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.

1 comment:

talkativetothemax said...

Awesome blog post! I particularly enjoyed reading the answer to the first question with regards to getting involved in Twitter and in the software testing community :)