31 May 2014

Let's Test 2014

Let's Test 2014 is my weirdest conference experience so far. Put that in perspective with my other two being my first ever and my first ever as a speaker and you can imagine it was a special one. So what happened?

My mission
I came to Let's Test with a question: "What is my role" (both in my current job and how I would like it to be in the future) and the mission to gather as much understanding of this as possible.

I left with more than I could ever had imagine and still feel like I've just scratched the surface. I also left with something... else, something I haven't understood yet and with a magnitude I don't even know if I can grasp. If you feel confused, welcome to my world, I have some serious thinking to do.

Imagine this: You step out of your cab and immediately see two people running like their lives depended on it just to hug you. And we're not talking about a soldier coming back from a war zone, we're talking about a test conference! That's how it all started. I got a jumping hug from Meike Mertsch and a two minute hug from Helena Jeret-Mäe, can't ask for a better welcome!

Talking, testing challenge, some beer, dinner, another more large scale testing challenge, more talking... You wanna know one reason why Let's Test rocks? During the testing challenge in the evening some of the most well known names in the business was mixed up with newcomers and anyone in between. The result was beautiful and I can now say I know, from own experience, that for instance Rob Sabourin is a great test lead and Jon Bach is an excellent tester.

Ohh, by the way, what's not to love about someone immediately putting a testing challenge in your hands as soon as they've introduced themselves? That's Kristjan Uba, we'll come back to him but the short story from day one was he instantly made an impression.

Key lessons
  • Peers are invaluable! Peers are invaluable!
  • Twitter builds connections that can often be transferred into "real life" connections. So testers, get a Twitter account!
  • Seeing into the minds of some of the brightest and/or most well known testers in the industry was exciting.
Workshop day
The first day started with an interesting keynote by Tim Lister. It was basically his life story in the software business and lessons he had picked up along the way. It all came together as a beautiful experience report that provided just as much inspiration as it provided actual "content".

Key Lessons (Tim)
  • Be around people ahead of you.
  • Beautiful mindset from Harlan Mills: "If I get a compiler error I go: why did I get a compiler error". Illustrates the need to not just accept mistakes/problems but to learn as much as possible from them.
  • Life is short, stop waiting and just go out and make your own career!
  • Having fun and staying curios are key driving forces and should be treated as such.
  • Right and wrong is for kids, we're grown ups (see the full spectrum of possibilities).
Next up was Rob Sabourin's tutorial. That one just felt a bit too much of a lecture for my style (have quite a bit of useful notes from it though so not saying it was bad, just that I personally was looking for more interaction) so in the afternoon I moved (after getting an okey from the organizers) to Steve Smith's second workshop; "Managing your personal board of directors". I'm glad I did as this workshop turned out to be one of the highlights during the conference!

Key lessons (Rob)
  • Domain expert != Tester, we need to understand the skills involved in being a tester.
  • Decision tables are useful both to help you understand something as well as to spawn testing ideas. Can help you discover combinations of conditions and actions not thought of.
  • 30 years of experience as a tester does not mean 30 years of learning test
  • "Is this the problem?", repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • If a session just happens to not fit you, leave and go for something else!
Steve Smith's workshop had a simple setup: We started out identifying various "directors" influencing us (e.g. Chief Financials Officer advising you to save money/make more money). After that, one of us volunteered being the star (Kristjan Uba) and the rest of us played his board of directors. I ended up being "Chief Family Officer", a perfect fit I would say. Finally, after each of us had had the opportunity to ask a wide array of questions regarding our roles, we started a board of directors meeting. The meeting agenda was to solve three challenges/questions/dilemmas Kristjan was facing. It was fun (as in "laughing hysterically" fun) and, much thanks to an awesome job by the Mind Bender (Lars Sjödahl), the meeting really felt like something coming straight out of a head. I also wanna thank Kristjan for volunteering, he did a phenomenal job as "the star" in a rather exposed position.

Key Lessons (Steve)
  • How does your personal "board of directors" look? Which directors have the most power? Which are the loudest/most quiet?
  • Tim Lister talked about the value of peers, Steve Smith made something cool happen between peers and every moment of the conference proved the value of peers. So, like a wise man wrote just one chapter ago: Peers are invaluable!
  • Good experiential workshops are sooo powerful! (at least for me)
  • The more fun I have the better I seem to learn/remember.
Steve Smith's keynote
A 150 people experiential workshop as a keynote is just as awesome as it sounds. The mission was simple, almost to a degree of silly: You are 12 people, get as many of these to simultaneously stand, for 15 seconds, on a piece of paper placed on the floor. A judge will count your score and make sure you don't cheat. You get one point for each member and the ones that don't make it will become observers. These observers aren't allowed to interact with the rest in any way for the rest of the exercise. The exercise went on for three cycles and each time the paper was folded in half. Silly right?

Well, who is forced to become an observer? Who decides this? Who's ideas are considered? How much risk are you willing to accept and who decides that? What rules can be broken, what happens if you do, who will (try to) break them and who will support/reject this? How do people react when their ideas are rejected? How much will you think about your current context (members) and how much is generic solutions? Do points really matter and will anyone question this? Will you manage to be as creative as you usually are, under time pressure? What role will you take within the group? What happens when people with "key roles" become observers?

Silly changed to mind-boggling! I ended the second day taking a long walk with Helena Jeret-Mäe spending much of that talking about how I had taken more of a leadership role in my group (or at least I felt like that) and how I in this role had lost much of my usual strengths as creative rule challenger and went into "point tunnel vision". The beauty of experiencing this in the simple exercise was I could much more clearly see the outcome and what had lead to it as very little distracted me. Thank you Steve! Thank you Helena! Thank you team!

The final debrief also helped adding to the experience and hey, as part of the debrief I've now given a keynote at Let's Test.

Panda Panda!
I've never (I think) heard anyone say a single bad word about Pradeep Soundararajan. Instead everyone seems to treat him with huge respect, so it was interesting to finally attend one of his sessions. He did not disappoint! In the session he shared the story and vision behind his company Moolya. It was an hour of inspiration, passion, admiration and self-doubt if I really do the most valuable work I can for my current company. The basic message, as I interpreted it, was: "It's all about business value and we must understand the business problems to be useful". Just like Steve's keynote, this one left me with a ton of material that will require massive post-processing before I can fully understand it. Short version: Great session and Pradeep really lived up to his reputation! Panda Panda!

I feel a bit guilty cause I needed the second day workshop basically to zone out and reflect on what Steve and Pradeep had helped me discover but not yet understand. The 2,5 hours of sleep I had the night before might have had an impact as well. But one image that stuck with me from Carsten's workhop was how much more clear a problem, and it's solutions, became when observing a group role play the problem compared to only have it on paper or, worse, in my head.

Martin Hynie and Christin Wiedemann
During CAST 2013 Martin said he wanted to speak at a conference and I told him I thought he would make a terrific presenter. He did! Well, both he and Christin did to be precise. I wasn't thrilled about the topic but went partly thanks to a rather weak lineup seen from what I was interested in: I did not regret my choice! For me this session was not so much about the presented content as it was a perfect demonstration of passion, creativity, curiosity and a willingness to explore/experiment, not to mention awesome stuff to use when I present myself (a slide deck made up by selfies, awesome!). Inspired to say the least!

Basic outline: Over a few beers the value of games as a means to train testers came up. No one could provide any real evidence for their claims that it did improve e.g. relevant cognitive skills. Due to this Martin and Christin not only went out to look at any existing data but they gathered a group of people to experiment with (including a "unicorn"; a 25-28 years old tester who had basically no experience of video games or board games), got in contact with a university and together with scientists they conducted cognitive experiments during which brain scans were made (Martin apparently has a big brain). All and all, scientists seemed to wanna keep doing these experiments and they now have at least some indications (even though the sample group was way too small) that testing games do improve relevant cognitive skills for testers. But don't care about the outcome, focus on what Martin and Christin did just because they couldn't find enough proof! Testers everywhere, take note and be inspired!

Lightning talks
I sent an email to Johan Jonasson before the conference asking if there would be any lightning talks, as I had one ready. The answer was: "Great idea, would you mind facilitating them?". I've never facilitated anything and knowing my track record when it comes to being patient and shutting up this couldn't turn into anything but a disaster. Well, it didn't, actually it went pretty good (I think) and it was a lot of fun. Also, in case you think facilitating seems trivial, it's not! I can't even imagine the difficulty level of facilitating e.g. a controversial talk with tons of arguing. I already had great respect for facilitators like Paul Holland, Ilari and Richard Robinson but holy cow, they rock!

So takeaways from the actual talks? Nah, I was way too focused (read nervous) to remember anything. But I did have a ton of fun and got some valuable experience!

Uncertainty workshop
Day three's workshops were crazy hard to choose between (I wanted to go to all of them). In the end I opted for Fiona Charles, much thanks to a quick chat I had with her the evening before. It was an interesting workshop and an interesting group to work in (a factory schooler made it even more interesting and sparked my first of two pretty tense debates during Let's Test). Uncertainty is one of those things I've learned to embrace and I actually do much of my best work when the plan is long gone and chaos is upon me (the flip side being I create chaos more often as I suck at following a plan). So my biggest takeaways were ways to communicate uncertainty not to mention I need to actually communicate it at some point. Some new tools but main takeaway was a started thought process.

The gem!
When looking at the program, one session stood out: Quality Leader - The changing role of a software tester. This aligned perfectly with my mission (figuring out my role). I had previously just quickly shook hands with Anna Royzman so I didn't know much about her but I was in for a treat. The actual session was great, not exceptional, but definitely great and it addressed many of my thoughts. What made the session awesome thought was Anna and a guy from Ukraine...

I think many from the session perceived Andrii as a clown. He did some pretty bold comments about testers' usefulness as well as not caring to use K-cards. After the session he stayed and a debate started between the three of us, a debate that addressed a ton of things related to my question. First of all, Andrii was a really smart man! He, just like me, was trying to figure out his role and we debated for almost 2 hours meaning I have nothing to report from Jon Bach's closing keynote. It started out as mostly a 2 on 1 with me and Anna against him. After a while it turned into more of a "free for all" where we slowly reached some kind of consensus.

I won't bore you with all the details but short version is: "Is (software) tester really a good name for the role many of us claim to have based on what goes into a pretty common view of what testing is within the software business context?". The outcome for me was something like "every person is a bit of everything, the title mostly reflects what we specialize in and/or do the most, this still might not make software tester the best title for many of us if we want to avoid confusion or limiting our ability to act but tester sure describes much of what we do even though tester and software tester are most often perceived as equal in our business". Well, I wish that discussion was recorded but I'll have to rely on my memory cause I was way to worked up to take any notes.

So thank you Andrii and Anna! You're a brave man Andrii and I very much respect that and you're a brilliant quality leader Anna!

Key Lessons (safety language somewhat off)
  • Be careful about speaking degrading about developers, many of us do from time to time (not excluding myself as somewhat seen below) and that's just not helping us.
  • We aren't set roles, we each create a unique, constantly changing role, based on our skills, ambition and current company need but often call them something generic for simplicity, don't be fooled by this though.
  • The landscape is shifting and more adopt ways of working where the "traditional tester" is harder to fit.
  • Don't tell people (like developers, product owners etc.) they test cause it'll freak them out!
  • Your job is not to think about quality, your job is to make everyone think about quality.
  • What will make users say "wow!" about your product? How can you test for that?
Day one I was approached by Ilari asking me why I wore shoes (just a regular day at Let's Test). I gave him a couple of reasons to which he gave valid counter arguments. All and all I promised to try walking barefoot day two, I did and it worked great. I often have sore feet in the evening of a conference day and well, barefoot solved that issue. Was actually comfortable outside as well (not counting some of the gravel) so I've not put on my shoes again since day 2 despite my girlfriend threatening to never walk close to me outside. That doesn't mean I will not put on a pair of shoes soon but you'll probably find me barefoot again during future conferences. Unexpected but very much appreciated experience.

Hugs and games
Someone said to me after Let's Test last year, the conference almost seems "unprofessional". What he was talking about was all the hugging, playing games, open sponsor bar etc. To me this is what takes Let's Test to the next level! Like Klas Hallberg so cleverly puts it: Having fun is not unprofessional but doing something in a boring way when the same thing can be achieved just as efficiently in a fun way, that is unprofessional (makes more sense in Swedish and Klas is probably not the first to say this but he's my source). And like I said before, I seem to learn better when I laugh and have fun which happens a lot during Let's Test.

Some, to me, new testers that left an impression:

Kristjan Uba - He's smart, dedicated and creative! After hearing Helena talk highly of him I had quite high expectations and he delivered! Immediately after shaking hands he handed me a testing challenge, he handled the star role in Steve's workshop beautifully and in almost any discussion he delivered snappy, insightful answers. Oh, by the way, as CFO I just wanna let you know Kristjan, you'll make a hell of a dad!

Graham Maxfield - This guy is smart and creative (good combo once again). He had all sorts of smart ideas during Steve Smith's keynote (that we foolishly rejected) and provided a lot of good feedback during other workshops and sessions we both attended.

Anna Royzman - After giving a great presentation she handled/facilitated her, my and Andrii's discussion perfectly and added many valuable points to it. This is a name I will look for in future conference programs and I look forward to speaking to her again!

... There are more people who deserves a mention but let's just say, a lot of you made an impression!

Greatest moment during this adventure? Getting back home hugging my kids. Boring answer but couldn't be more true. Second best moment; the two welcoming hugs and anything related to seeing my super peer Helena in person again for the first time since last Let's Test. Third best moment; when the lessons from Steve Smith's keynote just suddenly started to sink in.

Left to do? Massive post-processing! That "something" is still out of reach and there's more to many of the experiences I had throughout the conference that I just haven't figured out yet.

More substantial stuff to do? Put what I want my current and future role to look like on paper and try using decision tables on the business rules we have in the product I'm currently testing to find potential gaps/missed tests.

See you all soon (I hope) and thank you!

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