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

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

5 Questions With Colin Cherry

Next in the series is Colin Cherry, a well-travelled test manager currently living in the land of Neighbours, Fosters, koala bears and kangaroos who seems to like having happy testers

1) What's your background, how did you get into testing, did you think you would be in it as long a you have?

I began writing software for a small finance company, based in London, in 1974 (you can do the maths on my vintage). I then spent most of the next 15 years working my way through the world of software development and began transitioning into software testing around 1989. I moved into software testing because I enjoyed spending time with business folk, trying to explain to them why the software they were using wasn't doing what they expected!!

I see myself as a problem solver and therefore working in an industry where I've been able to solve business and technical problems has been fantastic. In fact, over the last 10 or 11 years I've spent more and more time helping businesses adapt to the increasing influences of technology. I have designed the launch of several small and medium-sized businesses using the concept of the Model Office - a little known Testing technique that provides an environment within which you can model an entire business, a department or any sub-division thereof. I'm constantly amazed how few people use this technique - I've presented it at several conferences and now I'm working on an e-Book to spread the word.

The reason I've stayed within the world of software testing for over 20 years is that I have been able to influence organisational change across many industries and government agencies. I have a rule wherein I never work in the same industry/sector on consecutive jobs - this ensures that I remain flexible and creative in my delivery. I get bored easily, so working in new and challenging environments is good for me and my clients.

2) How is the testing scene in Australia ? You've worked in many countries, does each country seem to have it's own approach to testing ?

When I first came to Oz in 1990 I found it very difficult to find any thought leaders in the software testing arena. In 1995 I wanted to learn how to automate my tests, but had to go back to England for training - which ended up being a blessing as I met Dot Graham and Mark Fewster, who have remained good friends ever since. I went to my first EuroSTAR in 1999 (Barcelona) and hooked up with Donna O'Neill (CEO of IV&V Australia) and we began a quest to bring a major software testing conference to Oz. We succeeded in convincing the EuroSTAR folks to bring the concept here from 2001 until 2004. Now we have a dozen or so conferences each year of various sizes and formats. We are also building vibrant testing communities, even though we have significant geographic and economies of scale challenges.

I've worked on projects in the UK, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia since 2000 and there are very few differences that I see. All of these countries exhibit pockets of excellence while they also struggle to manage and deliver the larger more complex projects. I also developed a "follow the sun" test strategy for one major project in Australia about 7 years ago that relied heavily on technical cooperation and understanding - we had no real gaps in our joint capabilities across Asia Pacific, the Indian sub-continent, Europe and the Americas.

I think the single biggest challenge for the Australian Software Testing community is in developing it's own thought leaders and identities - we need to create more opportunities for this to occur. We don't have anyone of the calibre of Dot Graham, Michael Bolton, Martin Pol, James Whittaker, Rex Black etc.
Like many western countries, Australia has a highly paid professional testing population and this has led to many organisations looking offshore for alternative solutions. While I am on record as saying I am not a fan of "testing factories", I understand why this has happened. In fact, one of the Blog drafts I'm working on is about the current state of the software testing market in Australia, so hopefully you won't mind if I maintain my rage until I publish my Blog!!

3) What's your biggest challenge at the moment ?

The same as it has been for the past 20 years - convincing Project Managers and business stakeholders that prevention is far more effective than cure. Many years ago I met Ross Collard (another Testing thought leader) who introduced me to the concept of poke yoke (a Japanese term meaning mistake proofing) and this started me on a quest of prevention over cure. If every major organisation that relied on technology (yep, that's all of them) knew how to define their problems and needs effectively we would require far fewer developers and testers in the world. 

4) You had a blog post about being a Samurai Test Manager - does this mean you only recruit test Ninjas ? How difficult have you found it to recruit good testers, is it getting harder or easier and what are the things you look for when recruiting ?

Cute question, Phil. I'll deal with the Japanese aspect first and then the recruitment bit second. Samurai and Ninjas were never the best of friends!! Samurai followed very strict rules, were bound by a code of honour and were usually served a single master as a protector. Whereas, Ninjas (or Shinobi) were mercenaries and covert agents who focused on espionage, sabotage, assassination etc. What these folks did have in common was their dedication to the cause - their ability to prepare and practice relentlessly in order to be masters of their trades. This is why I have gravitated towards the historic Japanese cultures over the second half of my career.

It has definitely become harder to recruit professional testers in Australia, especially in the 3 to 5 years experience category. In my opinion there are a number of reasons for this
The arrival of various international consulting organisations (no I'm not going to name them and give them a free plug) into our testing market
The lack of realistic training and development budgets in the majority of organisations
The movement of young testers into the freelance/contract market as soon as they possibly can
The move to offshore jobs (this is also linked to (i) above) at the expense of building up our own software testing industry with graduate-intake programs.

I am a VERY harsh interviewer and hire based upon potential and beliefs/attitudes and this has been a very successful approach for me over the years. I refuse to compromise on the quality of the people I hire and how much I am willing to pay them. Far too many testers in Australia have a false sense of their worth and this is impacting the bottom line for many IT departments and increasing the focus on the "cost of quality". I build small, effective and highly skilled teams and pay them accordingly. I usually cut the size of teams I inherit (sometimes up to 50% get the chop) in order to reduce waste and overheads.

I believe that there is a direct link between our poor track record with implementing effective test automation strategies, the lack of building local skills from the bottom up and the increase in Australian companies looking to cheaper offshore solutions for their quality dollars.

5) What books are you reading at the moment and why ? 
(still waiting for someone to answer this with 'none' )

I've been thinking about books a lot lately, mainly because of the advent of the e-book and the impact it is having on our bookcase. As with music, I have fully embraced the digitisation of books, with my trusty iPad holding many technical titles and a few novels. However, I am beginning to miss the look and feel of my favourite books.

I'm currently sitting in our study looking at one of our remaining bookcases and I see cooking, travel, software testing, sports and self-help books dominating. I rarely read one book at a time - especially when it comes to technical titles and so my initial answer to your question is "Perfect Software..." and "Responding to Significant Software Events", both by Jerry Weinberg, "How Much is Enough" by Robert & Edward Skidelsky and "Experiences of Test Automation" by Dot Graham & Mark Fewster. I'm reading/referring to these books regularly at the moment, but I will never read one of these cover to cover.

Because I'm travelling a bit at the moment, I'm reading various Lonely Planet titles. I'm also reading various Yoga-related books, as my wife has just begun a 2-year teaching course and I like to be able to understand at least the basics of whatever she is interested in at any given time. I buy novels and biographies regularly, but probably only read about 50% of them within the following 12 months. As I said before, I love the aesthetics of books. Due to a myriad of clashing priorities it's been a while since I read a new novel cover to cover, but I am always dipping into our Douglas Adams collection (we have all his books) for inspiration and a great laugh.