Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Why I Really Really Hate Spammers

For the last few years I've been helping moderate the Software Testing Club and earned the name The Terminator. Post some marketing bumf? Terminated.
Post a vague question easily Googled in 5 seconds? Post removed (and a helpful message sent about being specific and detailed so that you can get the help you need.)

Approving memberships has been another of my tasks to keep the site clean and useful.
Current membership of the site is 13,800 and still growing.
All memberships go through a manual approval to stop the spammers.

Recently there has been an increase in spam accounts, my mornings start with going through 30 applicants and only approving a couple of them, the rest are fake accounts.

Somewhat tiresome and frustrating and this morning I had an unfortunate incident where after deleting 10 spam accounts in a row I accidentally hit Delete on the 11th account which was genuine.

Which made me think about when I was starting testing and I found some of the testing sites on the internet, lurked for ages and then plucked up courage to become a member and start joining in.

So what if the account that I didn't approve was another me? Would they feel discouraged and not feel like being part of the online community which has been such a great help to me?

Sorry to whoever you were and I hope you try again.

And for the spammers?
I hope you get stuck in Chicago traffic for all eternity.
( in-joke for those people at CAST who got stuck trying to get to Madison)

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Starting off my list

Was CAST2013 really just a week ago? Seems way longer, just one week ago I was sitting listening to the Keynote and looking around and seeing a lot of online people who were now offline connections and new people that were becoming familiar faces.

So now that the conference is over, what happens next? Carry on as before and just have fond memories of a good time with great people in a cool city? ( and nightmares of Chicago traffic)

That would be a waste so I am taking the lessons learned listening to Eric Brickarp and his Making Learning My Top Priority session.

  • I have A Big Ass Idea
  • I have several Smaller Ass ideas which I need to breakdown into even smaller ones
  • And some really small ideas which I will try and follow through on

First one is one I've tried before - commenting on blog posts:
Every week find some blog posts and leave some feedback on them - "nice post" and "great read" is not allowed.

At the moment this is easy as there are several people ( old and new ) blogging about their experiences at CAST so I can read their blogs and either leave a question for them and/or think about what their experiences were and if they match mine ( and if not, why?)

One bonus of this is that as some of the bloggers are new it will hopefully encourage them to keep going if they know that what they are writing is being read.

A further bonus is that they are also likely to be at CAST2014 and if this online connection is maintained it will be like seeing old friends again.

If you want to play along then here's a selection:

Jason Coutu
Clint Hoagland
Eric Brickarp
Isaac Howard
Justin Rohrman
Alex Bantz

Friday, 30 August 2013

Great CAST - but now what?

So I finally made it to a CAST Test Conference - and it was good.

Great to meet people that I'd only know online and feel them turn into real people.
Great to meet new people.

Lots and lots to reflect back on, thoughts and ideas to work through.

But it could be easy to let this go to waste and fall back into bad old habits.

How to avoid this?

- I have already committed myself to doing a presentation to the company on what the test conference was about and what I learned from it.

- Inspired by the talk from Eric Brickarp I am putting together some lists to work on.

- With great timing I read a blog post this morning on Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone. I did this at CAST - people I knew online I talked to in real life, I sat down to breakfast with people I had never met before ( not even online ) which for me was A Giant Step. I survived it, in fact it even felt good so I need to remember that changing yourself can be scary but I can do it.

- A further push for me to carry on with making these changes is that the new footy/soccer season is just about to start. I have my first game assignment and it's for U11B which is a step-up from last season. I could hit the 'Decline' button and stick to doing U8s but I want to take this challenge.

Any hints or tips from readers about how to keep the conference momentum going and not slip back into your old ways?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Huddled Masses Use Case

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

OK, so I wasn't exactly poor. Or wretched.
I was tired of the London commute though...
And the flight over was full so maybe that counts as huddled?

But I had joined the many many people that had come to the USA to find a new life.
So you might have thought the US was used to dealing with immigrants and people coming in from different countries.

Well if you're a tester you didn't think that and yup, some of the IT systems I've had to interact with recently don't seem to consider that case.
Most recent example - "addresses lived at in the 5 last years" don't seem to have non-US as an option.
Somewhat disappointing that us resident aliens are not thought about.

Carrying on with the use case stories, a co-worker noticed me deep in thought and asked what I was thinking about:

"Death and Divorce" 
was my cheerful reply.

For the new system I'm about to start testing I was coming up with some scenarios
- If the account is a joint account what happens if the partners divorce?
- If the account is a joint account and needs both parties to agree what happens when one dies? Does the account become a single account?

Life happens - does your app account for all the trials and tribulations ( and happiness ) that happens over a lifetime?

Monday, 5 August 2013


Garbage/Trash/Refuse - or just plain rubbish as I used to call it back in England.

Everyone has it and has to deal with it but the experience itself shouldn't be garbage.
Sadly it was....

Went to the internet site for the city to sign up for a trash barrel.
Problem #1 - I went there using Safari and got an alert popping up asking for a site certificate. It listed one, I selected it, press Continue - alert appeared again.

Switched to Chrome and was not asked about a certificate.
Signed up and received the confirmation email
Problem #2 - the email had my password in plain text

Logged in.
Problem #3 - the screen showed my name as Davis A Young.
That's not me - the rest of the account details were me but where was this name coming from?

onto problem #4
During sign up I'd chosen a 32 gallon refuse bin
The account details showed a 64 gallon one

Next step was to report some of these problems
Problem #5
The 'contact us' page had a bad alignment problem with the 'by fax' and 'by email' fields,
the labels were in the middle and right of the page with the information on the left.
Not pretty.

Problem #6
The banner at the top of the page had an image of trash barrels. Mouse over it and a tooltip appears with the text "Custom image centered on the banner, defined by the client"

Just because your business is garbage, no need to make your website reflect that

Monday, 8 July 2013

Michigan Testers Meetup - Round 2 with added eh?

Twas a dark and stormy night...
but even a massive thunderstorm and backed up traffic was not going to stop a bunch of hardcore testers meeting up at Lansing, Michigan. Talking of hardcore, Erik Davis and Nick drove up from Ohio to be there

The first Michigan Testers Meetup had been a great success but had finished with only a vague plan to do another one sometime. Then we heard that Paul Holland was going to be in Michigan teaching RST so the opportunity was seized and a Michigan Testers Meetup was quickly arranged.

Pizza and wings eaten, it was time for things to get started and Pete Walen did a lightning talk about being in a support band and opening for Rod Stewart at Grand Rapids. His argument/analogy was that testers are like support bands, they get the crowd warmed up and make the main attraction look good.

Not an argument I was convinced by - headliner bands do not want to be upstaged by support bands and often sabotage them to make them sound bad. I dont think it's a good selling point to attract people to the profession - go to a school and ask if they want to be a headliner or a support band? I'd also recently seen Rush at the Van Andel arena and they played 3 hours with no support band so I'd be worried there might be a flurry of "support bands are dead" blog posts...

Onto the main talk, Pauls talk had 2 main topics - how your brain works and bad metrics.

For his brain talk he referenced a book called Your Brain At Work ( now on my Wish List ) and how the social aspects of the brain are often ignored. Being ostracised can activate the same pain and threat responses in the brain as feeling hungry, feeling part of a group is a primary reward. Instead of being in a silo and having a friend vs foe mentality, being social and friendly means the brain can use a different set of pathways and you can become more productive.

Then it was onto metrics
Yeh, those big bad metrics. Paul outlined a number of the typical ones, how they are used and what is wrong with them. Just about every tester will have been exposed to them - though how many recognise why they are bad is another question.

Paul then outlined how he put a new approach into his place with examples of the reports and charts he produced and the whiteboard he was using. A proper real life experience report so it was really interesting to hear how he went about it and how it evolved.
Great presentation, passionate delivery mixed with humour and plenty of personal anecdotes and so the time flew by.

Time for questions and then it was over.

The meeting carried on at a nearby bar but as I said at the start, 'twas a dark and stormy night and I'm still not used too driving at night over here so sadly I made my excuses and left.
Though as most of the people there will be at CAST next month it wont be long before I will be enjoying a beer and chat with them.

Thanks to TechSmith for hosting, Clint for the pizza n wings, Pete and Paul for talking, Matt Heusser and Hilary Weaver ( shame you couldn't make it ) for organising.

So, when is the third one?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

How To Stop Being Driven To Drink

One year into my move to Michigan and I'm still exploring my new neighbourhood. I was invited out for a drink and meal at The Honey Creek Inn which is in an area I'd not been to before so I was excited to go out and see new places and areas - and it says it's an English pub so I had to put that claim to the test.

Google maps told me it was about a 30 minute drive from where I live.
Seemed OK.

Got home after work, changed and then got the GPS ready - it seemed a straightforward drive but nice to have backup in case there were diversions or I missed a turnoff.

And this is where the problems began...

The GPS asked me to input a city name - but the pub was in a small village, Cannonsburg.
Entering this did not give any matches, the one offered was Cannon.
I tried using this but then trying to enter the road name gave no matches.

OK, it's on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, try using that as a city name.
Nope, no match when I entered the road name

OK, back to Google.
Enter 8025 Cannonsburg Road and voila, there's a nice pic of the road with the Inn on it and it says it's Belmont, MI
Enter Belmont as the city in the GPS, then enter the number and road name
Whooo, it finds it.
Except it cant find the number and offers me options of 7845 or 7923
Might be close enough to get me there but I dont want to end up at the wrong place

One last try.
Enter 8025 Cannonsburg Road NE in Google maps and this time it says it's in Rockford
Plug Rockford into the GPS then the number and road name...

So what lessons can I take from this?

If you have a website for your business to attract visitors then should you be testing that the address you provide will work in a GPS system?

Is it a bug in Google Maps that 8025 Cannonsburg Road  and 8025 Cannonsburg Road NE give a different city in the results? If you're testing maps are you trying out different variations on an address?

as for the Honey Creek Inn - wonderful drive out there, good food and a good beer selection.

- and the English Painters van was parked there when we arrived so it must be a good place.
( in joke for GR people )

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Cocknium - a revolution in vesting


Yes, you, geezer - the one with the mince pies looking at this web page.

You have a problem. You have a full suite of tests but they are written in plain English.
So what's the problem?
The problem, my old china, is that your testers are all Cockneys and dont understand a bleedin' word of them.

So it's my great pleasure to announce a new tool - Cocknium - that will take your tests and automatically make them into Cockney Rhyming Slang tests

No coding experience necessary:

Example 1

Oi, as a geezer
When I use this pony
I dont want to see a sausage

pony = pony and trap = app
sausage = sausage and mash = crash

Example 2
Your app automatically orders an extra hot curry when the user returns from a heavy drinking session at the pub

When I'm Oliver Twist
And use the pony on my dog n bone to order a Ruby
After a trip to the rub-a-dub-dub
Then I should get a vindaloo
Without having to cocoa

What brought this nonsense on?
Pretty regularly someone comes along and decides that they are going to revolutionise the world of testing. They find out that running tests manually takes time so hey presto, the magic of automation to the rescue. But not just automation, automation that means that anyone from the CEO to the tea lady can write and run tests and have it fully tested and shipping before you can say Cor Blimey Mary Poppins.

I came across two new ventures this week basically promising the above.
Best of luck to them before reality hits them in their boat race.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Wall Is Still There

There were 3 blog posts I read last week that seemed to have a common theme but the contents were widely different.

First post I came across was Testers and Developers please get along. I wondered why such a title was still being used in 2013, haven't we got past all this ages ago? The author ( architect for Smart Bear ) had gone along to a testing conference and found there were still jokes about "stupid developers" and throwing things over the wall.
He ended his article with some suggestions - pair-test programming, sit together, do stuff together.

Remind me again when the Agile manifesto was written and when the first edition of Extreme Programming came out?

On the subject of walls, Alan Page wrote a post Tear Down The Wall and the wall between testers and developers and although things are changing there is still a wall at MS - smaller than it used to be but still there
He has a vision for the future of s/w development

"What software teams need in the future is team members who can perform the activities of programming, testing, and analysis – together"

The third blog post I read was in reaction to Alans post - Test Activity and Testing Roles
It had 2 quotes that I found sad and depressing - but could relate to as that is how it is in a lot of companies.

That is so far from my reality that I actually find it a little threatening.

I’d love to see a system that functions like this, but I rather doubt I’ll get to see one soon.

I could give a trite response and tell him to move and get out there as there are companies like that - but it's not as easy or as simple as that.
Several years ago I was in the same position - I'd read the books, was reading the blogs and mailing lists, I knew there was a better way of making s/w than the place I was working at. Trying to change things was incredibly hard and frustrating. Comfortably Numb was becoming my daily theme song.
I gave up trying there and left

Just sad to read that for many things are the same as they were for me all those years ago.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Challenge

This week I am celebrating my One Year In Michigan anniversary so time for some introspection and reflection.

I can come up with a list of things I've achieved - managed to move over the Atlantic and get settled in, pass my driving test, been driving on the other side of the road without crashing( no jinx touch wood), I dont need to use the GPS all the time, attended many GR Tester Meetups and helped arrange the first ever Michigan Tester Meetup.

And, as you might have noticed from my recent blog posts, I passed my soccer ref exam and became a qualfied ref.

This has been my first full season and apart from lack of fitness leading to knackered calves I've been enjoying it. So far I've only done U8 to U10 though in the next couple of weeks I have a couple of U11 games and then an U12. The match assignors are being great and are building me up slowly, letting me gain experience at the lower levels before moving me up.

Do I want to move up though? The U8 to U10 age is pretty easy - only 6 players on the pitch per team so not hard to keep an eye on, they dont kick the ball too far and though they can run around all day it's not super fast sprints that I cant keep up with ( when my legs aren't knackered) And apart from the occasional incident the coaches and parents have been reasonable and accept that their kids are just learning the game. No dissent at all from the kids. Haven't had to show a yellow or red card or even do a telling off yet.

So I could stay at this level. The kids at that age still need refs. The new refs start off at that age as assistant refs and need to be mentored.

But when I have been reffing, quite often at nearby pitches I can see older age groups playing. Full size pitches. 11-a-side teams. Really fast play. Lots of skills and contact.
And I want to try that out, see if I can cope at that level, see if I have the skills to be a higher level ref.

So what has that got to with me and testing?

One of the reasons I moved to Michigan was to work for Atomic Object - a company that claimed to be producing high quality s/w.

I'd been used to working at the lower leagues of s/w development - bug counts in the 100s, people with next to no understanding of testing, spaghetti legacy code developments, clueless CEOs, zombie testers, metric madness managers....

If you lowered your expectations then it was possible to survive in those environments, even to thrive as you could look like the hero saving the project when you found the 300 bugs before the customers did.
But it chipped away at your soul and I'd read about devs doing TDD, places with CI in place, test-infected cultures, working products shipping every 2 weeks...

Did I want to stay on the U8 pitch keeping control of a small mass of little players running around the pitch? Or did I want to challenge myself and see how I could deal with a proper game?

So I made the move to Michigan and it's been tough. Sure, I know all the theory, putting it all into practice isn't so simple. There have been projects that I haven't been involved in that somehow seem to have shipped and worked and customers are delighted with. I've been trying to ramp up and re-learn my technical skills - last time I used source control it was Source Safe not Git, real Ruby code looks a lot more different than the 'hello world' code I'd been practising with. Mobile apps with all the extra things that need to be considered when testing them. Then there's all the words and concepts I'd never heard of before - lambdas, closures, all the funky Javascript libraries and all the things the designers did to lay out their pages. and to interact with the customers. Prototyping, story boards, innovation games...

It's been - and is - a hard challenge.

But I've been reading a lot of referee blogs and forums recently. Their first games are tough. They cant keep up with play, they find it hard to distinguish between physical play and foul play, they have massive nerves when showing their first red card and are often critical of themselves after a game and analyse every mistake they make.
They carry on though and improve and learn and become a valuable part of the game.

Time for me to take some lessons from the pitch and use them off it.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

5 Questions With Simon Morley

Regular readers will now be tired of my Lessons Learned From Reffing Posts so back to my 5 Questions Series and Simon Morley - a Yorkshireman now living and working in Sweden and author of The Testers Headache

1) What's your background and how did a Yorky end up in Sweden?

I started out wanting to be a diplomat - which was probably a really bad career choice as I was one of the least diplomatic people around - at that time! 

So I tried applied mathematics(!), doing a stint in underwater defense research. The fall of the Berlin wall saw the end of that career (reduction in defense research - the cold-war dividend and all that). But, the very intelligent people I worked with at the time said some of the next big technological challenges were in telecommunications. And so I "drifted" into telecoms and started out as a trainee tester at a Swedish company - it was the guys interviewing me that spotted that I could be a tester - so I guess I owe a lot to them (actually my boss was a mathematician, having studied the same course at the same college…)

Ending up in Sweden? Well there's more space, the wildlife is wilder (literally), the nature is cool AND it loves me (at least there are all sorts of things biting me for my blood), the winter sports are more wintry, and... oh yeah, my better-half is Swedish - so I'd been coming here for a number of years before deciding to settle down here. 

2) Is there any difference between the test culture in England and Sweden?

There are many different levels to that question! I've worked in several different countries, and sometimes the testing culture is a function of the country culture, sometimes the company, sometimes the project structure, but usually a mix of all three.

Whilst in England I worked for a Japanese company - which had Japanese high expectations, had imported an American results-orientation and were encasing that in a British work attitude -> and we were combining work from English, French and Portuguese teams -> there were mismatches on so many different levels. The testers and test teams were caught between a cultural rock and an organisational hard place. 
That was very educational for me and I started noticing differences between company, country and organizational cultures more and more - and distinguishing them from "testers" - testers were part of the system, but not THE system. 

In Sweden there is much more a feeling of egalité - equality where anyone can talk to anyone - the hierarchy is not there in the same way (I think a BBC article recently described it as Jante's Law, but I'm not completely convinced about that.) Most things are more open, on the table and up for discussion. 
This is great for feedback and challenging of ideas. Ironically there can be a reticence in Swedes - but not always, and that's not a problem if you understand it. But once people know each other the idea that everyone is more-or-less equal means ideas can flood out - and be challenged. It means the results can be clever and well-thought-through.

3) Your blog is called The Testers Headache - what's giving you a headache at the moment and have you tried aspirin?


The blog name comes from a deal of frustration that I had seen in testers over the years (and myself) - part of this was about being powerless in organizations - sometimes gatekeepers, sometimes scapegoats, sometimes put into impossible situations. So I wanted to start writing to help distill my thoughts and even get different views on that from anyone that might want to comment/discuss.

It's an attempt to isolate the tester in an organizational or cultural problem - and look at both aspects. With my science background, I tend to take a systems view of situations and from a number of angles - sometimes tangential! This helps me learn! Whenever I meet new testers (or ones I haven't met before) I usually ask what they have been writing and where I can read it - and if they haven't started a blog, well now is a good time - you'll have at least one reader!

Some time ago I did a monthly blog post called the "Carnival of Testers" - this was both an attempt to point out interesting reads and, occasionally, lift someone up and say, "here's a new writer/blogger… go and read what they say and give feedback" - I still read a lot of blogs, but don't have the time to compile a list anymore  - although I make an effort now and then - I did 2 compilations last year -> (1) to promote "Let's Test" (a wonderful test conference), and (2) to jot down some thoughts about Ola Hyltén (a wonderful person that also knew about testing)

So, the blog (which in itself is partly its own aspirin), is an attempt to re-frame testing as an intellectual activity - at least for testers that want respect, and for organizations that want good testing and good work. It's partly an attempt to illustrate the complexity with good testing and how powerful (and not powerless) it can be - and using that it can contribute massively to good software development… 

4) What advice would you give to a new tester - or someone thinking of becoming a tester?

I meet new/newish testers now and then and I usually want to know why they want to test, what is it that drives them. If they think that testing is difficult to do well, want to study it and get better at it, then I try to find how they want to improve. Anyone wanting to improve usually has a drive or a reason or a main interest. Sometimes it's about tapping into them - doesn't mean I can help, but I can help them understand where they are in the bigger picture. 

That sounds "fluffy" but it boils down to: "Do you want to understand what you're doing?" -> "Do you want to get better at, for example, observation?" -> "Ok, tell me where you use observation - the good, the bad and the ugly….." And then explore observation - pitfalls and good examples. 
Sometimes, people think they can't do something or have never done something, but sometimes they just don't know how to recognize it, and then it's about giving a helping hand. If, and only if, they want help…

I recently held a peer conference where I work and people were stopping me and saying they wanted to come but didn't have any experience to talk about. On 2 occasions after chatting with them for 5 minutes I "noticed" something that they could talk about - and that would be a good report. So, sometimes it's really just helping people "notice" things.

So, advice I would give to a new tester - pair up, chat with or reach out to an "experienced tester" - maybe online or in person - if they're any good they'll usually be glad to help (maybe you have to arrange a time first.) Have a discussion - and maybe challenge the experienced tester to find something that you can (1) improve on, or, (2) learn - something that you didn't know about before. Then ask the experienced tester to give you a challenge - either with something you've learnt/improved

For someone thinking about testing or software development I'd say: 
Creating software is both a creative and subjective art. Matching the software to what someone might want is really difficult on so many levels - (1) The customer might not know what they really want; this creates many problems trying to understand that… (2) They might not have any pre-conceived ideas how to know that what they get is what they want; this makes understanding if what is being developed comes near to what is wanted more tricky (3) You may work in an environment (team, project, company) that doesn't understand these limitations; which makes doing the work more difficult

So, if working with trying to figure out what a customer might/might not want (when there's probably no crystal clear answer), figuring out how a development team turns those wishes into software (when there might be implementation discrepancies due to misunderstanding, mistakes, omissions, etc; and all of these might not be knowable or observable), figuring out how to create experiments (which may well be imperfect) to gather information (which may be incomplete or incorrect) about a system (software + environment + human emotions and foibles) that may be imperfectly described and subject to change and then talk about all of those issues and findings in a coherent way… - if all of this sounds challenging and something that you can make a real contribution to, then take up the challenge of doing good, nay excellent, testing.

Note, to do good testing you will need to understand the human element (to some extent) in this system, understand how to observe systems (with people and other artifacts), understand how to distinguish rhetoric from substantive evidence, design experiments, understand the limitations of what you know about the system and what you can know and then communicate about that in a way that's understandable to someone that probably has not studied this whole system in as much detail as you. 

You'll be a cross between an investigative journalist, scientist, part-sociologist and part-psychologist.
You can make a contribution because this system of interaction is not "off-the-shelf" and so the techniques, lessons and ways in which to approach such systems are not predictable - you can help by adding to the corpus of knowledge that makes working in such systems better. This might be finding traps and good experiences to avoid them or it might be finding new techniques with certain types of systems.

5) What books are you reading at the moment and why?

Oh, quite a lot - I usually have quite a few on the go. The current top of the stack:

"How to be an explorer of the world" (Smith) - a great book to get you to look at the world around in a new way. It's a really good book for practicing observation and note taking!

"Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking" (Dennet) - Just started this - I've been intrigued by Daniel Dennet since seeing a TED talk some time ago and then seeing some recent interviews - he has an "evolutionary" bent to thinking - something I wondered about wrt testing some time ago and think I might investigate more.

"NASA Space Shuttle Program Tacit Knowledge Capture Project: Oral Histories from Twenty Program Officials and Managers, Challenger and Columbia Accident Insights and Lessons Learned" - I'm intrigued by the program to make tacit knowledge explicit in NASA - it's connected to a recent post I made about peer conferencing -> that the dialogue and discussion of any topic /can/ get to the core issues and links in to other work (by Bo Göranzon) about dialogue seminars to uncover hidden knowledge.

"Experiential Learning" (Weinberg) - I've experienced this type of learning in several forms (I now recognize them in retrospect after reading about the techniques) and understand how powerful this learning type is and want to get better at it.

"Psychology of Intelligence Analysis" (Heuer) - I started reading this about a year ago and returned to it recently. This was a textbook in the CIA for how they gather and analyze masses of information, trying to understand their own biases that may occur and so how to make better decisions - actually this is very similar to testers gathering masses of different information and trying to work with that. The CIA have been years ahead in terms of applying cognitive studies and applying to their work. They recognized that most of their techniques are heuristic in nature. I want to use a sister book of this (a trade craft primer) and do a mapping to software testing -> that's an ongoing pet project.

"Protocol Analysis - Verbal Reports as Data" (Simon, Ericsson) - I discovered this recently (actually referenced from another document on intelligence analysis (Intelligence Analysis: Behavioral and Social Scientific Foundations)) - really interesting - it backs up how difficult it is to get to the "truth" - their thesis has ideas on the power of verbal information. Still working through it - but interesting so far.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Should a referee have played the game?

"Where's the free-kick, our girls are getting hurt out there"

"You have a whistle in your hand, use it"

Ah, the great life of a ref getting advice from parents and coaches.

Blue player advancing to goal, takes a shot but as she does so an Orange player blocks the shot. Blue players foot bounces back and she ends up on the floor crying. Cue the shouts from parents and coach.
Perfectly fine play as far as I was concerned and the ball shooting out sideways and not forwards showed it was a block and no foul.
I would have been proud to have made that tackle.

Now that I've taken up the whistle and stopped being an active player, has my past playing experience been helpful? Or does having a 'players mindset' bias my decisions? Should all referees be made to play?
( should all parents and coaches?)

How has it helped?

Good positioning on the field - I know where the ball is likely to go and what the plays will be so I can be there and ready to make a decision.

Dirty tricks - not so much a problem at the young ages but soon they start to pick up some of the little tricks of a shirt grab or a tread on an opponents toes. If you've been on the receiving end of some of these ( or done some yourself cough cough) then you know what to watch out for.

Judgement - was it a foul or a great tackle? Just because little Jenny is on the floor and crying doesn't mean it was a foul as in the incident at the start of this post.

Is it essential?

No - with practice and experience the above skills can be picked up.

There are also a whole other bunch of skills that you need - communication with the coaches, parents and players, interaction with your two assistant referees

What does the Internet say? A quick search found this:

 "It is ironic that, often, referees are described as ‘failed footballers’ "

 Doesn't this sound somewhat familiar?

Monday, 6 May 2013

Sustainable Whistling

In my last post I promised not to do any 'refereeing is like testing' analogies - but I didn't say that I wouldn't do any 'lessons learned from reffing' posts....

The first weekend of the youth soccer season in Grand Rapids was a gentle start with 2 games as Assistant Ref aka Lineo. This weekend I had 6 games lined up - one Friday evening, 3 Saturday and 2 on Sunday. Age ranges from U8 to U10, six players on a team - how hard could it be?

Hard. Damned Hard.

Physically tough with lots of changes of direction and taking care not to step on little munchkins - and by U10 they're starting to kick the ball far so play can go from end to end much more quickly than U8

Mentally it was very demanding as well. At U8 they all run round in a big bunch so peering at a tangle of legs trying to work out which one touched the ball last is hard. Making a split second decision when a ball hits a hand - was it deliberate or not? Making the decision to blow for a free-kick or let play carry on.

And making these decisions with a touchline full of parents watching and a coach on the other sideline muttering under his breath about every decision you make.

Oh, and you also have 2 linesmen to help you with the game but they are usually young teens in their first season of being an official so you have to keep an eye on them, try and mentor them and protect them from parents and coaches.

The last 10 minutes of the last game was a real struggle - my left calf was giving out and I feeling tired watching the players and making sure I made the right call.

So when the final game was over I limped off to my car and found myself sitting in the passenger seat. Thats when I know I'm really really tired as I've only had 1 year of driving in the US so when I'm exhausted my natural instinct is to get into the 'wrong' side of the car.

Which was a great reminder to me of the importance of working at a sustainable pace

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Centre of Attention

The snow has finally gone from Michigan and the youth soccer season has started - which means it's time for me to flap the cobwebs out of my flags and blow the dust out of my whistle and get out there and ref some games.

Worry not, dear reader, this is not going to be a "refereeing a footy game is like testing..." analogy post.

One of the books I've been reading is Quiet: The Power of Introverts" as I am a quiet person.
I'm also shy - and like many people I confused the two, being shy and being an introvert are not the same thing, the book has helped with my understanding of the differences and myself.

So as a shy and introverted person why do I want to make myself the centre of attention by standing in the middle of a soccer pitch, trying to control 12 kids running around with parents and coaches ready to criticize every decision I make?
( Oh, yeh, I also have 2 linesmen every game to meet and talk to, introduce myself to the coaches and team manager )

Why not stay at home with a good book?

The answer is for the same reasons I attend Tester Gatherings and Meetups. Once a month I go off to the GR Testers Meetup and there's usually at least one new face there. A couple of months ago I was standing in front of 40 Michigan testers doing a lightning talk. Why not stay at home and carry on working my way through my copy of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge and do my connecting with people by sending out some tweets ?

The Quiet book has an explanation with the story of Professor Brian Little, a winner of the 3M Teaching Fellowship whose classes at Harvard were oversubscribed and often had him breaking into song and twirling about onstage like a cross between Robin Williams and Albert Einstein.
Doesn't sound like the behaviour of an introvert?

But he was very much so, living out in remote Canadian woods with just his wife. The books tells of how he had to give two lectures at a Royal Military College with lunch inbetween. Lunch though was his recharging time so he invented an excuse that he was interested in ship design and wanted to spend his lunchtime looking at boats on the nearby river. This worked but then the location moved to a place not near water - so he went off and hid in the bathroom during lunchtime so he could get his much needed quiet time.

Why put himself through this though? The Professor came up with a theory he called Free Trait Theory - where we can and do act out of character in the service of "core personal projects". Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important.

I've played footy ( soccer ) most of my life, coached my daughters soccer team and she is still playing. I made friends through it and have many good memories out of it. The legs though are getting too old to get me through 90 minutes so moving onto being an official seemed a good way to give something back to the game and help the new generation discover The Beautiful Game. Plus moving to a new country it might give me the opportunity to meet people and make new friends.

Same with testing - moving to testing from programming got my enthusiasm going again, made me new friends which ultimately led to new opportunities. Arranging and going to tester meetups and encouraging new testers to connect and talk is my way of giving something back.

And doing both of these (reffing and tester events) also helps with my confidence and gives me practice in overcoming my shyness.

The Quiet book is highly recommended, another post from that coming up soon.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

5 Questions With James Christie

Next up to be grilled is James Christie - auditor, tester, blogger and football match reporter.
Congratulations to James for being accepted to EuroStar Conference 2013

1) Your background has time in auditing and fund management - how did you get into testing and did you learn anything from these non-IT roles that was later useful in testing?

When I left university after studying economics and accountancy I went to work for one of the Big 4 firms of chartered accountants as a trainee accountant. I hated it. It wasn't really that the work was boring. I didn't feel comfortable with the culture. The office where I was working was a particularly good example of rampant bad practice, and I learned a lot about how not to audit! I left and took a job as a trainee investment analyst in the investment division of a life assurance company. It was a great opportunity but it didn't pan out well. 

My mentor was a figure who has been very prominent in the news recently in the UK. It was none other than (Sir) James Crosby. I learned a lot from him that has been valuable, but not all the lessons were what he wanted me to learn. The biggest lesson was how not to mentor people! If you're coaching someone you have to be interested in them and their problems. His style was to assign a piece of work without guidance or discussion about how it could be done, then pick it apart afterwards. I've just had a look through the diary I kept at the time and remember my frustration at how he would only provide me with relevant information after I'd already screwed up.

He did teach me a very useful lesson about decision taking. He told me that there were usually no more than about three factors that influenced a decision. Once you'd analysed the big, important issues you almost always had enough information to take a decision. Burrowing away into the detail of the minor issues seldom changes the decision, but the delay the extra work causes can be damaging. 

That was a good lesson, but it has to be qualified by a certain amount of humility, an awareness of the possibility that one might wrong. The ability to take quick decisions can be valuable, but if it is combined with arrogance, an inner certainty that one is always right, then it can become very damaging. We've seen that in what happened at HBOS, and there were signs of it earlier in Crosby's career. I saw him reject good, well researched advice that didn't match his preconceptions. The consequences were very expensive, but Crosby had the ability to shrug it all off and move on, without feeling the need to dwell on the mistake, or even apparently to learn from it.

What really troubled me, however, was his attitude to business ethics. He said that these were no more than an attempt to make the shareholders pay for our personal, political views. All that mattered was making money for the shareholders. I thought that was irresponsible and inviting trouble, but it was the culture in that company. I once had to field a very embarrassing phone call from a journalist trying to dig behind a rumour that we'd co-operated enthusiastically in a dawn raid on a company being taken over. The rumour was entirely true. What we did is now illegal. In those days it was merely disapproved of by the authorities; it was still highly embarrassing that the press got hold of the story.

Anyway, the foreign currency bookkeeping was an embarrassing shambles and my accounting knowledge meant I was the obvious candidate to sort it out before the auditors caught up. The company wanted me to concentrate on accountancy full time, but the reason I'd joined them was that I no longer wanted to be an accountant. I'd become fascinated by the new online applications we were using, and also by managing our bank accounts in New York online. "How does all this stuff work?", I wondered.

There was one terminal by the entrance to the investment department that was used only for current news stories. I discovered that there was no effective access control and I could slip my own story into the news feed. Crosby was a passionate supporter of Yorkshire Cricket Club, whose star batsman, Geoff Boycott, was in dispute with the club about a new contract. Crosby always stopped to check the news on his return from lunch. One day, just before he was due back, I planted a story that Boycott had left Yorkshire and agreed a new contract with arch rivals Lancashire. The stunt worked beautifully. My victim duly leapt into the air and rushed to the phone to pass on the news. The story was half way round the City of London before anyone twigged it was a hoax. My colleagues thought it was a great joke, but I'm not sure it helped my career prospects!

All this experience meant I was constantly thinking, "what's going on here?", "why are things in such a mess?", "is this right?", "could we be doing it better?". So it was an invaluable grounding for IT in general and testing in particular.

I applied successfully for a government training programme in computer programming and quickly arrived in the IT division of a major insurance company. I loved it. I think my business background got me more interesting roles in development, involving lots of analysis and design as well as coding.

After a couple of years Group Internal Audit asked me to join them, but I turned it down because of my previous experiences in external audit. I had little respect for audit or auditors. A few years later I was asked again, for a more senior role in computer audit, and this time they sold the idea to me. I realised that the sort of work I'd be doing had no relation to the "tick and bash" auditing I'd seen as a trainee accountant.

It was a marvellous learning experience, seeing how IT fitted into the wider business, and seeing all the problems of IT from a business perspective. It was a very professional, enlightened audit department, with some very good, very bright people. I spent six happy years in audit before returning to work in IT development, as a team leader and project manager. When Y2K kicked off I was asked to work as a test manager because my experience in audit and development project management gave me exactly the right frame of mind; questioning, but practical and organised.

2) You've had a long and varied career and you're active on Twitter and blogs - what keeps your enthusiasm going?

The alternative to being enthusiastic is being bored, so it's a no brainer. Being self-employed is really the secret, in my case. I found it very frustrating as an employee having to do poor quality work because that was what the processes, or standards or the contract required. Now I can argue my case freely. When I was working as an information security manager I was once told to keep my personal opinions to myself when I argued that what we were doing was both unprofessional and making us uncompetitive. No-one can shut me up now. I can concentrate on what I find interesting. 

I was a good corporate man in that I could understand how organisations work, what made them tick, and I could do a good job. But I did have the reputation for being an iconoclast, a bit of a rebel. Eventually there comes a point where you get tired of pointing out that things could and should be better, then being ignored. Now I don't have that frustration. 

I need to keep learning to stop being bored. The backlog of stuff I want to learn always seems to get longer. That's slightly depressing at times, but mostly it's exciting. If I ever get bored with testing I'll concentrate on football writing. I write the match reports for the Dundee FC website and match programme. They're a Scottish professional football (soccer) club. I love doing it.

3) "An additional area of interest is testing's relationship with audit and governance. I find this a fascinating area." - Really? Why so, isn't it deadly dull and a road to Yawnsville?

Yawnsville? That reaction intrigues me. It's like people saying politics is boring, and then complaining about the schools, the crime rate, and the economy; all the things that politics affects. 

Governance has a huge impact on the way that testers work, and for thousands of testers it means they have tedious, stressful jobs. Governance that is applied intelligently can liberate testers to do exciting, rewarding work. The way that we tackle governance and accountability can make the difference between being happy doing a great job, and being miserable doing lousy testing. How can that be a boring issue?

A large part of the problem is that testers and developers are scared of auditors. Good auditors can be an ally. Bad auditors should be confronted positively. Testers need the knowledge and confidence to tell the different between good and bad auditing. They need to know how they can demonstrate that the approach and techniques advocated by the Context-Driven School can be compatible with accountability and good governance. That's really my main area of interest at the minute. I don't think there are many people with experience of both testing and auditing, so I think I've got something worth saying.

I'm going to be giving a half day tutorial on this subject at EuroSTAR 2013 in Gothenburg, so I hope that there are a few people who don't think the subject is 

4) Your consultancy service emphasizes usability issues - is this something testers should be more aware of and what can they do to learn more about it?

Hmm. I'm starting to think I should remove that bit from my website. I think things have changed over the last few years. Isn't saying that testing should really pay close attention to usability a bit like advising a driver not to try and drive if the brakes aren't working? It's just so obvious and basic. The companies that are going to change have learned the lesson. Those who don't get it probably don't get a whole of other important things either.

Testers do need to follow what's going on in the User Experience profession. We can pick up techniques, and also it helps us to think about potential problems. If there are no dedicated UX people on a project, which is probably usually the case, then I think testers should try and rise to the challenge.

Two books that I found very useful as a starting point to get me thinking seriously about usability were "Don't make me think: a common sense approach to web usability" by Steve Krug and "The inmates are running the asylum: why high-tech products drive us crazy and how to restore the sanity" by Alan Cooper. They're both a bit dated, but they're good reads, especially Cooper's, which is a very entertaining rant.

Two people currently working at the intersection of User Experience and software development are Jared Spool and Jeff Patton. Their work is worth checking out.

5) What books are you reading at the moment and why?

As usual I have two books on the go. I'm reading "The places in between" by Rory Stewart. 

It's about his walk across Afghanistan in 2002, living with and getting to know local people. Stewart is a remarkable character. He's an MP now, which frankly is a waste of his talents, though I suppose it's useful that someone in the House of Commons really knows Afghanistan. I didn't buy the book. It was a present for my wife, but then she does know me very well.

The other book is "The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action" by Donald Schön. 

I've been meaning to read it for some time. Schön argues that creative professionals, such as software designers or architects, have an iterative approach to developing ideas. Much of their knowledge is tacit. They can't write down all of their knowledge as a neatly defined process. To gain access to what they know they have to perform the creative act so they can learn, reflect on what they've learned and then apply the new knowledge. 
Schön's work reinforces the point that much traditional document-driven software development and testing went against the grain of how creative people work. Traditional methods ignored, and even suppressed, the natural creative process. In truth, good developers and testers were working in that iterative, reflective manner anyway in order to achieve anything worthwhile. Any success was largely in spite of the traditional methods, rather than because of them.

Friday, 12 April 2013

No, not the comfy chair

Yesterday one of the devs at work tweeted that when one of his teammates stood up, his hardware crashed.

This reminded me of a test report I'd read and sure enough a bit of Googling brought me this story from Jonathan Kohl about tapping the desk with his knee.

Today the devs investigated the problem - see video below

The chair was the culprit - but only one particular chair that generated some static electricity.

Further investigation found the problem was this cable

the voltage spike produced when getting up from the chair

the fix

So now I have to get myself a polyester tracksuit and jump around a bit when doing my testing
 - but dont worry readers, I wont be posting a video of that.

( title of the post? Thanks to Monty Python of course )

Thursday, 11 April 2013

5 Questions WIth Erik Davis

Next in the series is Erik Davis. This man is so keen on testing that not only has he set up a local tester gathering ( follow his story here ) but he drove from Ohio to attend the recent Michigan Tester Gathering.

1) Your background in testing is covered very well on your blog - knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to a newbie tester?

Unless you REALLY want a job that requires it, do not bother getting a testing certification. Speaking with a common vocabulary, which is one of the supposed pluses of getting a certification has not been a problem for me personally. I can still talk testing to other testers. Yes, I did get my CSTE years ago. At the time, it sounded like a good idea, and my VP was a board member of a local group associated with QAI, so we hosted a test in our building, and he paid for my materials. In the end, I can't name a single thing I have used it for. I let it expire years ago and am happily not looking back.

Find other testers! Talk to people. Talk to testers you work with (if you have any), talk to testers in your area, and around the world. Twitter is amazing, as are many members of the testing community. You really can have meaningful threads on testing topics with "big names" in testing, as well as the hundreds of awesome testers out there who are active in the craft every day. Twitter will also expose you to training, meetups, conferences, blogs, books and articles, all related to testing.

Look into AST (Association for Software Testing) and their conference CAST held each year. I am a devotee after CAST 2012 as it re-opened my eyes to how cool the world of testing really is. No vendor pitches masked as industry talks (i.e. real people talking about things they have actually done), LOTS of engaging with other people, tons of side events, tester games, testing competitions, meetups, panel discussions on test leadership (crossing my fingers for this one), and you could get interviewed for STP (TWiST) by Matt and Michael, or live-tweeted by Claire.

When starting a testing position, think hard about what your long term goals are. Unless you want to get away from actually testing, do not get pushed into the management track. If that is the only option for advancement in the company you are at/going to you can
1) work to build a technical track
2) go somewhere else
3) accept the fact that your title may not change ever. BUT, as long as you can continue to learn and earn more over time, what they call you shouldn't really matter. If not, I would seriously think about looking elsewhere (I’m hiring, see below).

2) You've put a lot of time and energy into organizing a local tester gathering ( even driving up to take part in the mid-Michigan Meetup ) - why?

After CAST 2012 I started following a lot of testers on Twitter, and I kept seeing people post about their meetups, and lean coffee and tester gatherings and I thought, I want one too.
We have a "professional testing organization" in my area, but it does not really allow testers time to actually talk and exchange ideas with other testers. I wanted that, and after mildly complaining about there not being something like that in my area, Michael Bolton (and a list of others) told me, in short, to make one.

So I did. I want testers I work with to be engaged, to care and to think about what they do. I want them to see testing as a serious intellectual endeavor. Once I started working on that in house, it quickly spread in my mind. In short, if I can get others engaged, we build a pool of interested people in the area.

If we can build that pool large enough, we have a better chance of bringing “big names” in to do training, or to speak to our testers, or possibly make our area a site for something like peer conferences. This will of course help the testers I work with, but also testing in general in my area.

3) Your upcoming talk at CAST 2103 is about finding good testers in the rust belt - why is it so hard ? Are you fussy or is it the rust belt or both ? Or do we need to wait for the talk ?

I find it difficult because we are not in a major tech market. I can't walk down the street and yell "I have an open testing job" and get mobbed like you can in places like the Valley, the Bay, Boston, or the research triangle. Not literally of course, but you get my point. There are no programs in the area that even introduce the concept of testing as a profession, other than some sort of certificate in SQA in a local electrical engineering masters program.

So we need to go find people that think the way we feel testers need to think, and try to get them to choose testing. I will cover a lot more in my talk, but that is the short form. I promise I didn't just ruin my talk, you should still come to CAST.

4) Not only are you trying to hire good testers, you're trying to hire a lot of them - how so, isn't testing dead? Why do you need so many and what are you going to do with them?

I can't speak to the major markets, but testing is definitely not dead in Cleveland. We hire so many testers because our CTO (who fights for the budget) sees more value in people doing the testing than programs.  Basically, he never bought into the hype the tool vendors tried to sell you in the 90's, "buy our TLA Suite and you can fire all your testers!!!!!!!".

We currently have a 1 to 1.23 tester to developer ratio. Since our dev team continues to grow year over year as we add more functionality, we need to add more testers to counter all that new incoming work.

We also task "QA" with some non-testing work. We are the unofficial second line of support (we have a single tier support team, no script readers here). If Tech Support cannot resolve an issue, they often call on us to help. We also get involved in serious customer issues, sometimes travelling to customer sites to help investigate issues. We also are involved in training internally,  we train sales and the trainers when we release new features, and externally, testers make up a large number of the presenters at our thrice a year technical conferences (~100 attendees each) and our once a year end user conference (~1500 attendees in 2012).

Another reason we hire so many testers, is we have relatively high internal turnover. I am referring to the number of people that leave QA for other positions within the company. We have been actively working to reduce the number of people who leave because they see no growth in testing. Most of our people that leave now are offered opportunities by another department. We hire in a number of people each year that other departments wouldn't have (maybe they didn't have a degree the other department requires).

Once we get them in the building and they start being awesome, other departments take notice. They see we have strong technical people. Sometimes a critical need arises for a certain skill where another department is looking for an already trained technical person, and often times they come looking to QA for that expertise.
We see this as one more way we contribute to our company.  We are able to hire in people that others wouldn't, even though in the end those very same departments come asking for those employees once they see how great they can be.

5) What books are you reading at the moment and why?

Well technically I am reading no books at this point, but since I have some audiobooks queued up, I will answer with those. 

I am currently working through The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. In a similar vein, I also have lined up Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Blink and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Antifragile again by Nassim Taleb.  These are in my “how and why people think like they think and do what they do” pile.  I am very interested in understanding how thinking and people work. 

I also have Switch by Chip and Dan Heath in my “how to affect change” pile because I am in the process of attempting to effect change both inside and outside of my organization. 

Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar by James Bach in my “learning how ever you can” pile to learn about non-standard learning methods, and possible find new ways to educate myself and others., 

How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing by lots of cool people and Explore It! by Elizabeth Hendrikson in my “learning more about testing” pile so that I can continue to take in new ideas about testing. 

Hiring Geeks That Fit by Johanna Rothman in my “learning more about interviewing and hiring technical people” pile because holy crap is hiring hard.  Anything I can do to make it the tiniest bit easier, the better. 

Oh, and I have the ever popular, but hard to locate Program Test Methods, edited by William C. Hertzel.  This last one is based on the proceedings of the Computer Program Test Methods Symposium held at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, June 21-23 1972.  If you have ever heard James Bach or Michael Bolton speak of the infamous Chapel Hill conference of ‘72, this book covers it. This one is in my “how the hell did the testing world get so messed up for so long” pile, because sometimes it’s good to know where things came from, so you can try to avoid some of the same pitfalls.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

An Evening With Sir Ken

Grand Rapids has some great colleges in and around it which attract speakers so I was able to go and see Sir Ken Robinson do a lecture on Culturing  Innovation.

Apparently his TED talk on 'schools kill creativity' is the most viewed and after seeing him speak I can understand why.

He started off by saying you cannot plan your life - and used his own life as an example. Born in Liverpool in the 50s, not knowing what he wanted to do as a 'career' he now finds himself living in LA.
Totally resonated with me - I grew up 20 miles from where he grew up, 2 years ago I wouldn't have been able to point to Michigan on a map and now here I was sitting in a lecture hall in Grand Rapids listening to him speak.

His talk was on creativity and how the current education system stifles rather than encourages it with the result that most people dont look inside themselves and realise their potential.

His son took classics at uni which didn't seem to be leading to many career prospects, he then changed to... philosophy and art which caused even more concern in the Robinson household. The result ? His son ended up in an auction house, travelling the world, doing a job he enjoyed and for which classics, philospohy and art provided him with the background and skills that were a great match
( testers come from all sorts of backgrounds and almost all found it 'by accident' - see also a recent post from Michael Larsen about the real value of a liberal education )

Sir Ken has a real belief in human creativity and learning. How does a child learn to speak ? Parents dont sit down with a list of words and teach them, the child learns from experience. Give them opportunities and encouragement to learn and to practice.
( how do you teach testing ? give them a list of 'standard testing terminology? )

To illustrate his belief in potential he told the story of people he knew who once owned a farm in Australia. They fell on tough times and had to sell the farm to the State. Years later they returned to see what had become of the farm and were not able to find their farmhouse and dust road leading to it. Instead there was a highway and large new structures. Their farmland had massive deposits of nickel just below the surface. If only they had dug below the surface...

Is there the need to be creative and innovative ? Sir Ken said that it was vital as we are living in unprecedented times

1) Rate of change is incredible - 10 years ago there was no Facebook or Twitter,  no tablets, no App Store, no Android, no YouTube, Hulu..

2) Population growth and numbers are at levels never seen

Back to the topic of tech change
When he was growing up, Best Buy ( if there had been a Best Buy ) would have had 4 gadgets - record player, telephone ( wired to the wall and often on a party line ), TV and radio.
Today you can search 200 billion web pages on your handset whilst out walking and if you don't get an answer back in 10 seconds you get aggravated

The consequences of this new tech is unknown - when Edison recorded sound he did it to record a telephone call not music. Why would anyone want to do that ?
( that phrase so beloved of testers )

Apparently there is an App that emulates a blues harmonica on the iPhone - was that part of the spec ? ( another beloved tester phrase ) Did Jony Ive and Steve Jobs sit around discussing how the iPhone could cater for depressed businessmen who just wanted to play the blues at the end of their corporate day?

Speaking of depression, Sir Ken then presented the fact that by 2020 the second leading cause of death is likely to be depression. A recent Gallup poll of Americans had more than 50% saying they were not happy and fulfilled. The biggest growth in drugs is in depressants and anti-psychotics
( he trotted out these figures, a bit of Googling found the depression article)

What about the kids, how are the coping ? Not too well according to Sir Ken with many dropping out of school, 30% of kids starting 9th grade don't finish 12th - which rises to 60% in places such as Houston.
Sir Ken thinks education is failing the kids, it should be to facilitate learning. Life is creative, non-linear organic - so why is education so rote, linear and non-creative? Lots of 'education' going on but very little 'learning'

What does the school system do for imagination? Sir Ken thinks of this as one of the most potent forces available to use as it:
1) means we can empathise
2) can anticipate ( but not predict ) the future - especially when it comes to human behaviour.

When TV first came out the experts said it was not going to replace radio as people were too busy doing things to just sit in a chair and look at a screen...

Moving onto maths ( I loved the way his talk covered so many areas ) Sir Ken talked about how a maths PhD is assessed. Do you just look at the last page and is there an = sign and you check the answer is correct ?
Nope, the person he talked to about this said there were 2 basic criteria:

1) Is the work original?

2) aesthetics - math describes the laws of nature, nature is beautiful so math must be

He then started on his summary and wrapped it all up with the idea of being innovative which to him meant:
- putting ideas into practice
- we all have potential and all have imagination
- we should work in teams and collaborate
- foster a culture where this is encouraged
- stop thinking mechanistically
- stop with the standardised tests

Great ideas but left me wondering if he also had ideas on how this vision could be put into practice and how the current education system could be overhauled. Maybe I need to read his books to see.

and to finish off he told the story of Death Valley - one of the most brutal inhospitable places in the world ( hence the name )
Except it isn't actually dead.
In 2005 rain fell onto Death Valley and it bloomed with flowers.

If conditions are right, people flourish
Create a climate of possibility

For the entire talk it was just Sir Ken on stage. A couple of slides which showed his books and that was it. Just a man and his ideas and his visions. 

( Follow-up:
As I was writing this post I came across this teachers resignation letter... )

Friday, 5 April 2013

5 Questions With Pete Walen

Next up is my fellow Grand Rapids resident, Pete Walen

1) Congrats on your recent move to being an independent. How's that working out for you?

All in all, it was a very good move.  There are good and bad points, of course, but broadly and generally speaking, it has been very good.  (He says while taking a break from working on taxes.)  

Aside from the dangers of finding one has an idiot for a boss there are some great learning opportunities, both personal and professional.  The paperwork is crazy (says the guy taking a break working on taxes) and it forces you to be crazy organized.  Well, compared to my normal “sort of organized.”  Then there is the problem of lining up work. 

I was extremely fortunate to have been in a position to “decide” to go independent.  A fair number of people I know kind of had that decision made for them – positions were eliminated, opportunities for full time positions were limited and land in contract land.  I went in with a reasonably strong position, as in I had options.  

The contract I have seems fairly long lived and seems likely to continue if all parties agree.  This saves me a great deal of the “contract/consultant blues” of making sure there and gigs lined up or under negotiation or any of the other things that go with work assignments measured in months.

The huge advantage for me is that I have the opportunity to consider ideas more broadly than I did with the previous employer and am able to look for things of interest to me.  Projects where I can learn as well as teach or share ideas are important to me.  It helps me stay energized and fresh.

2) You're the organizer of the monthly GR Testers Meetup - what do you get out of these meetings? Don’t you ever run out of topics?

Many of the topics I suggest are ones I am interested in considering more deeply.  Sometimes they are ones I am wrestling with.  Sometimes they come out of other meetings.  And sometimes, they are ideas that are reasonably comfortable to me and, frankly, I want to hear other viewpoints or ideas.  

The great thing about this group is there are so many bright, thinking people who contribute to the conversation.  As most of the meetings the last 18 months or so have been round table discussions around a selected topic.  The flow of ideas is astounding.  I cannot think of a single session where I did not have a gobsmacked moment in the conversation.  

Many of the regular participants are experts in their own right in their own domain.  It strikes me how interesting it is that smart people come together and exchange ideas, simply to learn from each other.  Frankly, I think I achieve my goal of not being the smartest gut in the room fairly often.

Experience is a different question.  Alas, there are bright attendees who have not yet been tested by the weird twists and turns of projects that don’t follow proscribed paths.  In that area, those few of us who have seen problem projects again and again can lend advice or at least empathy as others relate the complexities they are struggling with.  I find the mix refreshing and uplifting.

What happens when I run out of topics or draw a blank?  That one is EASY.  I ping you or Matt Heusser for a suggestion.  

3) Have you ever been a testing zombie?

Ouch.  I want to say “no.”  I think that might be a bit of a stretch though.  

I think part of what makes me what I am as a tester, rather passionate/focused/annoying to certain persons, is when I think back to when I worked in a shop that was looking for repeatability and best practices and control and KPIs and CMM levels (CMMi had not rolled out then) and… stuff.  I remember how at times it was simply follow-the-steps-as-documented and you’ve done your job.  Someone else (smarter or more experienced or something) figured out what needed to be done and did the thinking that was that.  

I also remember when if you did not complete a given number of “tests” in a given time, un-good things would happen and you would be considered a slacker at the least.  Then there were other times when I and the other testers were so overwhelmed with what was going on and the problems uncovered that other problems were simply not noticed.  

During these times, I knew there had to be a better way.  I knew that these things made no sense and I went looking for doing testing better.  So I found myself some online forums and magazines and web searches lead me to Kaner’s “Testing Computer Software.”  This led me to more questions and reading varied blog posts and articles.  Shortly after that I encountered “Lessons Learned in Software Testing.”  

Since then I have been less of a zombie anything than I was before.  It is the awakening of the sapient self that keeps zombies at bay, I find.
( Insert your favorite zombie film reference here.  Mine is Shaun of the Dead – so we go to the Winchester have a few pints and packets of crisps until this all blows over… - editors note: Grand Rapids actually has a Winchester pub)

4) I like the historical references that you often sprinkle into your blog posts - what can a tester learn from history?

I think most, perhaps all, of the social sciences or what once was considered the bulwark of a liberal arts education, can inform us well beyond its face value when we choose a profession founded in knowledge or information work.  Professions that require the ability to think abstractly and yet acutely at the same time can benefit from people trained in things beyond mere technology.

I use history as a reference point for several reasons.  First, simply, I have a broad interest in history.  Additionally I find it useful as a tool to present examples of where people demonstrated the ideas I want to talk about.  I tend to use examples from older periods, rather than more contemporary for the simple reason that factual statements can be made and “other considerations” don’t easily come into play.  

It is easier, and lest politically charged, to write (for a predominantly American audience) about U.S. Grant and his campaigns in 1864 and 1865 than, say, corresponding campaigns in Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan.  The problems and lessons that can be learned are similar, but, alas, one is more sensitive than the other today.  The World Wars, meanwhile, have been studied and talk about and movies and television shows have been done on them.  The Hollywood version of history is so deeply engrained that concepts presented with accurate information are lost because the historical lesson presented conflicts with the “John Wayne History” people “know.”   

As far as what can a tester learn from history?  Consider this: our purpose is to consider divergent viewpoints and values and find paths that can inform others of what we find.  In software terms, we are looking into how the software behaves.  In other terms, we identify the nature of a target, composition, size and nature.  

In one context, we are testing software.  In another we are scouting enemy forces.  We may also be spending time determining what really is happening, what has happened in the past to bring us to the state we are currently in, and evaluate paths to move forward.  

The last is the essence of exploration, which for me is central to what a tester does. 

5) What books are you reading at the moment and why?

OK.  Ummm.  A bunch.

I have this weird rule that says I cannot start a new book until I finish the one I’ve started.  This can be a problem, like, when I’m given a pile of books for Christmas.  So, I’m working on a terribly academic tome by Gordon S. Wood called “Empire of Liberty.”  The dear daughter gave this to me for Christmas a couple of years ago.   This covers the period in US history from 1789 through 1815 in astounding detail.  I find it interesting in that it fills in things I did not know, did not remember or, my favorite, makes connections between events and people I had not considered before.

I also have several books on the go right now of a testing variety.  Weinberg’s “Becoming Technical Leader” (refreshing my memory before STPCon) is on top of the pile.  Along with that, I have Weinberg’s “Introduction to General Systems Thinking.”  Additionally, there is QSM Vol 2 – First Order Measurement” except I am not sure if picking out chapters or sections counts as reading.  

There are others I reference fairly frequently, so much that they never quite get put back on the shelf.  Does that count?

And for simple escapism, easily read that helps the brain decompress, I’m rereading Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series following an officer in the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic era.  
I find I tend to reread light reading as often as I do more technical writing.  What I like about O’Brien’s writing is his attention to get things right, including the terminology for the period.  Dr. Maturin, ships surgeon, physician and “natural philosopher” – what we now would call a “scientist.” I think something valuable is lost in the change of terms.

Phil - Thanks Pete
 - BTW, that was Grant pictured at the top, this is Pete