end up by lunch, the end of the day, the end of the conference. That's both exciting and scary ...
Numbers at a peer conference are always tricky - you need enough people to have diversity of opinion (otherwise you'll get nothing but lots of agreement out of the sessions), but not so large that people feel they don't have a voice.
The Opening Experience Report ...
This year, the opening experience was given by Anne-Marie Charrett who is a software testing coach based in Australia. She has been teaching testers for years, and had experience at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
When approached to give a formulaic course at UTS, with her exploratory testing experience, she felt was too much a repeat of standards. She found she wanted to rewrite it, and sought permission.
Before long, she was making videos, and trying to make sure the content was appropriate, and something she could stand by. Used AST materials heavily as an influence. But wanted to make as much hands-on as possible. Wanted to make it experiment based, as testing is about "doing stuff".
She did the PSL course with Jerry Weinberg - which is about giving a space for learning. About individual development over "following a course scheme". Wanted to create something similar but around testing.
An important part was to create a space to work in - where they could be immersed in the exercise, and encouraging people to ask questions. Encouraging students that it's not about giving answers, but finding the right questions.
Some topics she covered over using some exercises and some homework,
- Mentally modelling software - how do you understand about a product, going far beyond just requirements (if they are even available).
- Critical thinking - how do you challenge a product?
- State models
- Tools and testability
- Exploratory vs scripted testing
- Reporting and communication
- The students themselves were used to just sitting in the classroom and given information and lectures. Being student-centric, it was based on them. Students needed to learn and develop their communication.
- Students were postgraduate IT folk, who were more interested initially in development than testing.
- Dealing with Unversity bureaucracy - wanted a scheduled course they could measure and examine.
She got them to go "into the wild" and into Sun Corp to test and raise problems on live projects. Sun Corp helped to mentor and develop, and students loved and got a lot out of it. Many had changed their mind on whether they wanted to do testing as a career.
This feedback from students and companies has shown she's onto something, and the course is providing a real slice of valuable skills for a career in testing.