Monday, October 16, 2017

Innocent until proven guilty

I read a post Four Episodes of Sexism at Tech Community Events, and How I Came Out of the (Eventually) Positive and while all the accounts are all too familiar, there is one aspect that I feel strongly about. Story #3 recounts:
It takes me two years to muster the confidence to go to another tech event.
The lesson here is that it is ok to remove yourself from situations where you don't feel comfortable. There is a very real option for many people that we don't show up because someone can make us feel uncomfortable in ways that matter.

I hate the ways people report being made feel uncomfortable. And I particularly hate when someone reports a case where they were made uncomfortable being dismissed or belittled by the organizers of conferences because there is a belief that the "offenses" are universally comparable. That alleged perpetrators are always innocent until proven guilty. This idea is what makes people, word against word in positions of unequal power, allow for the bad behaviors to continue.

There will not be clear cut rules of what you can and cannot do in conferences to keep the space safe. Generally speaking, it is usually better to err on the side of safe. So if you meet someone you like beyond professional interests in a professional conference, not expressing the interest is on the safe side.

Some years ago, I was in a conference where someone left half-way though the conference for someone else's bad behavior. I have no clue what the bad behavior was, and yet I side with the victim. For me, it is better to err on the side of safe again, and in professional context reports like this don't get made lightly. Making false claims is not the common way of getting rid of people, even if that gets recounted with innocent until proven guilty.

We will need to figure out good ways of mediating issues. Should a sexist remark cost you a place in the conference you've paid for - I think yes. Should a private conversation making others overhearing it cost you a place in the conference you've paid for - I think yes. On some occasions, an apology could be enough of a remediation, but sometimes protecting the person who was made feel unsafe takes priority and people misbehaving don't have the automatic access to knowing who to get back to for potential retaliation. It's a hard balance.

The shit people say leave their marks. I try not to actively think of my experiences, even forget them. I don't want to remember how often saying no to a personal advance has meant losing access to a professional resource. I don't want to remember how I've been advised on clothing to wear while speaking in public. I don't want to remember how my mistakes have been attributed to whole of my gender. There's just so much I don't want to remember.

Consequences of bad behaviors can be severe. Maybe you get kicked out of 2000 euro conference. Maybe you get fired from the job. Maybe you get publicly shamed. Maybe you lose a bunch of customers.

Maybe you learn and change. And if you do, hopefully people acknowledge the growth and change.

If you don't learn and change, perhaps excluding one to not exclude others is the right thing to do.

In professional settings we don't usually address litigation, just consequences of actions and actions to create safer spaces. Maybe that means taking the person stepping forward feeling offended seriously, even when there is no proof of guilt.

I don't want people reporting years of mustering the confidence to join the communities again. And even worse, many people reporting they never joined the communities again, leaving the whole industry. I find myself regularly in the verge of that. Choosing self-protection. Choosing the right to feel comfortable instead of being continuously attacked. And I'm a fighter. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Caring for Credit

Last three years have been a major source of introspection, as I've taken upon the journey of becoming (more) comfortable with pairing and mobbing. Every time someone hints that I want to pair to "avoid doing my own work", I flinch. I hear the remark echoing in my head, emphasizing my own uncertainties and experiences. Yet, I know we do better together and fixing problems as they are born is better than fixing them afterwards. 

A big part of the way I feel is the way I was taught to feel while at university. As one of the 2% women minority studying computer science, I still remember the internal dialogue I had to go through. The damage the few individuals telling me that I probably "smiled my way through programming classes", making me avoid group work and need of proving my contribution in a group being anything more than just smiling. And I remember how those experiences enforced the individual contributor in me. Being a woman was different and I took every precaution I could to be awesome as much by myself as I could. If I ever did not care for doing more than others, that would immediately backfire. And even if I did care, I could still hear the remarks. I cared then, I still do. And I wish I wouldn't. 

My professional tester identity is a way of caring for credit. It says about what of all the things I do are so special that I would like it to be separately identified. It isn't keeping me in a box that makes me do just testing, but it says that that is where I shine. That is where I contribute the most of my proud moments. Yet it says that I'm somehow a service provider, probably not in the limelight of getting credit, and I often go back to liking the phrase:
Best ideas wins when you care about the work over credit.
I want to create awesome software, and be recognized for my contributions to it.Yet I know that my need of recognition is a way of not getting the best ideas to win - nor anyone else need of recognition.

As a woman, attribution need can get particularly powerful. If you're asked of the great names in software, most people don't start listing women - even if that has recently changed in my bubble that talks about awesome people like Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hamilton, and Grace Hopper. And looking a little beyond into science, listing women becomes even less of a thing.

The one man we generally tend to think of first in science is Einstein. Recently I learned that he had a wife, who was also a physicist and contributed significantly to his groundbreaking science. He did not raise her significant contributions to general public.  Meanwhile, Marie Curie is another name we'd recognize and the reason recognition is tied to her is due to her (male) colleagues actively attributing work to her. 

Things worth mentioning are usually a result of group work, yet we tend to attribute them to individuals. When we eat a delicious cake, we can't say if it was great because of the sugar, the eggs or the butter. All were needed for the cake to become what it is. Yet in creating software products, we tend to have one ingredient (programming) take all the credit. Does attribution matter then? 

It matters when someone touts "no women of merit" just for not recognizing the merited woman around them. It matters when people's contributions are assessed. Reading a recent research saying that women researchers must publish without men to get attributed and thus tenure made me realize how much the world I was taught in school still exists. 

People are inherently attribution seeking - we wish to be remembered, to leave our mark, to make a difference. A great example of this is the consideration of why there are no baby dinosaurs - leading to a realization that 5/12 identified species are actually just adolescent versions of the adult counterparts. 

From all of my talks, the bit that always goes viral is adaptation of James Bach's saying: 
I've lived this for years and years, and built a whole story of illusions I've broken, driving my tester identity through illusion identification. Yet, I will always be the person popularizing past sayings. 

Caring for credit, in my experience, does more harm than good. But that is what humanity is built around. Take this as a call of actively sharing the credit, even when you feel a big part of credit should belong to you. We build stuff together. And we're better off together. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

What a Product Owner Does?

As an awesome tester, I find myself very often pairing with a product owner on figuring out how to fix our ways of working so that we could have best chances of success when we discover the features while delivering them. My experience has been that while a lot of the automation-focused people pair testers up with developers, the pairing on risk and feedback with the product owner can be just as (if not more) relevant.

Over the years, I've spent my fair share shaping up my skills of seeing illusions on a business perspective, and dispelling them hopefully before they do too much damage. Learning to write and speak persuasively is part of that. I've read tons of business books and articles, and find that lessons learned from those are a core to what I still do as a tester.

I find that a good high-level outline of the skills areas I've worked on is available with the Complete Product Owner poster. Everything a product owner needs to know is useful in providing testing services.
Being a Product Owner sure is a lot of work! - William Gill

In preparation of a "No Product Owner" experiment, I made a list of some of my expectations on what a product owner might do (together with the team).

What a Product Owner Does?
  • has and conveys a product vision
  • maintains (creates and grooms) a product backlog - the visible (short) and the invisible (all wishes)
  • represents a solid understanding of the user, the market, the competition and future trends
  • allows finishing things started at least for a preagreed time-box
  • splits large stories to smaller value deliveries
  • prepares stories to development ready (discovery work)
  • communicates the product status and future to other stakeholders
  • engages real customers and acts as their proxy
  • calculates ROI before and after delivery to learn about business priorities
  • accepts or rejects the work done
  • maintains conceptual and technical integrity of the product 
  • defines story acceptance criteria
  • does release planning
  • shares insights about the product to stakeholders through e.g. demos 
  • identifies and coordinates pieces to overall customer value from other teams
  • ensures delivery of product (software + documentation + services) 
  • responds to stakeholder feedback on wishes of future improvements and necessary fixes
  • explains the product to stakeholders and drives improvement of documentation that enables support to deal with questions
These people are busy, and can use help. How much of your testing is making the life of a product owner easier? 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Run the code samples in docs

I was preparing for a session on exploratory testing in a conference, wanting to make a point of how testing an API is just like testing a text field. Even the IDE you use just gives you keyword recognition based on just a few letters, and whatever values you pass in are a guided activity. The thinking around those fields is what matters. And as I was preparing, I went to my favorite test API and was delighted to notice that since the public testing sessions pain, there was now some basic getting started documentation with examples.

I copypasted an example around approving arrays into the IDE, and things did not go as I would have expected. Compiler was giving me errors, and I could extend my energy barely to see what the error message was about. There were simple errors:
  • a line of code was missing semicolon
  • a variable a was introduced, yet when it was used it got renamed to x
As a proper tester, I was more happy than sad with the lack of quality in the documentation, and caused a bit of pain to the poor developer asking not to fix in for a few hours so that I could have other testers also see how easy finding problems in a system is because documentation is part of your system. I think the example worked nicely around encouraging anyone to explore an API with its documentation.

The cause of the problem I saw was that the code sample was never really executed. And over time even if it was executed once, it could break with changes as it wasn't always executed with the code.

A lot of times, we think of (unit) tests as executable documentation. They stay true to functionality if we keep on making them pass as we change the software. Tests work well to document drivers. But for documenting frameworks, you need examples of how it calls you. It makes sense to do the examples so that you can run them - whether they are tests or other form of documentation.

Documentation is part of your API. Most of us like to start with an example. And most of us choose something else if possible if your documentation isn't helpful. Keep it running.

Calling bs on the pipeline problem

Yesterday was a day of Women in Tech in Finland. After the appropriate celebrations and talks, today my feeds are filled with articles and comments around the pipeline problem. I feel exhausted.

The article I read around getting girls into the industry quotes 23% of women in the industry now. Yet, look at the numbers in relevant business and technical leadership positions. One woman among 5-6 people in the leadership groups isn't 23%. No women as head technical architects is even further from 23%. And don't start telling that there are no women of merit. Of course there are. You might just not pay attention.

In the last week, I've personally been challenged with two things that eat away my focus of being amazing and technical.

First of all, I was dodging a "promotion" into dead end middle management position. How would that ever make me a head technical architect I aspire to be? Yes, women with emotional intelligence make strong managers. But we also make excellent technical leaders.

Second, I was involved in a harrassment getting someone fired case in the community. It has been extremely energy draining even if I was just in a support role.

Maybe having to deal with so much of the extra emotional labor is what makes some people think again less of my merits. And I'm getting tired of it.

We talk of the pipeline problem, on how little girls don't take interest in computers and programming. If they look forward into their role models, they see women fighting for their advancement and mere existence. The pipeline leaks, and almost everyone who is in it is regularly considering exit just to get rid of the attitudes the ones with more privilege don't have to deal with.

How about improving things for the future generations on focusing on the current one so that we can honestly tell our little girls that this is the industry worth going for? It is the industry of the future, and we're not going to leave it, but a little bit of support for the underdogs would be nice.

When I do keynotes in conferences, I get the questions of  "are you here to watch your kids while your husband speaks" from the other female keynoter's husband. I get the questions of  "you're one of the organizers" when most of the organizers are women. And yet in the same places I get men telling that there is no difference in how we are treated.

Just pick 50% of women of potential into the relevant groups we all want to reach. Those 50% of women are not going to be worse than the men you're selecting now. Those positions help them realize their full potential. And showing this industry is more equal might just help with the beginning of the pipeline too. Because the little girls don't only have a dad who makes sure they get interested in math and STEM, they have a mom who could be more too.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Machine Learning knows it better: I’m a 29-year old man

Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the hit theme in testing conferences now. And there’s no entry criteria on who gets to speak on how awful or great that is for the future of testing, existence of testers and the test automation we are about to create. I’m no different. I have absolutely no credentials other than fascination to speak on it. 

The better talks (to me - always the relative rule) are ones where we look into how to decompose testing problems around these systems. If the input to the algorithm making decisions changes over time, the ideas we have on deterministic testing for same inputs just won’t make sense unless we control the input data. And if we do, we are crippling what the system could have learned, and allowing it to provide worse results. So we have a moving target on the system level.

My fascination to these systems has lead me to play with some available. 

I spent a few hours on Microsoft Azure cognitive services API for sentiment analysis inspired by a talk. As usual, I had people work with me on the problem of testing, and was fascinated on how different people modeled the problem. I had programmers who pretty much refused to spend time testing without getting a spec of the algorithm they could test against. I had testers who quickly built models of independent and dependent variables in input and output, and dug in deeper to see if their hypotheses would hold, designing a test after another to understand the system. Seeing people work to figure out if the teaching data set is fixed or growing through use was fascinating. And I had testers who couldn’t care less on how it was built but focused on whether it would be useful and valuable given different data. 

I also invested a moment of my time to learn that I’m a 29-year old man based on my twitter feed. This result was from University of Cambridge Psychometric Centre’s service http://applymagicsauce.com. The result is obviously off, and just a reminder on the idea that “6 million volunteers” isn’t enough to provide an unbiased data set a system like this would learn from. And 45 peer-reviewed scientific articles add only the “how interesting” to the reliablility of the results. 

My concern on ML/AI isn’t on whether it will replace testers. Just for the arguments sake, I believe it will. Since I started mob testing with groups, my perspective into how well testers actually perform in the large has taken a steep dip, and I base my hope for the testers future usefulness in their interests to learn, not on what they perform today. The “higher function thinking” in testing exists, but is more rare than the official propaganda suggests. And the basic things won’t be that impossible to automate. 

My concern on ML/AI is that people suck. With this I mean that people do bad things given the opportunities. And with ML/AI systems, as the data learned over time changes the system, we can corrupt it both in the creation of the original model and in using it while it is learning. We need to fix people first.

The people with time and skills use their time sometimes on awful problem domains. There must be a great idea other than “we could do this” to create a system that quite reliably guesses people’s sexual orientation from pictures, opening a huge abuse vector. 

The people who get to feed data into the learning systems take joy in making the systems misbehave, and not in the ways we would think testing does. Given a learning chat bot, people first teach it to swear, spout out racist and sexist slurs and force the creators to shut them down. 

Even is the data feeding was openly available for manipulation, these systems tend to multiply our invisible biases. The problems I find fascinating are focused around how we in the tech industry will first learn about the biases (creating systems in diverse groups, hint hint), fix them in ourselves to a reasonable extent and then turn the learnings into systems that are actually useful without significant abuse vectors. 


So if there is a reason why the tester role remains is that figuring out these problems requires brain capacity. We could start by figuring out minorities and representation, kindness and consideration without ML/AI. That will make us better equipped for the problems the new systems introduce. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Time to update threat modeling

Working in a security company, there is an activity we try to routinely do, at least when anyone hints on not having done it. That activity is security threat modeling. Getting smart people together, supported by a heuristic (STRIDE) we explore what could possibly go wrong on security with the design we’ve made by now. Purpose of threat modeling is to learn and change when we learn. And for someone trying to drive forward better quality, there’s not a more powerful argument than connecting a bug somehow to security. 

Heuristics are used to keep the discussion both focused and multifaceted. People easily would focus on one type of problems, and heuristics like STRIDE help with thinking from a few more perspectives. It’s far from complete, but it has been the basic approach for good enough to get started with. The acronym opens up to words Spoofing, Tampering, Repudiation, Information disclosure, Denial of service and Elevation of privilege. 

Security is about not letting people do bad stuff with systems, hopefully while allowing the right people to do what they were trying to achieve with the use of the system. All of the perspectives easily map to the idea of the users and attackers. 

But with many modern systems, there is one often dismissed theme I would bundle with security, while I realize that for me as a tester it has long been a separate concern. That is one of abuse. I’m exploring extending STRIDE with an A. 

Abuse vectors are often unique. They are ideas of how we could unintentionally open up ways for targeting misbehaviors against a group with use of the systems. And thinking of the abuse threats is getting increasingly important.

Let’s explore a few ideas around this.

A prominent tech woman ended up with targeted abuse with Github. At a time when Github allowed people to be added to projects without their consent someone thought it was a fun thing to add her to projects she would by no means associate with. All those projects then end up being a part of her profile. We would want to make sure our features don’t enable high visibility cyber bullying. 

A group of people built a learning bot, which turned into a monster in a matter of hours. We would want to make sure that with the learning systems, we can control the quality of the data the system learns from.

A face recognition software was built, and it did not recognize faces of people of color. The sample set the system was built on did not do a good job at being representative, and the biases of the creators got coded into the functionality. We would want to make sure we don’t make a group of people invisible with systems intended for wide use. 

A phone had a feature of facial recognition for logging in. It worked perfectly for images of the owner’s face. We would want to make sure that if we use faces as credentials, gaining access to our personal data is not one picture away. 


Abuse as an attack vector is connected with STRIDE, but different. And we need to start actively thinking of it as we create more sophisticated systems that include our assumptions of privilege and biases. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mob Programming on a Robot Framework Test

A year ago as I joined my current place of work, I eagerly volunteered to share on Mob Programming in a session. As I shared, I told people across team lines that I would love to do more of this thing here. It took nearly a year for my call to action to sink in.

A few weeks back, a team lead from a completely different business line and product than I work on pinged me on our messaging system. They had heard that I did this thing called Mob Programming, and someone in the team was convinced enough that they should try it, so what then should be the practical steps? They knew they wanted to mob on test automation, and expressed that a challenge they were facing was that there was one who pretty much did all the stuff for that, and sharing the work in team was not as straightforward as one might wish for.  Talking with three members of the team including the team lead and whoever had drawn me in, we agreed on a time box of two hours. For setup, one would bring in the test setup (which was a little more than a computer as we were testing a Router Box) and ideas of some tests we could be adding.

It took a little convincing (not hard though) to get the original three people to trust me with the idea of not having first a session of teaching and introducing the test automation setup, and that we would just dive in. And even if we agreed on that in advance, the temptation of explaining bits that were not in the immediate focus of what the task drove us towards was too much to resist. 

The invitation for the team of 7 included “test automation workshop”, without a mention of mechanism we would be using on this. And as we got to work on adding test, I asked to figure out who knew the least and made them sit in front of the keyboard first, just saying the rule of “no thinking on the keyboard”. I also told them we’d be rotating on 3 minutes, so they would all get their chance on the keyboard and off, except for the one automation expert. Their rule was to refrain from navigating unless others did not know (count to three before you speak). 

Looking at the group work for 1,5 hours was a delight. I kept track of rotation, and stepped into facilitating only if the discussing got out of hand and selecting between options was too hard. I noticed myself unable to stop some of the lecture-like discussions where someone felt the need of explaining, but the balance of doing and talking was still good. People were engaged. And it was clear to an external person that the team had strong skills and knowledge that was not shared, and in the mob format insights and proposals of what was “definition of done” for the test case got everyone’s contributions.

I learned a bit more on Robot Framework (and I’m still not a fan of introducing a Robot language on top of Python when working with one still would seem a route of less pain). I learned of use of Emacs (that I had somewhat forgotten) and could still live without. I learned on different emphasis people had on naming and documentation on tests. I learned on their ideas of grouping tests into suites and tagging them. I learned of thinking in terms of separating tests when the Do is different, not when Verify needs a few checks for completeness. I learned to Google Robot Framework Library references. And I learned that this team, just like many other teams at the company, is amazing. 

Asking around in retro, here’s what I got from the team: This was engaging, entertaining. We expected to cover more. The result of what we did was different than the first idea of what the test would be, and the different means better in this case. 


My main takeaway was to do this with my team on our automation. If I booked a session, they would show up. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

What makes a test automation expert?

I was part of a working group that created an article called 125 Awesome Testers You Should Keep Your Eye on Always. It may not be obvious, but that list is a response to another article called 51 automated testing Experts You Should Keep Your Eye on Always. That list had only four women (at least it had four women!) and let me tell you a big public secret:
It is not because there aren't many awesome women in automation. It is because people don't look around and pay attention.
I could have many different criteria on what makes a test automation expert:
  • Speaks about test automation in public (conferences, articles) in a way that others find valuable
  • Does epic stuff on making automation work out and do real testing
  • Is identified as a creator of a test automation framework or library
  • Speaks only of automation and never in a manner that addresses its limits
The 125 awesome testers list does not identify automation separately, because I find that most people contribute to test automation in a significant way. Not all of people in either one of those lists have created an open source tool of their own. Not all people on either one of those lists write test automation code as their main thing.

We can be awesome at automation in so many ways. Writing code alone in a corner is not the only way. Many of us work in teams that collaborate: pair, or even mob. Coding is not the only way to do automation.
  • Delivering insights that are directly transferable to useful test automation is a way of doing automation. 
  • Working on the automation architecture, defining what we share is a way of doing automation.
  • Helping see what we've done through lenses of value in testing is a way of doing automation. 
  • Reading code without writing a line and commenting on what gets tested is a way of doing automation. 
  • Pairing and mobbing are ways of doing automation.
We don't say coding is all there is to application development, why would coding be all there is to  test automation development?
There's been a particular experience that has shaped my experience around this a lot, which is working with mob programming.  After programming with 14 different programming languages, I still identified as a non-programmer because my interests were wider. I actively forgot the experience I had, and downplayed it for decades. What changes me was seeing people who are programmers in action. I did not change because I started coding more. I changed because I started seeing that everyone codes so little. 

The image below is from a presentation of Anssi Lehtelä, a fellow tester in Finland who has also now two years of mob programming with his team under his belt. A core insight I find we share is that in coding, there is surprisingly little of coding. It's thinking and discussions. And that's what we've always been great at too! And don't forget googling - they google like crazy!

Lists tell you who the list maker follows. Check if you have even a possibility to recognize the awesome women in automation using http://proporti.onl on your twitter feed. It can be brutal. Mine is 53 % women. In the numbers I can follow, there's easily a brilliant, inspirational woman to match every single man. In any topic, including automation. Start hearing more voices.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Announcing an Awesome Conference - European Testing Conference 2018

TL;DR: European Testing Conference 2018 in Amsterdam February 19-20. Be there! 

Two months of Skype calls with 120 people submitting to European Testing Conference 2018 in Amsterdam has now transformed into a program. We're delighted to announce people you get to hear from, and topics you get to learn in the 2018 conference edition! Each one of these have been hand-picked for practical applicability and diversity of topics and experiences in a process of pair-interview. Thank you for the awesome selection team of 2018: Maaret Pyhäjärvi, Franziska Sauerwein, Julia Duran and Llewellyn Falco.

We have four keynotes for you balancing testing as testers and programmers know it, cultivating cross-learning:
  • Gojko Adzic will share on Painless Visual Testing
  • Lanette Creamer teaches us on how to Test Like a Cat
  • Jessica Kerr gives the programmer perspective with Coding is the easy part - Software Development is Mostly Testing
  • Zeger van Hese Power of Doubt - Becoming a Software Sceptic
With practical lessons in mind, we reserve 90 minute sessions for the following hands-on workshops you get to choose to participate two, as we repeat the sessions twice during the conference:
  • Lisa Crispin and Abby Bangser teach on Pipelines as Products Path to Production
  • Seb Rose and Gaspar Nagy teach  on Writing Better BDD Scenarios
  • Amber Race teaches on Exploratory Testing of REST APIs
  • Vernon Richards teaches on Scripted and Non-Scripted Testing
  • Alina Ionescu and Camil Braden teach on Use of Docker Containers
While workshops get your hands into learning, demo talks give you a view into looking someone experienced in doing something you would want to mimic. We wanted to do three of these side by side, but added an organizer bonus talk on something we felt strongly on. Our selection of Demo talks is:
  • Alexandra Schladebeck lets you see Exploratory Testing in Action
  • Dan Gilkerson shows you how to use Glance in making your GUI test code simpler and cleaner
  • Matthew Butt shows how to Unit/Integration Test Things that Seem Hard to Test
  • Llewellyn Falco builds a bridge for more complicated test oracles sharing on Property-Based Testing
Each of our normal talks introduces an actionable idea you can take back to your work. Our selection of these is:
  • Lynoure Braakman shared on Test Driven Development with Art of Minimal Test
  • Lisi Hocke and Toyer Mamoojee share on Finding a Learning Partner in Borderless Test Community
  • Desmond Delissen shares on a growth story of Two Rounds of Test Automation Frameworks
  • Linda Roy shares on API Testing Heuristics to teach Developers Better Testing
  • Pooja Shah introduces Building Alice, a Chat Bot and a Test Team mate
  • Amit Wertheimer teaches Structure of Test Automation Beyond just Page-Objects
  • Emily Bache shares on Testing on a Microservices Architecture
  • Ron Werner gets you into Mobile Crowdsourcing Experience
  • Mirjana Kolarov shares on Monitoring in Production 
  • Maaret Pyhäjärvi teaches How to Test A Text Field
In addition to all this, there's three collaborative sessions where everyone is a speaker. First there's a Speed Meet, where you  get to pick up topics of interest from others in fast rotation and make connections already before the first lunch. Later, there is a Lean Coffee which gives you a chance for deep discussions on testing and development topics of interest to the group you're discussing with. Finally, there's an Open Space where literally everyone can be a speaker, and bring out the topics and sessions we did not include in the program or where you want to deepen your understanding.

European Testing Conference is different. Don't miss out on the experience. Get your tickets now from http:/europeantestingconference.eu 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How Would You Test a Text Field?

I've been doing tester interviews recently. I don't feel fully in control there as there's an established way of asking things that is more chatty than actionable, and my bias for action is increasing. I'm not worried that we hired the wrong people, quite the opposite. But I am worried we did not hire all the right people, and some people would shine better given a chance of doing instead of talking. 

One of the questions we've been using where it is easy to make step from theory to practice is How would you test a text field? I asked it in all, around a whiteboard when not on my private computer with all sorts of practice exercises. And I realized that the exercise tells a lot more when done on a practice exercise.

In the basic format, the question talks of how people think of testing and how they generate ideas. The basic format as I'm categorizing things here is heavily based on years of thinking and observation by two of my amazing colleagues at F-Secure Tuula Posti and Petri Kuikka, and originally inspired by discussions on some of the online forums some decades ago. 

Shallow examples without labels - wannabe testers

There's a group of people who want to become testers but yet have little idea of what they're into, and they usually tend to go for shallow examples without labels. 

They would typically give a few examples of values, without any explanation of why that value is of relevance in their mind: mentioning things like text, numbers and special characters. They would often try showing their knowledge by saying that individual text fields should be tested in unit testing, and suggest easy automation without explaining anything else on how that automation could be done. They might go talking about hardware requirements, just to show they are aware of environment but go too far in their idea of what is connected. They might jump into talking about writing all this into test cases so that they can plan and execute separately, and generate metrics on how many things they tried. They might suggest this is a really big task and suggest to set up a project with several people around it. And they would have a strong predefined idea of their own of what the text field looks like on screen, like just showing text. 

Seeing the world around a text box - functional testers

This group of people have been testers and caught up some of the ideas and lingo, but also often over reliance on one way of doing things. They usually see there's more than entering text to a text box that could go wrong (pressing the button, trying enter to send the text) and talk of user interface more than just the examples. They can quickly list categories of examples, but also stop that list quit quickly as if it was irrelevant question. They may mention a more varied set of ideas, and list alphabetic, numeric, special characters, double-byte characters, filling up the field with long text, making the field empty, copy-pasting to the field, trying to figure out the length of the field, erasing, fitting text into the visible box vs. scrolling, and suggest code snippets of HTML or SQL, the go to answer for security. They've learned there's many things you can input, and not just basic input into the field, but it also has dimensions. 

This group of people often wants to show the depth of their existing experience by moving the question away from what it is (the text field) to processes and emphasize experiences around how relevant it is to report to developers through bug reports, how they may not fix things correctly and how a lot of time goes into retesting and regression testing. 

Tricks in the bag come with labels - more experienced functional testers

This group of testers have been looking around enough to realize that there are labels for all of the examples others just list. They start talking of equivalence partitioning and boundary values, testing positive and negative scenarios and can list a lot of different values and even say why they consider they're different. When the list starts growing, they start pointing out that priority matters and not everything can be tested, and may even approach the idea of asking why would anyone care of this text field, where is it? But the question isn't the first  thing, the mechanic of possible values is.  They prioritization focus takes them to address use of time into testing it, and they question if it is valuable enough to be tested more. Their approach is more diversified and they often are aware that some of this stuff could be tested on unit level and others require it integrated. They may even ask if seeing the code is available. And when they want to enter HTML and SQL, they frame those not just as inputs but as ideas around security testing. The answer can end up long, and show off quite much of knowledge. And they often mention they would talk to people to get more, and that different stakeholders may have different ideas. 

Question askers - experienced and brave

There's a group who seems to know more even though they show less. This group realizes that testing is a lot about asking questions, and mechanistic approach of listing values is not going to be what it takes to succeed. They answer back with questions, and want to understand typically the user domain but at best also the technical solution. They question everything, starting with their understanding of the problem at hand. What are they assuming, and can that be assumed? When not given a context of where the text field is, they may show a few clearly different ones to be able to highlight their choices. Or if the information isn't given, they try to figure out ways of getting to that information. 

The small group I had together started just with brainstorming the answer. But this level wasn't where we left of. 


After the listing of ideas (and assumptions, there was a lot of that), I opened a web page on my computer with a text field and an ok button and had the group mob to explore, asking them to apply their ideas on this. Many of the things they mentioned in the listing exercise just before immediately got dropped - the piece of software and possibility to use it took people with it.

The three exercises

The first exercise was a trick exercise. I had just had them spend 10 minutes thinking how they would test, and mostly they had not thought about the actual functionality associated with the text field. Facing one, they started entering values and looking at output. Over time, they came up with theories but did not follow up testing those and got quite confused. The application's text field had no functionality, only the button had. After a while, they realized to go into dev tools and the code. And were still confused with what the application did. And with a few rounds of three minutes each on the keyboard, I had us move on to the next example. 

The second exercise was text box in the context of a fairly simple editor application, but one where focusing on the text box alone without the functions immediately connected to the text box (unit test perspective) would miss a lot of information. The group was strong on ideas, but weaker on execution. When giving a value, what a tester has to do is to stop (very shortly) and look at what they learned. The learning wasn't articulated. They missed things that went wrong. Things where to me, an experienced exploratory tester, the application is almost shouting to tell how it is broken. But they also found things I did not remember, like the fact that copy pasting did not work. With hints and guidance through questions, I got them to realize where the text box was connected (software tends to save stuff somewhere) and eventually we were able to understand what we could do with the application and what with the file it connects to. We generated ideas around automation, not through the GUI but the file and discussed what kind of things that would enable us to test.  When asked to draw a conceptual picture of relevant pieces, they did good. There was more connections to be found, but that takes either a lot of practice on exploring or more time to learning layers. 

Again with the second exercise, I was left puzzled on what I observed. They had a lot of ideas as a group on what to try, but less of discipline in trying that out of following what they had tried. While they could talk of equivalence partitioning or boundaries, their actual approaches on thinking what values are equivalent and learning more as they used the application left something to hope for. The sources of actual data were interesting to see, "I want a long text" ended up as something they could measure but unawareness immediately of an online tool that would help with that. They knew some existed but did not go to get those. It could have been a priority call, but they also did not talk about doing a priority call. When the application revealed new functionality, I was making a mental note of new features of the text box I should test. And when that functionality (ellipsis shortening) changed into another (scroll bars), I had a bug in mind. Either they paid no attention, or I pointed that out too soon. Observation and reflection of the results was not as strong as idea generation. 

The third exercise was a text field in a learning API, and watching that testing unfold was one of the most interesting ones. One in the group quickly created categories of three outputs that could be investigated separately. This one was on my list because the works right / wrong is multifaceted, and in the perspective of where the functionality would be used and how reliable it would need to be. Interestingly in the short timeframe we stick with data we could easily generate, and this third one gave me a lot to think about as I made later one of my teams's developers test it, getting them even stronger into testing an output at a time, and insisting on never testing an algorithm without knowing what it includes. I regularly test their algorithms of assessing if the algorithm was good enough for the purpose of use, and found that the discussion was around "you shouldn't do that, that is not what testers are for". 

The session gave me a lot of food for thought. Enough so that I will turn this into a shorter session teaching some of the techniques of how to actually be valuable. And since my conference tracks planned are already full, I might just take an extra room for myself to try this out as the fourth track. 





Friday, September 15, 2017

Fixing Wishful Thinking

There's a major feature I've been testing for over a period of six months now.  Things like this are my favorite type of testing activity. We work together over longer period of time, delivering more layers as time progresses. We learn, and add insights, not only through external feedback but also because we have time to let our own research sink in. We can approach things with realism - the first versions will be iterated on, and whatever we are creating is indefinitely subject to change.

I remember when we started, and drew the first architectural diagrams on the wall. I remember when we discussed the feature in threat modeling and some things I felt I could not get through before got addressed with arguments around security. I remember how I collected dozens of claims from the threat modeling session as well as all discussions around the feature, and diligently used those to drive my learning while exploratory testing the product.

I'm pretty happy with the way that feature got tested. How every round of exploration stretched our assumptions a little more, giving people feedback that they could barely accept at that point.

Thinking of the pattern I've been through, I'm naming it Wishful Thinking. Time and time again with this feature and this developer, I've needed to address very specific types of bugs. Namely ones around design that isn't quite enough.

The most recent examples came from a learning that certain standard identifiers have different formats. I suggested this insight should lead to us testing the different formats. I did not feel much of support for it, not active resistance either. I heard how the API we're connecting to *must* already deal with it - one of the claims I write down and test against. So I tested two routes, through a provided UI and the API we connect with, only to learn that my hunch got confirmed - the API was missing functionality someone else's UI on top of it added, and we, connecting with the API missed.

A day later, we no longer missed it. And this has been a pattern throughout the six months.

My lesson: as a tester, sometimes you work to fix Wishful thinking. The services you are providing are a response to the developers you're helping out. And they might not understand at all what they need, but appreciate what they get - only in small digestible chunks, timed with enforcing the message into something actionable right now.


Learning through embarrassment

Through using one video from users to make a point, we created a habit of users sharing videos of problems. That is kind of awesome. But there's certain amount of pain watching people in pain, even if it wasn't always the software failing in software ways, but the software failing in people ways. 

There was one video that I got to watch that was particularly embarrassing. It was embarrassing, because the problem shown in that video did not need a video. It was simply a basic thing breaking in an easy way. One where the fix is probably as fast as the video - with only a bit of exaggeration. But what made it embarrassing was the fact that while I had tested that stuff earlier, I had not recently and felt personal ownership.

The sound track of that video was particularly painful. The discussion was around 'how do you test this stuff, you just can't test this stuff' - words I've heard so many times in my career. A lot of times the problems attributed to lack of testing are known issues incorrectly prioritized for fixing. But this one was very clearly just it - lack of testing. 

It again left me thinking of over reliance on test automation (I've written about that before) and how in my previous place of work lack of automation made us more careful. 

Beating oneself up isn't useful, but one heuristic I can come up with this learning: when all eyes are on you, the small and obvious becomes more relevant. The time dimension matters. 

I know how I will test next week. And that will include pairing on exploratory testing. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Burden of Evidence


This week, I shared an epic win around an epic fail with women in testing slack community, as we have a channel dedicated for brag and appreciate - sharing stuff in more words than on twitter, knowing your positive enforcement of awesome things won't be taken against you. My epic win was around case of being heard on something important, where not being heard and not fighting the case was the epic fail.

On top of thinking a lot around the ways of how I make my case to get feedback reacted on, like bringing in real customer voice, the person I adore the most in the world of testing twitter tweeted just on the topic.
I got excited, thoughts rushing through my head on the ways of presenting evidence, and making both the objectively and emotionally appealing case. And it is so true, it is a big part of what I do - what we do in testing.

As great people come, another great one in twitterverse tweeted in response:
This stopped me to think a little more. What if I did not have to fight, as a tester, to get my concerns addressed? What if the first assumption wasn't that the problem isn't relevant (it is clearly relevant to me, why would I talk about it otherwise?) and that burden of evidence is on me? What if we listened, believed, trusted? What if we did not need to spend us much time on the evidence as testers, what if hunch of evidence was enough and we could collaborate on getting just enough to do the right things as response?

Wouldn't the world this way be more wonderful? And what is really stopping us from changing the assumed role of a tester from being one with the burden of evidence to someone helping identify what research we would need to be conducting on the practical implications of quality?

Creating evidence takes time. We need some level of evidence in the projects to make right decisions. But I, as a tester, often need more evidence than the project really needs just to be heard and believed.  And a big part of my core skillset is navigating the world in a way where when there's a will, there's a way: I get heard. It just takes work. Lots of it. 

Talking to 120 people just for a conference

I'm doing the last two days of intensive discussions with people all around the world. Intensive in the sense that I hate small talk. These people are mostly people I have never met. It could be my worst nightmare. But it isn't. It's the best form of socializing I can personally think of. 

We had 120 people submit for European Testing Conference 2018. Instead of spending time reading their abstracts, we spend time talking to the people, to hear not just their pitch but their stories and lessons. Each one gets 15 minutes. In this 15 minutes, they both introduce all their topics, but also, get feedback on what we heard (and read during the session), and as an end result, we walk out with one more connection. 

Entering the call, some people are confused on why we care so little on introduction and professional history. We assume awesome. We assume relevance. And we are right to assume that, since each and every one of us has unique perspectives worth sharing. Connection is a basic human need, and volunteering to speak on something that matters to you makes you worthy.

The discussion is then centered around what ever topic the one with a proposal brought into the discussion. It's not about small talk, but about sharing specific experiences and finding the best voice and story within those experiences to consider for the conference.

When I tell people about the way we do things for the call of collaboration, the first question tends to be around use of time. 120 people, 15 minutes, that is 30 hours! And not just that, we pair on the discussions, making it even a bigger investment. But it is so worth it.

The investment gives the conference a real idea of what the person will bring and teach, and enables us to help in avoiding overlap and build a fuller picture of what testing is about. Similarly, it gives us the best speakers, because we choose based on speaking not writing. It brings forth unique aspects of diverse perspectives that enable us to balance our selection. The conference gets an awesome program and I do not know any other mechanism to build a program like this.

The investment gives the people collaborating with us a piece of feedback they usually never get. They get to talk to organizers, hear how their talks and topics balance with the current topics people are sharing. Many people come in with one topic, and walk out with several potential talk topics. And even if they get nothing else, they get to meet new people who love testing from some angle just as much as they do. 

The investment gives most to me personally. With only 30 hours, I get to meet some of the most awesome people in the world. I get private teaching, specifically answering questions I raise on the topics we talk on. I get to see what people who want to speak share as experiences, and I get to recognize what is unique. I become yet better at being a source of all things testing, who can point out where to go for the deeper information. It improves my ability to google, and to connect things I hear into a view of world of all things testing. 

I've met awesome developers, who enforce my restored belief in the positive future of our industry. I've met testers and test managers, who work the trenches getting awesome value delivered. I've met designers and UX specialists, who want to bridge the gaps we have between professions and share great stuff. Some stories teach stuff I know with a personal slant. Some bring in perspectives I wasn't aware of. 

It's been a privilege to talk to all these people. I see a connection from what we do for collaboration calls to what we do with our speed meet session. We give every one of our participants a change to glimpse into stuff the other knows without small talk. A connection made can turn into a lifetime of mutual learning. 


Monday, September 4, 2017

Funny how we talk of testing now

Most of the time, I just do what I feel I want to do. And I want to do loads of exploratory testing, from various APIs to whatever is behind them, all the way to a true end to end.

Today, I however needed, for finally getting to a point of end-to-end exploration, and idea of when the last piece in my chain is available. So I asked:
I want to test X end-to-end, any idea when the piece-of-X is available? 
The response really surprised me. It was:
A is working on such an end-to-end test.
I was almost certain that we were confusing test (the artifact) and test (the activity) here, so I went on to clarify:
This test is exploratory (not automated) and with focus on adding information on end user experience. Is that what A does as well?
I got a quick no. And a link to one single test automation case that the team has agreed to add, for quite a simple positive end-to-end cases.

As I did not test yet, I have no idea what more will I find. Most likely some. Almost every time some.

I'm happy that the end-to-end automation case will end up existing and monitoring what there is. But surely that is not what testing is all about?

It's fascinating how quickly this degeneration of talking around test happens. How quickly the activity turns into specific artifacts.

It takes a belief into the unknown unknowns to get people to explore, when they think they can plan the artifact. Communication gets "fixed" by using always more words, rather than less.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Would You Just Listen for a Change?

Six months ago, a new project manager walked in to our team planning meeting. It was loud, arguments were flying and there was a lot of laughter. The conclusion of our team dynamics was that we are like an Irish family. I think that was a compliment. 

I absolutely adore my team. I love how the developers have embraced unit testing long ago, so that they do it automatically and seek new ideas on it. I love how the only reason stopping them from doing even better is invisible barriers of experiences of being punished or not supported. And I love how together, I truly feel we are more awesome. I feel at home when at work, I feel I get to be me. And that isn't true for all the places I've worked with.

There are some things that really leave me pondering though, and one of them in particular comes through my feeling of gendered reactions. These are not things where I'd even hint on discrimination. But they are more of things of structural nature, the expectations of how we are supposed to be. I can also argue they are not about gender, but about personality. It just happens that particular traits, while not only in a particular gender, seem to be more often assigned to a particular gender.

But, let's get to my two stories. 

In June, I got a new team member. For the first week we worked together, I got him to pair with me (and my current team *never* pairs, we just talk), strong-style. We tested together, we both contributed, took turns on driving and navigating and did a better job testing our firewall together than neither of us would have done alone. He was 15-years old, and I was delighted to hear in the end of his summer job from other senior testers how much he had grown as a tester, in respect to how he had been earlier when doing training sessions with us. He is awesome, and pairing with me made his awesomeness develop into something really useful.

However, on week two I was less available, and he got to run with testing a feature of his own. The developers in the team took a different approach to testing than I did, giving him a step by step test case, instructions how to gather logs and evidence, and ended up guiding him into a bit of a mindless task he was not in full control of due to the appearance of detailed instructions. 

His test results showed that there might be a problem. I tested sampling some of the same things, realizing the problem was in the instructions. But while I did this, a developer in my team took the first results (after I had said I will do a bit of a quality control task) and escalated the worrying results to high level managers. 

He did not hear me say I believed there was a problem with the results. 
He was delighted on how valuable results the summer intern had provided.
He did not intend to make me feel like my results are not equally valuable. 
He did not realize that he has *never* escalated any of the stuff I find, even when there is a reason for doing just that. 
He did not understand that he trusted a 15-year old intern two weeks into his first job ever more than someone with 23 years of hands-on testing experience.

He did not understand that no one has ever trusted me in the same way they trusted this 15-year old. On false results. I've fought every bit of important information visible. And I've become good at that. Fighting with a smile. But there's always the extra effort. I need to amplify my voice, myself. Luckily, good relations with the managers and a great track record in providing helpful information are all the amplification I usually need. 

With this experience behind us, I put my team through a human experiment. In the name of team building I took us to an escape room, to collaborate. There was a detail I did not mention to my team: I had been there before. Which means this time, I had all the answers and I wasn't planning on giving them out, I was just there as a pair of hands and eyes leaving most of the puzzle for my team mates. My brain was free to monitor on how we worked together, and I was fascinated with what I learned.

I learned that when I gave a piece of information first creating certainty of attention (touch of a shoulder), I got listened to. 
I learned that when I had information people did not want to accept, they completely dismissed me. I had to shout or do to be heard.
I learned I get heard best when I amplify something that comes from someone else. 
I learned that even with information that should be easy to accept, I had to find the right person to give it to. 
I learned they would take the credit. 
I learned that I do need to put in the extra effort, but I get heard. The other woman in my team does not, without me amplifying her. 

In a world where a 15-year old boy is a more trustworthy source than me, I find the problem is just the idea of listening and appreciating others inputs. And instead of teaching people what I have been taught (persistence, increase volume, find allies, use other people's voice when yours is dismissed) I just wish people would listen for a change. 

I have my share of work to do on listening as well.


We're getting worse at testing

A common theme of what many testers (me included) want to talk about is the negative impacts of automation. I'm at a point where I've definitely come to terms with the idea that automation is a good thing. I've grown to see that my old fight against it was a reason for failing and work hard, most of the time, to work against my natural instinct giving test automation time and focus it needs to become great. Time to fight is time away from improving. And I know that I can help improve it, significantly. 

One of the ways this revelations of mine shows is that within the organizer group of European Testing Conference, we have decided not to accept anti-automation talks. We all know it has limits and negatives. But we want our focus to be on finding ways around the problems, practical solutions, insights and ways forward. 

One of the calls with four proposals included a talk that I felt belonged in the category we wouldn't feel like giving stage to, yet the even short discussion with Jan-Jaap Cannegieter was inspiring. He introduced me to a book by Nicholas Carr called Glass Cage  and it's core message of how automation is making us more stupid, forgetting how to do the things without automation.

I work with a team highly divided on our focus on automation. And a regular discussion with the person focused on testing through automation is on *how are we testing this*. The discussion as such is not the interesting part, but the pattern of how that discussion goes. The reliance on code to see what it does, the inability to talk on level of concepts or even remember what has been covered on high level without looking at the code is evident.  The same question asked on ones with exploration approach starts with areas, features and only last details that could or could not be documented.

It would seem tempting to say that automation is making us stupid. It would feel tempting to say it reduces our ability to see our testing, and to explain our testing conceptually, while adding to ability to cover our asses showing the exact detail of what is covered that I personally find the least relevant. 

Jan-Jaap made a point of us forgetting with the extensive focus on automation how to talk about coverage and test techniques. Yet, I just few days ago had a fascinating and insightful discussion on someone else submitting on Test-Driven Development, giving insightful examples of how TDD has made them test with several positive tests and cover more ground of the actual solution domain. 

So have we forgotten what it is to test? Where do the new generation of automation first testers learn that? Clearly many of them haven't, and get very easily fooled by opportunity cost of doing the best thing possible only in the automation context optimizing for long-term. 

Then again, looking at the 120 submitters and 200 topics proposed for European Testing Conference. Not a single one on a practical use of a test technique to analyze a problem for coverage. Not a single one teaching how you test. We found some hidden in the talks of process and company experience, but not on the active submissions.

Perhaps the problem isn't automation. Perhaps it's the way we talk of testing - as in not talk of it. With a few notable differences.

Share more of how you test. That is valuable and interesting. It's not automation that makes us worse at testing, it'd our choice of letting the automation (and the programming problem of it) to take all focus and stopping our talk around the domain: how do we test. 

My hope with automation is on the programmers who no longer need to use their learning power on the details of scripting, solving (through learning) the higher level problems of domain. But every day, I feel less inclined to believe in the tester-turned-automators. They need to amp up learning in a balanced way to restore my faith. 
 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Collaboration Call at Its Best

I've been giving some intensive hours into getting to know loads of awesome people within timeboxes of 15 minutes. We call that European Testing Conference Collaboration Call, where we (organizers and potential speaker) meet to understand the potential talk better.

We are doing this with the 110 people who left their contacts for us when we called for collaboration and a selection of others we find we would like to consider (e.g. mentions from those who submitted), totaling somewhere around 150 discussions. We do most of this paired to make sure we hear from a tester and a developer perspective.

While the hours sound high, we feel this is an investment into a wider scope of things that just the immediate selection. We don't think of it as interview, but we approach it as a discovery session. We discover similar and different interests and viewpoints, to build a balanced program of practical value that is raising the bar of software testing.

150 people means somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 talks. And the conference program for 2018 fits 14.

I've been delighted with each and every discussion, getting to know what people feel so strongly on that they want to share them in a conference. I've learned that two thirds of people I would never select based on the text they submit, but that I can get excited on their talks when I speak with them. Some would become better with a little guidance. Sometimes the guidance we fit into the 15 minutes is enough to make them better.

Most of the calls end up with "I already see stronger proposals in the same category" or "We'll keep you on list to see how that category builds as we continue doing the calls". Today's call was the first one where we ended with "Welcome to European Testing Conference 2018 as a speaker".

The call was how I think of a collaboration call at its best. This time a 1st time speaker had submitted a title (with remark 'working title') and an abstract of two sentences. As they went through the talk proposal, it sounded exactly as many others: how testers can provide value other than programming. At one point of the story, half a sentence was something like "I introduced them (programmers) to heuristics and oracles" with explanation around it making it obvious this lesson was well received and useful. In the end we told what we heard - a story that was relevant and shared by many. And a piece that should be a talk in its own right.

With a bit of collaboration, that piece around heuristics seemed to take form. And knowing what is on the list to consider as the call is closed, this is the thing we want to show - testing as testers think of it. Practical, improving our craft.
It's a talk that would not exist without this 15 minute call.
It's still open if that talk will be seen, as anything that emerges that suddenly deserves a thinking time, especially for the presenter. We would never want to get people committing to talks that they don't own themselves. And many of us need introspection through quiet time.

I just wish I had 150 slots available to share the best out of every one of these unique people we get to talk to. So much knowledge, and wonderful stories of how the lessons have been learned.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A look into a year of test automation

It's been a year since I joined, and it's been a year of ramping up many things. I'm delighted about many things, most of all the wonderful people I get to work with.

This post, however, is on something that has been nagging on the back of my head a long time, yet I've not yet taken any real actions on doing anything other than thinking. I feel we do a lot of test automation, yet it provides less actionable value that I'd like. A story we've all heard before. I've been around enough organizations to know that the things I say with visibility into what we do are very much the same in other places, with some happy differences. The first step to better is recognizing where you are. We could be worse off - we could be not being able to consider where we are with evidence of things we've already done.

As I talked about my concerns out loud, I'm reminded of things that Test Automation has been truly valuable on:
  • It finds crashes where human patience of sticking around long enough will not do the job, and makes random crashes into systematic patterns with saving results of various runs
  • It keeps checking all operating systems where people don't do that
  • It notices side effects on basic functionality in an organization where loads of teams commit their changes on the same system without always understanding dependencies
However, as I've observed things, I have not seen any of these really in action. We have not  built stuff that would be crashing in new ways (or we don't test in ways that uncover those crashes). We run tests on all operating systems, but if they fail, the reasons are not operating system specific. And there's much simpler tests than what we run to figure out that the backend system is again down for whatever reason. Plus, if our tests fail, we end up pinging other teams on fixes and I'm growing a strong dislike on the idea of not giving these tests for the teams themselves to run that need pinging.

Regardless of how I feel, we have now invested one person and a full year into our team's test automation. So, what do we have?

We have:
  • 5765 lines of code committed over 375 commits. That means that we do 25 pull requests a month, of average size 15 lines per commit.
  • The code splits into 35 tests with 1-8 steps each. My reading perception is that I'm still ashamed to call the stuff these tests do testing, because they cover very little ground. But they exist and keep running.
  • Our test automation python code is rated 0.90/10 with Pylint. The amount of complaints is  2839 things. That means that every second line needs looking into. The number is worse as I did not set up some of the libraries yet.
In the year, I cannot remember more than one instance where the tests that should protect my team (other teams have their own tests) have found something that was feedback to my team. I remember many cases where while creating test automation, we find problems - those problems we could find also just diligently covering manually the features, but I accept that automation has the tendency of driving out the detail.

I remember more cases where we fix automation because it monitors things are "as designed" but design is off.

I know I should do something about it, but I'm not sure if I find that worth my time. I prefer the manual approach most of the time. I prefer to throw away my code over leaving it running.

There's only one thing I find motivation in while considering I would jump into this. It's the idea that testers like me are rare, and when I'm gone, the test automation I help create could do some real heavy lifting. I'm afraid my judgement is that this isn't yet it. But my bar is high and I work to raise it.

As I write this post, I remind myself of a core principle:
all people (including myself) do the best work they can under the pertaining circumstances.
Like a colleague of mine said: room for improvement. Time to get to it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Making a Wrong Right

I've coached my share of awesome speakers to get started in speaking. That makes me a frequent mentor. I'm also an infrequent sponsor, and would love to find possibilities to make that more common.

This week, one of my mentees spoke up in a group of women in testing about a challenge she was facing in speaking. She had been selected to speak at EuroSTAR, which is a #PayToSpeak conference meaning you pay your own travel + stay. When planning for the conference, she had made plans with her company support, but things changed and that was retracted.

She was considering her options. Cancelling, but that seemed hard after all the program was already out. Showing up just for the talk to minimize the cost. And that was pretty much it.

She asked around for advice on others getting their companies to pay for travel, to hear that it was not an uncommon thing amongst the group of women, even the frequent speakers, that their employers don't pay the travel. The conferences really should pay the travel and stay for their speakers. And the good ones do.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to step up and offer a travel scholarship for this particular case. Second year in a row, I'm using my non-profit to pay a Speak Easy connected minority speaker to go to EuroSTAR, to speak and use the full opportunity of learning. I call EuroSTAR my favorite disliked conference, as they really should change their policy. And while I can't change them, I can change a small part of the pain the #PayToSpeak policy causes.

I can make one small wrong right. This speaker is awesome in many ways, and an inspiration to me.

Just briefly checked some conferences that pay their speakers and some that don't. Unsurprisingly, the ones that pay their speakers have a much more natural gender balance.

I can correct one wrong. The power of correcting the bigger wrong lies with the conference organizers. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dare to be the change you want to see

"Thank you for not having the steering group preparation meeting", he carefully said after the 1st steering group meeting after the holidays. I probably looked puzzled, as for me it was obvious and part of what I had signed up for. I wasn't about to turn into a project manager in an awesome place that has no scrum masters and usually also no project managers. I'm a hands-on tester. But when the previous project manager stepped down and I saw a need for people to meet weekly to exchange management-level news (to leave teams alone unless they pulled the info in), there was no other option than promising to hold the space for the steering group to happen.

Let me go back a little in time. I joined a year ago, and we had no project manager. We had teams of software engineers and quality engineers, and as with new teams, we were finding our way with the guidance of self-organizing. Many of us were seniors, and we got the hang of it.

Meanwhile while we were stumbling to form as individual teams and establish cross-team relations across two sites, someone got worried enough to "escalate". And escalation brought in a project manager.

The project manager visibly did two things. He set up a steering group meeting, where I ended up as a member ("just a tester, but none of us is *just* anything these days"). And he set up a cross-team slot. He was probably trying to just create forums, but they felt more of ceremonies. The cross-team session was a ceremony of reporting to him, as much as he tried to avoid it. And the steering group was a ceremony of reporting cleanly to the management, as it was always preceded with a prep meeting as long as the actual meeting, but only 3 out of 8 people present.

As the project manager left for other assignments, teams abandoned the cross-team slot and started more active 1:1's as they sensed the need. Out of 10 of us, only 2 strongly stated over time the slots were not a good use of time, yet everyone was keen to give them up. Others just came, because they were invited.

And similarly, the steering group meetings turned into actual discussions, creating feeling of mutual support and sharing without the pre-meeting. I stated I was there to hold the space, and that's what I do. I start discussions, and end them if they don't fit the idea of what this meeting is about as per our mutual understanding.

But for the last 6 months, I did not like the way we did things. Yet I too, while expressing my feelings every now and then, went with the motions. I only changed when the environment changed.

All of this reminds me to be more brave: dare the be the change you want to see. Experiment with fixes. And not only when the people leave, as they were never the real bottleneck. It was always in our head. My head amongst the others. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Serendipitous Acquintance

We met online. Skype to be precise. Just a random person I did not know, submitting to our conference. And we talk to everyone on Skype.

As the call started, we had our cameras on like we always do to begin a call, to create a contact between people instead of feeling like a phonemail of strangers. And as his camera was turned on, we were in for a surprise. It was clear we were about to talk to a teenage boy who had just submitted to a testing conference.

We talked for 15 minutes, like with everyone. It was clear that based on his talk proposal, we would not be selecting him. But listening to him was different. His thoughts were clear and articulated. He was excited about learning. He was frustrated about people dismissing him - he had submitted to tens of conferences, and we were the second he would hear back from. We asked him questions, poked his experience and message and got inspired. Inspired enough to suggest that regardless of what would be our decision on this conference, I would be delighted if we would accept my help as a speaker mentor, and I could help him hone his message further. He had delivered a keynote in Romanian Testing Conference through local connections, and was driven for more. 15 minutes was enough to realize that Harry Girlea is awesome.

When later met him for going through his talk and talked for 40 minutes, the first impression strengthened. This 13-year old is more articulate than many adults. When he told me stories of how wonderful he felt testing with professional games testers in game realms, I could hear he was proud of his learnings. And when he coined why he loves testing as "As tester, things are similar but are never the same“, all I could do is say that with my extra 30 years of experience, I feel the same.

It became clear that he wanted to be a bigger part of it, speaking in conferences and learning more on testing.

We improved his talk proposal, and he submits again. For European Testing Conference, we have not made our choice yet. But I hope we are not the only ones seriously considering him.

The kids of today learn fast. Us adults have lot to learn from them.