Home Swede Home – Øredev 2011

Last week I attended (and presented at) the Øredev conference in Malmö. Sigge Birgisson invited me to be part of a fully Context-driven test track, which I gratefully accepted. It turned out to be quite a memorable experience. Øredev was the first ever *developer* conference (be it with a testing twist) I attended, which gave the event a totally different vibe for me. Cosy, laid back and open-minded. Geeky too, in a good way:  they provided a cool conference app with a puzzle that could only be solved by obtaining other people’s codes. The side effect of that was that random people started addressing me with “Hi. Can I have your code?” moments before bolting off in their own space-time continuum. Speed dating for techies.

Another thing that really stood out were the graphic live-recordings by Heather and Nora from Imagethink. These talented ladies recorded every keynote live on stage, and made the beautifully looking artworks available as handouts later on. A brilliant idea.

As for the proceedings of the conference – here are some personal highlights:

Day 1

Day 1 had no real testing track, but there was enough fun to be had in other areas of the development spectrum. As the conference was centered around “the user” (Enter Userverse), it kicked off with “Only your mom wants to use your website”, an entertaining keynote by Alexis Ohanian, of Reddit and Hipmunk fame. Hey, the guy even spoke at TED about a whale called Mister Splashy Pants – top that! This time he told a compelling story about how the secret behind succesful websites is caring for your users. He told us that generally, the bar on websites is raised so low that it is really easy to stand out if you’re able to delight your user.

In “Collaboration by better understanding yourself”, Pat Kua stated that people have lots of in built reactions that hold us back from collaborating more effectively: power distance, physical distance, titles, even clothes. What could help us? Awareness, feedback, breaking the cycle, XP practices, courage. A good talk with good content, and some good book recommendations as well.

Johanna Rothman managed to keep me engaged for her whole talk about “Managing for collaboration”. She talked about how to manage the entire system for success, and how we should optimize and collaborate on the highest level, solving problems for the entire organization, not the project. I had the privilige of getting to know Johanna in her may 2011 PSL (Problem Solving Leadership) class, which she organizes together with Esther Derby and Jerry Weinberg. I knew she was a great storyteller, and she did not let us down: one gem was how she upset management by donating her entire bonus to her team and letting them decide who got what. 

Neal Ford closed off the day conference with “Abstraction distractions”, in which he dissected abstractions that have become so common that we started mistaking them for the real thing. An abstraction is a simplification of something much more complicated that is going on under the covers. As it turns out, a lot of computer programming consists of building abstractions. A file system, for instance, is a way to pretend that a hard drive isn’t really a bunch of spinning magnetic platters that can store bits at certain locations, but rather a hierarchical system of folders. And what’s that icon on a save button again? A floppy what? In addition, we shouldn’t name things that expose the underlying details. Users really don’t want save buttons, they just want their stuff to be saved. He also quoted Joel Spolsky’s Law of Leaky Abstractions: All non-trivial abstractions, to some degree, are leaky.

The day ended with drinks, dinner and some live jazz. I ended up talking testing (among other things) with Pradeep Soundarajan over dinner, when suddenly a late night evening session was announced: Copenhagen Suborbitals. At that moment, it reeked of a mediocre techno-act from the late nineties and I didn’t really feel like joining in. But Pradeep was curious enough and I decided to tag along. 

Flash forward one hour. Pradeep and I were literally blown away by a passionate tale of two Danes with a dream to build and launch their own manned rocket into space. Peter Madsen told a compelling and inspiring story about dreams, constraints, possibilities, enthusiasm, courage and rocket fuel.

Day 2

Day two was kicked off by Dan North who talked about “embracing uncertainty”. Fear – he said – leads to risk, risk leads to process, process leads to hate… and suffering and Gantt charts. Dan stressed that people would rather be wrong than uncertain, and that adding more process in times of uncertainty is wasteful and counter-productive. He also contrasted the original intentions of the agile manifesto in 2001, and what has become of that now. He stated that our ability to survive is directly related to handling the unexpected. We should embrace uncertainty, expect the unexpected and anticipate ignorance.

I decided to put up my basecamp in the “Test” room today, since this was context-driven testing day: six testing tracks covering a wide variety of topics. The only drawback was that the room looked like it was designed by an architect on acid: unfinished, an enigmatic door way up high in a wall, bare cables and sockets and a very short and high stage that forced you either to stand in front of the projection screen or to stay cemented in the same spot the whole time. Sound isolation was kind of peculiar too, although that only seemed to be  a problem when Americans were presenting nextdoors. But I’m nitpicking here: the whole Slagthuset venue was nice, and organization and technical team were super helpful, the whole day.

Pradeep Soundararajan‘s talk was titled “How I wish users knew how I help them through context driven testing”. Pradeep started by pointing out that he had the shortest abstract and the longest bio in the conference booklet. True. He seems to like long titles for his talks, too. In combination with his name, this probably makes him a nightmare to introduce at conferences. But in contrast with the title, his talk was short, crisp and funny. He was brave enough to do some live-demoing of his twitter-driven exploratory testing approach: looking for user feedback by searching in tweets with negative emoticons and profanities combined with the product or website name. I hadn’t read his blogpost before now, and it made me laugh out loud. I love the smell of profanities in the morning. Brilliant idea, that.

Next up was Shmuel Gershon, who shared an experience report of a 100% exploratory testing project, “Case Study on Team Leadership with Context-Driven Exploratory Tests”. He came well-prepared, all set to win our hearts with charisma, handouts and chocolats. He told us about how he took his team on a journey towards more context-driven testing and how he dealt with that as his role was also changing. He told us a story on test management, session based testing, recruiting even. He urged us to let people tell their stories, don’t start asking why, leaving them feeling that they have to justify themselves.

The ubiquitous Gojko Adzic (I suspect there are several clones making the rounds of conferences worldwide. Where /doesn’t/ he speak?) was his energetic self in his graveyard shift session called “Sleeping with the enemy”. Independent testing, he said, should be a thing from the past. Testers should engage with developers and business users, in order to create opportunities to accomplish things they cannot do otherwise. I like Gojko’s style, always direct and uncompromising, but always thoughtful. After Gojko’s presentation, a heated hallway discussion ensued in the so-called chalk-talk area. This embodies what conferences are all about: conferring. 

With “Diversity in team composition”, Henrik Andersson took the small stage trying to convince us that when assembling good teams, diversity rocks and uniformity, well, not so much. With some simple examples (“can I please ask everyone wearing black clothes to stand up. You are now a team”), he showed us that there’s much more to it than randomly throwing some people together.

Then it was Selena Delesie‘s turn to shine in the beamer lights. In “Focusing Testing on Business Needs”, she explained how to focus the testing effort on customer needs. She asked some pertinent questions; Are you valued in your team? How do you know?

The last presentation slot of the day in the testing track was for yours truly. In Artful Testing, I talked about how I think testing can benefit from the arts. From thoughtfully looking at it, to develop our thinking. From critical theory and the tools used by art critics, to become software critics. From artists, and how they look at the world – through artist personas). I also touched on the importance of context in evaluating art and software. I received some great reactions and feedback afterwards, and some good tips from Pradeep and Rikard as well.

After that, there was dinner, drinks and Øredev Open, where Pradeep was invited to present “The next generation software tester”. In theory. But you know how these things go. In theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice they are not: dinner took a bit longer than expected, drinks were abundant and so it happened that Pradeep took the stage for some Beer-Driven Exploratory Presenting. It was a great stand-up routine.

Ola Hylten joined in and Shmuel decided to whip out his box with tester games and puzzles. Time for some serious thinking, mixed with laughs. When the Øredev Open closed, we took ourselves and our silly games to the hotel bar where innocent passers-by quickened their pace.

Day 3

Day 3 in the test track started with “Agile testing: advanced topics” by Janet Gregory who highlighted five topics that had emerged since the release of “Agile Testing” by Lisa Crispin and herself. She mentioned feature acceptance (when you’re not able to deliver everything, focus on the features that matter), collaborative automation, large organizations, distributed teams, continuous learning.

Next up was my favorite Swedish philosopher (granted, I only know one), Rikard Edgren, who delivered did a spot-on and thought-provoking session called “Curing Our Binary Disease”. He stated that software testing is suffering from a binary disease: pass/fail addiction, coverage obsession, metrics tumor and sick test design techniques (sick as in “ill”, not “wicked” – my interpretation). Couldn’t agree more. He also mentioned his infamous “software potato”, which made for following legendary phrase: “A tester might not even know that he’s in the potato”. 

All this binary goodness got me thinking: Stay/Go? Focus/Defocus? Defocus it was. I chose to do a final round of the expo and do a quick Copenhagen visit to get some fresh air while it was still light out.

That concluded Øredev 2011. It was great to finally meet Selena, Sigge and Pradeep. And Robert Bergqvist as well. It was great catching up with others (Johanna, Shmuel, Henrik, Janet, David, Ola, Rikard,…). Next up: Eurostar in Manchester next week. A full-blooded tester conference that will rock as well. Let’s meet there.

What happened at DEWT1 doesn’t just stay at DEWT1 (June 11, 2011)

A report on the first DEWT (Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing) on May 11, 2011 in Driebergen, NL

What started on twitter in november last year, culminated in a first major milestone last weekend: DEWT1, our first peer – and Exploratory – Workshop on Testing (yes, the D is for Dutch, but these Dutchmen happily accepted this Belgian foreign element in their midst). Michael Bolton added to the international character by agreeing to be our special guest for the weekend.

It turned out to be an inspiring and fun event. Here’s my write-up.

The venue

Hotel Bergsebossen, Driebergen, NL

The participants

People on DEWT-y, from left to right:

Jeroen Rosink, Ray Oei, Jeanne Hofmans, Michel Kraaij, Huib Schoots, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Ruud Cox, Zeger Van Hese, Michael Bolton

Peter “Simon” Schrijver (who was roaming the earth the Better Software conference at the time)  and Anna Danchenko could not attend

The pre-conference

We gathered on friday night as a warm-up to the conference. When Michael Bolton is around, this usually means getting lured into some tricky testing puzzles, and some beers to ease the pain of messing up. And yes, jokes too. And Talisker. After we discovered the versatility of the average Dutch hotel bouncer (half bouncer, half God ad-hoc bartender), we called it a night. A dream-ridden night it was, filled with newly learned terms, such as…

Shanghai (transitive verb) \ˈshaŋ-ˌhī, shaŋ-ˈhī\ (shanghaied / shanghaiing)

1 a : to put aboard a ship by force often with the help of liquor or a drug b : to put by force or threat of force into or as if into a place of detention

2 : to put by trickery into an undesirable position

The conference

Artful Testing

Speaking of which… during our last preparatory DEWT-meet-up, my fellow DEWTees shanghaied me into doing the first talk of the day, which they promptly called a keynote to make it sound like an invitation. I thankfully accepted though, since I wanted to get some feedback on my work-in-progress presentation. The link between art and testing has been consuming me for more than half a year now. I premiered my ideas on it at the second Writing About Testing (WAT) conference in Durango last month (if you haven’t done it already, you should check-out the great WAT write-ups from Marlena Compton, Alan Page and Markus Gärtner).

Ruud (who facilitated the morning sessions) kicked off the conference and invited me to take the proverbial stage. Based on the feedback from WAT, I made some modifications to the presentation and put it out here again for a second time. I don’t know if the subject was really fit for an early morning session, but I received some gratifying feedback that convinced me to pursue my efforts in this direction.

Transpections

Transpections (basically a way of learning and sharpening your ideas by putting yourself in someone else’s place in some kind of Socratic dialog) were on our DEWT wish list for quite some time already. We had been reading all sorts of interesting stuff on it (see James Bach’s post here, some Michael Bolton posts here and here, and Stephen J. Hill’s post here), so we asked Michael Bolton if he would be willing to give us a quick roundup on the subject. Michael agreed and made it into an interactive session, inviting us to pair up to gather information about transpections and then transpect on that. Meta-transpection for the win!

The information gathering exercise was enlightening, and brought up some good food for thought. Michael compared a transpection session with the play between a hammer and an anvil, where the hammer would be the initiator of the transpection, the anvil the person whom the initiator is transpecting with, and the metal the idea being shaped.

In the end, we didn’t get to try an actual transpection session, partly because I artfully exceeded my allotted time in the previous session. Oh well…  It was a valuable exercise nonetheless.

Lightning talks

After lunch there were some lightning talks to fight the afternoon dip:

  • Jeroen got started about the hierarchic “testing pyramid” model (testers / test coordinators / test managers) and how he wants to challenge that classical view
  • Huib followed, on “the power of knowing nothing”, about how starting with a (mentally) clean slate reduces the chances of being biased. “It’s not about the what, it’s about the “why”
  • I touched upon the topic of the Baader Meinhof phenomenon and how testers could leverage the effect by absorbing as much knowledge as possible, on several subjects (a blog about that has been sitting in my drafts since january 2010 – I’ll try to finish that)

Introducing exploratory testing in Dutch projects

Ray then presented an experience report on how he was able to introduce exploratory testing and session based test management in classic, T-Map-style projects, using the principles he learned from Rapid Software Testing. Discussion ensued on how to prove the benefits of RST, and what the major differences between the approaches are. But we ended up talking mostly about “release advice”, and what to do when you’re asked to give it. One take-away phrase for me: “it’s not declining, it’s empowering the product manager”.

Walking break & Positive Deviance

Although we finished the previous topic way ahead of schedule, everyone felt like the last discussion drained our energy (our staying up late the night before probably didn’t help either). Jeanne, who facilitated the afternoon sessions, had the brilliant idea to just go out for a walk in the “Utrechtse Heuvelrug” national park, which turned out to be a conference session in its own right: relaxing, fun and informative. A beautiful spot, too. There was a moment where I thought we were getting lost, but here’s another lesson: do not underestimate the power of nine explorers, without a map.

Back at the hotel, Michael talked about positive deviance and positive deviants (people whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite having no special resources or knowledge). He also showed us a video of Jasper Palmer, a patient transporter at the Albert Einstein hospital (and a positive deviant) who became famous for his “Palmer Method”, which is now a standard life-saving practice in a number of hospitals. A mighty fascinating topic, that I’ll be exploring more for sure.

Credibility

Ruud delivered the closing presentation, on credibility – the quality of being trusted and believed. The main issues Ruud addressed were: how do we – testers – build credibility, and how do we manage to maintain it? After all, trust is built slowly, but destroyed in seconds. Simple questions, but a very complex subject indeed. “Trust” and “credibility” are relations: you can be credible to some person at a certain moment in time, but totally incredible to another. Trying to build your credibility is not always something controllable. Sure, you can do your very best to improve your credibility on a personal level, but you don’t really have an influence on how people will perceive you. Ruud then explained how he tries to build credibility. He impressed me with the personal mnemonic he developed, and the matching artwork as a personal reminder to stick to these principles:

STYLE

  • Safety language
  • Two ears one mouth
  • Yes but
  • Lighten up a little
  • Empathy
I’m not going in detail here, because I specifically want Ruud to finish that blog post he’s been mulling over for ages now. So, yes Ruud, the pressure is on. You’ve got some great material – time to share it with the world!

DEWT1 ended with drinks, testing games and dinner. I ended the day way more energized than I started it, which is always a good sign (silly extroverts like me get fueled by events like this). DEWT1 rocked. It was informal, informative and entertaining. When is the next?