Friday, September 19, 2014

The Let's Test Oz experience ...

The Personal Journey

There were a lot of nerves on my behalf leading up to the Let's Test Oz conference this week.  My wife was diagnosed with severe anxiety much earlier in the year, made much worse by the death of her mother.

Leaving her whilst I went to the neighbouring country for the best part of a week was worrying, but I also knew it had potential to be good for her to know that she could cope and was more capable than she knew.  It could be a great point on her recovery, or a point where she badly relapsed.  Thankfully we had a backup plan in our number one son, who is a very capable and level-headed man at sixteen now.

It was great that at Let's Test I had a couple of people who knew this backstory - I was checking into the hotel with physical and emotional baggage - and were there to check on me and understand if I didn't want to be super-social all the time.  I think at times this support net is what the online testing community has learned to weave best.

What I'm going to do is pick up on a few of the best moments and revelations from the conference, to condence my experience ...

The Train Ride

I had a two hour train ride in the morning with tester Kim Engel, fresh from our conversation about flat earth's.  It was a great journey, and a great conversation to get me in the mood - I almost talked myself hoarse.  It reminded me one of my favourite pastimes with my son is travelling, because whether hiking or driving, it gives you opportunity to talk and explore.  With my son it's about exploring history and ideas around it.  With Kim it was exploring aspects of testing and mental health that we've both had personal journeys with.

With such conversations it's actually often a disappointment when you reach your destination, because you've enjoyed the journey too much.  Yup - I was actually slightly sad to arrive (but not for too long).

Coaching Testers Workshop

I've spoken previously about James Bach and Anne-Marie's workshop on coaching testers.  It had some great ideas circulating, and James had found some examples from movies of people coaching others.  I had to say I feel slightly ashamed that I have not yet watched the Magnificent Seven, despite liking Westerns - I need to remedy this at some point!

Great focus was given to understanding yourself as a coach, who you are and what your behaviour is.  How do you interact with people?  What's important to you in others?  Then to look at the person who is looking for coaching, and asking what they need in a coach.  Sometimes that's not you.  James and Anne-Marie talked frankly about their coaching, and that occasionally they will recommend an individual goes to the other for coaching.

As always with a good workshop, this included reams of hands-on.  We logged in anonymously to Skype and we got to work with other people in the room, taking turns to be the coach and to be the student.

I'll be absolutely blunt, I thought the person I was coaching knew me, and was playing a game.  I kept getting incredibly frustrated but trying to be calm with them.  When it came to debrief it turned out that the person I paired with had never used Skype before and was a slow typist.  I learned a valuable lesson there that especially online you need to get some form of check-in about the student, how they feel and what their backstory is, rather than "leap into" the coaching.

It's a lesson I really should know - but it's amazing how the session helped to reinforce that, and instead I made my own assumptions that it was someone trolling me.

So you wanna be a boxer?

SoftEd ran a couple of boxing training sessions which were absolutely superb.  I occasionally do something similar in Wellington (I've talked about Josette, one of our instructors here).

Boxing training is a very intimate kind of training.  You pair up with someone, and take turns doing exercises,with one person using gloves to hit, and another holding the pads being hit (you hit the pads, not the person!).  You have to both be mentally in a similar zone, and develop a kind of rhythm with each other.

That makes it oddly quite a social activity.  The best kind of pairing is when you're both supporting the other with "try moving your stance", "we're half way, don't give up", "c'mon, keep going, nice" - it was some of Bach and Charrett's coaching tips in miniature.

Half the success of any conference like this is being able to mingle with people who you don't know.  Meet new people, make new allies.  The boxing sessions proved to be a great "meet and greet" event, with conversations with other boxers strung out through the rest of the conference.

Which brings me to this tweet ...

The boxing was one method (I'll talk about the other in a moment), but there were the experienced keynote speakers touring the conference, and there were other speakers such as myself.  But mingling and listening I realised something important, "everyone has an experience report and a story inside them, just keep your ears open".

As I said in that tweet, in some ways listening to the raw stories from others was a great opportunity to really spread my net over the conference.

Put yourself around people with passion

The other method of putting myself around a bit came at lunchtime.  It all felt like being a bit at High School with "who shall I sit with?".  Occasionally I just really needed to eat and dash, and I'd just sit alone.  But I tried to use it as an opportunity to sit with new people, and introduce myself.

I however earned myself the "special little snowflake" achievement on Monday lunchtime though - finding a table of people I didn't know, and asking if it was okay to sit with them.  They were from a completely different conference!

But this actually led to a bit of a revelation.  They were a conference of ultrasound operators and were curious about who we all were.  So I got to tell them a little about software testing, as well as ask them a bit about their conference.

My interest was hightened a bit.  Recently my brother and his wife had a daughter.  One thing that surprised me was the ultrasound. When my son was "under development", we had a couple of ultrasound pictures of him, and they were a bit like one of those 3d puzzles.  If you stared at really hard, you couple perhaps make out a skull.  Ish.

But for Thea, her pictures were strikingly clear, the technology had really come along leaps and bounds.  So surely being an ultrasound operator was a lot easier now?  Wrong.

Turns out they do more and more checking with ultrasound as it's such a non-invasive proceedure.  They were spending a conference looking at example images of different ailments such as a damaged appendix.  In their normal routine they might not see some of these examples, so it was all about improving their ability to look and and recognise issues.  They were using the conference to broaden their experience from other operators, so when they went back to work on the Thursday they were just that bit sharper.

The improvements in technology made some things a lot easier.  But at the end of the day it required a human eye and human judgement.  And damn it - wasn't the same true about testing's relationship to technology over the same timeframe?  Some things had got easier, but at the end of the day, it's about a human eye and human decision making.

This led me to an important understanding - I learn a lot about testing, but not always from testers.  I'm quite a talker, but I'm a good listener too.  In fact when we go touring around New Zealand, my wife despairs of me as I really enjoy going into quiet shops and talking at length to the owners, where we come from and finding out some of their history.

I am attracted to spending time with people with a passion, and an ability to animatedly talk about that passion.  It doesn't have to be anything I'm interested in - in fact often it helps if it's not.  Just this year I've spun pieces off from conversations with Josette my boxing instructor and Lotz my musician friend.

Testing has a good few parallels, and if you listen out, there is knowledge out there from people going through similar experiences which you can Shanghai, and add to yours!

An interesting chat with Erik Peterson leads to some self-reflection ...

I had an interesting lunchtime chat with Erik Peterson where we talked about heuristic models for testing.  I came to the realisation that I'm heavily dependant on an "experiental model" (although I do use others) - basically "when I used to program, I once saw this happen" or "I've seen a bug like this in a similar system".

That's of course okay, as long as you realise it's fallible.  And it's greatest fallibility is you aren't looking for a bug you've never experienced before - you have a blind spot to anything you've never seen or heard.  It also made me look at some of my writing - overall my writing heavily leans towards a "series of experience reports", occasionally postulating a model from this experience.

It's an interesting look in the mirror at my way of thinking - also tying into my previous post about trying and failing.  It's like I'm drawn to having a pool of experiences to base judgements on.

My talk

Yup - I'm not being egotistical here, but not only did I enjoy giving my talk on "deprogramming the cargo cult of testing", but to my shock, I walked out with an expanded take on it.  Some of the questions asked allowed me to think and explore the subject in ways I'd not expected.

The topic was really talking about the system of testing we've put into place over the last 12 months, and I talked about it back in my piece on exploratory testing.  We put together a new way of testing when we moved to being agile, but we engaged with our customer to talk to them about what they felt they got out of our old methodology?  What did they feel they get from a test plan, a test script or a test report?

The point was this was to form a matrix of values from our customer - this meant whatever approach we took for testing it needed to address these values in some manner.  If it didn't then we weren't done with our approach, it wasn't hitting the needs, and we needed to rethink.  But not only that, we had to make sure we were making "how our testing worked" visible to the customer.

An example of this would be how the customer saw test scripts both as "proof of testing" and "training material".  We ended up using qTrace to record our sessions as "proof of testing" and for "training material" sharing an internal testing handbook we already had, and making sure we kept it up to date sprint on sprint.

Someone noted the piece tied in a bit with Keith Klain's keynote where he talked about avoiding being overly whiny or self-centred about testing's problems, but understand the person you report to "has problems and needs" that you don't know of.  To try and go to them, not with more problems, but trying to help and aid them.

The bottom line to this approach was that we made sure we had an evangelical fervour to delivering real value to our customers, in a testing approach that we felt accurately addressed their needs.  In this I really was pleased we seemed to carry on the spirit of Alessandra Moreiraa's talk about engaging and influencing people.  In fact the conclusion from our talk was it would be a mistake to wait for a major shift from waterfall to agile before engaging with a client to ask if the testing you're performing is really "ticking the boxes" from both the client and the test team point of view.

Final thoughts ...

These are the things that really stuck with me - a very interesting conference, with a lot to take home.  I sadly missed the Fiona Charles keynote at the end of the Wednesday, which I was looking forward to.

There was a lot to take in, but also fun to be had along the way - one of the funnest activities being Joanne Perold and Carsten Feilberg's workshop where we replicated problems in communication by using a Lego building exercise to replicate the the software building process.  This was an exercise I would love to try again with different rules to see if it causes some of the outcomes I expect.  Likewise the boxing and the coaching activities were nicely hands on.

The team behind Let's Test Oz really did an excellent job in making this happen - the venue and food was amazing, everything ran well, and everyone seemed to come to the conference ready to really share and engage.  I made sure before writing this, I sent an email to the key players, asking them to circulate to all who needed to read it.

Thanks guys!


  1. Regarding my wife, to quote the great George Formby, "it turned out nice again". She managed to cope better than she'd originally expected. Another step on the road to recovery ...

  2. Nicely explained. Here you described the well written article from your in-depth knowledge. Truly impressive and nice information

    Java Training in Chennai Core Java Training in Chennai Core Java Training in Chennai

    Java Online Training Java Online Training JavaEE Training in Chennai Java EE Training in Chennai