Sunday, August 26, 2012

Godspeed Neil Armstrong

An incredibly sad day indeed – Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon has died at the age of 82.

Although Armstrong did a stint in the US Navy air force, seeing action in Korea, he actually left the military to gain a degree in aeronautical engineering at college.  He had a love of flying though, and ended up embarking on a career as a civilian test pilot. He was a different mould to the Hollywood stereotype of the hot-headed test pilot, being quiet and methodical due to his engineering background. Some test pilots like Chuck Yeager felt such pilot-engineer testers got themselves into more trouble because they would try to think their way out of situations over follow their instincts, and in Chuck's mindset trying to over think could lead to the kind of hesitency that a test pilot could not afford.

He joined the NASA space program as one of the few civilian test pilots. His first space flight was Gemini 8 where his capsule performed a docking with an unmanned Agena module. This was a world first.

However soon after docking, something went wrong with the Agena, and the two linked vehicles started to go into a spin, as the program controlling the Agena thrusters seemed to react against the Gemini 8 command capsule. Noticing they were burning fuel trying to correct this, the Gemini pilots decided to disengage, however the Gemini 8 capulse then started to tumble even fasted when removed. It was only due to some steely decisions made by Armstrong that the pair did not black out, and the Gemini 8 capsule was stabilised.

Some members of NASA said that the Gemini 8 crew had compromised the mission by not following the malfunction procedures for such an instance. Despite there being no such procedure for this eventuality. Armstrong being a true tester just worked through the problem and found the best solution he could for a situation no-one has anticipated.

It was his calm manner and lack of ego which made him an ideal candidate to be the first man on the Moon. He was a perfect choice – when he returned to the Earth he didn't use his position to influence politics (despite being asked to) and was careful in the choice of any company he chose to endorse.

Of course he didn't get to the Moon on his own, he got there as a figurehead of a team, from the controllers at NASA to the guy on the assembly line. He always spoke with great humility acknowledging those whose input he always wanted us to remember.

He may have been the first man to set foot on the Moon, but he was also in many ways one of us, a tester – although one who would put his life on the line in his pursuit of testing. He used his pilot and his engineering skills in equal measure to probe for problems then investigate and overcome them. He later served on the inquiry into the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

The world cheered in 1969 when he stepped off of his lunar lander. It now must stand for a moment in silence to mark his passing.

Godspeed Neil Armstrong …

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.

Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that's when something snaps up and bites you.

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I bet you didn't know ...

When I started this blog in 2010, I was somewhat unsure about how my employers at the time would take my writing and my views, especially as I use a level of humour which can easily be misread. In fact if you've read Yabber Dabber Don't you will understand my reasons for taking on an identity and assuming a level of anonymity.

As my writing here and in magazines such as Teatime With Testers and Testing Circus has been so well received, I've bit by bit removed some of that anonymity. In fact today my current employer thinks it's a boon to have someone who is so passionate about his job that he is always seeking to write about it and ways to do it better in his spare time (there's commitment for you).

Because of this, I thought it would be fun to just cover a few facts about me which are perhaps not common knowledge …

My name is Mike Talks

Yes that's my real name. And in answer to the question that's haunted me through school – yes I do like to talk a lot. Our family genealogist tell us our line comes from Norway and we were originally called Torgesen before migrating to Scotland where the name became successively Anglicised.

I come from a proud line of engineers

My father is a world famous metallurgist and tribologist (someone who tries to reduce corrosion and wear in machine) who worked originally in the mining industry and still works today on submarine parts. Meanwhile my grandfather worked all his life in mining safety mainly at the Sneyd and Chatterley Whitfield mines in Stoke-on-Trent.

In talking to other testers, I've become aware how useful it's been to be brought up in a culture which so values engineering and which have provided such fine role models. In particular I'm lucky to have heard so many of my grandfathers “war stories” about the mining industry, which often involve trying to persuade and influence management away from potentially disastrous courses of action.

Although the name is TestSheepNZ, I'm actually from England

I emigrated to New Zealand in 2009 with my family, and really enjoy it over here. Wellington where I live is a beautiful city without being too large.

I've moved around a lot in my life – my home town is the brewery capital of the Midland, Burton-upon-Trent. During my life I've lived in Sheffield, Keighley, Colchester, Jena, Liverpoo, Weymouth, Farnborough. I might be related to gypsies.

I've tried my hand at quite a few careers and interests

I actually graduated with a degree from the University of Sheffield in Physics and Astronomy, and ended up becoming a teacher of science for a while. I then did further research into lasers and then intelligent sensors, where I picked up about programming (I owe a lot to Software Engineering by Michael J. Pont for that).

I worked in mathematical modelling and computer programming for many years before ending up in software testing. I was always a good programmer, but I excelled when it came to testing. I put this down to having a similar approach to testing as to my scientific research – it's about trying to prove things, often from first principles.

I have a similar eclectic set of interests at home – I share a passion for history with my son who's 14, and am particularly interested in the period of the English Civil War which I believe in many ways was about holding the government of the time accountable and ensuring certain freedoms (such as the right to choose your own religion). Likewise I have interests in psychology and mental health which I picked up from my friend Violet.

I played until recently both cricket and rugby, but injuries and age have meant I'm doing less of that. I still keep at the gym where I now do a lot of dance activities. Back in England I used to be a Morris Dancer.

All this diverse passion is why I'm really keen on working in Agile teams, which seem to thrive off diversity in the team over having people constrained in pigeon-holed job titles. In particular I like how the dynamic seems to be one in a good team where boundaries are sought to be challenged.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Agile Murder Mystery

It's been a busy few months, and I really want to put something on the blog, but have been incredibly busy.  So I've stolen the following article from my book the Software Minefield.

This was a Cluedo-based activity I was hoping to do at the Wellington Agile 2012 conference.  Sadly it didn't make it, so it ended up getting written as an article instead (I'm never going to waste a good idea).

Around Wellington and Twitter I've seen and heard through friends about a lot of Agile projects which haven't quite worked.  As I gathered stories, I noticed a few familiar characters coming out time and again.  Heck, in the early days it turns out I was one of the usual suspects!  Enjoy ...

It was supposed to be a weekend company retreat to discuss our recent Agile implementation, hold a retrospective and look to the future. However early Sunday morning we were woken up by Scotland Yard's finest to be informed that Dr Black, our Agile coach had been found dead, murdered beneath their Kanban board.

So there I found myself in the drawing room, here together with a group of the usual suspects, and found myself wondering, "which one of you killed the Agile process?".

Mrs Peacock, the suspicious Product Owner?
It's easy to succeed if you don't aim high enough?

Although originally each Agile sprint had delivered as promised, she was beginning to suspect the success was coming too easily, and maybe this was because people weren't working hard enough.

She was pushing hard to double what was delivered in each sprint because she wanted more business value, and was annoyed when they failed to deliver.

Colonel Mustard, the resistant Project Manager?
All this Agile is mumbo jumbo, stick to what works ...?

Resistant to the Agile move, Colonel Mustard looked upon Agile practices such as stand-up meetings as if they were a form of voodoo. Thus to make sure the team did not miss anything he had them follow old Waterfall processes together with Agile ones to reduce the risks?.

Reverend Green, the evangelistic Architect?
As my good book says, the problem with this project ... it's just not Agile enough?

Reverend Green had been away on some Agile learning courses, and carried around several books on Agile. He was enthusiastic to learn that the team was being turned into an Agile project. However he argued constantly with the Agile Coach complaining the transformation process was too slow and that it just wasn't Agile enough according to his theory books.

Miss Scarlett, the cynical Business Analyst?
This is just another company fad ... it'll be abandoned soon

Although not hostile to Agile, Miss Scarlett saw Agile as another company attempt to jump on a bandwagon. Although she followed process, she never got involved fully and never saw the value.

Professor Plum, the anti-social Developer?
The great thing about Agile - no more documentation. I can just get on with developing all day.

Professor Plum was originally keen on the idea of Agile feeling it would involve no more documentation, and full days of coding. However he was less than happy to find that he would still have to interact with the rest of the team during stand-ups, which he saw as another drain on his time. He just wanted to be left alone to code.

Mrs White, the fearful Tester?
We had a process before Agile where we got products out the door eventually. So why change it?

Mrs White had a number of years on the project, and was used to the rigid software development processes that had been around as long as her, and which she had mastered. She was fearful that a change in the organization to Agile would render her skills and job obsolete.

Although people are increasingly getting exposure to Agile projects, not all of it is good news. A lot of Agile projects don't stay Agile, and revert to either V-model or Waterfall. Taking part in local Agile Wellington events I've networked with a good deal of people from the IT industry and heard their war stories of Agile transformation gone bad.

There are a number of obstacles for an Agile team, - without an Agile coach, there may just not be enough experience in the team to make the transition - there may be issues with co-location and delivery of software which means Agile is just not feasible

And sometimes Agile just won't work, because whether consciously or not, it's sabotaged from inside.
From our list of suspects, do you have a favourite for the murderer? Most people will have someone there they'd like to accuse. The list of suspects is drawn from commonly encountered personality types on Agile projects.

Who is the murderer? They all are!
  • Mrs Peacock rather than being pleased that she was getting working software overloaded the sprints, but then turned it into an issue when everything was not delivered.
  • Colonel Mustard by keeping both Agile and Waterfall practices to "play safe" overloaded his staff with tasks to reduce their efficiency.
  • Reverend Green wanted the kind of Agile process he'd read in theory books, and so failed to see that the project had real needs not directly covered in theory. And so was needed to be pragmatic in it's application.
  • Miss Scarlett never got into the spirit of Agile. She didn't want to talk much in stand ups, so people never got much information from her of any use.
  • Professor Plum looked at only the things in Agile he liked, and was upset he couldn't pick-and-choose what bits of Agile he played along with for his own convenience.
  • Mrs White used every opportunity to say how the old system was better, and like Colonel Mustard continued to use the old ways of doing things.
Of course maybe some of this is slightly unfair. And Scotland Yard have another theory. Dr Black committed suicide.

Why? Because Dr Black was in a position to address all the team's divergent needs, but didn't.
  • Mrs Peacock should have been encouraged to increase what they were aiming to achieve during each sprint. It becomes an issue though when it becomes dramatic when everything from the forecast was not delivered. To me, this is a key litmus test for a team who think they're Agile, ask them "tell me about a time you failed to deliver everything in a sprint". If they give a tale of woe, it's worth exploring. The thing is no-one knows the capacity for an Agile team, and the measures we use to size up stories is imperfect. This need to be appreciated, as well as the fact that if something is not delivered this sprint, it should be next sprint. At least we know now about problems around it.
  • Colonel Mustard should have been persuaded to drop his Waterfall use of project measures, and educated on how the Agile ways of measuring the project worked. Although Dr Black should have attempted to mentor the Colonel, in the end they might have had to force "just do it my way" for a few sprints. This would have pushed the Colonel out of his comfort zone, but after a few sprints he would hopefully have learned that the sky didn't fall in, and get comfortable with the Agile way of doing things.
  • Reverend Green should have been mentored on the reason some Agile processes were incorporated, but some processes stayed the same.
  • Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Mrs White each needed training and mentoring on the Agile process. They needed to be encouraged to participate, to understand the values and avoid choosing out only the bits they liked. Sometimes like the Colonel they might have to be forced to "just do it" Dr Black's way. However Dr Black should never have stopped trying to get the message of the value of the Agile way, so that people would become educated and accept the values in the Agile methods.
Maybe then, a lot of needless bloodshed would have been prevented.