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.

The Eurostar 2012 diaries (the prequel)

What a year…

It has been a while since my last blog post, and being the programme chair for Europe’s biggest software testing conference probably had something to do with that. Now that the twentieth edition of Eurostar is over and the whole event is still very much in my system, I figured it is about time to revive Ye Olde TestSideStory blog.

The Eurostar office, Galway

The whole year leading up to this moment was one big trip into testing conference wonderland. I learned loads about conference-making (I’m pretending that this is a dictionary entry somewhere) in the small and the large. Selecting a committee, a theme, keynotes, tutorials, assembling a balanced programme out of 400+ submissions – these things in itself already were quite a challenge. This, combined with a steady flow of related side-activities proved to occupy the better part of my free time. Luckily, the Eurostar team in Galway (Ireland) made this into a very enjoyable and fluent experience. I had the privilige of visiting the Galway office a couple of times in the past year, and the team has a great energy that gets things going (and a love for Belgian chocolates and all things Guinness). Props to my employer CTG as well, for giving me the opportunity to spend time preparing the conference.

Working with my committee (Julian Harty James LyndsayShmuel Gershon) throughout the year was certainly a highlight. I have fond memories of our lengthy skype sessions, discussing about anything in the testing conference realm – we even managed to find some emerging behavior in skype chat in the process. In hindsight, I was particularly impressed with Julian’s pragmatism and fresh ideas, James’ note-taking fu in the face of a truckload of submissions, and Shmuel’s contagious enthusiasm.

The last weeks, pressure had been building gradually: seeing the early bird subscriptions take off, hearing about testlab preparations, tutorials filling up… Later on, a couple of speakers opted out and needed replacement – things were getting more real every week.

Rainy Amsterdam – Sunday November 4

After some uneventful aquaplaning all the way from Belgium, I met up with Israeli-Brazilian superstar (and programme committee member extraordinaire) Shmuel Gershon. Originally there was a visit planned to the RAI to get acquainted with the venue layout, but since Eurostar happened to coincide with Shrek The musical (Ogres in the main auditorium! Fionas mindmapping a test strategy!), this was no longer possible. We decided to dive headfirst into the city of Amsterdam, to explore. Some observations:

  • A couple of hours in Amsterdam can spawn more rain than six days in Ireland
  • Torrential rain will soak up even the sturdiest shoes
  • The Anne Frank house has bigger lines than the newly opened Amsterdam Apple Store
  • From now on, if the map and the territory disagree, I’m believing the territory
  • Serendipitous wandering can make you end up in one of the finer Indian Restaurants in Amsterdam
  • The finer Indian bread is very kosher – but expensive
  • Two men with identical bright blue Novotel umbrellas look funny (I guess people expected a Gene Kelly dance routine)

When arriving back at the Novotel, soaked to the bone, a bunch of testers had already gathered for an informal meetup in the bar. I was planning to change into dry clothes first, but got engaged in conversation and totally forgot about it. Sometimes you have to plan as you go along.

Conference pre-opening (photo by Huib Schoots)

While my shoes were drying slowly, I spent the rest of the evening chatting with new friends (Cyril Boucher, Jeanne Peng, Erkki Pöyhönen) and catching up with old ones (John Stevenson, Michael Bolton, Huib Schoots, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Rikard Edgren, Shmuel). John in particular was on fire that evening, quoting book titles like some kind of human reading tip generator. The two that I managed to note down are “The click moment” and “Everything is obvious“. The rest got lost in a pre-conference haze.

Later on I ran into the Eurostar crew as well. They had been on site since friday, unpacking stuff and basically building everything from scratch. They expanded their team for the conference, and it was nice meeting new faces there too. They all looked happy and confident, which was kind of reassuring to see: the logistic side is under control. Chatting with them also made me realize that things were about to be kicked off for real.

Are those nerves I feel? Anyway, time for bed – appointment at the RAI at 7 am.

… to be continued

Rebel rebel – the Danish Alliance @ Eurostar 2010

Something way cool happened at Eurostar this year. A group of like-minded people got together after the conference to do a mini-CONFERence in a more intimate setting. They called themselves the Danish Alliance (or Oprørsalliancen, when they felt like badly pronouncing Danish words). The concept was based on the Rebel Alliance, started by Matt Heusser at StarEast last year. I had been thinking about a localized version of the Alliance before, but it was the ever energetic Shmuel Gershon who put his efforts into organizing the first Alliance on European soil. Of course, this little guerilla conference couldn’t have happened without the generous help of the Eurostar folks, who set us up with a superb meeting room. Need I say that they ROCK?

The ingredients were simple: 

  • A handful of passionate testers
  • A safe setting
  • Drinks
  • Pizza
  • Music
  • Chocolates & cookies

Throw all these together and stir gently. Observe.

Whatever happens, happens. There was no agenda, really. In this case we mingled first, talked and drank a bit until pizzas arrived. Major  epiphany: Denmark has pizzas that come in the size of a small wallaby. After that, there were some lighting talks, timed by quality gatetimekeeper Michael Bolton (who definitely should get into the timekeeping business whenever he gets out of the QA business). You can see (transcripted!) videos of the talks in Shmuel’s write-up of the event

‘Talks’ don’t have to be ‘talks’, per se. James Lyndsay did a call to action to test one of his new black box testing machines. Andy Glover (the Cartoon Tester) got us drawing abstract concepts. Dorothy Graham even gave us a Sound of Music flashback by singing about her favorite techniques. Anything goes.

Discussions continued until the wee hours. I thought it was wonderful. This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t regularly happen during the day at conferences. Sure, the Eurostar programme was great, again (and I’ll be writing more about that later), but the real conferring often happens outside the track sessions and tutorials. It feels great to connect with other people that are all driven by the same thing: a passion for their craft.

So thank you Shmuel Gershon, Jesper L Ottosen, Joris Meerts, Dorothy Graham, James LyndsayBart Knaack, Martin Jansson, Henrik AnderssonMichael Bolton, Andy Glover, John Stevenson, Rob LambertCarsten Feilberg, Ajay BalamurugadasMarkus GaertnerHenrik Emilsson, Julian Harty, Rob Sabourin, Rikard Edgren, Lynn McKee and Rob Lugton. The force will be with you, always.

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 3 (Lederhosen and Certified Self-Certifiers)

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 3 (Lederhosen and Certified Self-Certifiers)

October 6

Wednesday. Michael Bolton warmed up the audience with the keynote performance How am I supposed to live without you?Testers: Get Out of the Quality Assurance Business!“, and proved once again that he’s a hard act to follow. He immediately came out of the closet saying that he’s an Agile skeptic and stated what “being Agile” means to him:

  • Adhering to the Agile Manifesto
  • “Be able to move quickly and easily” (cf the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary)
  • De-emphasizing testing for repeatability
  • Re-emphasizing testing for adaptability
  • For testers, focusing on testing skills
  • Focusing on not being fooled

Michael then defined quality as “Value to some person(s) who matter” (© Weinberg, Bach, Bolton) and said that decisions about quality are always political and emotional, and taken by people who actually have the power to make these important decisions. A little bit later, the main message of the talk jumped right at us and bit us in the face:

If you are a tester, do *you* hire the programmers? Fix problems in the code? Design the product? Allocate staff? Set the company’s strategic direction? Allocate training budgets? Set the schedule? Decide on raises? Control the budget in any way? Negotiate customer contracts? Actually choose the development model? Set the product scope? Do you decide which bugs to fix, or write the code yourself?

Did you answer “No” to most of them? Then you will probably agree that it is simply impossible to “assure” quality. But no worries – it is not our job to assure quality. What we *can* do is test, and make sure we’re damn good at it. Testing in the sense of a sapient activity, providing information with the intent of *informing* a decision, not *taking* the decision. Not to be confused with checking, which mainly aims at confirming existing beliefs. Checking is automatable and non-sapient.

Michael Bolton shifted into a higher gear, and claimed that “acceptance tests” are examples, and that examples aren’t really tests. They are checks, not tests. Acceptance tests don’t tell us when we’re done, but they do tell us that we’re not finished when they fail. They should in fact be called “rejection checks”.

I looked around me. Usually, at this point in a presentation and at this time of day, people are dozing off. Even the biggest barflies were wide awake now. He ended with a set of statements that almost read like some kind of Tester’s Manifesto:

We’re not here to enforce The Law.
We are neither judge nor jury.
We’re here to add value, not collect taxes.
We’re here to be a service to the project, not an obstacle. 

I got out of the room early and skipped the Q&A part, since my presentation was up next. Apparently the Q&A got a bit out of hand (I suspect the A was probably more to blame than the Q), because the auditorium doors swung open 15 minutes late. In hindsight, I was lucky that I even had an audience; in a parallel track, Gojko Adzic was delivering one hell of a performance (a stand-up comedy routine, I was told) for an overly packed room. 

No stand-up comedy in my room, but an honest “inexperience report” called “A lucky shot at Agile?“. I had ditched Powerpoint one week earlier and decided to go for Prezi, the so much nicer alternative. Of course, this was a bit of a risk, but I think it turned out fine. The presentation went well, and I received some good and heartwarming feedback which really made the rest of my day. 

In case you are interested, here’s A lucky shot at agile – prezi.

<Shameless_plug>In case you’re interested in the full story, Eurostar conferences has released my paper on the subject in an ebook-format – available for free – here </Shameless_plug>

I stayed in the room to attend Anko Tijman‘s talk “Mitigating Agile Testing Pitfalls“. Anko’s talk revolved around five pitfalls that threaten agile teams, and what we can do to mitigate them:

  1. Not testing with the customer. We can mitigate this risk by building a relationship, building trust.
  2. Not testing as a team. Teams are collectively responsible for the quality of the product. Share knowledge not only with your testers, but with the whole team. Work on a collaborative definition of done, tackle risks.
  3. Unbalanced test strategy. Teams sometimes focus too much on unit tests or acceptance tests, postpone other test activities to the next phase. This in turn can lead to a lack of feedback. To overcome this, put more detail in Definition of Done, schedule knowledge sessions, share content on a wiki.
  4. Requirements are too vague/ambiguous. Collaboration is the key in overcoming this pitfall. Communicate!
  5. Tools. Focus only on tools that add value to the team and that support the practices of the team. Decide as a team which tools to use and which not.

By then it was time for lunch, which is always a good occasion to mingle with other testers, discuss and have some fun. And to ravage that German buffet, of course. I had the impression that everyone was eagerly anticipating the keynote that would follow, which was Stuart Reid with “Agile Testing Certification – How Could That Be Useful“. It became clear that he wasn’t exactly going to preach for his own parish.

And a controversial talk it was. Twitter servers were moaning as Stuart’s quotes and graphic interpretations thereof were launched into #AgileTD cyberspace. Strangely enough, the infamous twitter fail whale was nowhere to be seen, which surprised me since the whole auditorium was filled with bug magnets. Stuart Reid started off by stating that it is only a matter of time before a qualification for agile testing is proposed and launched, whether we like it or not. He continued to say that if we want our industry as a whole to improve, we should exert our influence to help create a certification scheme we can truly benefit from. Fair enough. But what followed next confused me.

Stuart Reid stated that “the certification genie is out of the bottle” – what started as a good intention has spiralled out of control, and there’s no way back. This sounded like nothing more than a public dismissal of ISTQB to me, coming from one of the founding fathers. He proceeded to give an overview of the typical money flows in such a certification scheme, which was pretty enlightening. At one point, Stuart even managed to upset Elisabeth Hendrickson by stating that “it’s not because you are teaching Agile, that the training itself has to be Agile”. The movie clip of that very moment will live long and prosper on the internet. The whole “if you can’t beat them, join them”-idea bothered me too, as if there are no alternatives. Instead of focusing on certifications, we could try to educate employers, starting right at the top level. Certification programs exist mainly because employers don’t really know what qualities define a good tester. For them, a certification is merely a tool to quickly filter incoming resumes. Anyway, I think it’s good that Stuart initiated the debate, which would continue the rest of the conference.

The room was buzzing afterwards. Nothing better than some good old controversy to get the afternoon started. David Evans calmed things down again with “Hitting a Moving Target – Fixing Quality on Unfixed Scope“. He had some great visuals to support a thoughtful story. Some heavily tweeted quotes here:

  • QA in Agile shouldn’t be Quality Assurance but rather Questions and Answers
  • The product of testing is confidence (to which Michael Bolton quickly added that the product of testing is actually the demolition of false confidence).
  • Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD) slows down development just as passengers slow down a bus. We should measure the right thing.

Then it was Markus Gärtner‘s moment to shine in the spotlights. He presented “Alternative Paths for Self-Education in Software Testing“. During the last year, I got to know Markus as a passionate professional, dedicated to learning and advancing the craft. An overly active and ever-blogging guy that may have found the secret of the 27-hour-day. He opened with the question “who is in charge of your career?” Is it your boss? Your employer? Your family? Your teachers from high school? Well, none of that. It’s YOU. If you find yourself unemployed a year from now, everything you do now is contributing to you being employed quickly again.

Markus listed several ways of learning and self-improvement:

  • Books:
  • Courses
  • Buccaneer Scholaring, a way of taking your education in your own hands, based on the book Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar by James Bach
  • Testing challenges – challenges to and by the Testing Community
  • Testing Dojos – principles: collaboration in a safe environment, deliberate practice. Usually consists of a mission which allows the testers to practice their testing and learning. Can happen with observers or facilitators, can be a good occasion to practice pair testing too.
  • Weekend Testing – A few hours of testing + debriefing in the weekend  according to a charter or a mission. I participated in a couple of European weekend sessions, and I must say: great learnings indeed. 
  • The Miagi-Do School of Software Testing, a school founded by software craftsman Matt Heusser. It’s a zero profit school where people can improve their skills, learn from others and share knowledge, using a belt system like in martial arts. They are not widely advertised – as Markus said: the first challenge is finding them.  

Janet Gregory‘s closing keynote fitted nicely in Markus’ theme, since it was all “About Learning“. It was an inspiring talk, about congruence in learning, the importance of learning, the curiosity of children – how their unspoiled curiosity makes them natural testers. She also related the learning to the agile principles. She managed to tie in neatly with Rob Lamberts presentation about structures and creativity. A safe environment helps you to learn. She referred to trust as an important element in team safety. A blame culture will work counterproductive. No-one will learn anything.

After all this theory about learning, we were all yearning for some hands-on practice. The Diaz & Hilterscheid gang gave us the opportunity to practice that typically German custom called Oktoberfest. Just like last year, they dressed up in Lederhosen (I’m actually getting used to the look of José in Lederhosen, go figure) and started serving plenty of local food and one-liter glasses of beer. There was live music as well, which added to a fun Bayerisches athmosphere. The evening culminated in some vivid discussions of the burning issues of the day. Well, actually there was only one burning issue: certification. Elisabeth Hendrickson was determined to get everyone mobilised for a worthy cause and whipped out her iPad on which she had written some kind of self-certification manifesto. Someone threw a pile of index cards on the table. Elisabeth was on fire and started handing them out everywhere. “If you agree with it, copy it. If you don’t, don’t”. Index cards on tables. Pens. Beer. Lots of people copying index card after index card till their fingers went in a cramp. That night witnessed the birth of a community of certified self-certifyers, all of them proudly carrying the message:

We are a community of professionals.
We are dedicated to our own continuing education
and take responsibility for our careers.
We support advancing in learning and advancing our craft.
We certify ourselves.

Some people took the discussions to the hotel bar, while others decided to dance the night away. I think I even spotted some genuine limbo-ing on the dancefloor. Someone ought to tell these testers about risk…

To be continued… Day 4

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 2 (Defect limbo and stunt hamsters)

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 2 (Defect limbo and stunt hamsters)

October 5

After a full day of playful tutorials on monday, it was back to business on tuesday. The actual conference kicked off with an interesting keynote by Lisa Crispin. Lisa is an author/agile tester extraordinaire/donkey afficionado with Belgian roots – a winning combination if you ask me. The title of her talk was “Agile defect management” and was all about finding a suitable approach to manage and track defects in agile projects. Lisa used the limbo analogy for defects, stating that we should strive to lower the bar on defects. I liked the analogy – but had a hard time dissociating from all the alcoholic connotations of a classic limbo-fest, where the bar is generally lowered until the first drunkard ruptures his anterior cruciate ligaments. I think it’s time to groom my unconscious backlog a little.

In the agile/lean world, using a defect tracking system (DTS) is generally seen as wasteful, since agile teams strive for ‘zero defects’. Instead of filing bugs in a DTS, they prefer to fix the problem immediately by creating an automated test for that defect and adding it to the unit test suite.

I particularly liked Lisa’s “tabula rasa” idea: try to start your project *without* a defect tracking system and see what you need as you progress. Set some rules like “no more than 10 bugs at the same time” and fix the important bugs immediately. You could even use a combination of a DTS and defect cards on a board. Use the DTS for defects in production and defect cards on the story board for defects in development.

The next track I attended was “Incremental Scenario Testing: Beyond Exploratory Testing” from Matthias Ratert. He started off by explaining that they performed exploratory testing in their project, that it was helpful for about 2-3 test sessions , but that it became increasingly difficult for the testers to come up with new and creative test ideas and that too many areas of the complex system remained untested.

My exploratory tester heart was bleeding at first because they dismissed exploratory testing so quickly. When I heard that they were using unskilled, untrained and outsourced labor in the form of students, without experience and/or motivation to continue in this line of work, it all made sense. No wonder the exploratory testing yielded sub-par results.

In order to cope with the testers’ lack of imagination and sense of coverage, they developed a tool (the IST-tool) to do Incremental Scenario Testing (IST). The tool was used to automatically generate test scenarios as a starting point, which were composed of preconditions, states and events. It was tweakable by all kinds of different parameters to suit different contexts. The testers would still have the freedom to test in an exploratory fashion withing these predefined areas, without stating expected results. The tool could be configured so that important areas would appear more often in the testers’ selected scenarios.

The tool as such sounded like a good solution to  generate different scenarios, to spread and divide work to have a better coverage, but in my opinion will not solve their initial problem: they were still letting unskilled and unmotivated people perform exploratory testing, which is especially known to be a highly skilled, brain-engaged activity. Replacing them was apparently no option because of budgetary reasons. But why not try to train them into first-class ET-guerilleros first?

For the last morning session I chose to attend “One small change to code, one giant leap towards testability” by the lively and ubiquitous Brett Schuchert (presenter of two track sessions and the open space facilitator on thursday, how much more omnipresent can you get?).  His topic was mainly technical – how to design for testability. He used the example of a dice game in which the rolling of the dice was a factor that was beyond our control. In order to make the design testable, we should use dependency injection: create two loaded dice with a predictable result, and feed them into the game.

Schuchert’s inner showmaster came to surface when he threw some jeopardy-style quotes at us to illustrate the importance of Test Driven Development – a design practice rather than a testing practice:

The answer is 66%. What was the question?
“What is the chance that a one-line defect fix will introduce another defect?” (Jerry Weinberg)

After a copious lunch, ‘Fearless Change’-author Linda Rising inspired the big auditorium with her keynote “Deception and Estimation: How We Fool Ourselves“. She defined deception as consciously or unconsciously leading another or yourself to believe something that is not true. Her main message was that we constantly deceive ourselves and others. She illustrated her point with the typical marrying couple at the altar. Although current studies indicate that chances for a marriage to succeed are only 50-50, this knowledge doesn’t keep anyone from getting married. I didn’t know these odds when I decided to get married. I like to think it wouldn’t have made a difference – I’ve always liked to defy statistics. 

Us humans, we are a strange lot. We are hardwired to be optimistic. We see what we want to see, so we unconsciously filter out the things we dislike. After all, we fear what we cannot control. And it’s here that estimations come into play. Our hardwiring biases our estimations – we constantly overestimate our ability to do things: coding, testing, everything. And do we ever learn from our mistakes? But we shouldn’t be too overwhelmed by this, there’s hope: achieving good enough estimates isn’t totally impossible, if we just take small enough steps, experiment, learn from failures as well as successes.



Software Testing Club busybee Rob Lambert provided some very good food for thought in his talk “Structures Kill Testing Creativity“. I don’t know how deliberate it was, but he did this really cool thing of standing at the door outside the room and greeting people as they came in. It certainly made me feel welcome from the beginning. He was also the first person up till then that I saw using Prezi. A kindred spirit! I sat back and enjoyed the show. The main point of his presentation that in order to foster creativity, we need *some* structure (he used the example of a sonnet which has *some* predefined rules to it), but that imposing excessive structure upon people and teams will suffocate creativity (my wording, not his). Rob defined creativity through the equation:

Expertise + Motivation + Imagination = Creativity

Rob then tried the Purdue creativity test on his audience – he asked us to draw the person sitting next to us in a mere 30 seconds, which led to some hilarious results (you can check some of the drawings on his blog – the speed-portrait of Lisa Crispin by the artist formerly known as Ruud Cox is pretty mindblowing). The point of the exercise was to show that when we have to share creative ideas, we constantly self-edit. We feel shy and embarrassed, even more so if the environment doesn’t feel safe to us. True. It struck me that almost everyone was apologizing for the bad portraying afterwards. Excessively structured environments don’t make good breeding ground for creativity.

Rob Lambert told a couple of personal stories about people who actively pursued creative environments for the better. Marlena Compton moved to Australia to work at Atlassian, a cool company without excessive structures in place. He talked about Trish Koo, who works at Campaign Monitor, a company that is apparently all about people. He mentioned Pradeep Soundararajan, who started using a videocamera to film testing in progress to make the testing language more portable and universal.

© Quality Tree Software Inc.

Dynamic? Peppy? Is there a stronger word than energetic? If so, it would describe the keynote by compelling storyteller Elisabeth Hendrickson. The title of her talk rang a little bell: “Lessons Learned from 100+ Simulated Agile Transitions“. The main subject was indeed the infamous WordCount experiment, which she has done numerous times, including her tutorial on day 1 of the conference (you can find my write-up for that here). Because of non-disclosure agreements, she couldn’t use actual pictures, so she used stunt hamsters to illustrate her point. Throughout her talk, it was nice to see that our WordCount group from the day before was no bunch of forgettable dilettantes. It was déjà-vu all over the place:

  • Round 1. The computer is bored (check)
  • Round 2. Chaos (double check)
  • Round 3. Structure (triple check, at least the beginning of structure)
  • Round 4. Running on all cylinders (quadruple check)

 The lessons learned: teams that struggle, typically

  • Hold on tight to rules, silos and work areas
  • Have everything in progress and get nothing done
  • Sit in meetings constantly instead of creating visibility
  • Fail to engage effectively with the customer

Teams that succeed, generally:

  • Drive development with customer-provided examples
  • Seek customer feedback early and often
  • Re-shape their physical environment
  • Re-invent key-agile engineering practises like ATDD and CI

The ressemblance to what our team went through the day before was striking. I was still pondering that throughout dinner, when it hit me that it would be my turn to perform the next day. By that time, the stage in the dining hall was taken over by overly enthusiastic improv actors, but I wasn’t really in the mood for that kind of entertainment. I obeyed the voice in my head. Must. Prepare. Prezi. 

To be continued… Day 3

A Eurostar interview

A Eurostar interview

A while ago, there was this little announcement on the Eurostar blog:

“As a new addition to the EuroSTAR community, we will be interviewing prominent testers from across the globe”

I thought that was pretty cool. There is lots to learn from experienced people. It’s nice to hear all these different takes on the sofware testing craft. They already published interviews with Isabel Evans, Mats Grindal, Tim Koomen, Michael Bolton, Martin Pol and Anne Mette Hass. Interesting stuff.

Several months later, I received an email from Kevin Byrne from the Qualtech/Eurostar team asking if I would be interested in doing an interview with them on testing (and other things as well). It took me a while to properly connect the term “prominent tester” with my own name. But I was honoured of course, so I accepted their offer.

And there it is. They even call me a ‘prominent Belgian tester’ in the introduction, which made me smile because it reminded me of the phrase “being big in Belgium” – often used interchangeably with being “big in Japan”, meaning as much as “totally unimportant”.

In the 1992 movie Singles, Matt Dillon plays in a band that claims to be “big in Belgium” – subtext: “what a bunch of forgettable losers”. Similarly, the legendary rock group Spinal Tap (the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap is hilarious, by the way) ended up being big in Japan, which basically meant “pathetically uncool and ridiculed at home”.

But I digress. I might not be all too prominent, but I am a Belgian tester allright. Here’s the interview:

http://www.eurostarconferences.com/blog/2010/5/18/an-interview-with-zeger-van-hese.aspx