27 July 2014


What is a peer
A person of the same age, status, or ability as another specified person
(The Oxford Dictionaries)

The kind of peer I will be speaking about is other people within the testing community striving for excellence in a similar fashion as I do and preferably on a somewhat similar level even though that's hard to compare.

We love to team up
Everywhere in life we team up. We get partners to share our everyday life with, we get friends to whom we share similar stuff, we get other friends to share more specific things with such as a hobby, we get close colleagues to discuss work with and so forth. All these people help us as advisers, complement our skills, support when things are shitty, support when we need to challenge ourselves, idea generators, inspiration and many other things, in their respective areas.

A peer in testing to me is the same thing but from a general career/tester perspective. They add an external perspective (or at least second when they happen to also be close colleagues), they help me develop, they help me challenge myself, they help me solve problems I have that require testing or test related knowledge and they can help me when I want to/have to change job.

Does this sound a bit abstract? Let's get more specific!

Help solving a (testing) problem
A question that has been nagging me for a while now is: "What is my role?" or rather "What do I think my role should be?". The problem is I don't really know and I feel I'm stuck when it comes to figuring it out. During Let's Test recently, among many things, I had a 2 hour discussion with Anna Royzman and Andrii about the changing role for testers. It was a great discussion where both I and Andrii had similar questions and together we came to insights like "everyone comes with their own unique mix of skills/experience/knowledge and we have to be careful not limiting our potential and usefulness to the role's description, people's general expectations of us or the role we once had/the person we're replacing". That's one example of how peers (Anna and Andrii) helped me get a better understanding of/solve a test related problem.

Challenge to improve
I'll save my self some work by just pointing at my story of how I became a speaker at CAST. It perfectly illustrates how a peer (Maria Kedemo) challenged me to do something outside my comfort zone in order to help me improve.

Outside perspective
I use my super peer (Helena Jeret-Mäe) for this all the time and even have a name for the quick, very context specific, questions I ask her: Sanity checks. "Is what we're doing, that I feel is wrong/strange, really wrong/strange in your eyes?". If it is, it tells me I'm at least not the only one feeling that way and if not I might get an explanation I've simply missed. An example would be the deployment strategies used in another peer's company and he often asks me: "Is this actually how software is built?". I do my best to explain how we work and/or simply say "no, I've seen... instead and it seems to work better at least in their context", too often though I just answer "unfortunately yes".

Generate ideas
It's easy to get stuck, either if it's when I'm testing, in my career or in some other aspect of my "professional life". This is once again something I constantly do with Helena: "I feel like my only options are..." and she replies "but what about...". Practical example: "I feel like my role is somewhat limited to...", "Have you tried speaking to your boss? To the developers?...". And those, seemingly obvious, answers just didn't occur to me in the middle of my "this shit is broken" kind of mindset.

A recent example is Software Testing World Cup, which I participated in with a couple of other peers. Another one is practical exercises we've tried in my local test community (EAST), one being us splitting up in teams and attempting to use various thinking hats while testing. And finally a third one is any workshop at a conference where you interact with other testers to figure something out together, sometimes by simulating something which is more or less impossible to do on your own.

Sometimes you just need some cheering or a hug when things don't go your way. And getting that from someone who does understand your headache is very much appreciated, at least for me. Also, something Helena (once again) and I do a lot: Remind each other of how incredibly much we've improved/accomplished, which is easy to forget.

Coaching and Teaching
During a recent Peer Conference (more about those in a moment), James Bach explained his coaching model, which added a whole new dimension to the visual representation I had already seen. That's one example of how a peer explained to me his view/experience/knowledge on a topic. Also any (peer) conference talk is one tester teaching others, often followed up by an open season where "everyone can teach everyone on the topic including teaching the teacher". Finally Helena and I do a lot of coaching as part of our weekly sessions.

Second opinion
Before Let's Test I recorded what I wanted to present as a lightning talk. I sent the video to Helena and her answer was something like "that should be a lightning talk, it doesn't work as good as a video". In retrospect I definitely agree but in that moment it felt like I had to release it, simply because I had spent a lot of time recording it. Thanks to Helena, I didn't.

"Am I stupid" -check
This goes for closer peers, either as in geographically close (sitting next to you) or personally close as in someone you trust very much; preferably both of course. Sometimes I have an idea or question that just seems stupidly obvious. If I have a close peer I can quickly ask that person and (s)he either provides an answer or a "well I don't know either so I don't think it's too obvious". If I don't have that person to quickly ask, I easily go into wasting time waiting simply to either get brave or frustrated enough to ask or to slowly figure out the answer myself.

One practical example was a specific way to trigger a kind of failover in the product I was testing. I almost felt stupid asking if there was another way to trigger the failover. My close colleague (Saam Eriksson) next to me answered "I'm not sure but could be..." and after we consulted the expert it turned out there was a way that had basically never been tested. Without Saam I might had accepted that there probably was only one way to trigger the failover and the "other way" would not had been discovered for another ten years or so.

Fuel the fire
I quickly lose interest in things (my fiancé just nods right now, looking at me like "have you finally realized that"). Having peers who constantly push me, help me find the necessary spark when my motivation is low and inspire me by showing what's possible to accomplish, helps me stay motivated and curious. Also doing things with others (for me) is much more rewarding than doing them alone, so peers help me have fun.

Related to that: when I heard Helena would help out planning a test conference it suddenly struck me "maybe I can do that to?", when I watched Alan Richardson's technical web testing webinar/course I suddenly thought "maybe I could record something like that" and the list goes on. There's an unlimited amount of possibilities but sometimes you need a confirmation something is possible/available and the combined ingenuity/bravery of peers often provide that inspiration/confirmation.

There's a lot to say about jobs and peers. Some quick benefits I've experienced myself
  1. Peer review of CV/portfolio stuff
  2. Actual job offers, either from the peer or recommended by the peer
  3. Help choosing between job offers
  4. Recommendations
I've reviewed several CVs, mostly non-testers but I still add it here since knowing the context definitely helps. I've also had peers review my own CV.

My current job was an offer I received from Maria Kedemo and I've also turned down two other interesting offers received from peers... and, well, let's not get ahead of myself.

Also when I got the job I have now I had a hard time deciding between that job and another job. Luckily I know a person who happened to had been working for both companies. He could provide me with tons of valuable info helping me decide.

I've helped peers recruit as well as get recruited, by spreading job ads or recommend specific testers I know for specific jobs.

Finally, I've put in a good word for several testers (and programmers) where I've known the recruiter.

Peer conferences
Peer conferences are not for everyone as you're expected to contribute (present an experience report, speak up, share knowledge/experience) as well as be ready to get challenged on whatever you say. If you feel you're up for the challenge the reward is huge though (lessons, inspiration, network and new practical things to try)!

Being alone in your company/team
I'm the only tester in my "part of the company" (the company is basically split in two). In this situation I've found various testers (peers) outside my company to be invaluable as they help me "stay sane" and not get stuck on seemingly simple matters. My experience from being the only tester in the company, the only tester in my team, one of several testers in a mixed team and being in a pure testing team, is that if you're alone, find someone to share your tester burden with, otherwise it'll grow! Even though this person might not know your context that well, he or she can provide an invaluable second opinion or help you solve problems when stuck, especially when stuck on "simple things you 'should' know and feel embarrassed to ask just anyone about" (I envy you if you've never felt like that).

I call Helena Jeret-Mäe my super-peer. The difference is she knows so much more about me (as in my personality, private life, aspirations, weaknesses, everyday work headaches etc.). This saves a lot of time when explaining a problem and she can see connections between for instance my personality and certain problems, I'm not aware of myself. Most importantly though: We've built a deep trust in each other. She can question things I really don't want questioned and I will listen (things like not prioritizing family as much as I should) as well as push me much further as she knows my limits sometimes better than I do myself and vice versa of course.

Can't you do this on your own
You can do most of this on your own but much of it will be harder and/or take longer time and/or not be as fun. Since I reached out to the testing community my level as a tester has skyrocketed!

How to find peers?
Getting to know other testers seems fine and dandy but where do you start?

Some tester once said to me, about testers, "if you're not on Twitter you don't exist". Even though that's to exaggerate it's still true you'll find most renown testers on Twitter and it's an amazing way to make that first contact. For instance, when I went to my first big test conference, I could immediately start talking to a ton of people thanks to Twitter and the conversations there. A good thing with Twitter: Everyone is entitled to add to a conversation so there's no initiation ritual, instead you listen in och when you feel you have something to say you join a conversation and voí la, followers will come (if you're nice and/or smart) and relationships will form.

(Peer) Conferences and courses
Peer conferences usually have fewer, and likely more dedicated, participants. They don't last for many days but the bonds created are, in my experience, very strong.

A larger test conference is perfect to get in touch with many new testers and broaden your network.

Courses are a bit like peer conferences in the sense that you can easily become very close to some testers in a relatively short amount of time.

If you need suggestions for (peer) conferences and courses, contact me (some info at the end).

I mostly use LinkedIn to connect to my local test group after I learned about them but can work to find new testers to hang out with as well. Not, to me, as obvious to make useful though, as Twitter.

If there is no local test meetups in your area, visit a bigger town to join one or start your very own local test community. If you need some inspiration: Check out Erik Davis' excellent post!

Starting a blog about testing is good for many things (reflection, portfolio, getting feedback etc.) and one of them is, a good blog generates interest in you. Also reading other testers' blogs and leaving (sensible) comments on these will teach you things as well as help you connect with these people.

Software Testing Club
I don't use this community very much for some reason but every time I do I get impressed. Seems to be a great way to connect so try it out for yourself!

Why look far away when you've curious testers next to you? Suggest an educational activity like spending an hour watching some great testing presentation (need suggestions? just ask me!) and discuss the contents together. Who knows, maybe you'll find a colleague to keep learning with.

Don't isolate yourself, or other testers if you're in a test lead/manager position! Instead, try to reach out, ask for help, provide help, share ideas, socialize, listen, speak up and network. The field we work in is way too vast to be covered by one person alone. Team up and you'll be much more efficient... as well as have much more fun.

If you are, or feel, completely new, ask for a mentor (I can either help directly or hopefully get you in contact with someone who can help). If you know your way around but have done things in solitude so far, go to a test conference, start a blog, join Twitter or go to/start a (local) meetup for testers. Still feel stuck? Contact me! (use this blog, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other way you find... except tapping on my window in the middle of the night as it would probably freak me out).

Good luck!

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