25 July 2013

CAST, The story about an abstract

The Challenge
It was late in January. I was spending the Sunday with my kids and fiance visiting my mother. As we were eating my phone did that annoying sound it does when I get a message on Twitter. I ignored it and kept enjoying my visit. Little did I know that the annoying sound was the start of one of my biggest adventures so far.

Anyway, later that evening I finally checked my phone and found this tweet from my, soon to become, manager:

The first thought that ran through my head?
"Yeah right! Like I'm good enough to do that"
When it hit me, I had had the same feeling about Let's Test, 8 months earlier and still regret losing that opportunity and 3 months earlier when I was invited to SWET 4 but that time I accepted the invitation and loved every moment. This was sure a much greater adventure but why not give it a shot?

Getting started
When Louise Perold said "not much time" she wasn't laying. Three days to finish my first ever abstract for a conference talk, add kids to that and I was down to 3 evenings... and I didn't even have a topic.

As the theme for CAST was "lessons learned" I figured I at least had a shot since my career so far was much more about experimenting than reading stuff. After some thinking I came down to three potential topics:
  • Note taking - Based on my blog post and further experiences
  • Going exploratory - Me and my colleague at Ericsson turned a factory school test processes into a context driven approach in our team. It was an amazing experience with some really interesting results. I will share those some day (you can read a tiny bit here).
  • Mindset - I had went from knowing nothing about testing to learn about testing and finally excel to become a tester with ideas others seemed to put value in. What made that happen?
The first one felt like something others would pull off much better (and after attending Huib's and Jean-Paul's tutorial at Let's Test I'm glad I didn't pick that topic). I could have focused on the experimental part but that thought never appeared to me.

The second one felt a bit... well, with me soon leaving Ericsson to join Maria at Verisure it just didn't feel right.

So I went with number three.

Writing abstracts
I have a topic, now let's write an abstract about it... what should be in an abstract? I scratched my head and started browsing around looking at various abstracts. Finally I just shrugged and started writing.

I sent my first draft to Maria for review. We both felt it didn't say anything about the actual content in the presentation so I started on my next one... two days left.

During day two I managed to produce two different abstracts, both having the same basic problem: They described a topic way too big to fit in a 20-40 minutes slot. So with one evening left it was back to the drawing board to either focus on some key detail in my current topic or find a completely new one.

Delivery time
I ended up focusing on a smaller but reoccurring theme in my previous abstracts, that by the way was about the mindsets described in my The year I became a passionate tester -reflections. I wrote and wrote finishing late in the night, making it a completely new abstract that Maria never got to review. As I pressed "send" in the submission form I didn't know what to think. On one hand I was really proud of my abstract, to me it was interesting and well written. On the other hand I felt it was probably having similar problems as my previous abstracts I just hadn't realized it yet.

A first hint
Maria told me she had been asked if she thought I would be able to pull off the presentation (I actually have a background as a speaker but in a completely different area). That question was an early indication that my abstract was at least considered. Suddenly things became real, I might be standing in front of a crowd six months later giving a presentation at a major test conference on the other side of this planet.

Finally the day came when presenters would be announced. I had mixed feelings, one part of me screamed "Don't you dare picking me" while the other wanted nothing else in the world than seeing that email in my inbox. The first people started announcing they would be speaking at CAST. After a while it became apparent no such mail was sent to me and I just felt... emptiness.

A couple of days passed. Even though I should be proud of myself for fighting the urge not to write, and later send, the abstract, I still just felt emptiness.

Two days after the announcements I cleaned up my spam folder. Usually I just press "delete all" without even looking at the content (yes, I once did trust Gmail that much). For some reason I didn't this time. When glancing the list I noticed a mail close the top:

Dear Erik,

Thank you so much for your submission for CAST2013. We are delighted to inform you that you have been selected to speak. Details will follow shortly around the next steps.

Best regards,
Louise Perold and Ben Kelly

Hey Google, that's a really ugly trick! Don't you ever do that again or you'll end up like Yahoo after spam marking mails sent to myself.

So what's now
I've been working on my presentation for quite a while now. Not too long ago though I finally asked myself: "What's the goal? What do I want people to feel/know/do when they leave my presentation". That question forced me to somewhat start over but it's coming together nicely and will be great in August.

The presentation? Well it's named Making learning my top priority and you can read more about it in the CAST schedule. The plan is to post one more blog post before CAST and in that provide a sneak peak of what I will talk about but that's for another day. For now, thank you for reading and I hope to see you in Madison later this summer!

... Oh, and in case you wonder about my promise to my finance: Yes, she and our (now) six months old girl with come with me.

Take care!

03 July 2013

Observation Exercise / Experiment

After attending Ilari's tutorial at Let's Test I decided to write a blog post, with the goal to put what he taught us into my own context as a tester. That post is still in a raw draft state but in the meantime, on a similar topic, I want to share a simple observation exercise/experiment I've conducted.

The experiment
For one week I decided to "actively observe" during my 15 minute walks between job and home. I had no idea what "actively observe" would mean but I figured that would be clear as I tried it (which it did).

First walk
I left my house ready to observe. I started to search broadly just sweeping over my surroundings trying to find interesting stuff. I did this pretty much the whole way, finding nothing. That was a disappointment.

Second walk
On my walk home I decided to stop focusing on finding interesting things instead I simply tried to focus on things and see what came out of it. Bingo! Suddenly I stopped as two cemetery gardeners was cutting the grass with big scissors to get a perfectly straight border between the walking path and the lawn. This made me look at the flowers and suddenly I realized how symmetrically they were arranged. This continued as I started to notice interesting grave stones, grave stones I had missed during my first walk when trying to "observing everything".

Rest of the walks
For each day I seemed to lower my walking tempo slightly and I slowly went back to the sweeping strategy except I didn't just try to get an oversight of everything, instead I swept in the sense of rapidly switched focus from one thing to another.

  • Initially my goal was to find interesting stuff (sweep) but that quickly changed to general curiosity (focus). In the end I didn't care about what I would find, the search in itself was way more interesting.

  • For each day I seemed to walk a little slower. Since I didn't clock myself (which would probably bias me too badly to render any useful results anyway) I can't of course be sure, but it felt like I did.

  • In the beginning I seemed scared of missing something important. That basically made me miss everything.

  • When I swept over stuff the only thing I reacted to was very out of place things (which rarely was interesting to discover/observe) or motion. To change this I had to focus specifically on certain details, living with the fact that I probably missed a ton of things.

  • After a few days I started to look forward to the actual walks, they became a somewhat spiritual exercise. Which isn't strange as it reminds me of many mindfulness and meditation practices I've come in contact with.

  • I think I've started doing this kind of "active observations" in other places as well somewhat unconsciously (just noticed it the other day). This would be quite a significant change since I'm very easily distracted and absentminded, I don't really focus on my surroundings.

  • Being tired (two mornings) or annoyed (one afternoon) significantly limited my ability to observe. This is nothing surprising but still interesting to realize for myself.

  • To be able to ignore moving objects when observing stationary objects takes practice, which is also no surprise but once again interesting to realize for myself.

  • The more I practiced the more I figured out what was interesting for me to observe. In the beginning it felt like I just looked at things for the sake of it, but after a while I started to ask questions and build genuine (I feel) curiosity... I also learned it'll take some time to really master this, my 10x15mins only made me realize I have a lot to learn more or less.
Will this make me a better tester? I don't know and I can't think of any way to measure it and even if I could, bias would probably ruin the measurements. But my guess is that some of these lessons and the practices will help, to what extent I don't know though. Examples could be to practice ignoring movement as I focus on stationary details or the need to focus on specific details rather than sweep. All and all it will at least not make me a worse tester (I hope .)

One interesting question after these kind of experiments... will I do this next week, in a month or a year? I have no idea but I hope so. Just like with training it right now feels like it's a sure thing but give it a few stressed days and I might have lost track, we'll see. No matter what; I've learned some interesting things during this week!