MEWT5 – Reflections on moving from generalist to specialist testing

A change in focus

I was lucky enough to be invited to MEWT (Midlands Exploratory Workshop in Testing) last weekend (9/4/2016). The theme was professionalism, or professional testing. Unfortunately I was unable to give my presentation, due to a lack of votes and time. Fortunately however, many of the themes and issues I wanted to share did get exposed during the subsequent session discussions.  Whilst I won’t reel through a list of the talks, the content and the discussion I do want to present my thinking on my role, which has been changing from what could be termed a testing generalist towards more specialised testing.

At NewVoiceMedia we have recently formed a security team, of which I am the application security testing lead. This move has taken some time, as the corporate focus on security has matured and developed over the last few years. Whilst previously I was part of a feature team, creating products, testing features and functionality; I am now leading the charge on application security across this business.

Not only will I continue testing to a certain capacity, but also work alongside my colleagues to ensure that their features also have appropriate levels of discussion, learning and testing around the security of our products. I also need to work with the CTO, Security Officer and the other engineers on my team to raise the awareness of security matters, tailoring the content to each of the departments at NewVoiceMedia.

Professional or professional testing?

During the discussions at MEWT, we talked about what it meant to be professional testers, both with a small and big P. The focus shifted and flowed around roles and responsibilities, ethics, certification, communication, learning, models and skills. It was a challenging discussion with some deep thinking and debate throughout.

One aspect though stuck particularly with me. Abby Bangser led a discussion on what it meant for her to be a “Full Stack Tester”. This, and I am happy to be stand corrected if my interpretation is inaccurate, is Abby’s view on what it means to be a tester that is able to see and operate across not only the technical stack, but also across the business. Essentially being able to approach, think and help solve any problem that a tester might encounter. Abby herself aims to be “the worlds best rubber ducky”. (A reference to the technique by which a programmer explains their code line by line to another person, maybe a tester or programmer, or even an inanimate object: Wikipedia: Rubber Duck Debugging, Book: The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master; Andrew Hunt, David Thomas)

During this discussion, amongst many others, we hit upon what skills testers need to do their job.  The exploration and development of skills beyond that of testing appear to be essential for us to maintain our ability to be professional testers in a rapidly changing business and technical landscape.

It is also clear that whilst technical skills are, and should be, important, they aren’t the whole story. Testers, of whatever flavour, cannot work in isolation of their business context. We need skills that go beyond our technical knowledge and delve deeply into our business domains.

Bill Matthew’s reflected on Iain McCowatt’s statement that he prefers testing as an activity, rather than testers as a role or profession – as he see’s a problem with some of the dogma surfacing in the testing community.

Is there a problem with my T-Shape?

File 15-04-2016, 23 24 32

Which takes me to the issue I wanted to share with you here. You can find specialists in almost all walks to life, any profession, vocation, workplace and context. As I’ve previously mentioned, my main focus at work is both security testing and corporate security  awareness.

Outside work I am a Scout Leader, but I specialise in running activities for the Cub Scout section – children who are ages eight to ten and a half. I occasionally help out in other areas of Scouting also. I’ve planned and led multi activity sessions, camps and Scouting ceremonies for many children and other adult leaders.

My great-grandfather, who was a Church of Ireland and Church of England minister was also a head teacher at a school in Bath. One could argue that being a clergyman is both vocation and profession. Some might argue that teaching could be thought of in the same way.

Reverend John Willis Kearns

My maternal great-grandfather, Reverend John Willis Kearns. Headmaster of Monkton Combe School, Bath, 1900-1925

My maternal grandfather was also a clergyman, but also a community builder. One of his first parish assignments was in Lewisham, South East London, in 1943. This was of course during the World War Two, and the Blitz, one of the darkest times in the history of the United Kingdom. Alongside my grandmother, he helped keep his community together during a terribly difficult time.

My maternal grand-parents - Reverend James Hugh Jelly and Mrs Edith Mary Joyce Jelly

My maternal grand-parents getting married – Reverend James Hugh Jelly and Mrs Edith Mary Joyce Jelly in 1943

The T-shaped people in my family don’t stop there. My mother, Jocelyn, is not only a nurse, but is also an acute cancer care specialist. She is trained and practices specifically in caring for patients with urological cancers, as well as palliative care.

File 15-04-2016, 23 22 21

Jocelyn Jaun – specialist cancer care nurse, and my Mum!

So, what’s the problem here? Well, as I have deepened my skills in security testing and other matters around security, I have found that my career has shifted to focus on security almost entirely. That has presented some issues. Here is a summary of them:

The Positives:

  • Learn from great people
  • Deep skill development
  • Seen as an SME
  • Leader in the security space
  • Championing security across the business
  • Coaching other testers
  • More value to the community

The Negatives:

  • Bus factor of one – can create bottlenecks and issues around dependencies
  • Potential stagnation
  • Less time for learning as there are large demands on my time
  • Competing priorities – security isn’t at the top of everyone’s list
  • Concerned that I’m not developing other valuable skills
  • Worried that my t-shape is becoming unbalanced, or doesn’t always fit

All of these issues above are within my control to exploit, or challenge and manage. Let me focus on the specifics of this change in focus.

Firstly, It means that I’m no longer working with my previous feature team. I had developed a good working relationship with that team, and it was really difficult to transition from a close knit team who were co-located, to a more loosely formed team, who aren’t co-located, and where I’m almost autonomous. It means being more reliant on myself to get things done, rather than feeling able to support others or get support for myself when I need it. I know this isn’t strictly true, my colleagues are great and always willing to help a fellow team mate solve a problem. (Danny Dainton is a great example of this)

Secondly, becoming a bottleneck is and can be a problem. I’m still responsible for managing, planning and executing security testing across the whole business. People come to me if they need some security testing being done, but what we are working towards is each feature team taking responsibility for the security testing they need to do. Ultimately I am only one person. I can’t do everything, and sometimes I need a holiday. So to help with this I consult with each team, share ideas and knowledge, organise training, and pair with developers and testers to solve problems.

I’m one of many test engineers and development engineers, but I’m the only one of my team who has developed a deep focus in this area of testing. Many of my other colleagues have other interests and responsibilities – management and coaching, UX and design, automation, scrum-mastery, release co-ordination and regression testing, building tools and other useful things…the list goes on. It means that my t-shape can fit in with other peoples t-shape. If I don’t have the skills needed to complete a task, someone else will, and I can learn from them.

Take a look at what some folks have said about T-Shaped people, and specifically T-shaped testers.

Jurgen Apello – T-Shaped People

Rob Lambert: T-shaped testers and their role in a team

Adam Knight – guest writer on Robert Lambert’s blog – T-Shaped Tester, Square Shaped Team

Lisa Crispin – What skills should we learn & teach to build quality in?

Solving the problem

This last week has been Hackathon time at NewVoiceMedia. We get a good slice of time every few months to work on projects that are outside of our roadmaps, but that will add value to our teams, our processes and our business. It also helps with broadening and deepening your skills in all sorts of areas.

This week I’ve been involved in a coding workshop led by three of my development colleagues. Some of us were developing our C# skills, others were developing their Python or Ruby skills. I chose Python myself as it integrates well with one of the tools I use for security testing: Zed Attack Proxy from OWASP.

In the end I was able to run a ZAP scan, generate an XML report from ZAP, parse that report into JSON and then push it to a static HTML page. This is part of my aim to get security testing into our CI processes. I’ll write in more detail about this in a future post.

So whilst I might be doing less testing in future, I am still a tester. Whilst I am deepening existing skills, or adding new skills that can and will be useful. I will still have that broad range of skills that might identify me as a tester. It’s up to me to embrace the change that is happening and work with it, rather than focusing on the negative. That way I can remain relevant, valuable to my team, business and customers – and ultimately fulfill myself in my work.

I want to thank the MEWT 5 team and attendees for a great day of discussion and learning. Signing off!

mewt5

MEWT5: Organisers: Bill Matthews, Simon Knight, Vernon Richards. Attendees: James Thomas, Mohinder Khosla, Adam Knight, Danny Dainton, Dan Billing, Iain McCowatt, Christopher Chant, Dan Caseley, Tony Bruce, Doug Buck, Abby Bangser

Mad as a March Hare – Musings on Rapid Software Testing and TestBash Brighton 2016

So another year has come around, and TestBash has come and gone. What was initially planned as a series of posts around TestBash and the Rapid Software Testing course didn’t come to be, due to an unforeseen technical hitch. So instead, this is my response to the events in Brighton last week. My annual pilgrimage to Brighton for TestBash had an extra few dimensions than usually just attending workshops and the coference day

Rapid Software Testing with Michael Bolton

So as I mentioned in my last post I was about to embark on the journey into Rapid Software Testing, on this occasion led by Michael Bolton. I’ve followed Michael’s (and James Bach’s) work for some time now, like a lot of testers who identify as context driven. I’ve been using many of the techniques, models and approaches to testing that RST champions for a while; mostly via learning from others, reading and applying techniques in practice. I have however not undertaken the course before now.

 

RST with Michael Bolton - March 2016

RST with Michael Bolton – March 2016

 
However the greatest impact upon my life as a tester was being able to talk and discuss the thinking around it with one of the authors themselves. It gave the the concepts, thinking and knowledge the practical grounding it needed, framing it within the discourse with Michael. A most rewarding experience. Now the unusual thing was that not only was I attending and learning at RST, but I was also facilitating on behalf of the Ministry of Testing. That meant that my primary concern was to the needs of the group and the coach. So balancing my needs and those of the group was challenging.

We discussed heuristics, oracles and models for testing in extreme depth, at least within the time allowed. We explored and practiced techniques for deep learning, exploration and test design and strategy. We would often revisit, review and tune our thinking on each topic, where Michael fed in to our learning, but responded actively to questions and responses, challenging and exploring each one in depth.

Here for example is one of the initial activities we did. A 15 min charter using the “Triangles” application. Here are my notes, capturing what I explored and discovered with my partner.

As a tester, I wanted to observe how the triangles application recorded data, inputs and outputs in the system:

We entered a range of values and inputs in to triangles.

  1. Integers
  2. Decimals
  3. Negative

We observed that a text file, triangles.txt was created by the application

Bug – the triangles.txt file is written to the folder above the application folder, so /thingstotest not /thingstotest/triangle

Bug – when we entered values into triangles, there was no feedback on the values, just the shapes.

Bug – 

SIDEA: -1

SIDEB: 2-

SIDEC: 1

TYPE: X

SIDEA.ERROR: ILLEGAL CHARACTER

SIDEB.ERROR: ILLEGAL CHARACTER

These illegal characters are not fed back to the user in UI, so they don’t know what is or isn’t an illegal value. Not enough information is presented to the user.

Now, the triangle application was one I had been familiar with for a while, thanks to a great session at the office led by Chris Simms (@kinofrost on Twitter). My familiarity was not the point here. I reviewed my notes from that session, and they were different interms of info captured. I also had more time available in a lunchtime session. We had the opportunity to dig deep and produce some good work, some good testing in both sessions, but recognising the limited time we had is a factor that will need to be applied in all testing sessions.

Triangles is a fairly simple application. You enter three variables for the size and shape, and it responds with the type of triangle and an appropriate image of the shape. It also has a log file which records the values entered, and the application responses. The depth of the groups testing belies the simplicity of the application under test. Each group found different problems and further questions to ask, there were also many overlaps in our observations. However the learning was being blue to design testing on the fly, with little or no prior information. Easy, right?

Well, no, not easy. Asking good questions is never easy. And that’s the whole point of RST, I feel. A lot of traditional testing practice expects us to read documents, write documents and write test scripts. Testing through those approaches appears to be somewhat of an afterthought. 

RST challenges us  to ask good questions. Through asking and answering good questions we develop good testing ideas, strategies and approaches. The documentation becomes the notes we take, or in our case the mind maps we captured in another session. Our advocacy and responsibility for our testing and the products of our testing are at the heart of what RST is to me.

Below are some notes from the team, captured during the course. Bearing in mind that these are incomplete and a work in progress. They do have problems of ‘translational’ and ‘transactional’ awareness between the group, the coach (Micheal) and me (the scribe). Trying to capture people’s thoughts and learning is really hard, especially in large and vocal groups. The handwriting is mine, but this is the work of the whole group.

 

RST - Heuristics and Oracles

RST – Heuristics and Oracles

  
RST - Properties of Good Bug Reports

RST – Properties of Good Bug Reports

  
RST -  PEOPLE WORKING - a mnemonic for problem reporting

RST – PEOPLE WORKING – a mnemonic for problem reporting

  
RST -    Some testing models

RST – Some testing models

 

There is a lot to digest and process from RST, probably too much to share in a busy blog post. In summary, RST was an incredible experience. It has afforded me the opportunity for me to both challenge and consolidate my existing learning, enhance my note taking and observation skills whilst testing. It’s also allowed me through facilitation to place a greater priority on the learning experience of my colleagues than that of my own. It was hugely valuable, and I would jump at the chance to do it again. I’m grateful for Rosie Sherry for letting me facilitate on behalf of Ministry of Testing (thats me being  all corporate in the red MOT T-shirt); and to Michael for his time, knowledge and insight. Many thanks!

Rapid Software Testing  Alumni - March 2016

Rapid Software Testing Alumni – March 2016

TestBash Brighton 2016 – Workshops

So on to TestBash. The workshop day has been an event that has been introduced both through demand for rich learning opportunities in the testing community,  also the Ministry of Testing’s desire to create an environment where that can happen. In the afternoon I was running my own workshop on proxy tools, which I will leave others to reflect on in public.

For my needs I like to balance the technical learning I get with more soft skills. It’s an area I have huge problems with. Technical learning is often a case of broad reading, practice and being open to developing the skills required. My personal route to developing a reputation as a ‘security expert’ has meant that I’ve had to focus hard on the technical skills, rather than developing other elements of what testing (and software development) can be.

Christina Ohanian (@ctohanian) and Nicola Sedgwick (@nicolasedgwick) ran their workshop “Connecting the Dots: Empowering people through play” in the morning session, and I have to say it has been one of the best professional decisions I have made attending this workshop.

Christina and Nicola are great proponents of the power of play to engage and develop people within the workplace. They have worked together at The App Business, and have developed a great rapport with both each other and the folks in the workshop.

Through a series of activities, both practical and thought provoking the group were encouraged to develop our thinking and learning to enable us to solve problems and adapt to change. 

The activities were: 

  1. In a circle, we each gave our name and revealed a fact about ourselves. We then went round the circle again and had to recall the name and fact of each person in sequence. This was as much a challenge as it was an icebreaker. Memory is hugely at play here but it does fail you sometimes. Some names and facts were easier to remember tha others, perhaps because the were unusual. The rhythm and pattern of the sequence almost became second nature by the end of the game, so by the end we had all gotten to know each other through the confines of the activity. 
  2. Lego story boards  – using an iterative process, we built a narrative story board, an then constructed the narrative in Lego. At various points in the activity, a new element was introduced, or a complication that meant we needed to replan and refactor our work. In short order, we discovered that our resources, imagine and ability to adapt was to be put to the test.
  3. Project Jenga – the team were split into three groups, developers, testers and designers. With Nicola acting as a project manager, we were asked to design and build a mobile application to accompany the conference. Through discussion, we had to meet certain acceptance criteria, explore problems and risks. With each encounter we had to remove a block from a Jenga tower. With each move the risk increased that the project (or Jenga) would collapse. This activity allowed us to explore our questioning skills, as well as our empathy and co-operation with other teams.
  4. Posters – in groups we were asked to design a poster for TestBash, using certain acceptance criteria. We then wrote a description of our poster which was then shared with the other team, who then had to draw a poster using our instructions, and vice versa. A fantastic activity that dug into our ability to analyse and interpret instructions and acceptance criteria, whilst engaging with the others in the team in a visual medium. We then compared each teams efforts to see which was closest to the desired product.

   
  

   
Nicola and Christina did a fantastic job. I said on Twitter that this was one of the most fantastic learning experiences I have ever had, and I meant it. I still have a lot to analyse and interpret, so that I can apply the learning practically in the workplace. Maybe we can use some of these activities or others to enhance our communication, our empathy and our ability to adapt.

TestBash Brighton 2016 – Conference

The conference day in hindsight was a bit of a blur for me. With all of my might I tried to concentrate on Lisa Crispin and Emma Armstrong‘s opening talk “Building the Right Thing: How Testers Can Help”.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was up next on the bill, so I was a little distrcted trying to maintain focus on not collapsing in a heap. Lisa and Emma kicked off TestBash with a bang, with an insightful exploration on how testers can be the guiding light on projects, ensuring that not only teams do the job, but do right. 

Lisa Crispin and Emma Armstrong

Lisa Crispin and Emma Armstrong

After the break, one of my favourite talks was Katrina Clokie‘s “A Pairing Experiment”.  This talk described and explored how Katrina lead an developed pairing activities within her team at the Bank of New Zealand. When questioned on the challenge of convincing managers to relinquish team members for paired work, she responded that whilst they might be losing one tester for an hour a week, they’d be getting an extra tester for another hour each week. I’ve been lucky enough to see Katrina speak before about her work, and each time it’s been a revelation. She works hard to develop the testing at every organisation she has worked at, an beyond into the community itself. Great stuff!

Katrina Clokie

Katrina Clokie

Up next was John Stevenson (@steveo1967). In his half talk/half conversation “Model fatigue and how to break it” he invited us to examine critically the models we use for testing every day. 

He challenged us to reevaluate the models we use, cut them up, adapt the ones we find successful, combine them with other models, throw away ones we don’t use, create new ones if needs be. He challenges us to be diverse in our approaches to testing, no relying on this are models all the time. That way we can find out more interesting information about our testing. John is a great presenter, who engaged and enthused the audience, inviting them to through questions at him for he last 10 mins of his time on stage, rather than talk to the end of his time.

It’s something I can reflect on in my own day to day work, where we use a model to evaluate and plan our user stories the testing that is discussed in those stories. It has been adapted and changed over time to suit our needs, and I am sure will be changed or even chucked away if it doesn’t suit our purpose in the future.

 

John Stevenson

John Stevenson

 
Later on in the day we heard from Patrick Prill, in his debut talk ” Accepting Ignorance – The Force of a Good Tester”. He led us in a discussion of how ignorance is not necessarily a wilful lack of knowledge, but just an absence of knowledge. That developing through understanding where our ignorance exists, we can develop our knowledge. It’s a huge force for change in testing. This is the gap between what we know, and what we don’t. The reflection on that upon our work as testers is where this talk had its greatest impact. 

Where Patrick was not an experienced speaker (you wouldn’t know that from his talk), he utilises his many years of testing experience in Germany, the problems both cultural and technical that he encounters in his work which gave his talk huge insight. 

Patrick Prill

Patrick Prill

After lunch we had our guest speaker, Grammy award winning singer (and tester) Michael Wansley (@teewanz) give us a highly entertaining, somewhat controversial but engaging talk “Test/QA A gatekeepers experience”. Testers as gatekeepers is not a very popular paradigm amongst the vocal members of the (particularly) context driven testing community. But within the wider view of testing as a process that is involved in developing and selling products, gatekeepers are often what testers and testing are perceived as. 

It’s a popular view (one that I subscribe to) that testers should be information providers, learners, investigators but not necessarily decision makers about whether software ‘goes live’ or not. We may be part of that decision making prcoesses, but not the arbiter of it.

It’s within this context that I have a certain amount of empathy with Michael’s experience of working on a number of iterations of the Microsoft Windows operating system. He understands that testing cannot exist in a vacuum, where there isn’t recourse to customers, managers and Vice Presidents, or consequences of screwing up. His talk did (quite rightly) invite comment, and Michael stood up for his view honestly and with vigour. Whether you agree or disagree with his view, that should be applauded.

 

Michael Wansley

Michael Wansley

  
Zachary Borelli introducing Michael Wansley

Zachary Borelli introducing Michael Wansley

 

After that it was “Having all your testers code: It doesn’t have to be a big deal” by Anna Baik (@TesterAB) and Andrew Morton (@TestingChef) on the challenging task of ensuring all testers contribute to the automation strategy at Brightpearl. Now I have to give some personal interest here, as not only are Anna and Andrew friends of mine, they are also former colleagues of mine from my time contracting at Brightpearl in Bristol.

It’s a fast paced, highly charged environment of great development and testing across the business. I was tasked with testing integrations between the Brighpearl service and a number of third parties. I didn’t get too involved on the automation side of things, but I do know what a challenge it was to implement. 

This was I think for many a challenging talk to follow, as the style was unusual (no slides), but the content was highly pertinent and valuable to many teams now trying to grow and mature their testing capabilities and automation strategies.

Anna Baik and Andrew Morton

Anna Baik and Andrew Morton

As a tester who too often focuses on the technical rather than human elements of testing, the next talk turned out to be my absolute favourite of the day. “Do testers need a thick skin, or should we admit we’re simply human” by Nicola Sedgwick (@nicolasedgwick) was a bold and brave exploration our ability to communicate, or failings as testers to sometimes not recognise problems not with software but in ourselves.

One of the key aspects of this talk was our response to stress, how it compounds upon other stress. Where there is a lack of challenging activity, or work we care about can lead to either boredom or even more stress. Some of my close friends in testing know that the last couple of years have been difficult for me, professionally and personally, and for this reason this talk really resonated with me. Nicola challenged us to ask what kind of tester we were. Well, I’m not sure I can answer that question yet, but I’ll be one that never forgets that humans are fallible, in a world that increasingly looks to punish those who fail to realise that.

 

Nicola Sedgwick

Nicola Sedgwick

 
So to the final talks of the day – next was my friend and mentor Bill Matthews (@bill_matthews) who introduced us to the concept of Smart Algorithms. The maths and logical flows that allow systems to learn, recognise patterns and process data based on a wide range of inputs and variables. He challenged us to examine the potential testing concerns that might arise from working within such applications – a really complex problem which Bill was able to present with humour and deep, practical knowledge. I have to add here, that with glasses I am a Golden Retriever, but without I am a German Shepherd.

Bill Matthews

Bill Matthews

And finally…Nicola Owen (@NicolaO55) also from New Zealand, but recently relocated to Sweden to work with the great folks at House of Test. In “Nowhere to hide: Adjusting to being a team’s sole tester” Nicola guided us through two case studies were she was the sole tester on two very differs projects. She reflected upon her experience with great depth, clarity and insight, what she learned, her developing confidence and skill. In one case study she felt insulated from the problems that software development teams encountered, and in the other far more exposed as the sole tester. In each she presented how she approached each problem and dealt with it head on. Another awesome talk, to round off the day.

 

Nicola Owen

Nicola Owen

 
So to round off the proceedings, our host Vernon Richards (@TesterFromLeic) and his able assistant Mark Tomlison (Mark Tomlinson) lead us into a round of always amazing 99 second talks. This is the first time I have not done a 99 second talk, so it was refreshing to just sit back and enjoy. Highlights for me were Emma Keavney’s rap (@EmJayKay80) and Deborah Lee’s sit in (@DeborahLee89). Also a special mention to the new Software Testing Clinic (@TesterClinic) announced by Mark Winteringham (@2bittester) and Dan Ashby (@danashby04), which I hope to get involved in soon! Well done to all involved. A great potential showcase for future speaking talent I hope.

 

Mark Winteringham and Dan Ashby from Software Testing Clinic

Mark Winteringham and Dan Ashby from Software Testing Clinic

  
Deborah Lee

Deborah Lee

  
Emma Keavney

Emma Keavney

 
So, to wrap up, TestBash 2016 I felt was an enormous success, both from a personal point of view, and in terms of the rude health of the conference. Rosie has done a great job again this year, and I hope to be involved again in future.

 

After party with Jess, Rosie and Helena

After party with Jess, Rosie and Helena

  
Breakfast with Chris, Nicola and Martin

Breakfast with Chris, Nicola and Martin

  

Rapid Software Testing – Before

This is the first in a series of posts on my experiences of RST and the TestBash conference this week.

I’m on my way to Brighton today, to facilitate Rapid Software Testing, led by Michael Bolton. I’m nervous about that, but I’m more nervous about this. 

My day is off to a great start. Overslept by 30 minutes, I need to wear my layers rather than pack them, and my train into Brighton is cancelled. 

Bus replacement service to Eastbourne

So, to anyone who travels regularly on the British transport network, you’ll be familiar with the phenomenon that is the bus replacement service. 

The bus is full, and I’m sat in the jump seat next to the driver, having picked up everyone from Hastings to Eastbourne on the way. There are probably many buses and bus drivers doing similar work across the country. (Subsequent seat moves to allow an elderly lady to sit down, and I’m now on the train from Eastbourne to Brighton, via Lewes.)

It makes me think of the services we test, when they are non performant or under stress. What do systems do when they are under heavy load, or a link in the chain is broken? How do you monitor and check that the system is performing as it should?

Clearly a system of checks and monitoring have come together to arrange this bus I’m travelling on. Service performance was seen to be dysfunctional due to a systems failure, so an additional service was put in place to pick up the slack.

What can testers learn from this?

Well, my first observation is to consider what your weak areas are. Is it the infrastructure, the application or the connectivity between systems? Do you know why they are weak, or can you improve or replace them.

As I’ve seen today, a replacement or temporary service isn’t necessarily better or more comfortable, but it is getting where I need to go.

I could have easily waited to get a lift from my Mum, but she was off conducting her own business elsewhere. I would still get there, but maybe not on time.

What monitoring do you have in place?

Monitoring isn’t just for your operations teams. At NewVoiceMedia, the DevOps team use all sorts of tools to allow us to keep an eye on performance, load, volume, through put, page impressions, browser usage as well as where any breaks in our systems might be. 

It’s hugely important so we can adapt to problems, or see them off before they become issues to our customers. Peak times (like the rush hour on the transport network) are one of the main concerns. 

Why is this a problem for testers?

Well, it isn’t a problem really. It’s more of a change of mindset. As organisations have to change and evolve to meet customer needs, testers need to adapt too.

Testers can and should be more aware of the wider needs of customers who need to use performant systems, rather than just having a narrow focus on the applications only.

We should be clear and concise in our communications, and be involved in the decisions that underpin our systems.

Why?

Well, in a DevOps organisation everyone has to muck in and get their hands dirty. Sure, there are people with specialist roles and positions of responsibility. But I see testers as the glue that holds systems together. We can get involved at any point, and not just on the application layer. 

More and more will be expected of testers as organisations change to meet customer need, and we will have to meet that challenge. 

So…RST

I’ve been wanting to do this course for years. And by chance, luck or fate I have the opportunity to do so now. I’ll be facilitating, so my priorities will be on the needs of Michael and the group, rather than my own.

It’s going to be a huge challenge, and like the needs of any complex system I will need to adapt.

I like to ask a lot of questions, but I anticipate a need to allow the group to generate those questions rather than myself. I’ve been told in the past that I can sometimes “not shut up” or “meander” during groups discussions.

It’s taken a lot of time and mindful thinking to try and control my natural instincts to ask questions or share knowledge, where others might not be willing, unable or be nervous. And I need to be be aware of that for the next three days.

It’s going to be epic.  Just like the scenery today.

My home, The South Downs

Distance Learning

Hey testers. It’s been a while since I have blogged last. This has mostly been because of such a massive workload, but also various personal events taking place. I normally blog when either I feel that I have something to share, or if I have a reaction to something I have learned – such as on this occasion.

CAST2015 – The Conference of the Association for Software Testing  is running as I type this, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. This is the first year I have been able to monitor the live stream. This is a fantastic service, offered to allow folks who aren’t attending to listen, watch and take part (via Twitter).

I want to reflect first on yesterday’s opening keynote speech by Karen Johnson entitled “Moving Testing Forward”. This was a very personal exploration of her career, learning and life; much of which resonated with me.

This is something I have sometimes had issues with in the past, and sometimes with great detrimental effects. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been places where I have been unable to establish good working relationships, or had personal problems intrude on my working life and vice versa.

The work/life balance has always been a hard road to travel. Family, friends and other personal commitments should take priority. Whilst I was building my career often that wasn’t the case, and my personal life suffered.

I also made possibly poor choices, but yet choices that have ultimately gotten me to where I am now – a great role, testing, learning, working with great people at an exciting business. A business that does it’s best to support its employees when they have personal issues and gives them breathing space and learning opportunities to be able to craft and shape their own careers. I am very lucky.

Secondly, I’d like to reflect on the keynote from the second day by Ajay Balamurugadas, entitled “The Future of Testing”. I haven’t met Ajay yet, but I feel that I know him through his work.

As a facilitator at Weekend Testing Europe we are part of his vision to provide great learning opportunities for the entire testing community. This tweet from Maria Kedemo sums up this attitude succintly.

A long time ago I did not feel empowered at all to learn for myself. I felt that all my learning needed to come from my employer, be paid for by my employer, if they were ultimately to benefit from it. Employers invariably are businesses with their own priorities and concerns – not necessarily with the personal learning and welfare of their employees.

As Ajay said, not being able to afford to go to conferences or attend courses should never be a blocker to learning. We have blogs, books, free webinars, meetups and tester gatherings, brown bags, Skype sessions on Weekend Testing, and any number of other roads to learning.

I had an epiphany on this several years ago. I was never going to get to where I wanted to be – be a home owner, clear my student debt, start a family If I didn’t take control of that learning. So I read blogs, I joined the Software Testing Club, I started looking at the work of other testers I had heard about, I even started implementing some of their approaches and techniques. All great learning.

But to take that further and on to the next stage, I had to get away from companies that didn’t support that approach to learning. I decided to go freelance, and this I have done for about 4 years or so. Now being at New Voice Media has allowed me to expand that learning into avenues that I hadn’t thought possible, exposing me to thinking and choices that may take me away from testing to focus on security, as I do at the moment.

Thanks to the organisers of CAST and making it available to all.

From Tallinn, With Love – Looking back on Nordic Testing Days 2015

It’s been a week since I have returned from Tallinn and the Nordic Testing Days conference, which has again been brilliantly organised and executed by Grete Napits and her wonderful team in Estonia. Helena Jeret-Mäe led the curation of this years content alongside her colleagues, and without doubt the organising team had certainly raised the bar again.

Santosh Tuppad, Rob Sabourin and Helena Jeret-Mäe out in the Old town of Tallinn

Santosh Tuppad, Rob Sabourin and Helena Jeret-Mäe out in the Old town of Tallinn

There were speakers from almost all corners of the testing globe, from Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India and of course Estonia. A fantastic achievement! As a result of this breadth and depth of testing talent, it was hard to choose whose talks and workshops to go to, but choose I did.

Warming up

The hospitality and warmth of the conference, and Tallinn is evident. It began with an impromptu walk round the old town with Helena and a whole bunch of other great testers. The amazing architecture, the views from the city walls and the discussion made for a fantastic evening.

Relaxing with the Friendly Tester - Richard Bradshaw

Relaxing with the Friendly Tester – Richard Bradshaw

Snap happy! Rob Lambert

Snap happy! Rob Lambert

But first on to the tutorial days! Bill Matthews and I had already run “Exploring App (In)security” at Let’s Test the previous week, and without a doubt we had learned from that experience. So, we aimed this time to rebalance the session to make it much more interactive and practical at the outset. Many of the challenges of security testing come not only from understanding the threats to applications and therefore businesses, but also understanding how those threats can be translated into real world vulnerabilities, which attackers can then exploit.

Bill Matthews - telling it like it is

Bill Matthews – telling it like it is

Bringing forward those experiences in early, so the attendees were doing practical exercises from the beginning  was our primary goal for the day, so that they got the most out of Bill and I, the material we produced and the learning they could elicit from the discussion.

Again, we started out with an exploration of the application under test, but then we burst straight into a group threat modelling exercise!

Threat modelling with these budding new security testers!

Threat modelling with these budding new security testers!

After that, all the testers broke into small groups and pairs as we all found ways to exploit the threats we modelled, by exploring the vulnerabilities that might lurk under the covers.

Pairing up with Katrina Clokie (and another tester whose name I can't remember, sorry)

Pairing up with Katrina Clokie (and another tester whose name I can’t remember, sorry)

It was a long and exhausting day. Bill and I were rarely off our feet. We had a great time working with all these fantastic testers. One or two have even got in touch since to ask follow up questions and look for further study. Very encouraging and inspiring! It’s also inspiring me to do a whole lot more in 2016!

On to the first day of the conference proper, and following an interesting keynote by Mart Noorma on the Estonian contributions on space exploration and technology, I had my first major decision to make.

Spinning up your own influence

Katrina Clokie’s workshop “Become someone who makes things happen” was one of the highlights of the conference for me. In this workshop we were challenged to make sense of what our problems are in terms of making an impact on our teams, and influencing the decision making process.

Communicating our beliefs, needs and thinking is a huge problem for testers. I often have issues on influence myself, as I have explained in this blog post: The MEWTation of Communication. So, Katrina’s workshop really resonated with me because of that. We usually worked in pairs or small groups, working through scenarios where our sales skills specifically would be challenged – selling our own ideas, thoughts, and needs in testing.

Katrina Clokie - Becoming someone who makes things happen

Katrina Clokie – Become someone who makes things happen

Katrina referred to SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need) is a sales methodology that focusses on the needs of a customer, and attunes their offerings based on a mutually agreed solution. The problem here is not necessarily getting another person to recognise that the situation you have identified is a problem, that needs resolving, but also the impact to the person you are working with.

For testers there are always scenarios where this technique, and others like it, would be useful. Communicating your thoughts and feelings on acceptance criteria, resolving issues surrounding test planning and estimation, ensuring that you have effective resources and tools to do your job, bug advocacy – the list is endless.

Katrina encouraged us not only to explore the feedback we received, but also attitudes and feelings. Whether you are respectful and caring to those you work with, the difference between aggression and assertiveness, asking the right questions at the right time and using non verbal queues can all have an impact on your influence and ability to get things done.

This was a fantastic workshop that drew the best out of everyone in the room, both new to testing, experienced and hands on, and managers too!

Testing? Thats insanity!

Next up for me was Santosh Tuppad. His energy and enthusiasm for his craft was tested to the full, as Santosh lead us through a beautiful and colourful journey, as he became inspired to begin his own journey by starting Test Insane, his own exploratory test consultancy.

Santosh Tuppad from Test Insane

Santosh Tuppad from Test Insane

The great thing about conferences of any sort is that it can bring people together. Santosh and I have been in touch for many years now, but we have never met until we came to Nordic Testing Days. It’s like we have been friends for years, so a warm hug was in order, for this strong man had traversed continents to come and speak for an hour! However his love of testing and learning permeated the social side of this conference completely.

The impressive thing about this talk though was not just Santosh’s clear love of testing as a craft, but also his contribution to the wider community. Sure, Test Insane is a consultancy, but much of the material, tools, mind maps, and papers his team produce are shared across the board – for free! A valuable resource indeed, and Santosh and his team are a very valuable addition to the testing community.

First time speaker – but not the last

My Weekend Testing colleague Neil Studd made his speaking debut at Nordic Testing Days with “Weekend Testing Europe: A behind the scenes guide to facilitating effective learning”.

Neil loves Fonzie

Neil loves Fonzie

Neil came across with a confidence that belied both his nerves and trepidation at speaking for the first time. He not only talked about the drivers to establishing an exciting and dynamic learning community for testers online, which was the main thrust of his talk – but also some of the psychological thinking that was involved in that process.

Neil talked about the imposter syndrome – where people who are extremely skilled and competent in their chosen field, and yet still feel as if they are frauds, not deserving of acclaim, attention or feel their achievements are of any worth. I think that this is a phenomenon that a lot of people encounter – only the most arrogant of people wouldn’t question themselves occasionally.

However, I feel that this is something that Neil should have no issue with. He is a highly skilled and intuitive tester, with a great breadth and depth of knowledge, and he expresses it well.

Neil’s story is a shared story however, and with Amy Phillips, and their journey to bringing back to life the Europe chapter of Weekend Testing. My involvement in that is a footnote in this story, but I hope to be very much of its future.

Gaming the system

Next up was Kristoffer Nordström and his talk “Gamification – How to Engage Your End Users”. Kris is another tester that I have known about for a while, but had neither met not seen speak. Another great opportunity to learn from someone new.

Kris’ talk was a fascinating exploration of using gamification to encourage the teams he worked with to not only produce great work, but enjoy doing it. By using elements of game thinking and mechanics, developers and testers on his teams were able to contribute to the product by finding bugs and fixing code; and were encouraged to do so by earning points (and points mean prizes).

Kris's Moomins on tour in Tallinn

Kris’s Moomins on tour in Tallinn

Here lies the problem that Kris elaborated on. How do you get people to want to work on code and bugs, but to not want to do just because they are going to earn prizes for their efforts. It’s a complex balance to strike. Renumerating them enough, with branded, high quality pencils, mugs and t-shirts; AND trying to make it fun and exciting for the dev teams.

Kris even gamed the talk, with attendees playing bingo, trying to pick out the key words from the talk. I think I would need to spend some more time with Kris to get more of a handle on this topic, as it is an interesting one. I’ve had to use similar techniques during my time as a trainee teacher and Scout leader to help children become more engaged with activities – collecting stars or badges for examples. Great stuff!

Valuable lessons

Like the rest of the conference, this keynote was another one full of firsts. Rob Sabourin is another tester who I have never met, but had heard many interesting things about. His talk ‘Value Sync’ was an exciting and dynamic discussion about what we value as testers, what people on projects and teams value, and what our stakeholders and customers value – and seeing the relationships between those values.

Rob Sabourin - Value Sync

Rob Sabourin – Value Sync

Rob’s main point was whether the conflicts in these values could be resolved, where one person values low cost over quality, or speed to market over market saturation. There are a lot of elements to balance in teams, organisations and businesses; and testers have a part to play here in expressing what they value, and ensuring that the needs of stakeholders are also met by their testing.

It was a great ending to a long hard day of learning, networking and testing! But it wasn’t over yet.

Lightning in a bottle

So, there was a big sheet of paper on a pillar in the conference lobby – Lightning talks 9pm! I was tired, but there was so much energy in the room. Bill Matthews had already pressed ganged me into speaking – 5 mins of talk + Q&A. So, I contributed the short talk I did at MEWT and compressed it down…trying to pull out the salient points – about how personal identity and problems surrounding being a ‘geek’ in the workplace affects communication and influence.

'Question Assurance' with Guna Petrova

‘Question Assurance’ with Guna Petrova

Up Periscope! - Richard Bradshaw

Up Periscope! – Richard Bradshaw

A whole bunch of great people got up to talk – Bill Matthews, Neil Studd, Guna Petrova, Pekka Marjamäki, Kristjan Uba, Erik Brickarp and Olari Koppel. Resoundingly my favourite talk of the night was Neil’s on ‘9-5 testers’. Here is his blog post on the topic: Whats wrong with 9 to 5 testers.

In the past I have been a 9 to 5 tester, getting to work, doing my work competently, going home. That’s ok! There is nothing wrong with that. I had other interests and needs – I was in a new relationship and/or recently married, or I was playing in my gaming clan. Later, in 2007 I found other interests and got in to Scouting in a big way, which takes up a huge amount of my time. It didn’t stop me wanting to be a better tester, I just didn’t go to many meetups or do much reading, and certainly no conferences. As I have encountered various family crisis recently, I have scaled back my Scouting to focus on those, but my engagement with the testing community has filled quite a lot of that void; and it has been very rewarding.

A lot of this has to do with a number of factors – and one of the major ones for me was working in an environment that allowed me to be the kind of tester I wanted to be. Some of the companies that I have worked with have been less than supportive about attending conferences, worrying about the cost and the value to the business (perfectly valid considerations, I might add). Sometimes, if they allowed it, they specified the kinds of meetings to go to, rather than the testers choice. I don’t think I went to my first meetup until around 2008/9, almost a decade into my career.

I raised a question – ‘isn’t this about bad testers?’ not whether you spend every waking hour testing? It’s a different question, and not one we focussed on. Bad testing is not the same as being someone who doesn’t want to do testing or talk about testing in their spare time.

Neil also talked about introverted behaviours and how they might be a blocker to getting people engaged. It’s a complex problem, and not one easily solved. Except that creating a safe space for learning, either physical or not, that allows anyone to learn at their own speed and their own time can only be a good thing.

Rob Remaining Relevant

Friday morning brought new experiences and new challenges, namely watching Rob Lambert’s opening keynote on the second day of the conference. “Why remaining relevant is so important” reflects on the fast pace of change needed in businesses and services, and our place within that change. Do we sit on our hands and do nothing to meet that challenge and let opportunities pass us by, or do we skill up and start adding lots of value to our teams and businesses.

Ten Behaviours - with Rob Lambert

Ten Behaviours – with Rob Lambert

Whilst it may seem to be basic to talk about how you can remain  employable, it talks a lot more to ensure you remain valuable to your team, and continue to be valuable throughout. It’s a challenge we face every day, not only as testers, but as members of a wider development organisation. And ALL of what Rob talks about in this talk is valuable to everyone, not just testers. One of the main points here I took home was adding skills. Add as many skills as you can, become good at them – it might be coding, or using a particular tool, or being knowledgeable about a particular testing approach, or domain knowledge in your organisation. These ALL add value!.

I’d like to reflect further on these points in due course, but it would take too long here to discuss. However I would say this. Rob’s book “Remaining relevant and employable” is a great read. I read it in one sitting by the pool in the Canary Islands, and was one of the main reasons I decided to take a permanent role at New Voice Media. I’ve told this to Rob myself, and I don’t mind telling you now.

Preaching to the unconverted

Lastly, before I wrap up, I wanted to say a word about Katrina Clokie’s talk, which was a last minute substitution to the programme. “Sharing Testing with Non-testers in Agile teams” was a fantastic case study on how Katrina went into a business with little or no testing, little or no agility and was expected to give them all that in a 90 minute training session.

Super sub - Katrina Clokie

Super sub – Katrina Clokie

Katrina’s experience here was an expression of a depth of knowledge and skill, but also patience, timing, communication, tact and learning. Something we all should pay heed to.

Fantastic Revelations, Amazing Revelations

I’m not going to write much about my own talk “The Testing of Fear” here. I can’t really reflect on this easily in public. Giving this talk was emotionally difficult for me. I had practiced the talk before, at meetups in the UK. All the talks went well.

Due to the unfortunate and untimely death of an early mentor in my career, Adrian Smith, I changed the initial few slides late the previous night. Adrian was important to me, not least because he helped me get my first step on the ladder. His encouragement, leadership, skill and fortitude was an example to all who met and worked with him.

I went to his funeral this afternoon, and I learned a lot about him. As a lad he learned to be a butcher in his home town. He was a Royal Marine Commando, and served his country on many occasions. After leaving the Marines, he served as a police officer, where he met his late wife Deena. After that, he began a largely self taught career in IT – project and people manager, developer, tester, architect, DBA – almost everything you could think of, he could do! We all respected him and loved him. His funeral service this afternoon reflected that, as many of his friends and colleagues joined his family to celebrate his life today.

He was an agent of change – no fear of that.

Farewell…but not goodbye

Nordic Testing Days 2015 was an intense three days of learning and development for me. I hope to be privileged enough to attend again next year, and for years to come. It is a dynamic and exciting conference, with a wide breadth and depth of excellent testers and experiences. I know it will go on being that way! I can’t wait for 2016!

Life is always better with two – Let’s Test 2015 Reflections Day 2 & 3

Day 2

Crunch time. Day 2 comes and so does the Exploring App (In)Security workshop alongside one of my most important testing mentors, Bill Matthews.

We had been planning this workshop for some time, and we really wanted to make this work for the attending delegates. Bill had pulled out all the stops to create a really brilliant learning resource in the Ace Encounters web application, and together we planned the learning objectives we wanted to achieve.

Our aim was to provide a safe learning environment where the delegates could learn about security test design techniques, the key vulnerabilities in web applications and how to exploit them. It was also our intention to elicit discussion around these issues in the context of software testing, rather than hacking.

Bill Matthews in Action!

Bill Matthews in Action!

There were lots of great opportunities for Bill and I to learn as well, feeding off the needs of the attendees, and also their experiences. It’s the best way for us to get better at presenting the content, making it more relevant and exciting for everyone. Here are some photos of the day, where we got to work with some really great testers!
          Let’s Test is famous for it’s more social activities. You can’t go far from the conference venue, as it is in the middle of nowhere. So, we all have to create our own entertainment.

As Day 2 drew to a close and after a great chat with some awesome people in The Test Lab, a few of us retired to the games room – ostensibly to play pool, but as always things descended into testing games and chat!

This is part of the attraction of Let’s Test, where you can just hang out, with a few beers (or whisky in our case) and talk about test, the universe and everything.

Chris Chant, Dan Ashby and Phil Quinn

Chris Chant, Dan Ashby and Phil Quinn

On to Day 3, which was again a fantastic day of learning. This conference was my first chance to speak to many testers that I had admired and followed for sometime – such as Patrick Prill – @testpappy on Twitter. I hooked up with Patrick, Christina Ohanian and Dan Ashby at lunch time, and we did an impromptu recording of Testing in the Pub! I can’t wait for that episode to come out.

Patrick Prill

Patrick Prill

The morning lead me to more facilitation responsibilities, this time trying to manage the events at Jean-Paul Varwijk’s very well researched presentation and debate on the proposed ISO 29119 standard.

It wasn’t my job to get involved so much in the debate, but ensure that all the participants of the meeting at least got a chance to take part (If they wanted to) and ensure there was some sort of order to the questions, follow ups and burning issues being raised.

There was a lot of passion in the discussion. Clearly this issue has sparked much interest and concern within the context driven testing community. My main issue however that there was no real moderate or conflicting view arising from this discussion  – most if not all people who spoke up had little that was positive to say about the proposed standard, or opposed it out right.

Still, Jean-Paul had presented a tonne of material he had researched and gathered over time, and presented a cogent argument in as balanced a way as he possibly could. All in all, I am glad I volunteered for this session, as it allowed me to see testers debating in action!

Jean-Paul Varwijk

Jean-Paul Varwijk

Without doubt the highlight of Day 3 for me though was the fantastic session “Coders to the Left” lead Jan Eumann and Philip Quinn. This workshop encouraged us to work in pairs and small groups, with each activity with a different focus, for example working as a tester, developer or observer.

They had created an excellent resource for learning via a GitHub project called Fixture Finder. It essentially allowed you to search football match fixtures, using date and country as search criteria. More than that though, the workshop allowed us to explore what working like a developer might be like – and it was a challenge.

Rather than just finding bugs, we would isolate the cause and fix it on the fly, within our own instance of the app in Chrome. There were some very interesting bugs to find, such as blatant security flaws, or little bits of code that stripped search results from the list, or tampered with the results of football matches under certain conditions.

I know a bit of code. Not so much that it would allow me to call myself any kind of developer. I can use code, and other tools to help me solve testing problems. However this activity really did let us get to grips with how testers and developers can really work well together, reducing and improving the feedback loop as we test and code together. A brilliant exercise in collaborative learning.

Jan Eumann and Phil Quin

Jan Eumann and Phil Quin

Anders, Dan and me pairing up

Anders, Dan and me pairing up

So, as my first experience of Let’s Test draws to a close I want to reflect on what has been a most rewarding and exhausting experience in equal measure. The learning from the workshop I ran helped us feed this learning into the following session at Nordic Testing Days, yet it made me realise that I don’t really blog much about security. I should rectify that.

Let’s Test allowed me to engage deeply with my personal approaches to testing, and what I value about myself as a human being. The impromptu chats, podcast recordings, Reiki healing workshops with Dawn Haynes, the testing games, workshops and talks I attended all helped with that. I do attend to go again, as it is such an intense and engaging place to be.

Testing the testers: Let’s Test 2015 Reflections – Day 1

The night before

It is now almost a week since I arrived at Let’s Test near Stockholm in Sweden. I had heard a lot about Let’s Test, not least from my Weekend Testing colleagues Amy Phillips and Neil Studd. It was there this time last year that they decided to restart the Europe chapter. I had also heard a lot of good things about the conference from others in the community, all of which were overwhelmingly positive. So, as I recall my feelings and trepidations about attending and working at Let’s Test, I do it now with a renewed vigour regarding my career and learning.

The venue, nestled in a Swedish rural idyll on the Baltic coast close to Stockholm, is the perfect place. To say that it is beautiful is an understatement. The conference centre has the perfect combination of location and facilities that create a fantastic environment for learning, and of course, the socialising! After all, the conference is organised for testers, by testers.

Testers at the bar

Testers at the bar © Martin Nilsson / Lets Test Conference 2015
https://flic.kr/p/syAx7f

In addition to this challenge, I was not only running a workshop on security testing with Bill Matthews (more on that later) but I had also volunteered to be a facilitator. This meant that the workshops or talks I had volunteered for, I had to assist the speaker as much as possible with setting up and equipment, generally being a gopher for them. During the “Open Season” portion of the sessions, facilitators had to manage all the questions fielded by the attendees. The conference organisers had given us all K-Cards, to allow us all to take part fairly in the discussions. If you want to know more about K-Cards, check out this blog by Paul Holland – The history of K-Cards

Ben Simo -

Ben Simo – “there was not a breach, there was a blog’

Day One

The opening keynote was in a word, fantastic!

Ben Simo is a tester that I have been following for some time. His experiences and learning from attempting to organise health insurance on for his family would have been hilarious, if it hadn’t been so serious. “there was not a breach, there was a blog” was a fascinating journey through the issues and problems surrounding the release of healthcare.gov, the US Government website and initiative more popularly known as Obamacare.

Not only were there many functional, usability and performance issues with this site upon release, but also a huge range of potential security vulnerabilities. At the time, Ben blogged about these issues, trying to make the government aware of the problems and ultimately found himself somewhat reluctantly being the subject of media interest.

Ben is an eloquent and humorous speaker, who is extremely skilled and knowledgeable about his craft. His experiences also reflect strongly upon my recently learning in the sphere of security testing and as a result, the most significant takeaway I had from this talk was the matter of ethics when reporting issues in live, public systems. Ben emphasises the need to constantly be aware of the ethics of testing, and not harming the site. All in all, a brilliant start to proceedings.

Next up was an exciting and challenging workshop run by Emma Armstrong – “Equipping you for the unexpected challenges of testing”. I’ve known Emma for a while, but I’ve never seen her speak or run a workshop.

Emma Armstrong -

Emma Armstrong -“Equipping You For the Unexpected Challenges of Testing”

Emma had created a huge range of resources and a challenging application for us to investigate. Emma’s workshop encouraged us to examine and use a wide range and techniques and thinking in order to solve a testing problem. I really love pairing and working in groups with others, so this workshop really resonated with me. There is no better way to learn than to learn from others, in practical situations.

Emma’s enthusiasm, deep knowledge and skill in her craft is evident and clear from the content and presentation of the material. By examining and utilising thinking like Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design and Elizabeth Hendrickson’s Test Heuristic cheat sheet, we can overcome complex testing problems, without overwhelming ourselves. Using them as an oracle for any testing, where appropriate, then we can surely begin to equip ourselves for any unexpected scenario.

One of the best takeaways I had from this whole conference was during this session. I was pairing with two other testers, one from Sweden, the other from Romania. We discovered that our cultural differences, and in turn our similarities, often drive our thinking while testing. It’s not often I get to pair with testers from outside the UK, so this was a fantastic experience.

Our backgrounds and values often will impact the way we think about testing, and the problems we uncover – for example – a “Title” field would be almost unthinkable outside the UK, yet in the UK to not to be able to select whether you were Mr, Ms, Mrs, Miss or even a Captain or Lord would be equally strange.

After lunch I attended a half day workshop run by John Stevenson – “A Journey towards self learning”. I was facilitating this session, so helping out John with logistics and cold beverages! Despite my responsibilities preventing me from taking many notes, this workshop was and extremely engaging exploration of our own learning.

John Stevenson - A Journey towards self learning

John Stevenson – A Journey towards self learning

One of the major themes of the workshop was how constraints on information gathering can impact the quality of our learning and analysis of the information we gather. It can inform our opinions and how we apply values or biases to the learning we do.

One great example of this was a particular exercise. The group had to divide into three where each team had a particular task – discover as much as they could about the conference venue, with particular focus on the local flora. However each team had a major constraint imposed upon them – one was only able to use internet resources, another group could only use observations of the local environment, and the third could only speak to people at the conference venue. I went around with the third team to make sure the rules were adhered to.

The results were impressive and eye opening – whilst the team who had access to the web were able to gather a lot of data very quickly, they didn’t have the richness of data gathered by the other teams. It wasn’t easy for the other teams either, where it was fairly hard for team three to use information other than that gathered through word of mouth, as there was so much visual data to gather. Also, we were able to observe discrepancies and contradictions in the information that had been gathered. Its up to us as testers to be able to be mindful of our values and biases when analysing data, manage and work within constraints. John’s workshop was a fantastic way to engage with our own learning in an active and positive way!

All in all a fantastic start to an intense few days of learning! I’ll be blogging about day one and two over the next few days. Watch this space!

The MEWTation of Communication

It’s taken a while for me to digest and understand the impact of attending MEWT a couple of weeks ago now. I normally try and blog quickly after an event, whilst my memory, notes and personal response are fresh. In this case, I haven’t been able to do so.

Visiting a conference or attending a few track talks and workshops is an exciting experience. There is always an opportunity to learn more about a technical skill, tools and current thinking around testing. Never before have I been able to learn very much about myself as a tester, and as a human being than I did at MEWT.

Set in the fabulous surroundings of the Attenborough nature reserve in Nottingham, MEWT (Midlands Exploratory Workshop in Testing) is a very intimate workshop day hosted by Richard Bradshaw, Vernon Richards, Bill Matthews and Simon Knight. I felt extremely privileged to be invited to attend, so I wanted to ensure that the content I provided was both pertinent to the topic and expressed my personal challenges with communication, some of which I will talk about here.

The Attenborough nature reserve, Nottingham

The Attenborough nature reserve, Nottingham

My talk was Communication, Influence and the Geek, the slides for which are available from the MEWT website.

During my time on this planet, and latterly as a software tester, I have encountered a few challenges to communication. Being a geek, which to some is a pejorative term for someone who has a deep interest in science, technology, certain hobbies or non mainstream culture; can present certain problems for folk who identified as such, or who have been labelled as such by others.

The photo below adequately demonstrates my main source of geeky inspiration:

The Dalek Supreme

The Dalek Supreme in “The Stolen Earth/Journeys End” in BBC TV’s Doctor Who

Communication is an exchange of ideas and viewpoints, as much as it is about information and facts. Its about disecting and evaluating the information that is presented to you in the context of the emotional feedback you have to it. Testing, in my view, is partly an expression of that.

In deep debate at MEWT

In deep debate at MEWT


I won’t dwell too much on my personal experiences here, because they are not for this place. However, the feedback from the peers that I met and worked with at MEWT was greatly positive, and nourishing. It has fed my desire to learn more about my craft, and support others who wish to learn more. Whilst we should be mindful not to label ourselves, allow ourselves to get pigeon holed by how either society, others and even our own prejudices, it is important to recognise and play to your own strengths.

Simon, Vernon, Christian and Christopher

Simon, Vernon, Christian and Christopher

The environment created at MEWT allows professional, non judgemental, challenging but friendly debate around the ideas and thinking generated during the day. Ahead of this session I was terribly nervous about sharing some of my deepest thoughts and feelings on the problems I have faced as a tester. I am not sure I could have put all this out in the open in any other conference or workshop.  

 

Dorothy Graham

Dorothy Graham

  
Raji Bhamidipati

Raji Bhamidipati

 
This was a message that has been impressed upon me not only by the MEWT attendees, but also a number of my colleagues, to whom I will always be grateful.  One point was made to me, and that was to not be afraid to  embrace the influence that my personal interests and idiosyncracies have upon my approach to testing. They make me who I am, and it is that allows me to add value to my employer and those around me.

  

It’s all about the conversations – TestBash 2015 Review

Firstly, a preemptive strike for my love of TestBash.

I make no bones about it, I love this conference. No other expression of emotion comes close. Its almost up there with my wife, family, friends, my cat and Doctor Who. (And to anyone that knows me, that is a pretty big deal)

Regardless of the quality of the conference track, speakers and workshops, this annual event is now rapidly becoming a part of me, my learning as a tester and driving my desire to evolve my testing. It also helps me support and mentor other testers – both those I work with, and those I don’t.

As I mentioned in my previous post, where I previewed TestBash 2015, if it hadn’t been for TestBash I most likely wouldn’t be working where I do today, with a company I enjoy working for, and a team that I admire and value. I also wouldn’t have had the courage to do any public speaking or workshops if I hadn’t attended TestBash in 2013. As long as it is running, and as long as I can attend, I will go. With some luck and preparation, I hope to be more involved in TestBash 2016!

Now with the context of this blog post set out, I’ll try to present my ‘impartial’ review of this conference. It’ll be hard!

For the last three years I have made a pilgrimage back to my home town of Brighton to attend TestBash. Each year it has produced a different mix of learning, excitement, comradeship and an emotional exhaustion that my friend and BrighTest organiser Kim Knup has aptly described as the post TestBash blues. Through TestBash, social media acquaintances have become colleagues in testing, and in some cases firm friends. I may only see them for a few hours a year, but for that, above anything else I am grateful to Rosie Sherry, Simon Knight and all of the Ministry of Testing team that run the event.

Brighton Pavillion at Night

Brighton Pavillion at night

I took the photo above of Brighton Pavillion, whilst having a fantastic chat with Stephen Janaway on our way to the meetup on the Thursday night. And it is this that indicates the value to me of TestBash as a whole. It’s all about the conversations. Stephen was not the first great chat that weekend, nor was it the last. We discussed testing, my poor recollection of the geography of Brighton seafront, our upcoming conference talks and workshops and even family. I suppose you could say that the testing community, formed around this conference has become as sort of family to me.

Here we are at dinner with Chris Chant, Vernon Richards and Rosie. For me, the conversations start with the small events and gestures like this, and reminds me that I owe Rosie dinner! It had become a bit of an in joke that Vernon was going to wear a tutu on stage on the conference day, and in the end he did, but not in the way you might expect.  More on that later. I was lucky enough to hangout with some of the conference speakers and workshop facilitators at dinner, discussing their experiences and feedback on the day. As conferences and workshops go, it very good value for money, as the Ministry of Testing is able to attract some high calibre speakers and contributors every year from across the community, even just to attend!

Chris, Vernon and Rosie at Dinner

Chris, Vernon and Rosie at dinner

Sadly, I was unable to attend the workshop day on the Thursday. However, I was able to catch up with some folks at the end of the day down at the Brighton Dome. There was an open meetup and test gaming session to wrap things up, so I watched a round of Set, and led a few testers in a few rounds of Zendo. If it hadn’t been for a lunchtime learning session with my colleague and friend Chris Simms a few months ago, I wouldn’t have had a set of rules in my head ready to play! All power to the test community. Even though he hadn’t attended this year, Chris’s impact was felt from afar!

Ryan and Danny at the Meetup

Ryan and Danny at the meetup

So, off to the meetup, at a bar I hadn’t been too since my early 20’s. We took a minor detour on the way, but got there in the end. Here is my colleague and good mate Danny Dainton, enjoying a drink with Ryan Rapaport, a representative of one of the conference sponsors QA Symphony. (Shameless Plug 1: I use their tool QSnap, it’s pretty good).

The greatest value of TestBash for me comes from the conversations had at meetups like this. Sure, there was a lot of talk about testing, about our experiences of testing, our learning from various books and speakers, the relative merits of one conference over another, the relative merits of one beer over another. Here I was able to catch up with my (Shameless Plug 2) Weekend Testing Europe colleagues Neil Studd and Amy Philips, and plan our ground breaking trio 99 second talk for the following day! I also managed to grab conversations with; Matt Archer, about the Ministry of Testing Dojo and Abbie Maddison, the new runner of the NottsTest meetup. It was also fantastic to catch up with Guna Petrova from Latvia, who is a key player and track organiser at Nordic Testing Days. Her outlook on testing is always refreshing and enlightening.

Without communities like TestBash, and those generated around other conferences like Let’s Test, Weekend Testing wouldn’t exist. Communities generate conversation, which lead to initiatives and plans, which lead to more communities and more conversations and deeper learning experiences. Similarly, though meetups like this, there are opportunities to develop professional relationships, which can lead to other meetups, brown bag sessions, invites to speak at conferences, or even work!

Weekend Testing Europe: Amy, Neil and Me

Weekend Testing Europe: Amy, Neil and Me

Later in the evening led to even more discovery and exploration of our craft (testing, beer and music). It with great surprise that I could discuss the merits of the music of Fairport Convention and Jefferson Airplane (whom, thanks to my Father, I have an appreciation of) with Michael Bolton and Neil Thompson.

But that isn’t really what we were there for. Here’s Radomir Sebek, a tester from Serbia, who works for a music production software house in Berlin. He’s playing “The Pen Game” with Michael, one of the many testing games that were going down at The Globe late into the night. That same conversation led me to be challenged on a variation of the Pen Game, this time with my observation and listening skills put to the test. I got the solution, in the end!

The Pen Game with Michael and Radomir

The Pen Game with Michael and Radomir

Richard challenges Abby and Dan

Richard challenges Abby and Dan

Above is conference speaker Richard Bradshaw challenging Abby Bangser, from Thoughtworks, and Dan Caseley, from Common Time, to more testing games over a beer or three.

So here is the problem. With so many fantastic folk to talk to and learn from, you can’t really chose from them all. You pick up on different sounds and movements, explore what is interesting to you, find people you have never met before, or have had online communication with. It’s a bit like (exploratory) testing, in that you can define your conference by the actions you take, the information you gather, the people you speak to and your responses to them, and how you record them…like this.

So to the main event.

Each year, Rosie manages to attract excellent speakers to TestBash. And this year was no exception. As I mentioned in my previous post, there was no diversity in terms of gender at the 2014 conference. Not so this year, with three female speakers on the conference track. I have no details on the selection process, but I feel that the overall content, tone and message of the conference was all the better for the selections made this year.

There was also a lot to learn, from a range of experience reports, new thought leadership and science around testing, as well as technical challenges. Where TestBash is usually strong is dealing with the human element of testing, rather than drowning the attendees with technical jargon. Testing is for me very much a social discipline, as much as it is a technical discipline.

First up was Michael Bolton with “The Rapid Software Testing Guide to What you meant to say”, which looked to our use of language as a tool of our trade, and challenged many potential assumptions that could be drawn from testing behaviours. It’s my interpretation of this talk that Michael was trying to draw out the reasoning behind certain language choices in software development, and in some ways subverting their use through the prism of context driven testing. Why for example would we say automate all the testing, where we couldn’t possibly do that with development?

Up next was Iain McCowatt, with an excellent and animated discussion of the need to include intuition and the importance of tacit knowledge in our detection of bugs.  Iain emphasised that socialisation and interactional expertise was an essential skill of testing.  Being able to discuss and share our work and experiences appear to be key in finding bugs and communicating them effectively. It was also a great reminder to pick up the work of Harry Collins, whose writing and research contributed greatly to the themes Iain was conveying. I managed to catch up with Iain during a break, and sought his advice on combating biases in my testing. I find sometimes that because I test a lot for security, I feel that this sometimes blinds me to other considerations whilst I am testing. His insight will be invaluable in trying to balance my approach and test design processes in future.

Next up was an interesting talk about the challenges and learning gained from The Guardian’s approach to mobile testing and delivering software across multiple platforms. Sally Goble and Jonathan Hare-Winton presented a fascinating and humorous exploration of the differences and pitfalls of testing on both the iOS and Android operating systems and associated hardware. Playing on the rivalry in historic advertising campaigns between PC and Mac, and a distinctly divided audience (seemed to be more Android users than iOS, but only marginally so). This was a great talk for me, as I know very little at all about mobile application testing. The style of presentation drew more out of the audience than I expected it would, and it did not dwell too much on technical details. Great stuff!

After the break came the double bill of Martin Hynie and Stephen Janaway. Both talks approached the problem of organisational change and perceptions of testing and test management within development teams and businesses as a whole. Placing these two talks together was a masterstroke, as they complimented each other so well. Martin’s talk “What’s in a name? Experimenting with Testing Job Titles” focused on a social and professional science experiment. Martin found that following a change in job title and team name, to remote test, or testing; enabled his teams to have greater impact and authority within the business. He did all this under the radar, with the testers maintaining their responsibilities, whilst having a different job title. With an exciting presentation style, Martin was able to convey that maybe businesses see testing and testers as limiting and a blocker to progress. In doing so, he discovered that other teams and key stakeholders responded more positively to the alternatives. There is a lot to discover in this talk, and I won’t spoilt it further for anyone who want’s to watch the video when it comes online. Let’s just say for me that Martin’s talk it is one of the highlights of the conference.

To Stephen’s talk. For a while now, Stephen has been an inspiring member of the testing community, both personally and professionally. I was invited to speak to his team at Net-A-Porter last year, which was a fantastic opportunity. So its exciting to see how he managed to evolve into his new role as a Testing Coach, in his talk “Why I lost my job as a Test Manager and what I learned as a result”.

Organisational change is a very real challenge for testers. Stephen’s experiences here are both common, in terms of the need of testers to adapt professionally to change, but also uncommon in the approach taken by Stephen’s organisation. Rather than having overlapping development and test managers supervising the work of many people across teams, each team had its own development manager.

As a testing coach across the whole business, Stephen’s new role is to mentor the testers, enable and guide their professional development and learning, whilst not being responsible for their line management. This must have been an awesome task, reorganising the development team of a major online retailer, whilst at the same time maintaining delivery of products and services. This was an experience report beyond the normal recollection of events and dry facts, and really drove home that testers need to be able to be at the forefront of change in organisations, rather than being reactive to it.

Vernon Richards was up next, with “Myths and legends of software testing”. In 2014 Vernon blew the house down with his 99 second talk on this topic; a rapid fire list of misconceptions, musings, biases, and warnings. What Vernon did here was to distill the core of his message into an blisteringly and entertaining talk. After lunch and with everyone feeling a little full, it was the best of antidotes to wake us up.

Vernon’s talk drove home the need for testers to not only be creative in their approaches to testing, but to be wary of the fallacies and biases that can be derived from poor research, assumptions and inaccuracies. Also, looking at how to challenge the language used to describe testers and testing by non testers; such as “It’s just clicking a load of buttons” or “Anyone can do testing”. If we are to take ownership and responsibility for our craft we have to believe in our skills, and champion them to those outside testing, so that they are recognised and valued appropriately.

Maaret Pyhäjärvi came next, with “Quality doesn’t belong to the tester”. Maaret’s experiences of being the sole tester on the team, feeling responsible for quality when it seemed that no one else appeared to care resonated with me deeply. This story described how she managed approaches to testing on her team and began to build more positive relationships with the developers. In order to test sooner, and test better, Maaret elicited a collective responsibility for quality and testing, rather than taking on the burden on her own.

Matthew Heusser encouraged us to rethink our approach to regression and releases in his talk “Getting Rid of Release Testing”. This talk lead us through an approach to testing and releasing software incrementally, and becoming less reliant on the big bang “test everything” approach to release management.

Through drawing rather than slides, Matthew explained what he termed “The Swiss cheese model of risk”, where at each stage in a software release life cycle there can be different layers of testing, where there will be gaps and overlaps in coverage. It’s probably a scary approach for some, but resonates with me as working in a continuous delivery environment means that to test everything at the end would be inefficient, costly in terms of time and resources and likely not give us meaningful data. The tweet below reiterates clearly one of Matt’s main messages in a challenging and insightful talk.

Nearing the end of the main conference day leads us to Richard Bradshaw’s “Automation in testing”. I’ve never seen Richard speak before, but I have heard much about his ability to convey complex thinking in a clear and approachable way. I was not to be disappointed. Richard guided us through his evolving process of  supporting testing using automation. Built up over a number of years of learning and experimentation, he described a mature and adaptable way of incorporating automation into your testing, for the right reasons – enabling the important checks that you might need to do frequently, allowing the tester to focus on exploration, learning and asking questions about the software under test. This was an inspired and entertaining talk, which engaged me in a topic that in the past has not always held my interest.

Now to the final presentation of the day, with Karen Johnson’s “The Art of asking questions”. This was hands down my favourite talk of the day. It was less of a presentation, more of a conversation with the audience. Karen’s slides were a simple guidance to invite us to flow through the discussion with her.

Karen explored with us the finer points of questioning, both of others and ourselves. Timing was a key theme, asking the right question at the right time, something I have struggled with in the past. Even more resonate with me was the idea that, quoting author Joshua Harris “The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing” in his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Relationships and Romance

Drawing on her journalism background, Karen asked us to consider the kinds of questions we ask and how they might influence the kinds of responses we get in return. The classic, yet always useful what, where, why, who and how that will never fail you as long as you use them appropriately. After all, a lot of testing is about asking questions, and asking the right question could even prevent defects from occurring before a single line of code is written. The Q&A afterward brought many excellent questions from the audience, with Karen responding with great advice, book recommendations (see Twitter for a tonne of them) and practical suggestions to solving communication issues.

TestBash has now established a tradition of 99 second talks, led for the final time by Simon Knight. Many great folk stepped up to the stage alongside Neil, Amy and myself. Jokin Aspiazu really coined it with “If you can’t get money for conferences, ask for time. Time is valuable.” No truer thing has been said in such a short space of time!

The after party is both a chance to relax after a long day, but to engage with as many people as possible. The quite excellent and intimate bar The Mesmerist proved to be a great place to hang out and talk testing, such as with Mark Tomlinson (he of the infamous spinning cat at TestBash 2014).

Mark Tominson at the meetup

Mark Tomlinson at the meetup

It’s the camaraderie and convivial atmosphere that really makes this event, year in year out. I recommend you come, make a week of it…to really let Brighton and TestBash soak in to you. You won’t regret it.

Reflections in a single malt

Reflections in a single malt

Although, I might do by the end of the evening

Critical Mass: A TestBash 2015 Preview

Hey testers!

Spring has sprung on the UK testing scene once more, as it is now seven days from TestBash 2015, held each year so far in Brighton. To those of you living under a rock, TestBash is the one day conference track and two day workshop run by the good people of Ministry of Testing, and especially Rosie Sherry. You can find out more here.

This year there are some established members of the testing community speaking, such as Michael Bolton, Iain McCowatt, Stephen Janaway and Matthew Heusser. I am looking forward to seeing these guys speak again, as they are always excellent, with insights and content beyond the conventional.

If there was a criticism of TestBash 2014 was that there wasn’t a diverse range of speakers. There were no female speakers last year, where now there are three; Karen Johnson, Maaret Pyhäjärvi and Sally Goble. Whilst I have read blogs and tweets by these testers, I’ve never seen them speak before so this is going to be incredibly exciting.

There are also new speakers to TestBash, such as Richard Bradshaw and Vernon Richards.

I’ve known Richard for a few years now, and he is an inspiring and knowledgeable tester. I’ve never seen him speak before other than during a 99 second talk. He’s the first guy I would go to for information on automation. He describes his talk as ““Test Automation” = Things don’t have to be this way”.

On to Vernon Richards, whose epic 99 Second talk on Myths and Legends of Software testing has been expanded into a full blown talk. Again, I have known Vernon for a while in the community. Being isolated down in the South West of England means that I don’t always get to meet testers based and working in the London area, but Vernon has been on my radar for ages.  Vernon’s 99 second talk last year earned him a huge cheer, and rightly so. This talk might turn out to be the jewel in the TestBash crown.

On to the workshops. Sadly I can’t attend the workshop day this year. With the TestBash workshops, it is your learning that is at the heart of it. The likes of John Stevenson, Simon Knight, Karen Johnson, Nicola Sedgwick and my Weekend Testing colleague Neil Studd all providing courses, it should add up to a fantastic day. Also running a workshop on BDD is Rikke Simonsen, who I had the pleasure of having lunch with last TestBash. Such a shame that I will be missing this fantastic opportunity to learn from them all. I’m definitely going to see if I can get in on that in 2016, as a learner or a trainer.

I cannot impress upon you enough the importance of TestBash in my career. I first attended in 2013. This was my first testing conference in three years, after what felt like some what of a period in the doldrums. I felt that I was coasting in my career and not doing enough to learn more, stretch myself creatively or professionally. I was just working.

A number of personal and professional events led me to attending that year, which gave me the kick up the backside that I really needed. As a result, I had my first speaking gigs in 2014. I am now speaking again at Nordic Testing Days this year, and visiting Let’s Test for the first time, running a workshop with Bill Matthews.

Sure, there are bigger conferences, with more tracks and a wider variety of talks, workshops and test labs, Some conferences are more popular with different testers, because of the variety of speakers and the depth and breadth of the content. However, what TestBash squeezes into only a few days in the compact and vibrant city of Brighton is phenomenal.

I’m also very proud to say that Brighton is sort of my home town. I grew up in a village not far away from there. This adds for me an additional pride and gratitude for the awesome effort that MOT and Rosie put into organising and running the event. As a result of the conference, and MOT as a whole, careers have been forged due to the community outreach and sponsorship of new testers so that they can attend courses and the conference for free, as well as other support. Some testers have even sponsored tickets themselves, which is hugely rewarding to the community. They should be thanked!

Two testers that are very important to me have so far benefited from this amazing community scholarship. Emma Keaveny has since moved to the UK from Ireland, secured her first testing role and along with Kim Knup have started to establish the first regular Brighton and Hove testing meetups.

The other was Danny Dainton, an ex infantry soldier, who actively pursued a career in testing after leaving the Army, and who I have the great honour of working with at New Voice Media. I really look forward to what these two fantastic testers do in the future, be it speaking themselves, or organising community events or just being able to work closely with them.

So, if you are going to TestBash next week, I look forward to seeing you there. It should be a fantastic event, full opportunities to learn and grow as a tester. If you want to talk to me, just grab me at Lean Bacon (ahem, Lean Coffee), at the queue for lunch, or at the Thursday or Friday meetups. It’s going to be EPIC!