My StarEast Keynote

This morning I delivered “Testing in the Age of Distraction: Flow, Focus, and Defocus in Testing” as a keynote at the StarEast conference in Orlando. The talk was well attended – I believe 900 people in the room and another 700 in the virtual conference.

I felt honored to be invited for what was my first official keynote – it was also the first time that so many people were simultaneously paying attention to me (or at least they pretended to).

I believe it went well: I managed to get my message across, enjoying every minute of it. Judging by the feedback so far, others did too. The subject seemed to resonate with a lot of the attendees.

I received a lot of “slide” requests (if you can call them that in Prezi), so here is the link to the online version (unfortunately, embedding prezi presentations in wordpress is not working very well):

http://prezi.com/jpqhbabuheqc/

 

 

 

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DEWT4 – a peer conference on teaching testing

dewt4-participants-v4

From left to right: Jeanne Hofmans, Rob van Steenbergen, Jurian van de Laar, Peter Simon Schrijver, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Bernd Beersma, Huib Schoots, Arjen Verweij, Zeger van Hese, Joris Meerts, Markus Gärtner, Bart Broekman, Angela van Son, Pascal Dufour, Ard Kramer, Jeroen Mengerink, Kristoffer Nordström‏, Philip Hoeben, Daniël Wiersma, Joep Schuurkes, Duncan Nisbet, Eddy Bruin, Wim Heemskerk, Ruud Cox, Richard Scholtes, Ray Oei

Teaching Software Testing

DEWT IntroIn the weekend of 7-9 February, the fourth edition of DEWT took place at Hotel Bergse Bossen in Driebergen, the Netherlands. DEWT stands for the Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing and is a LAWST-style peer workshop on testing like its older siblings LAWSTLEWT and SWET. This means a presentation is followed by a facilitated discussion that goes on as long as it brings value.

This edition was extra special to me since I volunteered to be the Content Owner during our preparatory meeting in september. Jean-Paul Varwijk agreed to fill the Conference Chair role and Peter Simon Schrijver would be the main facilitator. Why yes, you do need a good facilitator to make this kind of thing work.

The main theme of this edition was “Teaching Software Testing”

In this edition we also added the obligation – for all attendees – to send in a proposal for an experience report. I wanted attendees to look at teaching software testing in a broad sense, and asked for experience reports on:

  • How software testing is taught
  • Unconventional or alternative ways of teaching software testing
  • Lessons learned by teaching software testing
  • Learning how to teach software testing
  • The receiving end of teaching – learning (being taught)
  • The transfer of theoretical versus practical knowledge
  • Teaching novice testers versus teaching experienced ones
  • Acquiring teaching skills

Apart from the DEWT core members (10), an additional 16 people were invited, of whom three came from abroad – Markus Gaertner (D), Duncan Nisbet (UK) and Kristoffer Nordström (SE). Actually, that makes four since I am from abroad (B) as well – I keep forgetting that I am DEWT’s legal alien.

Friday, February 7

The first night of a DEWT conference is usually an informal meetup, with a welcoming dinner for the people that can make it in time. A great evening it was, with strangers getting to know each other and old friends catching up. Lots of games and testing talk – and in some way or another, My Little Pony () became a topic as well. There were not as many drinks as we would have liked, though, since our first evening happened to coincide with a wedding in our regular hangout, the Grand Cafe. This meant we were banned to a room with a part-time waiter, dividing his inevitably part-time attention (I’m guessing 85/15) between drunk party people and relatively sober software testers. His selection of Belgian beers and copious amounts of deep-fried snacks (it is common knowledge that Markus Gaertner will attend any meetup that involves bitterballen) made up for it.

We ended the night giving the bride and groom some heartfelt marital advice, and by sipping from that curious bottle Duncan brought from Gibraltar – Patxaran (Zoco). When Duncan started cleaning tables to compensate for our invisible waiter, we knew it was time to go to bed.

Saturday, February 8

In front of a notably bigger group than we ended the day with on friday (some people were only joining in on saturday morning), Jean-Paul, Peter and myself kicked off the conference. In the previous weeks, the three of us had come to an agreement on which talks should go highest on the list, being well aware that in the end, a schedule like this is always tentative since you never know when discussions are going to end or where the energy of the group will be going.

The roomKristoffer Nordström went first with “Learning and change in a dysfunctional organisation“, illustrating the difficulties of a consultant that represents both management and the outside. Are learnings and change even possible is this situation? He compared a team with a spring that is attached to context and culture. When a string is attached to something, it is very hard to change. You can bend the spring and make it work at first, but inevitably, the spring – the team – will veer back to its original position. He explained how he tried to cope with his plight: establish trust, show passion and enthusiasm, lead by example, show respect, take time to teach instead (not tell). Even simple things like smiling and saying hello to people helped him to achieve his goals. Kristoffer’s experience report was rich and well-prepared, and touched many things which I could relate with. The discussion afterwards went on longer than planned, but hey, we’re all flexible, right?

Next up was Arjen Verweij with “Preaching software testing: evangelizing testers among non-testers“. In his experience report, he described how he advocates for testing with different stakeholders:

  • Talk to project managers about value
  • Inform and explain customers about changes in the software
  • Convince engineers that you need their expertise.
  • Help support people by providing them with good tools that facilitate bug reporting
  • Work with sales to set reasonable expectations
  • Get buy-in from the developers by supporting their work

One of Arjen’s take-aways was to not mention “testing” if you want non-testers to test, which spawned a hefty discussion on-site in which several people on twitter got involved.

After lunch we decided to go for a walk in the woods to avoid that dreaded carb coma. The hotel staff provided us with instructions for a walk, and it turned out to be a strictly scripted procedure: no map, but a list of written instructions. Great, a bunch of (mostly) context-driven testers asked to follow a walking script. As could be expected, we got lost in a heartbeat. Our explorer’s instinct – supported by many a gps module – got us back with only 20 minutes delay.

Aside from harassing us with more space unicorn songs then we could handle, Markus Gaertner got us up and about with a workshop that used the principles from the book “Training From the Back of the Room!: 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn” by Sharon Bowman, after which he elaborated on the 4 C’s, a framework to help design classes that leverage accelerated learning. The acronym stands for “Connection, Concept, Concrete Practice, Conclusion”. During the connections step, learners make connections with what they already know about the topic at hand. In the concepts step, learners take in new information in multi-sensory ways: hearing, seeing, discussing, writing, reflecting, imagining, participating and teaching it to others. The concrete practice step serves to actively practice a new skill using the new information, participate in an active review of what they have learned and again teach others what they know or can now do. During the conclusions step, learners summarize what they have learned, evaluate it and make a commitment to use it at work or in their lives.

Joep Schuurkes and Richard Scholtes were up next with “Teaching testing with a chain testing simulation“, in which they described their experiences in designing an apparently simple chain testing simulation exercise. In it, participants were provided with five laptops running the applications that make up the chain, and each was assigned to one of the laptops (or was assigned the role of testing coordinator), after which the group was given the assignment to “perform a chain test”. Joep and Richard contrasted the things they thought should happen with the things that actually happened, which lead to a couple of nice surprises. Chaos ensued, apparently, and people stayed on their own island for way too long. But it proved an engaging format for all involved – people continued during breaks, were discussing it the days after and it led to quite some aha-moments as well. Another take-away: putting an empty chair in between two people is an effective means to stop all communication.

Bart Broekman‘s experience report brought us “Back to the Middle Ages“. Or at least, a part of the theory did. He talked about the master-apprentice model, which is fundamentally different from the teacher/student model which is now so common. Later on he linked it to the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Bart saw the biggest gap to be bridged in going from “competent” to “proficient”. How can we make our students make that big leap? Bart went on to explain how he tried to do that through organising masterclasses, working with the student’s own content and real-life problems to solve.

By the time the discussion after Bart’s report died down, dinner was calling, and we gladly obliged. The evening was filled with drinks, puzzles, games, poetry recitations and Dutch people winning gold, silver and bronze medals in the Winter Olympics. Leave some for us, would you?

Sunday, February 9

Sunday morning saw the first (granted, UK-imported) Gibraltarian DEWT-invitee ever take the stage: Duncan Nisbet with a report on his experiences teaching testing to new/non testers, “You can’t learn to drive by reading a book“. A misleading title, since he proceeded to compellingly relate it to how he used to train his pupils in wildwater kayaking. In that line of sport, it is important that you first give your students a safe place to fail, like clear, calm and warm water. Whitewater is an unforgiving place for newbies. Slowly progress, and if you fail, do it more often. Books don’t prepare you for the whitewater experience. Duncan then explained how he tries to teach testing to newbies in the same way. Start simple and build confidence gradually. First, give them a Web/GUI to play wit, later make them aware that of the existence of logs that can help them in testing, and then on to other more specialised disciplines like performance and automation. The facilitated discussion afterwards spawned so many question threads that Simon Schrijver dedicated a whole blogpost on how he facilitated it.

Angela Van Son is a DEWT regular, although she is not a tester. Angela is a professional (procrastination) coach, and she made the program because I was convinced that she could contribute to the topic by offering a view on teaching in general. In “The skill of teaching: How do you make them WANT it?“, she told us about the 30 Day Video Challenge put out by Holly Sugrue that she participated in. She witnessed how Holly managed to energize and inspire the group to deliver in this challenge, a remarkable feat considering that the different people all had different goals to participate. Angela then analyzed what was so peculiar about this challenge. How did the challenge make the people want to master it? As it turned out, it was a combination of many things. It was well chosen, with clear limits. There was a lot of playful repetition that never got boring, and great group dynamics that pushed people forward. There were no obligations – it was a safe place to learn.

After lunch, to finish on a lighter and more active note, we scheduled a workshop on the design of exercises to teach testing, led by Huib Schoots and Ruud Cox. The crowd got divided in several small groups and given the task to design an exercise to teach some testing concepts. That exercise would then be run by one of the other groups followed by a debrief. The tricky part was of course that the time to accomplish this was very limited. I already knew from attending Jerry Weinberg’s Problem Solving Leadership that designing a good and fun experiential exercise can be very, VERY hard. But given the circumstances, the teams did a good job – resorting to ruthless peppermint crushing and exploratory walking. I felt that the debrief helped a lot in seeing where our own exercise could be improved.

This concluded DEWT4. Two + days filled with learning and fun. I hoped to achieve a good variety in the topics and I am glad how it turned out. The atmosphere was focused yet relaxed, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. A big thank you to all the participants for their time, their stories and their passion.

Sketch-notes

To finish of this lengthy report, here are some sketch-notes I made during the weekend. Click the thumbnail to see a bigger version.

For other reports and impressions of DEWT4, check out the DEWT after party blog page.

Back to the middle ages - Bart Broekman You cant learn to drive by reading a book - Duncan Nisbet Learning and change in a dysfunctional organisation - Kristoffer Nordstrom Preaching software testing - Testing with non-testers - Arjen Verweij Teaching testing with a chain testing simulation - Joep Schuurkes Richard Scholtes The skill of teaching - how to make them want it - Angela Van Son

Vacansopapurosophobia


tumbleweed

< crickets >

For those of you who have watched the tumbleweeds roll by on this blog in the past year, I apologize.

It’s been eleven months since my last blog post and I have no excuse.

Sure, I have been busy – 2013 was one hell of a ride. I founded my own company (Z-sharp), worked hard on getting things started, created presentations and papers to present at conferences, co-organized Belgium’s first public RST course with Michael Bolton, attended and organized peer workshops and delivered webinars.

I knew from past experience that being busy does not necessarily mean that your writing suffers. And yet I had no energy for blogging.

I kept telling myself “Just wait it out, ideas will pop up. There’s no need to do things half-heartedly. Pick your battles”.

Self-diagnosis

Ideas did pop up. Plenty of them, eventually. Strangely enough I felt no urge to act upon them, which in turn reinforced the feeling I was stuck. It started to freak me out. This was the first time I hit a dry writing spell of this length. What was happening?

“That’s it”, I thought. “Vacansopapurosophobia – the fear of a blank page” (the first word that came to mind was “writer’s block”, to be honest. But I like the sound of vacansopapurosophobia better, it has a nice supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ring to it).

Writer’s block – the fear of every aspiring writer! Or rather, blogger’s block. Wait – did I just self-diagnose myself?

“Self-diagnosis is the process of diagnosing, or identifying, medical conditions in oneself. It may be assisted by medical dictionaries, books, resources on the Internet, past personal experiences, or recognizing symptoms or medical signs of a condition that a family member previously had. Self-diagnosis is prone to error and may be potentially dangerous if inappropriate decisions are made on the basis of a misdiagnosis” (source: Wikipedia)

The danger of self-diagnosis is that you’re mainly forming conclusions based on internet folklore. Quite ironically, there *is* a lot of writing about writer’s block on the internet, with causes ranging from too much audience awareness and perfectionism over burnout to flat-out depression.

Weinberg on writing

I decided to seek guidance from a professional. I dug up my copy of “Weinberg on Writing“, in which my personal Yoda Jerry Weinberg describes his writing process. I still vividly recall my amazement several years ago when when I first read it. It fit my own amateurish and seemingly unstructured writing style like a glove.

In the book, Weinberg compares writing to the creation of stone-wall structures. Harnessing ideas and words into a written work is a lot like building a stone wall: gathering, arranging, rearranging, and discarding fieldstones as the wall evolves organically over time. To be successful in your writing, Weinberg suggests, you should have many fieldstones, chunks of work in progress. But be aware that “in progress” is a very vague concept: it may mean you’ve written two words, a hundred words, or even several chapter-like things.

The fieldstones allow you to make progress on any piece of work. The method helps to keep personal energy high, efforts focused and the daunting work of composition forward-moving.

Weinberg on not writing

I dove in the part on writer’s block (you can read an article based on that chapter here), and the following sentence struck a chord – or two:

“Writer’s block is not a disorder in you, the writer. It’s a deficiency in your writing methods – the mythology you’ve swallowed about how works get written.”

Of course! I knew this all along, but I let it get snowed in in my middle-aged excuse for a brain. The creation of a text is not a linear process, like reading is. Reading structures are presentation methods, not creation methods. Creation doesn’t work in such a linear way.

Later on I stumbled upon a rather amusing interview with Jerry Weinberg in which he dispels the myth of writer’s block. This taught me another valuable lesson: as long as you have things you can do, you aren’t blocked at all. When you feel stuck with one part, work on another – they don’t even have to be directly related. There is always something you can do to keep on moving.

All of a sudden, I came to the realization  that the solution to my problem was very simple.

“You have nothing to write about? How lovely is that! Isn’t that a GREAT subject?”

So here I am, writing my first blog post in ages, about why I wasn’t writing. I hope I’m here to stay.

Rapid Software Testing – skilled software testing unleashed

Up to 11

The software testing profession looks like a steadily maturing profession from the outside. After all, there are certifications schemes like ISTQB, CAT, IREB and QAMP (the one to rule them all), standards (ISO 29119) and companies reaching TMM (test maturity model) levels that – just like a Spinal Tap guitar amplifier – one day might even go up to 11. The number of employees that companies send off to get certified in a mere three days is soaring, and new certification programs are being created as we speak. Quick and easy. Multiple choice exams for the win!

The reality, however, is that the field of software testing is torn between different “schools” of testing. You could see these schools as determined and persistent patterns of belief, speech and behaviour. This means that different people – all calling themselves “test professionals” – have vastly different ideas of what testing is all about. Even something elementary as the definition of testing varies from “demonstration of fitness for purpose” to “questioning a product in order to evaluate it”, depending on who you talk with (for more info on the schools of software testing, I heartily recommend Brett Pettichord’s presentation on the subject).

And so it happens that different people think differently about “good” or “mature” software testing. I, for one, don’t believe in tester certification programs, at least not in the format they are in now and the way they are being used in the testing profession. The current business model is mainly designed to get as many people as possible certified within the shortest timeframe. Its prime focus is on certifiability, not on tester skill, and certainly not on the advancement of the craft. Advancement comes from sharing, rather than shielding.

Rapid Software Testing (RST)

So what are the options for a tester on a quest for knowledge and self-improvement? What is a budding tester to do?

I think there are valuable alternatives for people who are serious about becoming a world-class tester. One of these is Rapid Software Testing (RST), a 3-day hands-on course designed by James Bach and Michael Bolton.

Actually, calling this “a course” doesn’t do it justice. RST is at the same time a methodology, a mind-set and a skill set about how to do excellent software testing in a way that is very fast, inexpensive, credible and accountable. It is a highly experiential workshop with lessons that stick.

How is RST different?

During RST you spend much of the time actually testing, working on exercises, puzzles, thought experiments and scenarios—some computer-based, some not. The goal of the course is to teach you how to test anything expertly, under extreme time pressure and conditions of uncertainty, in a way that will stand up to scrutiny.

The philosophy presented in this class is not like traditional approaches to testing, which ignore the thinking part of testing and instead focus on narrow definitions for testing terms while advocating never-ending paperwork. Products have become too complex for that, time is too short, and testers are too expensive. Rapid testing uses a cyclic approach and heuristic methods to constantly re-optimize testing to fit the needs of your clients.

What’s in it for you?

  • The ability to test something rapidly and skilfully is critical. There is a growing need to test quickly, effectively, and with little information available. Testers are expected to provide quick feedback. These short feedback loops make for more efficient and higher quality development
  • Exploratory testing is at the heart of RST. It combines test design, test execution, test result interpretation, and learning into a seamless process that finds a lot of problems quickly. Experienced testers will find out how to articulate those intellectual processes of testing that they already practice intuitively, while new testers will find lots of hands-on testing exercises that help them gain critical experience
  • RST teaches you how to think critically and ask important questions. The art of questioning is key in testing, and a very important skill for any consultant
  • RST will provide you with tools to do excellent testing
  • RST will heighten your awareness

Bold claim bottom-line:

RST will make you a better tester.

RST comes to Belgium

Co-learning and Z-sharp are proud to announce that from 30 September – 2 October, Michael Bolton will visit Belgium to deliver the first ever RST course on Belgian soil, giving you the opportunity to experience this unique course in person. More info can be found here, or feel free to contact us for more info.

Brace yourself for an mind-opening experience that will energize and boost your mind.

All the way up to 11.

(for even more information and testimonials about RST, see Michael Bolton’s RST page)

 

Unrest assured

“Eight! Five! Four! Three!”.

Four words that I am tired of hearing by now.

“Eight! Five! Four! Three!”.

My oldest (8yo) daughter finally saved up some money for that secret digital diary, and she was so excited she could hardly get to sleep. “Tomorrow I will go buy my secret diary! And it’s totally secret! You can only unlock it by whispering the secret password! It’s gonna be neat, daddy!”.

Next day I looked up what the fuss was all about, and found this description on the manufacturer’s website:

“Rest assured that your secrets will be kept fully safe in this digital diary.
With VTech’s revolutionary voice recognition technology, you can set an audio password that only you can enter to the diary. Even when others find out about your password, the voice recognition feature will only recognise the tone of your voice, and only let you in.”

Wow. That actually sounded pretty cool for a kid’s toy. I would love to get my hands on that one, explore it to test their pretty bold claims. When I came home from work the next day, my daughter beat me to it. She had locked herself up in her room with her new secret toy, only to come out a couple of hours later.

“This is so cool, daddy. Look!”

She pressed a button on the pink gizmo.

“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight! Five! Four! Three!”. “Password not recognized”. Umph.
“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight! Five! Four! Three!”. “Password not recognized”.

No signs of frustration on the 8 year-old face yet. “Hold on.”

“What’s happening here? It doesn’t work?”.

“Yes it does. But not always. Sometimes it just doesn’t recognize the password.”

“Your very secret password? The 8543 you keep on yelling at it?”

“Yes”

“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight! Five! Four! Three!”. “Welcome” <harp music>.

“See? Now it works.”

“Well, that’s strange, don’t you think? What did you do differently now compared to your previous attempts?”

“No idea, daddy”. She closes the thing again. Beep. “8!5!4!3!”. “Password not recognized”.

It puzzles me that she’s not really interested in the cause. The thing only works one out of four attemps, and she seems perfectly fine with it.

A couple of 8543-filled days later, as the oldest daughter is off to a birthday party, the youngest one (5 yo) decides to seize the opportunity. She had been quietly watching her sister the past days, not even bothering to try – probably knowing that the oldest would strongly object.

“Can I have a look at sis’ secret diary daddy?”

“Sure. But you probably won’t get too far, it is made especially to prevent others from…”

“Say your password” – Beep – “Eight Five Four Three”. “Welcome” <harp music>. Big triumphant smile.

On. Her. First. Try. And their voices don’t even sound alike!
Granted, they’re sisters, their voices may be similar, but still there is a significant difference. And I would think that this thing is made specifically to shield your secrets from curious sisters.

Is there a problem here? What happened? After this revelation I tried to open it, and it manages to keep me locked out, where I should be. My wife is not able to enter the realm of secrets either. But little sisters, on the other hand, seem to have a bigger accuracy rate than the actual voice owners.

So, two very apparent problems:

– The diary doesn’t open when it should
– The diary opens when it shouldn’t

It turned out that the reason why the oldest had a hard time getting passed the passphrase was her impatience. Impatience is her middle name – she just couldn’t wait to yell 8-5-4-3 until a while after the beep – most of the time she started the password phrase at the same time of the beep. When she respected the little pause, her success rate tripled.

The second problem is a bit trickier. I’m trying to imagine if and how this toy was tested. Security for kids is probably not very high on most stakeholders’ priority lists. They probably tested a couple of scenarios with kids of different ages and gender, maybe a deep-voiced parent here and there. Did they include voices from siblings? Siblings aren’t corner cases – they represent realistic real life scenarios, with a high probability of diary sneaking. Granted, the kids don’t really make much of it, but the oldest was not amused when she found out about the security breach. If you make these bold claims about your product, and your product’s whole advertising and unique selling proposition is centered on this very feature, can you please make sure that it – you know – “works”?

V-Tech – frustrating tester parents since 2013.

The Eurostar 2012 diaries – part 3 (tuesday Nov 6)

Super Tuesday

Photo by Rik Marselis

Early tuesday, and my dreams were filled with empty auditoria and keynote speakers stuck in airports. A first reality check eases my mind a bit. The people I dreamt about are already checked in, and ready to rumble. As am I. I skip breakfast to be on site as early as possible, but halfway there I realize I left my phone in the hotel room. I hurry back and when I finally get to the premises, James and Julian beat me to it. While we help the tutorial speakers get all settled for the morning, the registration area is again being flashmobbed by testers. Delegates are now flowing in at a steady pace, but I notice remarkably few hiccups. Sure, there is the occasional delegate who is worried about his tutorial enrollment, but Siobhan seems to have a firm grip on payments and registrations. Siobhan handles all the adminstrative stuff throughout the year, a job that can never be underestimated. Rumor has it that she can even make Chuck Norris comply with Eurostar’s presentation materials deadline (which we couldn’t verify this year since his submission “I sit down in stand-up meetings” didn’t make the cut). The Eurostar team deals with the rush-hour queues swiftly, and before I can say “Morning coffee, anyone?”, the AM sessions are kicked off.

Photo by Randy Rice

Like yesterday, I wander around the now quiet and peaceful venue and do a temperature reading in the different tutorial rooms. Fiona Charles has everyone in her room up on their feet, milling around and fully engaged in her “Right-sizing Test Documentation”.  Paul Gerrard is testing the room capacity boundaries in his totally sold out “How to Create a Test Strategy”. Randy Rice – all the way from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – is mighty popular with his “Free and Cheap Test Tools”. Michael D. Kelly – all the way from Indianapolis, Indiana – is spreading his wisdom about managing exploratory testing for a full house as well in his “Session Based Test Management”. When I check in with Alan Richardson’s and Simon Stewart’s Selenium Clinic, I see a screens full of code and two presenters on fire. All is good.

Again I feel sorry that I cannot sit in – imagine all the learning I’m mssing! – but as it turns out there is plenty of learning to be done elsewhere: rendez-vous at 11 AM in the main auditorium for a run-through of the conference opening. Finally, the auditorium is made Shrek-free and we can admire the beautiful – blueish – theatre. While the main idea of the run-through was a rehearsal of the opening remarks, we spend an hour test-driving four yellow tourist bikes through various aisles of the auditorium, checking where to brake and how to park – testing the risky bits first, so to speak. Daragh and Paul of the Eurostar team were able to secure these bikes last-minute as we are going to use them in the most vital part of the conference opening: the committee entrance. While James, Julian and Shmuel get in touch with their inner 13 year-old and do little uphill races on the blue carpet, ringing frantically, I try to make my slideset work on Alan Page’s nifty little Surface RT. Hungry? Not really. No stress, no sirree.

      Half past one. The official conference opening is upon us. The auditorium is packed, music is blasting out of the speakers and the four of us are in the – by now deserted – registration area, using our dubious trial bike skills to balance our yellow monsters in place. Lorraine gives us a go and we make our way to the front of the auditorium, all the time aware of the bizarreness of the situation: low visibility, a steep decline, funny brakes, loud music and a suit don’t make for a fluent biking experience. This concludes our very own “Men in Black”/”Boys are back in town” moment – and I’m glad we make it in one piece. We park the bikes and I climb onto the stage for the opening remarks. It is there that I have my first aha-moment. When asking how many people are attending the conference for the first time, I expect someting like 10-20% but see a *lot* of hands going up. I am a little thrown by that and I would like to see some official numbers to be sure what happened this year.

Ferran Adrià
Photo by Wired Magazine, 2012

I go ahead and explain the conference theme (Innovate/Renovate), telling the story of Ferran Adrià, the former chef from El Bulli, the best restaurant in the world for some time. Adrià started his career as a dishwater but managed to change the world of gastronomy by bringing elements of other disciplines into cooking: chemistry, psychology, physics. He expanded his cooking toolbox (his new toys were lyophilizers, liquid nitrogen, candy floss machines,…) and started investigating how the presentation of a dish influenced the perception of taste (did you know that strawberry mousse is perceived to be ten percent sweeter when served on a white plate compared to a black one?). My main message? In testing, it’s probably the easiest easy to say that innovation is not your job, rather something for those crazy boys and girls in R&D. But it’s not – it’s everyone’s job. Innovation is not just about products: it is also about business practices, processes, tools – it lies in everything we do. Everyone can be an innovator – testers too.

When the committee takes the stage for a personal address, expressing their wishes and hopes for the conference, I can actually stand back for a while and be amazed by the size of the whole endeavour. So many people here, in difficult economic times, all undergoing geographical and financial inconvenience to be here to learn and share experiences – this is great, and humbling at the same time. It is super tuesday alright.

Photo by Rik Marselis

Time now for Alan Page to step into the light, with his opening keynote “Test Innovation for Everyone” (a link to the presentation can be found here). It turns out to be a great talk, in which he points out that innovation is all about ideas, which makes test innovation mainly about test ideas. We innovate to solve problems – but are we solving the right problems? Try a lot, but keep checking whether you are doing the right thing. Alan’s talk is also book recommendation hour: “Where Good Ideas Come From” (Steven Johnson), “The Wisdom of Crowds” (James Surowiecki), “The Lean Startup” (Eric Ries), “Jimbo – Adventures in Paradise” (Gary Panter), “Brain Rules” (John Medina), “The Myths of Innovation” (Scott Berkun), “They All Laughed” (Ira Flatow), “Steal Like an Artist” (Austin Kleon), “The 5 Elements of effective thinking” (Edward Burger, Michael Starbird) and “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (Clayton Christensen). Some of these are already acquired as we speak.

AlanRichardsonKeynoteNext up are the first track sessions of the conference. Finally, time to watch the sessions we have been debating way back in march. I switch to track-hopping mode again and sample bits of as many tracks as possible. The afternoon flies by way too fast, and before I know, we are all inside the auditorium again for Alan Richardson‘s eclectic closing keynote, “Unconventional Influences”. I am very much looking forward to his talk – I chose this talk from his long list of possible subjects because I am all for bringing elements from other fields into our testing practice. And I am happy to see that Alan completely nails it with references to Dr. Seuss, H.P. Lovercraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”, the “Fortean Times” magazine and ghostbusting. He tells a story about how he never allowed his testing to be limited by other people’s attitudes to testing or company mandates. He thinks that is an excuse that people embrace to stop them having to identify their beliefs about testing and challenge themselves to become better testers. Slides of his talk can be found here. He also wrote an unconventional paper to go with it, link here.

Tuesday evening is the traditional Expo drinks moment, and I take the opportunity to mingle and talk with as many people as possible. I drop by the Improve boot, where my very pregnant DEWT colleague Jeanne Hofmans hands me the first issue of “Quality Level Management – Managing quality in outsourcing”, a book she wrote together with Erwin Pasmans. Once I make it to the Test Lab, I see that Shmuel brought his infamous box with testing games and waste the rest of the expo drink time trying to solve puzzles together with great testers – and beer. How awesome is that? Totally sucked into puzzle solving, I fail to notice that the expo is closing, and together with Shmuel (still limping like a hunchback) I spend a good 30 minutes deciding whether we should ride our yellow bikes through the torrential rain or take a taxi. Taxi lines lines outside the RAI are rather discouraging, so we end up getting soaked on the bikes. Back at the Novotel, the Test Lab people set up a portable Test Lab in the bar, but even the most die-hard TestLabber gets hungry after a while. And so it happens that a group of twentysomething people find themselves in a great tapas restaurant for an evening of comido, bebidas y alegría. The athmosphere was so relaxed that I am tempted to stay up until the wee hours, but I am being a good chair and take the taxi back – mañana es otro día.

Here are Esther Gons‘ graphical recordings of this day:

Opening remarks

Test Innovation for Everyone – Alan Page

Curing our Binary Disease – Rikard Edgren

Value Inspired Testing – Neil Thompson

Unconventional Influences – Alan Richardson

… to be continued

The Eurostar 2012 diaries – part 2 (monday Nov 5)

So it begins… tutorial day

En route from the novotel to the RAI on this dark and rainy monday morning, I am pleasantly surprised to see “Eurostar Conference” signposted everywhere (next to Shrek the Musical, where it belongs) – who knows I might have ended up at a conference far, far away. It is only 7 AM, but the RAI is buzzing with activity. The registration desk is fully (wo)man(n)ed, and last minute checks are being done. Not too long before the hounds will be released, and the eurostar crew is very much “in the zone”.  I decide not to disturb them too much and go for a little orientation walk around the venue. The main auditorium remains closed this day (secret Shrek stuff, I assume) and the expo is still being built, but I am able to get a good idea of the venue layout. Loungy sitting areas, roomy but cosy session rooms – this place has the right vibe.

By the time I get back to the desk, the first tutorial speakers are already registering. Part of my job today is to show them to their rooms, make sure they get all settled and have everything they need. Dorothy Graham (“Managing Successful Test Automation”) and Janet Gregory (“Transitioning to Agile Testing”) are our first teachers on site, soon followed by Bob van de Burgt & Iris Pinkster O’Riordan (“Lessons Learned in Test Management”) and Rikard Edgren (“Exploratory Test Design”). I walk them up to their campsite for the day and when I get back down, the registration area looks like it is being flash-mobbed by multiple nationalities – minus the dancing. The desk is invaded with people waiting to get a name tag, conference bag and that very slick looking 20th-anniversary running shirt. They get a complimentary friendly word and welcome from the Eurostar crew, some advice and orientation, and off they are to learning heaven. By now I realize that I somehow missed Michael Bolton (“Critical thinking for testers”) entering the venue, but Siobhan reassures me that he /is/ in the house. I go upstairs again to say hi, and notice that Michael’s room is nearly full. Wait, is it 8:30 already? The last queues are cleared, and we have a lift off.

Standing by the registration desk, I notice keynote speakers Alan Page and Simon Stewart check in. As they are not teaching/speaking today, and they probably won’t be hanging around the venue the whole time, I make sure to remind them of the speaker’s drink taking place this evening in a bar behind the RAI. Apparently, I wasn’t the first:

The rest of the morning I spend wandering from room to room, sitting in for short periods of time, to catch the vibe and to see whether the delegates are enjoying themselves. This is a strange change of perspective. During the previous years, I was always in these tutorials myself, focused on learning. Now, I am checking the reactions of people and not really paying attention to what is being told. I am a lousy multi-tasker. Not that I don’t pick up stuff – I vividly recall Rikard walking around without shoes, talking about software potatoes. I catch Bob and Iris talking about a thin (cheese) slicing test management method (mmm… cheese), and Michael debriefing one of his many exercises and quoting Jerry Weinberg (*). I hear Dorothy highlighting and explaining stories from her award-winning book (“Experiences of Test Automation“), and Janet is scaling her normally much more intimate workshop to a way bigger audience – and she seems to handle that with style and grace.

The rest of the RAI is empty at this time of day, which makes for a strange contrast with the invasion of only an hour earlier. During the coffee breaks, the friendly chatter reappears, and I observe and talk. Finally, I bump into Shmuel, who is limping like someone with bad shoes who had a very long walk in Amsterdam on a rainy sunday. It adds to his overall funniness, although I think he already is funny enough as is. We discuss the subject of yellow tourist bikes to go back and forth between the Novotel and the RAI – bikes that will play a role in our conference opening as well.

Right before lunch, as I am welcoming delegates into the lunch restaurant, fellow committee member James Lyndsay enters the venue. He is sporting a big bag that mostly contains a stylish – and heavy – kilt. Guaranteed gala dinner goodness. During lunch, James is mentioning his upcoming gig with the London Bulgarian Choir – the friday after the conference. And I thought /I/ had a hectic schedule! When the tutorials start up again and the restaurant is emptying, Shmuel and I act as a (poor man’s excuse for a ) choir while James rehearses one of his deep-voiced solos, leaving the waiters and RAI staff wondering what they just witnessed. The RAI restaurant has good acoustics, actually. Rumor has it that James’ voice is still haunting the premises.

The afternoon flows smoothly, I feel, and around 4 pm I follow Lorraine’s recommendation to use the last couple of hours of the afternoon to relax a bit before things get really hectic tomorrow. The weather is crisp and clear, so I go for a walk around the area. Not too long though, since the speaker drinks kick off at 6.

At the drink, which turns out to take place in a cosy Austrian log cabin, I meet Julian Harty who just flew in from Nairobi with a short detour to the UK – to switch from summer to winter clothes. On thursday evening, he has to move on to go speak at the (equally fantastic) Oredev conference, which unfortunately takes place in the same week this year. Speaking of hectic schedules, I am convinced that Julian’s travel arrangements would make Kofi Annan look lazy. It is good to have our committee finally complete, and on site. Actually, this is the first time that the four of us together meet face to face, as Shmuel was skyping in while the rest of us were meeting in Galway in march.

As the committee is hosting the drinks, we do our best to make everyone feel welcome. Shmuel goes full reversed paparazzo and has his picture taken with everyone present – behavior that he will continue to exhibit throughout the whole conference, which makes me wonder: doesn’t that make his photo albums mighty Shmuel-centric? The athmosphere is really relaxed, and I am glad to see things turning out so nicely. I am now able to put faces to submissions, and voices to pictures. Michael D. Kelly – very thrilled to finally meet him, by the way – looked so young that I didn’t even recognize him at first. I don’t know why I had imagined him older, must be his reputation preceeding him.

My evening ended in a tasty Indonesian restaurant, where a large group of testers was diving into a rice table as we entered. I was invited to eat (heaps of) spicy leftovers from other people (thank you Rob Lambert and John Stevenson for feeding the hungry and the impatient – your good Samaritanism is highly appreciated). Again,  occasions like this work wonders in putting faces to twitter handles: be warned, @GeirGulbrandsen and @Kristoffer_Nord, you’re no longer safe from me.

After dinner : plenty of rest for the wicked. Tomorrow, there’s an official conference-opening to be done. 

… to be continued

——————————– 

(*) Which comes as no surprise, as Jerry Weinberg – Patron Saint of thinking testers – is very much worth quoting. And reading, even more so. If you haven’t read any of his books, I encourage you to do so.