Friday, 15 March 2013

5 Questions With Keith Klain

Time to resurrect my "5 Questions With.." series and dig deeper into the thoughts and background of some of the testers being active online today.

First up is Keith Klain of Barclays:

1) You seem to have become very active online recently with your Twitter account and blog - why did you decide to do this? What have you got out of being online and what are your impressions of the online tester community ?

About 10 years or so ago, I used to be more involved in the “public” testing industry as a consultant attending and speaking at conferences, etc. But around 2001-02, I became very disillusioned with the whole testing industry. Maturity models and certifications were really coming into their own then and I couldn’t articulate it then, but it really felt shallow and distracting – almost anti-intellectual. 

As well, the testing conference circuit is unbelievably boring with the same people saying the same things over and over and over again, so I receded from public life, stopped attending conferences and just focused on building my own teams.

Around the same time I became a closet disciple of James Bach and the context driven community after reading Lessons Learned in Software Testing. I used my time as the Head of QA for Equities IT at UBS Investment Bank to try new things like visual test strategies, etc. and made LOADS of mistakes there. 

After taking the job at Barclays, I realized very quickly that I was going to have tremendous senior management support and a real shot at building a testing team the way I’ve always wanted to run one. We worked very closely with James Bach and Michael Bolton in defining our training regime to focus on testing skills and applying CDT principles in a big way.

My boss at the time actively encouraged me to get out there and talk about what we were doing as recruitment tool as we were struggling to find people with an open mind. All that as well as some mild prodding from Michael and James to talk publicly about the success we were having, got me re-engaged with the testing community. 

I think it’s due to the questioning nature of our business and the people it attracts, but I love the online testers and the testing community. I’m a big advocate for testers in general, and think it’s important to have counter examples as so much in the testing industry is harmful to testers. Getting the GTC story out there as an example of how things can change for the better (although it’s not perfect here) has become part of my advocacy.

2) How did you start off your testing career and how has your thinking on testing changed since then? Were you ever a testing zombie?

I think of the start of my testing “career” was when I joined a company called Spherion which had a Software Quality Management practice which specialized in testing. They had written a methodology, training, and a support network you could tap into for advice and mentoring. Their approach was basically the V-model and very rigid with lots of documentation filled with wonderful stuff like “phase containment” and test case counting. 

Working my up through the ranks from a test analyst, to automation engineer, to test manager, to practice director, I had to learn all that stuff well enough to go into the business-side of running a testing practice. That’s very helpful now as I know the arguments for factory style commoditized testing inside and out, as I’ve used them all! 

I would never call myself a zombie, as that implies a mindlessness that I’ve never suffered from, but I definitely had a period of “un-enlightenment” about the mission of testing.

The biggest shift I’ve seen in my approach to testing and managing testers is that we are in the knowledge business not manufacturing. I think that is one of most common (and harmful) mistakes that testers and people in IT make when it comes to testing. Managing people who use their brains to creatively solve problems takes a complete paradigm shift in how you communicate and motivate them. 

The mistakes I’ve made in the past are not giving people enough autonomy to get their work done and removing fear from the organization structure. Fear is like an odorless, colorless gas that seeps under the door and before you know it, everyone is asleep. 

In all honesty, I’ve found that the more transparent I’ve been with people on strategy, operations, finances, etc. has actually made my attrition rates go down! That runs directly counter to the prevailing HR policy of telling people what YOU think they need to know to try to manage them better. My policy is tell them everything and let them manage their own expectations.

3) What was your biggest challenge in making the changes at Barclays? Did you get any pushback from the testers that were there?

Education is one of the biggest challenges due to stereotypes and ingrained bias developed from decades of bad metrics programs, flawed maturity models, and low value testing. Testers have to take responsibility for their own contribution to the problem as well, as we can re-inforce a lot of those perceptions by how we conduct ourselves and inherently limit our value. 

I believe that if you want to drive change in an organization and get congruent action from culturally and regionally diverse teams, you have to focus on what you are contributing to the problem first, articulate your values and principles to give people a lens to view their work, then develop strategies that are aligned to the business you support.

Funnily enough, when we cancelled all the metrics and maturity programs, some of the loudest protests were from the testers! And that’s because they didn’t know how to measure themselves outside of purely quantitative means; they couldn’t articulate their business value. Most of the folks left fairly early on but some stuck with it and are contributing in a really meaningful way now. 

My team has been absolutely fantastic in trusting me in making these cultural shifts, and it’s been the best job I’ll probably ever have. I am extremely fortunate to have the team around me that I have now and any success or recognition is down to their hard work and dedication.

4) What book(s) are you currently reading - and why are you reading them?

Right now I am reading two books “The Invisible Gorilla” by C Chabris and D Simons and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by D Kahneman. “The Invisible Gorilla” is about inattentional blindness and how it impacts what we believe we know about memory and observing things - both great topics for testers. 

Michael Bolton is an incredible reference for books that can inform the way you test and he’s probably given me a dozen great suggestions that I’m working my way through and I also put a bunch of stuff I consider "required reading" on my website.

5) You say in this blog post that the greatest challenge is finding good people - why do you think it's hard to find good testers? What makes a good tester to you - and what advice would you give to a new tester who wants to become a great one?

It’s hard to find good people for several reasons, but primarily, we are looking for people that are not coming at a task with a prescribed outcome in mind. The CDT community is relatively small and finding them at all is hard, and then try adding in people that are in the right country at the right time, and it’s nearly impossible! 

A good tester to me is humble, curious, honest, and knows how to construct an argument in the classical sense. My advice to anyone wanting to be a great tester is question everything, read A LOT, and get involved in the CDT community. Even if you don’t subscribe to everything that the CDT community believes in, it is a great place to debate, sharpen your arguments and learn. It can be a bit intimidating at first through its reputation for rigorous debate, but I have never seen a group of people more genuinely concerned for the betterment of testers.


Many thanks to Keith for taking the time to answer the questions in such depth.
Look out for more in this series of posts - if you want to be part of this or want to suggest someone then contact me or leave a comment.

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