Eurostar 2009 – a week to remember

A write-up of the Eurostar 2009-conference in Stockholm

I absolutely *love* Stockholm in wintertime. Pepparkakor, glögg, gravad lax… and Eurostar too. People keep telling me that I would probably love it even more in summertime, but I’ll always associate those dark days with Eurostar. I presented my first Eurostar track there in 2007 – nothing but good memories – and I was selected this year as well. The Eurostar line-up is always pretty impressive, so it can be both intimidating and exciting to be a part of that. It’s just a matter of keeping the intimidation level below the excitement level, I guess. As a boyscout, good old Baden Powell always told me to “be prepared”. Now sometimes I wouldn’t recognize a life lesson if it punched me in the face, but here’s one that I did remember. So I found myself writing a paper and assembling a presentation during those hot holiday nights in Southwestern France. You just gotta love those early deadlines!

November 29

After an uneventful flight from Brussels to Arlanda, set foot on Swedish soil. Met up with fellow Belgian Mieke Gevers, a member of this year’s program committee and in charge of the track chairs as well. I helped her carry some excess bagagge that turned out to contain presents for the trackchairs – you can’t go wrong with Belgian chocolates and “jenever“. We took the Arlanda express (easy and quick) to Stockholm C and a cab to the Rica Talk hotel.

November 30 – Tutorial day

On monday I attended a full-day tutorial by Michael Bolton called “Exploratory Testing Masterclass” (slides available here). Two years ago I attended his tutorial on Rapid Software Testing, which I found very valuable. Michael Bolton is an engaging speaker and teacher who invites you to think, rather than just sit and absorb theoretical matter. There were lots of exercises, including one on factoring (identifying dimensions of interest in a product). We were asked to identify all dimensions of a wineglass that may be relevant to testing it, using the “San Francisco Depot” – heuristic (Structure, Functions, Data, Platform, Operations, Time) – not new to me but always worth repeating. A lot of mnemonic wizardry to be found here. What about that handy mnemonic for oracles – HICCUPPS/F (History, Image, Comparable product, Claims, User expectation, Product, Purpose, Statutes, Familiar problems) – never again say that you don’t know why something should be considered a bug. Care to take a ride on that test reporting heuristic called MCOASTER? Well I’ll see your CRUSSPIC STMPL, and raise it with a FCC CUTS VIDS (Mike Kelly’s application touring heuristic). Mnemomania!

Of course, there were plenty of other impressions that kept lingering for a while.

  • A quote by Jerry Weinberg: “A tester is someone who knows things can be different” – true.
  • “If it ain’t exploratory, it’s avoidatory” – made me laugh. 
  • “A good tester doesn’t just ask “Pass or Fail?”. A good tester asks “Is there a problem here?”.
  • CHECks are CHange detECtors, testing is exploring.
  • A complete debunking of some boundary value analysis truisms: it is generally accepted that the behaviour at boundaries is more likely to show erratic behaviour, but how do we know these boundaries? The actual boundaries in a system may not be the ones we are told about. That’s why we must explore.
  • Testing is “storytelling” – I liked that take on testing:

“You must tell a story about the product, about how it failed, and how it might fail – in ways that matter to your various clients. But you must also also tell a story about testing, how you configured, operated and observed it – about what you haven’t tested, yet… or won’t test, at all – and about why what you did was good enough.”

The end of the session was foreseen at 5 PM. The discussions kept going on until 5.45 PM. I think that says it all. Later that evening, an international amalgam of testers set out to explore the possibilities of finding food in Gamla Stan. Eventually we found an Indian restaurant using that good old I.NEWTON heuristic (Indian, Nearby, Edible, Welcoming, Tasty, Open, Not-too-expensive). The end of a great day. Had some nice conversations with Rikard Edgren, Tone Molyneux, Ray Arell and  John Watkins (my trackchair) as well.

December 1

The second day started with a tutorial as well, be it a half-day one: Managing Exploratory Testing by Jonathan Kohl. Of course there were a lot of similarities with the first tutorial, but this was more of a hands-on session, where we could put Michael Bolton’s concepts from the day before into practise. There was some theory about coverage models – SF Depot anyone? We ended up describing a whole bunch of characteristics of a table that we had never associated with an ordinary table before. Practical and fun. Certainly an eye-opener.

At that point I was still trying to get a hold of the person I was supposed to trackchair on wednesday. Originally I would be trackchairing my colleague Wim De Mey’s track about regression testing in a migration project, but Wim had to cancel his presentation at the very last moment because of unfortunate familial circumstances. A replacement was found in the person of Mika Katara, from Finland – but no sign of him, yet. Oh well, time for a quick lunch, a tour of the expo and the actual kick-off of the conference.  Dorothy Graham opened the 17th Eurostar conference in style. She introduced the program committee (Tone and Mieke made sure Isabel Evans was also represented by carrying an air-filled balloon with a face drawn on it – I’m not sure if Isabel would be too happy with the analogy 🙂 ) and set the scene for the first keynote speaker.

Lee Copeland started this very first talk of the conference about nine of the most important innovations in software testing: the context-driven school, test-first development, really good books, open source tools, session-based test management, testing workshops, freedom of the press, virtualization and “testing in the cloud”. Strange that he sees the context-driven school as an innovation – as far as I know it was founded in 1999; the first book that explicitly named it was already published in 2001. I agree with the freedom of the press thing. Testing blogs are appearing everywhere (guilty, your honour), twitter is on the rise. Lee is apparently not a fan of twitter. Neither was I – I always thought of it as encouraging the spreading of triviality, but I’m actually starting to come back from that. I noticed that a lot of people within the testing community are using it to share their ideas, give advice or call for help. And it gives a great deal of extra coverage to an event like this (see, so maybe I’ll give it a try. Later. 

The rest of the afternoon consisted of a series of  short 20-minute tracks, which is mostly just enough to launch some provoking ideas, but not really ideal for a lot of content. Johan Jonasson talked about how he managed to save a project with the introduction of a structured exploratory testing approach. This track would have benefited from a 45 minute timeslot – there was no time to go into detail, which I found a pity. Next up was Julian Harty, who explained the concept of “trinity testing”: short session of around 90 minutes per feature, where the feature owner, the developer and the test engineer work interactively through the software to share knowledge and ideas. Pretty interesting, since I also found out later that “the trinity test” was also the name of the very first nuclear test ever conducted, marking the very start of the nuclear age. Julian is probably aware of this – I didn’t hear him mentioning it, though.
Geoff Thompson then talked about reporting – “If only we could make them listen!”. Well actually, it’s more the communicator’s job to make sure he gets heard. It was a great talk – he was able to slip in the Challenger disaster and the Heathrow terminal 5 debacle as examples of how important messages were apparently not deemed important enough, with horrendous results. Knowing your recipients is key, and knowing what information they want as well. Noteworthy: a lot of people are color-blind. If you absolutely want to make sure that everyone understands your reports, shouldn’t you avoid the reds and greens?
Besides being a sapient testing evangelist, Michael Bolton is also a human quote machine. He did this cross between stand-up routine and  political televangelism called “Burning Issues of the Day” (available here). A lot of wisecracks and eye-openers, the funniest moment at Eurostar for me. He was even able to win a bet by slipping in a quote about agilists and sex:

“The agilistas did not discover pairing or test-first programming. They’re like teenagers who’ve just discovered sex. It IS great, but calm down”.

The last speaker of the day was the same as the first one. Jonathan Kohl talked about how our urge to be “Agile” can distract us from our mission to deliver software that our customers value, while supporting our team. Agile can distract from skill development too. The term “Agile” has become big business, and lost a great deal of it’s significance. So let’s stop worrying about whether what we do is “agile” or not, and go back to calling it “software development”. As far as I’m concerned, he hit the nail on head. I wouldn’t have minded him talking about this a little longer.

The day ended with drinks in the expo and my attempt at playing a memory game at one of the stands. I kept failing epically. While I was trying to get asleep I found the ideal excuse: my head was already full of things to remember – no room for these trivial button sequences.

December 2

Right before the first keynote of the day I finally met Mika, whom I was supposed to be trackchairing in the afternoon. He was invited as a backup speaker on friday to speak on wednesday, was able to make it, but had to leave immediately after his talk. A true case of hit-and-run guerilla presenting at Eurostar! Naomi Karten then delivered an interesting keynote about “changing how you manage and communicate change”. Her talk was built around the Satir change model. There’s an initial status quo, then a foreign change-inducing element causing a ‘POW’, then chaos, after that an adjustment and in the end a new status quo. When people are confronted with change, they are experiencing a loss of control, and they often react to that in an emotional way. Important: listen, be empathic, regularly communicate the status of the change, even when there is nothing to report. She also used a quote that I well certainly use myself when feeling cornered:  

Hofstadter’s Law: It always take longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”

By then it was time to pay a visit to the Test Lab that was set up by James Lyndsay and Bart Knaack. It was a Eurostar first, and I am actually wondering now why it took so long to have some actual “testing” going on at a testing conference. The software they were running was Open EMR, an open source patient management and appointment book system. What made it even more interesting for me is that I have been testing and working with a similar (not open source, though) system for a long time, so I more or less know what to expect (or what actual users of the software would expect). I paired up with Rikard for a while and found a whole bunch of issues by merely touring the application – we noted them for later reference. It is always nice to pair with fellow testers to see what they focus on, and what their reasoning is. The state of the software under test was something else. It showed some pretty alarming behaviour, and it was far from intuitive or user-friendly.

By then it was time for Eurostar veteran Erik Boelen, speaking at Eurostar for the fifth time already. I’ve known Erik for some time now, and his talks are always entertaining and relaxing in a way. “The power of risk” was his view on how to use a risk-based test strategy that “makes people talk”, like Läkerol. His main message was (apart from the implicit one that testing can be fun *and* will rule the world) that they defined all the risks and used them as entry paths for exploratory testing. For the highest and medium risks they documented their test cases, and for low risks they just reported the results.

After lunch I introduced Mika Katanen (from the university of Tampere in Finland) and his talk about Automatic GUI test generation for smartphone applications. I am totally new to model-based testing and I was impressed with the brief demo he showed. His track went well, and there were a lot of people approaching him for a chat at the end. I do hope that he was able to catch his plane on time. Parallel with this track, Shrini Kulkarni held his talk about software metrics which I was unable to attend. People said it was good – I hope I will be able to see him speak some place else in the future.

Remembering the memory game disaster from the day before, I decided to unfocus for a while – my mind was getting stuck again. I teamed up with some CTG colleagues plus a wildcard named Tom and enrolled ourselves for the quiz that was supposed to take place in the evening. We aptly named ourselves “The Handsome Oracles”, but it wasn’t meant to be. The quiz was canceled later on, so we weren’t able to put the money where our mouth was. We also worked out some testing limericks for the limerick competition – we didn’t win. I thought they were good, but that’s probably just another example of parents not recognizing the ugliness of their own babies. There’s a good joke and an interesting analogy about that hereGitte Ottosen ended the day with a talk about combining agile and maturity models which was chosen best presentation last year in The Hague. I had the impression she was a little nervous – which is completely understandable. I was telling to myself that delivering a keynote for a full auditorium like that sure looked like a daunting task – until I suddenly realised that I would be standing in that same room tomorrow. My unfocused mind started wandering off.

While the temperatures were taking a dive, the Handsome Oracles went into town for dinner. I returned a bit earlier than the rest to rehearse my talk and to get a good night’s sleep while the (by then just plain) Oracles went barhopping. Haha! Life’s good, but not fair at all. 

December 3

The last day of the conference, and people started looking weary. Ray Arell gave us a good wake-up call with his keynote on moving to an agile environment, based on his experiences at Intel. Ray’s a great speaker (and a fun guy too – I might add). He described his hits and misses; the ‘misses’ are often the most interesting parts of experience reports. Lot’s of good advice and some nice puns (Wagile, FRagile, Scrumfalls).

I stayed in the agile track in the big auditorium where John Watkins presented some material from his book on agile testing, aptly named “Agile Testing”. John had gathered case study material from twenty agile projects and proposed agile methods for small, medium, large, off-site, and even off-shore projects. Intriguing, but upon hearing the idea of “agile best practises”, my context-driven genes started to play up.

John was also my great trackchair and introduced me as “Filmstar, Rockstar, Tester!” At least, that was his own juicy summary after I mentioned to him that I had worked as a movie distributor before and had also played in a rock band. Granted, I also admitted playing a zombie once – a serious case of method acting. Anyway, his introduction loosened the audience a bit and I was able to present my track “A lucky shot at agile?” without any problems. I wanted to tell a testing story and I think it went well. I felt at ease (those wireless microphones are really great) and there were many questions afterwards. During the rest of the day people I didn’t know came up to me to congratulate me with the presentation, which was nice. I took a long lunch and had a walk around the expo. I went back to the Test Lab to report the bugs that we found earlier. I didn’t succeed in entering them all, which made me feel kind of guilty – I wished that I would have spent more time there. But I had a hard time choosing. It’s a pity that test labbing also meant skipping tracks as well.

The last regular talk of the conference was held by Rikard Edgren, who is also a Eurostar regular. I had seen his presentation on testing creativity (“Where testing creativity grows”) in 2007 and I liked it a lot, since it is also a subject that is dear to me. There’s far too many people that think that testing is not a creative or challenging activity. This time he talked about  “More and better test ideas“. He promoted the use of oneliners as test ideas – a brief statement of something that should be tested. These test ideas can then be used as a basis for test cases, or as a guideline for other types of testing, or even discarded when there irrelevant or when there is simply not enough time. I think Rikard’s subjects will always be a bit polarizing due to their innovative nature – you either like them or you don’t. I am a believer and it was a good way for me to finish the conference.

I missed the first part of the Test Lab result presentation since they changed the timing and I totally forgot about that. But I got the most important statistics. Over two and a half days, more than 50 bugs were found. My first reaction was: “Only 56? Man, there’s hundreds of them hiding in there”, but then I realised that people had been testing in the lab only for short periods, in between tracks, just as I did. I wonder what would have happened if hundreds of testers had a go at it, all at the same time. Bugfest!

After a short panel discussion with John Fodeh (next year’s programme chair), Geoff thompson, Tobias Fors and Nathalie Van Delft it was time for the award ceremony. Naomi Karten received the Best Tutorial Award and the European Testing Excellence Award went to Anne Mette Hass. In the meanwhile I was dozing off in my not-so-comfy chair – these 4 days of conferencing were finally getting to me. A friendly woman on the stage was mentioning someting about a longlist of papers, and a shortlist, and a final selection of three, containing two Dutch and one Belgian paper. Now wait a minute… how many Belgians sent in a paper? 1…2… before I could make the math, my name was announced as winner of the ENEA Best Paper Award. Two talks at Eurostar, two papers, two awards… what are the odds of that? I was absolutely flabbergasted. That’s actually three in a row for my company CTG, since Bert Jagers won the award last year in The Hague. The pressure is on for next year :-).

I spent the rest of the evening in the hotel bar, where all the testers with an early flight on friday morning were flocking. We ended the day singing an eclectic mix of Irish traditionals, Dylan, early Springsteen and – of course! – Abba, accompanied by a non-certified tester, who plays a mean mandolin. I love Stockholm in wintertime. It was a good Eurostar. Yes sirree.


The winner takes it all (a 3-day workshop with Cem Kaner)

A review of the Cem Kaner workshop during the Cem Kaner Week, held in the last week of October 2009 in Nieuwegein, The Netherlands.

Last August I received a mail from a company called Immune-IT that promoted their upcoming “Cem Kaner week“. The concept: during the last week of october Cem Kaner would visit The Netherlands to lead a three day workshop and give a freely accessible presentation as well. Considering the cost of the workshop I settled for the free presentation, which I figured was also quite unique. Nieuwegein in The Netherlands is only a 160 km drive from my home (ok, you’d have to get past Antwerp, Breda and the Utrecht traffic jams, but still: worth the hassle). Later I heard that there was also a possibility to get a free workshop place by entering a contest on their website. Long story short: I participated, won the contest, checked the mail again (still said I won it) and jumped from joy. On October 26, I had a date with testing history.

I have always looked up to Cem Kaner, admired him for being one of the pioneers in the software testing field. He is a professor of computer sciences at Florida Institute of Technology and the (co-)author of truly great books like “Testing Computer Software” (alledgedly the best selling software testing book of all time) and “Lessons learned in Software Testing” (which inspired and influenced me big time). He founded the “context-driven school of software testing” (I’m on their side) and has all these excellent free courses available online for Black Box Software Testing. All this was rushing through my head while cruising through the lowlands. Later on, traffic came to a standstill, and this gave me even more time to get my imagination running… What if I don’t like him? What if he turns out to be a belligerent ghoul (gratuitous “The Smiths“-reference)? Well, none of all that. Cem is a nice person, almost humble in his ways. I like him. A friendly, human encyclopedia of black box software testing.

The size of the workshop was pretty small – only 12 people enrolled, which made it super-interactive. Immune IT had asked Cem to talk specifically about testing in difficult economic times. He did talk about that, briefly, but luckily he covered a whole range of other things as well. Some highlights:

  • Exploratory checklists and a truly hilarious piece of scientific proof that following scripts is a best practise (yes, you heard it right, in some cases there *are* best practises) for brain-damaged rats. In 1977, Cem incidentally stumbled upon proof that normal lab rats use ‘checklists’ to drive their behaviour, while brain-damaged ones resort to following the same script over and over, no matter the context. More on this can be found here.
  • Scripting and learning. Cem debunked some common myths surrounding scripted tests.
    #1. “Test scripts are ideal as ‘training wheels’ for new testers. After several months of following a wide range of scripts, the new tester will have learned by example a lot about the application domain, the program and how to test it”. So they say. But have you ever noticed what happens when you drive to a new place with a GPS that gives you a script like “Turn left at the next lights etc…?”. If you try to go there again, do you actually remember the route? You learn faster when exploring and discovering, rather than by ‘being told’.
    #2. “Test scripts specify all initial entry conditions”. But you cannot capture everything, there are so many variables that it becomes impossible (system state, program state, system config, system resources, other processes) to describe this upfront.
    #3.  “Test scripts specify the expected results”. But – same as above – scripts cannot specify all possible outcomes. There are simply too many variables involved. Our tests cannot address all possibilities.
    #4.  “Test scripts involve a comparison that machines or humans should make”. But what about confirmation bias? Or inattentional blindness? We ignore things based on their meaning, before we ever become aware of them.
  • An extensive part about exploratory testing from the godfather himself, it doesn’t get any better than that. He explained the renewed definition of exploratory testing (which I endorse but find a bit too long – I liked the old one better).  *taking a big breath* here goes:

Exploratory Software Testing:
– is a style of software testing
– that emphasizes the personal freedom and responsibility
– of the individual tester
– to continually optimize the value of her work
– by treating
     * test-related learning,
     * test design,
     * test execution, and
     * test result interpretation
– as mutually supportive activities
– that run in parallel throughout the project

  • An intriguing part on testing an investment modeling tool called VectorVest.
  • “Exploratory Test Automation”. Slides available here. I specifically liked his experiences at a phone manufacturing company called Telenova.  They were able to track down a stack overflow bug in one of their telephone sets that had been undetected even though testing achieved 100% statement and branch coverage in the relevant parts of the code. In the field, this would require a long sequence of calls to a continuously-active phone. They succeeded in isolating it through “Exploratory Test Automation”: they created a simulator that generated long chains of random events, emulating input to the system’s 100 phones. That eventually exposed the bug (and several others as well).
  • Cem is obviously not a great fan of automated tests, but he makes an exception for “Exploratory Test Automation” , “High-volume Test Automation” and “Extended Random Regression Testing”. Traditional test techniques tie us to a small number of tests. Extended random regression and long simulations exposes bugs the traditional techniques probably won’t find.

These three days were a real treat. I was able to talk and discuss with Cem Kaner personally – and learn from him, which was priceless.  I also met some other great people – passionate about testing and always prepared for an healthy argument. At the end Cem signed the copies of “Lessons learned in software testing” that we all got for free, which means I now got two of them. One to use and one to cherish.

Agile testing days 2009 – Berlin

A write-up of the Agile testing days 2009 in Berlin.

In october I attented the Agile Testing Days in Berlin. The program committee assembled a really great line-up (see the 2009 programme here). Here is my write-up of the event. A late one, I admit, but it certainly was worth writing about. So without any further ado, here goes… 

October 11

I arrived in Berlin late sunday evening. During the frantic cab ride through the green outskirts of Berlin I had my first conversation with a genuine Berliner. While giving me a quick ‘Berlin for dummies’ round-up, he managed to distract my attention just enough so I didn’t really notice all the near-collisions. I made it to the Seminaris Campushotel Berlin in one piece. Lovely venue, by the way. 

October 12

(c) 2009 Crispin & Gregory

First day of the conference. Quick registration, coffee and off to the first floor where I attended a full-day tutorial by Lisa Crispin, “Using the Agile Testing Quadrants to Cover Your Testing Needs”. There were four other tutorials going on that morning, by Elisabeth Hendrickson, Isabel Evans & Stuart Reid, Tom Gilb and Tom & Mary poppendieck. A great line-up, which made it really hard to choose. But since I had bought and already briefly skimmed through Lisa’s (and Janet Gregory’s) excellent book “Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams“, I decided to settle with the agile testing quadrants. The day went by really quick, which is always a good sign. The theory wasn’t new, but there were some revealing thought-exercises, like listing all your practises in the quadrants. Visualizing them often makes it very clear if things are missing. She also told a funny anecdote on how her team ‘materialises’ remote team members during meetings and pairing sessions:  

“My team set up a rolling cart for each remote team member, with a laptop, webcam, Skype and mic. My webcam displays on the laptop, and my team members roll ‘me’ around to whoever I’m pairing with, or to meetings (rolling through the halls saying hi to people is fun!) I can control the webcam to look for people.” 

October 13

With a indecent amount of coffee in our systems, the actual conference kicked off with a keynote by Lisa Crispin, “Are Agile Testers Different?”. An interesting keynote, based on ideas that are also described in her book: 

  • In agile projects, the lines between the different roles are blurred. 
  • Testers also need to change their mindsets (seek new ways to improve, be proactive, collaborate) if they want to contribute in an agile team.
  • The value that agile testers add to the team (through continuous feedback, direct communication, simplicity, responding to change, enjoyment).

After that I attended a talk by Ulrich Freyer-Hirtz, about “The Agility GPS”, described by the author as a ‘systematic approach for position fixing of agile projects’, a method to assess your team’s agility. The idea behind it was quite interesting and he already put a lot of work into the model, but it remains unclear to me why anyone would really want to know how ‘agile’ they are, especially considering the fact that the underlying agility model is different for every team/company. The author argued that it could be useful for self-assessment or to unmask alibi-agilistas. The agility GPS is really focused on the agile values, principles and practises and would tell you things like: “you are scoring low on this principle, you need more code reviews”. Interesting, but strange nontheless. According to me, agile practises are mostly context-driven. Apply the practises that give you the quickest return and that work best for you, and stick to them. Discard those that distract and do not add real value. 

Next track was ‘How to develop a common sense of done” by Alexander Schwartz. His main message was that the combination of branching and ‘quality gates’ can be a good way to improve the common sense of „DONE“, and that this will also help testers in getting integrated into agile teams. The most interesting part of the presentation for me was Mayank Gupta’s ‘Done thinking grid’ (read his Scrum Alliance article on a definition of done here). He also mentioned the use of a physical merge token to coordinate all publish merges in the trunk. They used what they called a “merge frog” (the German original Mördsch Frosch sounds pretty scary and is too much of a tongue twister for me) – a merge would only be allowed if a developer had put the merge frog on her/his desk first. 

Next up was a keynote of Elisabeth Hendrickson called “Agile testing, uncertainty, Risk, and Why It all Works”. I had seen some talks of her before on google video, but this ‘live performance’ made it crystal clear: you can’t beat the real thing. She’s really charismatic, a great speaker with a very clear and interesting message. She talked about the four big sources of techical risk (ambiguity, dependencies, assumptions and capacity), the seven key testing practises in agile (ATDD, TDD, exploratory testing, automated system tests, automated unit tests, collective test ownership and continuous integration) and how these practises help mitigate the afore mentioned risks. Simple but sweet. 

We were already deep in the afternoon, but that dreaded mid-afternoon dip didn’t stand a chance. The next track I attended was “Agile Quality Management – Axiom or Oxymoron?” by David Evans, in which he described a number of agile conundrums, some quality principles and a framework. The conundrums that were listed could be interpreted as oxymorons (sentences that combine contradictory terms) as well as axioms ( propositions that are not proven or demonstrated but considered to be self-evident), e.g.:  

  • “Developers know the acceptance tests”. Oxymoron: “They will only write code to make the tests pass!”. Axiom: “They won’t write code that makes the tests fail”.
  • “No test plan”.  Oxymoron: “Failing to plan is planning to fail! How will we know what to test?”. Axiom: “The test plan is implied in the product backlog: everything we build, we test”.
  • “No Test Manager (or Test Management Tool)”. Oxymoron: “So how can we possibly manage testing?”. Axiom: “Testers == team; tests == specifications; they don’t need separate management”.

The framework he described after that listed some interesting items as well. He mentioned ‘applying balloon patterns’, which intrigued me. I liked the metaphor. “Start valid but empty” (an empty balloon is still a balloon, complete the form of a solution before adding a function), “Rubber before air” (don’t deliver functionality that cannot be tested). And a great quote to finish off: “Delaying testing is just incurring quality debt”). 

After that I checked in on “Testify – One-button Test-Driven Development tooling & setup” by Mike Scott from – again – SQS. This was actually the third SQS speaker of the day (after  Ulrich Freyer-Hirtz and David Evans) – they seem to be pretty active in those agile trenches. Mike gave us a quick overview of a tool called Testify, an agile TDD Toolset installer and project generator. The speed with which he was able to set up a new project from scratch and to start writing some unit tests was pretty impressive. 

The keynote from Tom Gilb that ended the first day was bizarre, to say the least. The talk was supposed to be about Agile Inspections, but he talked about old-school inspections, how to perform them (“specifications must be unambigious, testable and must not contain design”) and how these inspections should be primarily used to refuse requirements being handed over to testing because of poor quality. The slides he used to prove his point formed one gigantic style inferno. My eyes started hurting from all these different styles and fonts, overloaded slides and texts being cut off randomly. I still have a hard time understanding why this specific talk was chosen for a keynote at an agile conference, where things are specifically NOT about finding as much defects in the requirements as possible so they can be thrown over the wall again. Agile teams prefer involving the whole team in requirement discussions to filter out all hidden assumptions. I guess this goes to show that you can not just put “agile” in front of some practises and “agilize” the hell out of them. 

When we descended back to the ground floor we were greeted by conference organizer José Diaz – in Lederhosen. The main hall had in the meanwhile been transformed into a genuine Bayerisches Oktoberfest, complete with Hendl, Schweinsbraten, Sauerkraut, Haxn, Würstl und Brezn. And big one-liter-glasses of beer. There was live music, regularly interrupted by the ‘Ein Prosit’-mantra. The whole Bierstube-atmosphere – ok, maybe it was just the beer – really made people talk. It was all great fun and I met and talked to some great people. I even won a prize in a  tombola: a one-year subscription to the Testing Experience magazine

October 14

 The last day was kicked off with a keynote by the godmother of Lean development, Mary Poppendieck: “The One Thing You Need to Know … About Software Development”. She started off by stating that complexity is the enemy of software development. She then gave an overview of ways to divide and conquer complexity, providing a whole lot of software development history in the process. Her natural presentation style made it a really enjoyable talk. More about her presentation can be found here and here.

What followed was – for me anyway – the best session of the conference: Declan Whelan with “Building a learning culture on your Agile team”. His track was stuffed with food for thought, real little gems: pointers, quotes, interesting movies and games – it left me anxious to go discover all those interesting books and websites. The highlights:

  • A quote by Shunryu Suzuki: “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”
  • Bits about Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” (must read that one!)
  • Virginia Satir‘s change model
  • The principle of Shu-Ha-Ri, a martial arts concept that describes the stages of learning to mastery
  • A moving little video of Gever Tulley talking about “Tinkering School“.

“Tinkering School is a place where kids can pick up sticks and hammers and other dangerous objects, and be trusted. Trusted not to hurt themselves, and trusted not to hurt others. Tinkering School doesn’t follow a set curriculum. And there are no tests. We’re not trying to teach anybody any specific thing. When the kids arrive they’re confronted with lots of stuff, wood and nails and rope and wheels, and lots of tools, real tools… And within that context, we can offer the kids time. Something that seems in short supply in their over-scheduled lives. Our goal is to ensure that they leave with a better sense of how to make things than when they arrived, and the deep internal realization that you can figure things out by fooling around. Nothing ever turns out as planned … ever. And the kids soon learn that all projects go awry – and become at ease with the idea that every step in a project is a step closer to sweet success, or gleeful calamity. We start from doodles and sketches. And sometimes we make real plans. And sometimes we just start building. Building is at the heart of the experience. Hands on, deeply immersed and fully committed to the problem at hand. Robin and I, acting as collaborators, keep the landscape of the projects tilted towards completion. Success is in the doing. And failures are celebrated and analyzed. Problems become puzzles and obstacles disappear.”

Eric Jimmink also stepped up to the challenge of presenting a morning session after a beerfest, with “Promoting the use of a quality standard”. Main ideas I remembered: you should have a Definition of Done on different levels – for tasks, stories, sprints and releases. Revisit the DoD regularly in the sprint retrospectives. Although he looked a bit tired, he managed to get his message across using some excerpts of his and Anko Tijman’s book “Testen 2.0”, a great Dutch book on agile testing that was launched a year ago at Eurostar 2008. But although I am a native Dutch speaker, I find it hard to read books on testing in Dutch. I have always felt that English is the most natural choice within the testing community. Many of these translated terms just don’t sound right. Anyway, that’s probably just my silly Belgian self – I’m pretty sure all those Dutch testers out there don’t mind.

After lunch, Stuart Reid talked about skills needed in agile teams. His keynote “Investing in individuals and interactions” focused on the first statement of the agile manifesto. He showed a formula to calculate the job satisfaction (MPS=Motivating Potential Score) from Hackman & Oldham, which was interesting.  There also was this nice analogy about pairing, where you normally have the roles of “driver” and “navigator”. The driver is the one who is learning and the navigator has the expertise and can transfer the knowledge. But which do you think is the safest option when flying an airplane?  A senior pilot flying, the apprentice watching? or the other way around? Actually it’s the latter. The young pilot wouldn’t dare to criticize the older pilot when he sees a mistake, while the older pilot will be much more alert when he lets the younger pilot take control.

The last track I attended was “Agile practices in a traditional environment” from Markus Gärtner. He presented an experience report of how they started using some agile practises (test-driven development, exploratory testing, agile planning, improved communication) without actually using the term agile. They also used the testing quadrants to visualise where the current approach was lacking – similar to the exercise we actually did in Lisa Crispin’s tutorial two day earlier. This helped them to move their efforts more in the direction of business-facing automated tests, with the additional risk of neglecting the technology-facing tests. He seemed pretty nervous when starting his talk, but there was no reason to be – he had a great story to tell and he obviously knows what he is talking about.

By then it was time for me to leave for the airport. I missed the panel discussion that ended the conference, though I heard that many of the keynote speakers had already left. For a first time conference, the event was really well organised, cosy and well thought-out. A very nice and familiar atmosphere between attendees and speakers as well. Next year’s call for papers is open. Do send your abstracts to José, and maybe you’ll get a chance to see him in Lederhosen as well.

So it begins…

The beginning is the most important part of the work. I think Plato said that. And when the ancients talk, I tend to listen.

I’ve been thinking about starting a testing-related blog for already a long time, but for some reason or another I never did. Maybe I always assumed there weren’t enough interesting stories to tell. Well… enough of that. There are plenty of good testing stories all around – and compelling stories often tell themselves. We’ll see what this leads up to.
Do not go where the path may lead; instead go where there is no path and leave a trail. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that. I concur.