TestSphere, The Making Of

The day was 17th of April, 2015 that I mailed Rosie of Ministry of Testing with an idea I had. The question I posed was whether a Testing Tarot Card deck would be something the community would be interested in.

Rosie had thought of something similar before and wanted to work with me on it.

I wanted to create a tool that is generic enough to suit most contexts and can guide testers to find new and exciting ways to approach the product under test.
I started developing something that eventually took the form of a Testing Tarot set.
– Beren

(italics are snippets from actual conversations.)

Phase 1: A Testing Tarot Card deck. – April, 2015

So cards have two sides:
One side is always printed with one/same logo/design.
The other side is printed with the character.
– Rosie

I had already created a list of concepts that would spark inspiration for your testing and connected this with a Tarot-style character.
This is an extract of how that looked:

list

Spreadsheet Keywords – Character – Image description

The next step was finding someone who could draw beautiful characters and designs for the cards.
After contacting several people, we found out that this would be very, very costly.
So we decided to go with someone from Fiverr.com who we’d heard good things about.


After completing about 20 drawings for us, she took 175$ and then vanished into thin air. We had less than half a card deck in a particular style which we couldn’t build on further.
Rosie had invested that money for nothing.

That was the first blow.site

Phase 2: The App – November, 2015

While waiting for the characters to come in, I had created a website to give a better overview of the card deck. This drove me into playing around with colours, logo, icons and a name.
Asking advice from people around me, I found someone who wanted to build this into an app.

To help inspire you, TestSphere doesn’t just give you an objective.
It offers an elaborate explanation of the objective and
gives several examples of how to test the objective.
– TestSphere pitch

 

At that point, we were a year later already. January 2016.
I hadn’t heard as much from Rosie as she was busy with the many other projects. In retrospect, she was right to do so, because I was still searching.
Even if I didn’t know that about myself at the time.


That same month, I was lucky to join 25 other testers on a peer conference: DEWT 6.
I pitched the concept, the website and the app to them.
They felt it had potential, but that it wasn’t quite there yet.

While they were offering constructive criticism, help, support and ideas, I was feeling demoralized. A stone had formed in my stomach.

That was the second blow.

Phase 3: The Card Game – Februari, 2016

Driving home again, I started to get new ideas. Back to basics. A card deck that wasn’t a fluffy fortune telling game, but a useful tool of learning and knowledge sharing.

Again I rethought the list of concepts, form and design of the card deck.
I introduced different dimensions and investigated more concepts to add to the deck. Real, useful and specific test related concepts that have the potential to get testers passionately talking and thinking.

Here’s an example of 9 cards of the first version of TestSphere: pat-3

happycard3

more-concepts

The focus shifted from fortune telling and test ideas to learning and knowledge sharing.


I pitched the new idea at TestBash Brighton as a 99-second talk and that was the moment it got picked up in earnest.
Rosie wanted to get it ready for TestBash Manchester. Marcel Gehlen tested out the game and offered a boatload of feedback.

In total: We liked the cards very much, we have some ideas how we can integrate them in our team / work and we think they add value. For gaming purposes we wanted more rules. If you ever come up with a stricter gaming rule set we are happy to try that out for you.
– Marcel Gehlen

Phase 4: TestSphere – Oktober, 2016

We further expanded on the cards, with examples that approach the concepts from different angles.
A real designer from MoT, Thomas Harvey, joined in and made it look awesome.

3-feelings23-feelings21

This is a product that can be used in many different ways and taps into your experiences, potential and creativity.
Whether you are an experienced developer or junior tester, this game will have you dig deeper and learn from each other.

TestSphere brings out the potential in you.


Phase 5: The Crowdfunding platform – Januari, 2017

We’ve come this far together. All the people who stood by me, supported me and offered advice and work:

Rosie, Marcel Gehlen, Melissa Eaden, Thomas Harvey, Dwayne Slootmans, Bert Lerno, Ben Van Daele and my wife.

Ministry of Testing have invested £20,000 for design, printing and handling.
In order to make that money back, we’ll need to sell about 1,000 card decks.
At the moment of writing, we’ve sold 220.

You can help us take this story further.
Inform your manager, your development team, your marketing team. Get them excited about TestSphere.

Get it at the Ministry of Testing Store.testsphere-15_1024x1024

Phase 6: ???

The App, revisited?
An extension on the Ministry of Testing Dojo, a great library of real life stories?

All we know is, this is far from over. We’re taking this further!

A Tale of Two Conferences

The past few weeks have been hectic for me. Hell, the last 6 months have been.
And it doesn’t look to be cooling down though, with Test Sphere needing a lot of new and uncharted attention.

I take this time to reflect upon the two conferences I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at:
Test Bash Manchester and EuroStar 2016 in Stockholm.

Similarities

The goal for both conferences was to meet as many people as possible, participate in discussions and learn from them, see what the hot subjects are in Testing and introduce Test Sphere to as many people as I can.
I was alone for both, but knew people at each conference. This enabled me to move between groups, but also gave me a ‘safe place’ to return to when fatigue strikes.

I was going to participate in every meetup, every extra activity and fill the glass to the brim.


Test Bash Manchester

I drove up to Manchester. That’s a 10 hour travel from Belgium,but god, England is beautiful in Autumn. Even from the highway you can enjoy the orange-and-yellow branded leaves that fill the landscape.

Once I arrived at Old Trafford, I called Richard and he invited me to join him at a bar.
The plans he and Rosie have for Ministry of Testing are incredible and I couldn’t help but wanting to participate in it.

And that’s the beauty of Ministry of Testing and Test Bash. You feel like one of the organizers. It’s completely up to you: Step up, take any of the chances that are given to you and you’ll be supported by the community to do more and get to the next level.
Test Bash makes everyone valuable. It makes everyone feel like a part of something greater. A community of testers that feels inclusive, open and exceptionally warm.

I drove back in one stretch, arrived late in the evening but still felt energized to last for days. That’s what Test Bash does to me.


Eurostar Stockholm

It’s huge. There’s so much going on I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I stayed in Stockholm for 5 days and try to do as much as I possibly could. But having to choose between 4 different talks left me feeling as if I was losing every time.

The talks I attended were generally very interesting and I’ve taken away quite a few explicit ideas for my day-to-day work and probably more ideas that aren’t as concrete, but will re-surface when the need arises. Especially Alexandra Sladebeck and Liz Keogh‘s talks and ideas resonated with me.

There are so many big names in testing speaking and attending that I was seeing stars. Because I wanted to spread the good word of Test Sphere and looked for a few apostles to do so too, I approached most of them and tried to convince them to do workshops with the cards.
These Testing Stars are incredibly friendly and always up for a chat. They are interested in what you have to say and will give you things to think about.

This is the big advantage of EuroStar over Test Bash: Tons of opportunities and there is a much broader reach.

But this has a negative side too:
There is a central hall where most time is spent. It’s filled with vendors and companies that seem completely disconnected with what’s being talked about in the sessions.
It is my interpretation that this central hall fixates on Repetition in testing and that most talks advocate for Diversity and Variation.
That frightens me. Especially as Jon Bach revealed 50% of the attendees of his talk considered themselves Test Managers.

The late night activities proved to be exactly what I imagined them to be. Good food, drinks, discussions, getting to know each other better and forging relationships.


To summarize

Test Bash made me feel at home, welcomed and valued. EuroStar gave me the impression I was certainly welcome but still a newcomer and was ‘on my way to become a member’.
Both feelings are good. One gives me a safe environment and the other challenges me.

I left EuroStar with many questions and things to consider, such as the state of our craft vs. the state of the testing market and why I want to become a speaker. Test Bash made speaking feel like a natural next step.
Asking questions and introspection are necessary, feeling encouraged is too.

Both conferences offered a ton of ideas to consider and many opportunities to act on. Workshops, collaborations, job prospects and possible sponsors for Test Sphere.

And to the question of “why I signed up to become a speaker in the first place?”, the answer is: People.
Anything I do and want to do well is because of my love for good and honest people.
I need that, in order to feel happy.
I want to move forward with teams and grow everyone around me by any means necessary.
To achieve this, I first have to meet all these wonderful people.

Such as Marcel and Ard:

cvsjwtxwaaa9mwz unnamed

We-Were-Testers

I’m writing this from my hotel room in Stockholm, after attending and conferring at Eurostar 2016. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and was able to meet so many different and passionate testers from places I didn’t even know had testers.

But this experience was somewhat spoiled by something completely different.
Here’s a few things that get me all riled up: Pokémon that run away and injustice. (amongst other things)

Today I’m complaining about injustice.

The Context

This injustice comes from a source that I had hoped valued integrity and transparency as much as it marketed to be: We-Are-Testers.com. (WAT)
They provide a service, like many other crowd testing companies, that links a customer with specific needs to a number of testers who are willing to jump at the opportunity to test something new AND make a few extra bucks while doing it.

I welcome this idea as it offers me the chance to do some extra testing, but also get some pocket-money to spend.
This mission, I had two days time to test an application on an Iphone and come up with linguistic issues in it.

Pretty easy right? Especially because all the Dutch text I had to review seemed to be copy pasted from a Google translate service.

However, some constraints hindered me: Only two days of testing were foreseen and the first day I spent an hour trying to install the app, only to find out the configuration of the install thingy didn’t work for me. An admin from WAT had to correct this for me.

The second day I was able to test for two hours before the deadline.
I logged 18 bugs, which would amount to maximum 144 EUR.

how-to-report-bugs

All required fields were filled in, as per agreement. Steps, expected outcome and actual outcome were all given as well as any other required fields. (How else would I be able to submit the bug?!)

Later, the next day, mails came flying in. INCOMPLETE, INCOMPLETE, INCOMPLETE.

Wait a second, there seems to be something wrong…
I hadn’t included screenshots.
Ok, I agree that a screenshot is pretty handy to have in most bugs.
HOWEVER, in this context, with two hours time to find as many bugs as possible, making, uploading, downloading, linking,… screenshots would heavily cut into my bug-finding time.

Steps, the name of the screen where the bug was found, the actual text and what it should become had to be more than enough for meager text issues.

In any case, for the three hours of work I wouldn’t see a penny.
And me being me, I kind of want to make a problem out of that.

Gathering evidence

payment-policy how-to-report-bugs

The Discussion

I contacted the moderators and spokespeople from WAT, who are generally really nice guys and girls, to ask them to look into my situation.

Argument 1: Their website’s “Payment Policy” doesn’t mention Screenshots are a requisite for payout. It specifically says attachment only if relevant.

Argument 2: The mission’s “How to report a bug” doesn’t mention Screenshots are a requisite for a complete bug.

Argument 3: If Screenshots are a necessity for this project, please please please make the input field for screenshots a required field?

This is a clear miscommunication, so I gave them time to find out how they’d handle my situation.
Today I heard that I wouldn’t get a dime for my efforts, that it was unfortunate but that it was virtually my own fault.

reply

My point is not whether screenshots should or shouldn’t be added to bugs.
My point is that WAT is telling me I should not be paid because I didn’t adhere to a rule that I can’t find anywhere in their Terms of Agreement, Payment Policy, FAQ or Mission Description.

They did offer four extra hours to insert the screenshots. At noon. While I’m at work. Thanks a lot!

They argue that the devs need screenshots, but frankly, that’s not my problem.
WAT provides a service to the devs. I provide a service to WAT.

WAT should carry the burden of handling communication errors on their part,
And I shouldn’t be the one to suffer from the gaps they leave.

I’m pretty sure those bugs will be fixed in the next version. But regardless of that, not paying people because of rules applied by a third party seems kind of illegal to me.

If you don’t agree, let me know.

remuneration

Consult the TestSphere

Last Friday was TestBash Manchester and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.
The talks are inspiring, the organisation is impeccable, facilitators are the friendliest people ever and then there’s the people that attend:

All these speakers, listeners, organizers, attendants,… make you feel right at home.
They are what make every edition of Test Bash legendary.

This time, I got the privilege of meeting a whole ton of them while handing out a new card game Rosie and me put together.

testsphere

 

TestSphere: The tool

TestSphere is an idea that has been worked on for two years, has seen 5 different implementations and eventually came alive as a 100-card card deck.

A hundred cards, each featuring one keyword that has something to do with testing.
This keyword is further explained with:

  • A category:
    • Quality aspects
    • Techniques
    • Heuristics
    • Patterns
    • Feelings
  • A slogan
  • Three examples of how this keyword could impact your testing

That’s it! One hundred cards full of test-vocabulary and inspiration.
Can you already imagine how you could use that?

testsphere

TestSphere: The Ice Breaker

Step 1: Spot a lone tester
Step 2: Walk up to them and draw a random TestSphere Card i.e. “Equivalence Partitioning”
Step 3: Ask: “How has “Equivalence Partitioning” affected your testing? Do you have a story or experience to share about that?

What follows is that person thinking a few seconds and eventually give you an interesting story that is the beginning what possibly is a good discussion on that keyword.
Another thing that could happen is the person not understanding what you mean. This gives you the opportunity to practice explaining your testing.
Either way, you’ll have started a discussion where you can coach, teach and learn at the same time.

Additionally: Just keep the cards on your desk at work. Developers, Business people, Managers who come to your desk will say “Ooh, shiny colours! What’s that?”.
Before you know it, you’re teaching your coworkers a thing or two about testing.

testsphere

TestSphere: The Game

Step 1: Find a group of 4 to 8 persons
Step 2: Divide the deck by category (20 cards each)
Step 3: Depending on the experience of the group: reveal one or more cards
Step 4: As soon as one person can think of a story that features all revealed cards he or she knocks on the table
Step 5: Tell the story
Step 6: This person takes the revealed cards as full points
Step 7: Other people can also tell their stories to get unrevealed cards for half points.

The person that gets X points first or most points by X time wins.
Easy right? You’ve just gotten a whole group of people thinking deeply about their previous testing experiences and put those experiences to verse.

Additionally: After or even during the game identify opportunities for coaching and helping the others. Point them to resources or people who might help them get more insight.

testsphere

TestSphere: The Unblocker

So you find yourself bored, blocked, sad or stuck?
The best thing you can do at those times is learn something new.

Draw a random card.
Can this idea infuse your testing in a new way?

  • Have you tried the “too many” heuristic?
  • Have you tested the “Accessibility” Quality Aspect?
  • Could you try doing some “Pair Testing” Techniques?
  • Try exploring your product by applying “force” in creative ways.
  • How would an “Irritated” or “Angry” user use your application?

Additionally: If you don’t know the word on the card, or feel you don’t know if well enough: try to find more opportunities of learning about the concept!

testsphere

TestSphere: Unlimited Possibilities

Job interviews, Brainstorming, Lean Coffee, Analysis tooling, Visual connecting concepts together, Exploring opportunities for personal growth, Storytelling without using keywords, Generating random Test Persona, Re-categorizing the whole thing and connecting the words using different logic,…


TestSphere has been deliberately kept free from rules. I believe testers are creative enough to find use cases on their own and decide for themselves which ones are valuable and which are not.

The only constant is learning from stories and experiences. From your own and from those around you.

We’re not quite ready for mass distribution. We’re still feeling out the market.
However, there will be an option to pre-order one or more decks in the future.

Be sure to hear about it at: @TestSphere

cvxoqo7xeaanmez

Software Intelligence

In preparation for my Eurostar Conference talk, I’ve been researching quite a bit into learning behaviour, experiential learning and social behaviour. More CGJungspecifically, the ideas of: Jung, Piaget, Dewey, Lewin & Kolb.

Each on their own they already offer a wealth of knowledge. Combined… well, it’s been an interesting year so far. So much information, so much to process.


This post is not about what I’ve learned, it’s about what is currently going through my head and what I need to put to pen.

Reflection

Triggered by all that research, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately. Who I am, what I want to achieve, how I fit in the project puzzle and what I find important in my working environment.

Some examples of recent milestones that pushed me to my current mind-set:

  • My fellow tester and me have both done an MBTI test and discussed the pains and gains of our professional relationship based on the results.
  • During retrospectives we’ve been asking directly for feedback of how the team might benefit more from our efforts.
  • A team member called me ‘just a tester’ and I had to tackle that. Even though it was said ‘in good fun’ you can’t accept such remarks lest they become reality.
  • I’ve made a list of all the activities I do, how important I think they are, how important I think they are for the team and how much time I spend on them.

The result of that list is that I spend 1/3rd of my time on actual testing. Another third is spent supporting the team in various ways: Communicating, coordinating, prioritizing, delegating, increasing involvement for team members,…
The last third is reserved for change management, monitoring, communicating with business and more activities that are more business and project management facing.

Am I a software tester? Absolutely.
Am I an important point of contact for business? Yes!
Am I a team psychologist? At times.
Am I a coach, quality advocate, release manager, gatekeeper,… ? Yes, whenever the project needs me to be one.

What do you call all this?

This way of thinking leads me to believe that Software Testing is not the best way to describe our efforts. At least, for my current context it isn’t.
Every day I ask myself: “what can I do today, that brings the most value to the team I can possibly achieve?”. The answer to that question is only 33% of the time: Software Testing.

Personally, I think my role would better be described as Software Intelligence.
A person or team with a wide range of skills that changes and adapts to achieve its core mission: “finding important information quickly”.

This draws a parallel with Military Intelligence. An organisation that uses absolutely any means necessary to get the information they need in order to report to decision makers.
They have people in the field, machines that are monitoring, recruits from outside groups that help them and work closely together with other military defence organisations…

Similarities

Software Intelligence is a group of activities that encompasses Testing, Checking and any other tasks that fall on you in your current context.

For example, I have scheduled contact with a person from business who plays a big role in how our product is perceived. During those meetings, I’m mindful of the information I give him, as too much might influence his perception of our work and I try to gather as much information from him by (hopefully) asking the right questions.
I’m the spy who contacts the informant.

Another one. Through the network of users who favour me, I’ve come to know about a big and mysterious problem in production. A quick fix was rolled out, but we have no idea what caused the issue in the first place. For the time being we installed a lightweight but reliable monitoring tool that alarms us when action is required.
I’m the creator of a monitoring satellite.

There’s plenty of other parallels and probably some differences too.
However, Software Intelligence makes a lot more sense to me.

I’m not advocating for a large scale shift of job titles, we don’t need that. I only feel that Testing as an activity is a big part of my job, but that Tester doesn’t correctly describe my role in the team.

When I listen to and read many stories of other testers, I’m inclined to believe many are in the same situation.

homer-intelligence

Are Test Cases Dead (…yet)?

It’s been a while ago since Rosie asked us this question. (http://www.ministryoftesting.com/2016/04/test-cases-dead-yet/)

You can find multiple answers there from testers around the world and the sheer number and diversity of answers continues to baffle me.
Ask any tester for a definition or an explanation of what she does and you’ll get a different answer.

The same is true for designers, developers, analysts and probably any job that requires intellectual and creative thinking.
But why are we different? I don’t see any people in other roles questioning the definition of their craft, or pondering how they should explain themselves to others.
Yet we do so on a weekly basis.
Every week there’s a new blog post, Tweet, Slack discussion or Forum thread about who we are, what we stand for or should stand for and how we can explain or do things differently.

I’m no exception to this. I’m searching for my own answers, trying out different things and experimenting with what I can find or come up with myself.

Are we so misunderstood and mistreated that we have to devise new ways and machinations to seem valuable and become respected? Some of the practices we still cling on to have mutated over the years and have become fetishes.

I have come to believe that Test Cases are such tricks.
To me, Test Cases are a step by step description of a scenario, and in the end an expected result.
Someone, somewhere, needed a way to present the work of his or her testers in easy-to-swallow, countable pieces. That’s nothing preposterous. If you boil it down enough, (and forget all the interesting stuff) testing becomes an overload of information in this scheme:

“If someone does X, Z happens.”

Which is the lowest level possible of an requirement, user story, expectation, or whatever you wish to call it.
Essentially, you get a huge list of check results, but with the actual outcome, instead of an expected.

If you look at testing this way, Test Cases make perfect sense.
Additionally, over the years Test Cases have gotten many different reasons to justify working with them.

  • Newby testers can execute them and learn from them.
  • They can be used to document the product.
  • They can be used to manage the state of the product.

I, however, think they’re a special kind of torture. If ever I get sent below to do the devil’s bidding, it won’t be an apple just out of reach that torments me. No, it’ll be a Test Case management tool that never gets filled.

Over the past projects I’ve participated in I’ve frequently been asked to do Test Cases. Here’s a couple of experiences:

Project 1
Problem:
Testing of a Healthcare device that freezes mid visit. They asked me to analyze the documentation, create test cases and then test to reproduce the error.

I ignored these instructions, simulated a visit on the device and found the error 5 minutes after getting my hands on the tablet. Test Cases were filed afterwards and never read.

Solution:
The combined testing effort for this project was 0,5 day. The only thing I contributed was providing information on where a most critical bug that was threatening the project could be found. Nothing more, but I did it in a couple of minutes.

Project 2
Problem:
Project was failing, product was riddled with bugs. They asked me to analyze the documentation, create test cases and then test to find as many bugs as possible.

I ignored the instructions, started exploring, learning, modeling and logging all the bugs I encountered. When I thought it was needed, I documented some behavior in Test Case format. The Project Manager was happy, but that’s about all I have to show for the effort of writing those scenario’s.

Solution:
We found all kinds of bugs fast and were able to rapidly learn what was important to the client.

Project 3
Problem:
Project was failing. There was a severe disconnect between Users and Development team. No testing was done and when the client saw the product for the first time, it was a fiasco.

I was asked to read documentation, write Test Cases, test and log bugs.
However, in this case, the firm I was working at would get ‘points’ for doing any of the following per module: Write Test Cases, Execute Test Cases and Provide a Test Report. The more points we got, the more we could bill.
We put in an immense amount of time to create the scripts and making them executable. Afterwards, we’d pass/fail them in such a way that it’d be enough to get the “done” state and get the points.
In hindsight, we put in a lot of effort to adhere to rules that brought us no extra value except for the analysis work we did.
We could’ve worked faster and better if we hadn’t had to invest time and energy in a task that brought us nothing.
Oh, and yes, we’ve had newby testers and users execute the scripts. The format taught them nothing except to follow a script. They did not know WHY they were doing them.
The things used to manage the state of the project, were the important bugs.

Solution:
What eventually brought success to the project, was a close understanding and coalition between business and testers.

My Conclusions.

I have yet to come across a context where Test Cases are the single best solution to a problem. In my experience, they divert from the essential tasks.
Rapid information gathering, learning and reporting combined with good working relations with your stakeholders trump just about anything else.

When writing scripts I feel brain-dead, a monkey doing monkey’s work. It feels like I’m wasting my time. I know nobody is interested in the scripts themselves. They might feel more assured if there are several Test Cases, but that’s a false sense of security.
And I haven’t even started executing them. Imagine having to do half a day’s work by a step by step instructional script. Again and again. Day after day.

I want to be a creative, intelligence worker that has my stakeholders best interest at heart. I want to protect them from unwelcome surprises and support my team to deliver true value.
I want my way of working to reflect those goals, to hone and to strengthen them.
Be it in Charters, Mind Maps or Checklists.

Test Cases are dead… to me at least.


bring-out-yer-dead

Grading Proposals: My Experience

After writing a few of my own proposals to attend conferences I was asked to participate in grading proposals for Test Bash Philadelphia.
This is my experience.


Let me start by stating the first core lesson of this exercise:

Everyone should get the chance to read through a whole batch of proposals before writing their own.

When I started out, I had no idea what a good proposal looked like.
There are limited resources available concerning this topic, and Helena’s tips are the first that come to mind.
While I have nothing much to add to her tips, I can give you an insight in how I tackled the grading process, how I believe others do this and what made me decide in colouring things red and not green.

How I set to work

My goal is to provide relevant information to the people who make the decisions. Sounds like testing, right? Right!
What’s relevant information? My feelings, my thoughts and my judgment.

I should always keep in mind that little biases of are steering me, influencing me towards outcomes that might be slightly different from what I intend.

I try to ward myself from these influencing factors as best as possible.
It should be completely anonymous. As an objective grader, I shouldn’t be bothered with the name of the person, the gender, the ethnicity or anything else. The only thing that is important are the description of the talk, the takeaways for the public and the format.

Graders are not organizers. They shouldn’t take into account who you are, only your description counts and what you might bring to the conference.

I’m fully aware that there is A LOT more to organizing a conference than just filtering information. That’s Rosie and Richard’s jobs. With their combined experience, integrity and skill I have every confidence they’ll carry this conference to great heights.
I hope I have served them well.

It has to be stellar.

While I usually forgive a few spelling errors, typo’s, formatting errors,… (as I’m definitely not perfect myself) I do think that when you submit an official proposal to a conference, you want to radiate an aura of quality and reliability.
If the people deciding whether you go up on stage or not (which was not my role) can’t depend on you to be excellent in your proposal, how can they be confident in your ability to give a quality talk?

Additionally, every spelling error, formatting mistake and sentence that breaks off too early risks me believing your work is of lesser quality than it actually is.

It has to be real.

I don’t like sales talks. I don’t like one-size-fits all and I don’t like people telling me how I should do what I do.
Please, tell me about the troubles you faced and what made you investigate your new and bright idea. Give me a story of how you developed a solution and how you implemented it. Don’t shy away from your hardships, troubles and possible failures. It’s those that learn us the most. They make for a compelling story.

I want you to be real and I want your story to be real.
When I’m reading a submission and feel that it serves more to expose you than bring value to the attendees, that’s a red flag for me.

It has to be thorough.

People who investigate their own ideas, have them reviewed, read books about them and do their field work will have their chances boosted, as far as I’m concerned.
I believe that anyone can come up with a variation on a beaten-path topic and get away with it.
Don’t take the easy road. The experience you gain is unique, take it by the horns and refine it. Learn from it and make it teachable.

Invest in your ideas. Gather more information, discuss them, read books and dig deeper.

The final verdict

For each proposal, I supplied positive and negative points and eventually a colour:
Red, Orange or Green.

I must say that I’ve often struggled to decide and rechecked everything before finally judging.
This is not an easy task, but you learn a lot from it. Trust me.

In the end, I’ve selected (for myself) a good lucking bunch of proposals that I would love to attend myself. I envy the people that will be there.

testbashphilly


These are the three big pillars I based my grading experience on. Next time, I’ll try to look broader than just my thoughts and feelings but try to empathize with what others might find interesting.
That’s bound to be a much harder experience.

TestBash Brighton 2016: Homecoming

TestBash is the Mecca for testers around the world.
I have been wanting to go for a long, long time. It’s got a ton of interesting, great people who are, on top of that, highly experienced and motivated testers!
Alas, this year, I wasn’t going to make it. Weeping, I looked forward to the twitterstorm that would leave me somewhat involved and envious of the people who were able to attend.

Wednesday

Then, Steve happened.

Completely by surprise, the news of me being able to go to TestBash2016 swept me off my feet: unprepared and unplanned a spot just opened up for me.
I have Steve Green from TestPartners (London) to thank. A colleague of his wasn’t able to make it and Steve decided to bestow the ticket to a tester he deemed worthy.
I got lucky, as I was apparently the only tester available who could clear his schedule.
A free test bash ticket and a hotel to spend the night were mine to enjoy.

Thursday

By the time I drove to Brighton, I knew more about Test Bash than I needed but much, much less than I wanted to.
That evening, I wandered the streets of Brighton in search of testers who I’d recognize from Twitter and/or Slack profile pictures or tried to pick up flashes of test-speak.
Needless to say, that tactic wasn’t too successful.

After some frantic twittering and emailing, I finally got the coordinates to some covert, next-to-the-beach pub that had an open bar, about 200 testers and plenty of discussions ranging from forehead-tattoos and the most funny bug people had uncovered.
I got drawn right in. It felt like homecoming. Everywhere I looked I saw faces of people whom I’d chatted with, read blogposts from, had reached out to and had shared ideas with.
It was like seeing your family again, after being abroad for way too long.

I was there for about two beers time and met so many people I wanted to compliment and thank for the impact they’ve had on me as a tester.
Rosie, Richard, Vernon and Huib were the first to greet me. They introduced me to several other new people I had already met, but hadn’t recognized.

Anna Baik, I wanted to thank for her involvement on the Tester Slack group and her guarding of the integrity of the community on that channel, even if it’s easier to disregard people who ask the wrong questions. So I did. And I hope it sounded much more earnest in person than it would do over twitter or chat.

Helena Jeret-mäe, I thanked for helping me with creating a proposal for Let’s Test. Even though I didn’t make the cut that time, she told me what she appreciated about my effort, what could be better and on top of things, she gave me two more challenges. The first, I completed a day later: “Participate in the 99-second talks”.
Furthermore, she told me of her experiences and why she does what she does, further motivating me to make my own kind of music.

Friday

Eight hours later, I woke up to the sound of seagulls. Brighton! Right! pre-TestBash run, Let’s go!
Seven other crazy runners and me jogged along the Brighton coastline for a few miles and talked about each other’s Test work and sporting goals.

CdQAew1UYAE_QByIt’s a fun tradition that cleared my head and sharpened my mind for the whirlwind of a day to come.
Full English Breakfast, with capital letters, was enriched by getting to know my benefactor, Steve Green and his colleagues. If I ever consider working in London, his shop would be my place to go. During the course of a breakfast it became clear our ideas about testing are very aligned.
If you’re looking for a test gig in London and are tired of mindless testing and rigid processes, contact Steve. Really.

The conference had yet to start but my expectations were already met. I had met great people. Steve and all the people from the day before would have left me satisfied for a long time.
It had only been the beginning…

I made it a point to not linger too long with the same person, so as to not miss to many others. I was there to connect, thank, appreciate and get to know other testers  and set a foundation for later interactions.
I met a huge number of people whom I’m looking forward to get to know better. Time did not permit more than that.

Apart from the great interactions with incredible people there were of course, the conference talks.
Two of these really stood out for me. Katrina Clokie’s experience report of organizing pairwork in her company struck a chord with me. Not because she told us the advantages pairing bring, but because of her methodical way of organizing, iterating and improving upon it. Katrina is a big personality through her modesty and a huge asset to the testing community.

Bill Matthews’ talk had me shivering in my seat. He started with a fun, entertaining demo of not-so-smart, smart algorithms. Do you know the “Calculate my age from my picture” or “which dog is on this picture” algorithm? Played around with it?
Funny, right?
Well, imagine algorithms like that controlling your car or calculating what the maximum price you’re willing to pay for your train ticket fares would be. Imagine them influencing the way you think, buy, make decisions,… the way that marketing does.
Scary, huhn?
How would you test these algorithms and the effects the have?
It gave me the willies , I tell you.

Between talks I met another tester, who’s hometown I share. It was his first Testing Conference and it was clear that a whole world was opening up to him. I’ll be seeing more of him, I’m sure.

I could write many, many more stories about these very limited hours and I could elaborate on the ones here a whole deal more.
If you have read this far, you probably already got the message:

Attend
TestBash

Really.

Capture

DEWT, where’s the bar?

For those not in the know, DEWT (pronounced similar to “dude”) is the Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing. It’s a peer conference and “boy, a hell of a lot of fun!”.

Feelings beforehand

As a person, I was incredibly nervous driving towards the conference. I knew no one. The next 48 hours would be spent with 25 total strangers.
On top of that, there was a chance I’d had to present my experience report. Everyone had to prepare an experience report in advance, with the possibility of presenting it. After these presentations, rigorous and in-depth discussion would ensue.
In my mind’s eye, I saw my ideas torn to pieces by highly critical, well versed testers.

As a tester, I felt curious. I had heard and read a lot of good things about peer conferences. Yet, many stories tell of ‘peer-conferences-gone-bad” as well. (I learned a few extra during DEWT as well.) I wanted to know what takes place, how it’s organized and how the atmosphere felt. It turned out to be incredible experience that was surprisingly embracing.

I’m caught. I feel energized, backed up, and dizzy from all the ideas going around in my head and butterflies in my belly. I got to know so many interesting and lovable people. Each one of them brought something different to the conference and everyone’s perspective was heard, nay, absorbed.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t put 25 people of any other same profession together and experience a likewise challenging, passionate, engaging, yet open and friendly surge of energy as I did this weekend.

The Bar

I was terribly late. Traffic, you see. But I was lucky the organizers saved me a plateful of food.
A few minutes later, I was talking with three other testers on our way to the bar. They were telling me all about their current project, how they became a team and how they are still improving.

I listened and asked questions. I felt right in.

At the bar, beers were provided and games were conjured. The hotel provided everything we could possibly need. Snacks were brought before you knew you could do with some food and whatever drink you liked suddenly appeared in your hand a few moments later.

Before long, we grew closer together, in a safe environment filled with laughter and like-minded people. Not a worry around us.

I fell asleep just before my head hit the pillow.

Day one

What followed, was a full day of presentations and discussions. Everyone pitched in and offered help, a unique viewpoint, books, podcasts, articles and plenty of other triggers.

Most of what was discussed that day will seep into my every day test work over time, I’m sure.
Even today it dawned on me, that where I am working, even right down to the team I am working with, is suffering from a syndrome Ard Kramer laid bare that day. Ard’s presentation was about communicating risk, but what struck me today was a particular slide handling “meaning vs. systems”.
I’ve only been a month at my current project, but have had weekly “process improvement meetings”. Yet, no “value” or “meaning” or “purpose” meeting was had ever.

I had never looked at it that way. Ard showed me and he gave me a tool to communicate it.

The presentations where varied and each gave a different dynamic to the group discussions. I remember Susan’s presentation fondly about a shared responsibility problem and the coaching, understanding and kind words that followed. Or Joep’s presentation that talked of a success-story of some sorts but had a few people’s emotions (my own included) flare up for various reasons. Another presentation by Thomas had us all awestruck by it’s compelling and comprehensive mindmap, listing all the different dimensions of communication.

Day one was long and full of learning. It ended with Michael Bolton visiting on the way through, him playing his mandolin and a group performance of “500 miles”.
Whiskey tasting, party snacks, good beer, good talks, great music and perfect company.

Day two

Nothing much seemed changed on Sunday. Never change a winning team, right?
That’s what we thought…

Until chaos unravelled. Sweet chaos.
After a talk by Femke and Philip about pair testing and how they learned to interact with each other, it was Joep’s turn again.
Apparently, he had decided he had played enough with our feelings the day before. Today, he’d f*** with our minds.
He didn’t have to try too hard either, I guess…

“A workshop”, he told us. “A workshop that will combine all the different things you learned this weekend into one big mindmap. And I’ve got just the way to do it!”

Have you ever tried to build a mind map with another person? Have you ever done it with five? Have you ever combined four five-person mindmaps together?

Well, we did. And it wasn’t pretty.
It did get us to think about how everything fitted together and how everything we touched upon was linked.
Even though it might not look like it on a wall, it did in my head.

Thank you

These past days have left me invigorated, gave rebirth to old ideas in a new light, generated new ideas, provided fond memories and newfound friends.
What else could a person want?WP_003561

The BBST Foundations course: Week 4

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The Final Week

It’s the monday of the last week of BBSt, I flunked the last assignment and that had angered me.
In fact, this released a lot of the frustrations I had towards the course in one moment.

I had a short discussion with the instructor and this cleared up a few things. I hadn’t quite understood in what way I had to explain my answer and the instructor hadn’t found what I wanted to say.

We had a long google-hangout session and cleared a lot of things out. Apparently, there were a few videos and pages I missed that were key to answering the exam successfully.

For example, there’s a list of keyword. If the question contains “List X” you give 3 examples of that list. Number 4 and number 5 will be ignored, unless they contain errors; in that case, they’ll subtract marks.
Another, If it says “Describe”, you have to paint a picture. “Describe the Weibull curve” becomes: “A fast surge in the beginning, a flattening until it reaches the peak and then a deep plummet down until its pace declines and steadily, but slowly falls down to 0.

So yes, you need to know these things to be successful in the course. No, it has nothing to do with testing, apart from the fact that “precision reading” is a core skill of a tester.

I eventually got to fill out all the exam questions and discussed several answers of the other students.
I tried to be everywhere and discuss everything worth discussing.
In the end, there was a lot less activity this week than all the others.


The Exam

The exam was a three day, closed book exam. The instructors count on your honour not  to cheat. But it’s really easy to cheat. Really, really easy…. And we’re testers.
Testers cheat.

I had everything stored locally. All my answers, all other people’s answers, all the quizzes…
My book is full of post-its with all the definitions and important information on it.

I really like cheating, I do.
Yet somehow, I was able to fight the temptation. My honour is unscathed. This is probably because I didn’t really need it. I had answered every question already before and I had done this meticulously. I was pretty confident in my answers.
Apart from that, during the exam, you experience sparks of brilliance. You think of things you weren’t able to before.

Gabi, the instructor, had told me that might happen. I didn’t believe it, but paid attention to it none-the-less. He was right.

After the Exam

Ru, another instructor, and me went over my exam questions in a Skype meeting. She had lots of feedback and gave me an appreciation for my answers.
Even-though there was a question in the pool which I had answered similarly wrong as the practice question, Ru gave me the chance to defend and change my initial answer.

The conclusion in the end was:

  • I have successfully completed the course
  • My exam met expectations
  • I was one of the most active students across many foundations courses.

Aftermath

I have already stressed how interesting the material is and how much I’ve learned from the course. It’s good. The course is by far the best testing course I’ve learned about by now.

If you’re looking to send your testers on a course, take this one.
Really.

There’s a few things I didn’t really like though, but I can see why they are the way they are and how they each have their own function.

  1. I disliked my experience of the online component.
    While I really like functioning in diverse teams, I absolutely disliked it in this format. Don’t get me wrong I really liked the people I met and got to know. Maybe someday, we’ll meet again. But generally, I felt it was a distraction. Every task is focused on the individual, with the option to give feedback on others.
    Most of this feedback is about questions. “Why did you say/do it like that?”. You ‘lose time’ explaining your words and ideas, rather than have an in depth discussion.
    Sure, this is how it works in the real world. But I get enough of that in the real world already, here I want to learn and learn in depth.
  2. I disliked the Exam format.
    To me, the exam is not a good representation of “did I make the course or not”. It serves two functions: One; it’s a learning opportunity. A way to further process what you’ve learned. Two; it’s a measure of how well you completed the course.
    I felt it focused way too much on precision reading and precision writing than on what you’ve understood from the course.
    It’s very academic. I understand why, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
    I would really like to know how many from my class got their ‘certification’. That way I could take a guess at how high I should hold it in esteem.

I have felt frustrated throughout most of the course, but I have learned a ton.

Thank you, Cem, Altom, Ru, Gabi, the other instructors and all my fellow students for your efforts and knowledge sharing. I imagine I wasn’t the easiest student, but I’m grateful for the chance of learning with you.