Thursday: The build-up
The day had arrived. Months of hyped discussion, excitement and anticipation culminated here. My morning, as always, consisted of too much coffee, too many meetings, and too little time. At least today though, everything had gone smoothly- the team pulled off sprint planning beautifully, and I left the office feeling fulfilled.
The day had arrived. I met my better half and our pup for a quick lunch to say goodbye, and head to the train station.
The day had arrived! I was going to Test Bash Brighton!
Brighton was much warmer than Newcastle. Classic Brit I suppose, thinking about the weather in case anyone expected small talk as we disembarked. No one did, which left me to listen to my music (today, a personal playlist of 90s/00s punk rock & metal) until I reached the hotel. I checked in, arranged to meet my colleagues Drew & Carlos, neatened up and headed down for dinner.
Over food, we discussed our thoughts, expectations & general excitement at being there. As it turned out, all three of us were Test Bash virgins, with little to no idea what was in store other than some of the brightest & wisest minds in testing giving talks. Unfortunately, we had arrived too late to join the other Bash-goers at the post-workshop-day meet up, so we weren’t able to ask the veterans. Good and bad, in my opinion- it would make for a completely immersive & untainted experience, but also a very nerve-wracking one… We finished up early and headed for a good night’s rest.
Friday: The arrival
Barely able to sleep, I rose early and abluted before heading for breakfast. Say what you will about hotels, but you can’t beat the lack of responsibilities on you when you stay. Over breakfast, we had the absolute pleasure of catching up with Rosie Hamilton, speaker #3 of the day. I worked with Rosie all-too-briefly, so it was great to catch up about life, the universe and everything. For someone about to speak on stage in front of 300+ people, she seemed incredibly calm and composed. Inspirational, really. Maybe I should cut down on the caffeine…?
Too much coffee and bacon later, we gathered our belongings, checked out, and headed for the venue. The short walk through a heavily populated area was nonetheless delightful, as the buildings seemed to be made from nature itself- wood and grass combined with concrete and glass, an urban architectural paradise. I took a minute to reset myself before walking in. We were greeted with smiles and waves, and registered ourselves.
“Oh, you’re sponsors? Have some huge stickers saying as much, so everyone knows who to talk to and thank!”.
The “swag” stall (bags, t-shirts, badges, more stickers, notepads, stress-balls… a veritable cornucopia).
Our intention had been to join the 8am Lean Coffee session, but upon arrival at 8.02 the room dedicated to it was already filled to the brim! (much like my coffee cup). Disappointing, but also very promising; if the attendees were already this willing to get involved & socialise, the day was sure to be fun!
As the room began to fill, we found ourselves throwing casual “hello”s and “how are you”s and handshakes aplenty; meeting the simply mind-blowing variety of people that find themselves in the testing profession.
Mostly it was the array of hair colours that stuck out- looking across the room was like eye-surfing a rainbow! Leave it to testers to not fear showing their true selves. Clearly ours is a profession built on statement making, whether about code quality or who we are!
The first talks
Having just about acclimatised to this electric atmosphere, we were ushered upstairs and into the auditorium for the first set of talks; the stage is set brilliantly by a vibrant compere.
Up first is Emily Webber, with “Communities of Practice, the Missing Piece of Your Agile Organisation”.
Engagement was instantaneous! It resonated strongly, as our Newcastle office has been trying to pull together a “test chat” on Wednesdays for a month or two already, with success variable by week. Emily came forth with a wealth of fantastic reasons to keep trying: The importance of communities within not just companies but society as a whole, the emotional connection required, the fulfilment of basic humanitarian needs… Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states food and shelter and other physiological needs are our most basic, but Emily further suggests our actual need is for someone else to provide us with this.
Drew had some moving words to say after this talk: > The talk itself explained the importance of community for every profession, but I think it’s definitely more prominent for testers. It’s quite easy for a tester to feel lonely in the development team crowd, so having a community of people that share a common profession within a company is important, not only for support but to also provide fresh ideas and provoke conversation and innovation within the way that you work. I like that Emily also highlighted the things to watch out for when creating a community of practice, with particular focus on trust and openness so that people are comfortable sharing their thoughts, avoiding a hive-mind from occurring.
Next up, Danny Dainton! A community hero, for more reasons than one. He came to us with “Learning to Learn - My Struggles and Successes!”.
Here we had motivational speaking 101. Community-proclaimed king of Postman was here to tell us how he made it as a tester. His journey from school-hater to army man to testing guru was inspiring. Seeing the way Danny was supported and welcomed into the testing community was really encouraging. It also highlighted the breadth of testing as a subject, and that there’s something for everybody to find their expertise in when joining testing as a career. Two of the primary themes were: Learn the way you learn best and understand that everyone works at different paces. Understanding yours will let you leverage it in the best way possible. Sharing knowledge can be a self-fulfilling cycle, and while it can be daunting at first, it pays massive dividends in the long run - you’ll learn something new in the process and it cements the knowledge you already have.
The first break: UnExpo
One hour in, and my brain was already reaching saturation point. Good thing the organisers knew this would happen! We take leave of the auditorium in search of the “UnExpo”; a room designed for the attendees to run their own mini exhibition.
The idea was that anyone could create a poster and place it in the room, and all who have views on it can gather to talk at their leisure. A fantastic means of opening conversations and inviting innovation through collaboration! We saw a range of ideas here, from “testing puzzles” to “ask a hacker”, “how to stay happy” to “10 reasons you should hire me!”.
Some that jumped out at us were: “how many water droplets can you fit on a 2p coin?” which instantly made me want to ask questions rather than participate; define “one droplet”, define “on”, what other constraints are there… a very clever thought process investigation & discussion piece.
“The positivity wall”, where people sticky noted their favourite ways to stay happy in the face of constant adversity. (my addition? “Watching the 10hr Owen Wilson saying “wow” montage on Youtube.” never fails.)
“What is your favourite language, and how would you learn best?” a stand ran by MoTesting members, who may be planning to start delivering coding lessons in the near future…
After touring the room, I popped downstairs- there was a collection of backpacks that had earlier caught my eye- and bumped into Ash Winter- the day’s final speaker. We’ve met before in Newcastle, where he gave a talk at an Agile North East I attended, and we enjoyed a quick catch up and well-wish. I successfully held my fan-boying in check and made my way to the stall… only to come across Gwen Diagram, yet another famous face of testing. I think it’s fair to say that, more than anyone else, Gwen has inspired me to “be more me” even at work, and not be put off or brought down by some of the more negative sides of company culture but rather strive to own it and change it. I barely remember the trip back to the stage from being so star-struck…
Second round of talks
After that break (which truthfully left me feeling more full, not less!) we were back to the talks. Next up, Rosie Hamilton and “Discovering Logic in Testing”!
You couldn’t ask for a more inspirational talk than this. After an educational (and just a little bit horrifying) reliving of her past ten years in games testing, Rosie began to discuss something not often considered as part of testing- Philosophy. More precisely, Deductive vs Inductive vs Abductive reasoning, and their places within the realms of testing.
She put to us the theory that Deductive reasoning- the idea that a Rule is true, a case is made which follows the rule, therefore the case is true- while irrefutable, holds no place in testing. To elaborate, “The number of Positive Outcomes we see as testers is meaningless.” Inductive reasoning, then- the idea that if a case is made and we know it to be true, we can extrapolate from it a rule- while containing less certainty, is more the form of what Rosie calls “primitive testing”. “we can’t know the unknowns, but while they remain unknown we know the system is sound.” Finally, Abductive reasoning- Sherlock Holmes’ bread and butter. “There is a case, hence a rule, until proven otherwise.” Abductions are inherently flexible, much like testing; we start with a problem and a wide number of possible causes, and investigate until we can draw a path that determines the root. As testers, we continually orient ourselves in our current context, searching for answers to our original hypothesis. This is Rosie’s suggested means of striving for perfection in testing- to constantly question the rule, not blindly follow them. To be the awkward voice in a room of yes-men. To inspire innovation through inquisition.
On then to Aaron Hodder, and “To Boldly Go: Taking the Enterprise on a Journey to Structured Exploratory Testing.”
This was a really interesting one. Aaron had the difficult task of assuring the quality of a 3rd party application his team were not allowed to be part of the development of, for a separate 3rd party who were the actual clients the application was being created for. On top of this, the project was months late already, the visibility of the product was borderline non-existent, the trust between the companies even more worrisome, and the term “agile” was absolutely forbidden. This sounds familiar…
Not one to be stopped, Aaron found a way to appease everybody, and build stronger lasting relationships along the way. His methods involved visualising the work required, in progress, and done using sticky notes on a whiteboard. Alongside these were sticky notes detailing all bugs found, huge mind-map prints that spanned whole walls and detailed every area of the application, broken up in a way that allowed feature teams to concentrate on their section, with a wealth of expertise in each team. The work then became 2-hour timeslots of pair testing which were formally documented, had a combination of clear goals and time dedicated to exploration, and involved both a QA tester & a business representative. The documentation here gave the metrics required by the business, while the time-boxing allowed for the concentration required to really dig into the application. And no Agile in sight! (he says, tongue in cheek.)
This was a very interesting exercise in introducing a new way of working to a company built on what are now considered quite archaic views of how software development should proceed. There is clearly still a place in the world for this style of work, especially where high levels of regulations exist, but this talk showed that even there, some of the best parts of agile can be leveraged to provide for all walks of life.
The final talk before lunch was from Matt Long, on “Why We Should Test Programmable Infrastructure”.
Here was a perfect example of DevOps in action. Bringing the operations team into the sprint lifecycle to understand their requirements and expertise has never sounded more sensible than after this talk. We were glimpsing into one of the potential future paths of testing. With DevOps culture becoming more prominent, this story was instrumental in progressing the understanding that testing ‘everyday’ infrastructure is equally as essential as the end product. Creating a platform from which development can smoothly transition through its stages is vital, and how better to build this than by involving the experts and end users together from inception point?
Lunchtime came, along with a well-deserved rest. I grabbed a coffee (more? Are you sure?) and a boxed lunch, then headed outside briefly to breathe in some fresh air and discuss the talks with the guys. While wandering aimlessly after, I noticed a space next to Rosie whom I congratulated on a fantastic talk, and chatted to along with Shey Crompton (more fan-boying) a bit more about the games industry.
My introvert’s mind was thoroughly overwhelmed by then, so I headed off in search of another place I’d heard mentioned- the “quiet room”. Here, I sat on some comfy sofas alongside a few others suffering similarly, and we quietly re-energised ourselves for the second half.
It’s nice to know that even in silence you can be in good company when you’re with testers.
Meanwhile, my colleagues were immersed in the UnExpo once again, as the topics changed each break. Some topics that caught their eye this time around were:
“Kindness in testing”, where a discussion was had around how testers communicate best with developers and other stakeholders. In order to keep a good atmosphere within the team, it is crucial to be able to deliver and accept criticism in a way that is not alienating for anybody.
“Environmental needs”, where it was clearly seen that different testers require quite different conditions to bring the best out of them (no noise vs music, shared space vs isolation, comfortable chairs vs standing up, and so on…).
“Experiences in Modern Testing” was our next talk, from Alan Page- the “A” of the “AB testing podcast”.
From Alan, I learned to voice some things that I have personally felt for a while now but never been able to accurately convey. Mature agile teams feature what Alan names “Generalising Specialists”; those of us with a specialised background who also specialise in generalising ourselves. We see this reflected by agile team’s consisting of “engineers”, who may have a specialism: testing, development, infrastructure etc. In this way, testing becomes innately built into every product increment we deliver. So, where does “actual testing” take place?
Alan suggests that Modern Testers look to accelerate a team through driving efficiency wherever they can. This means rather than testing the app directly, we apply our knowledge of testing to the peer review stage, or earlier still through pairing, until Developers become proficient in testing! This prevents bottlenecks to quality through genuinely following the “everyone is responsible for quality” ethos. We can then look elsewhere for efficiency gains! I believe my development team are already quite skilled in testing their work through various means, and so have spent a lot of time recently driving efficiency through a more high-level view- by more clearly defining the methodology we follow and spreading the understanding thereof. Up until Alan’s talk I felt slightly imposturous, like I was Scrum Mastering rather than testing, but now I’m not so sure!
Finally, Alan suggests using data to help a team drive business impact in the right areas, and further suggests the most mature “modern” teams predict data and work from there, rather than reactively changing to data received. A definite perfection goal, but far from unachievable!
Geoff Loken, all the way from Canada next, with “Universities: What Do the Academics Have to Say About Testing, and Why Should We Care?”.
This was an insightful study into why, despite years of “computer science” degrees, masters, PhDs and all manner of other studies, testing methodologies are almost never mentioned. The driving ideas were that, once studies exist and curricula can be created around them, we can truly begin to advance the fundamental teaching of testing, and therefore impact the profession right at the source, creating an understanding from the point of inception of what testing truly is.
Another break, another trip to the quiet room via the coffeeshop & unExpo, before our final round of talks for the day…
Upon returning once again to my seat, I found a blank postcard where my behind wanted to be. The compere explained; if we desired, we could fill the postcards with 3 goals we wish to achieve off the back of the day’s talks. They will then be posted to us in 3 months, at which point we will either have a great sense of fulfilment or embarrassment… I filled mine in:
1. re-energise the testing community of practice within Scott Logic
2. really focus my learning on one specific tool using the Danny Dainton method (Fiddler is my aim)
3. … I cannot remember my third. Fingers crossed I’ll achieve it subconsciously…!
Diana Wendruff and Elizabeth Zagroba appear on stage to teach us about when “Less is More”. In a profession like testing, communication is absolutely the strongest tool in our arsenal. Here, we investigated too much vs too little communication from the perspectives of ourselves and others, via the medium of avatars with different personalities. Staying mindful was the goal, along with understanding when it’s ok to shy away to recharge. (the “currency” of our ability to communicate meaningfully was spoons, interestingly… don’t let anyone have all your spoons!)
And finally, continuous integration guru Ash Winter, with “Part of the Pipeline”. A dive into the utopia of delivering in increments so small that it’s difficult to understand where “testing” should take place. I drew some parallels here to Alan Page’s talk, although Ash prefers a more specialist mindset than a generalising one. We heard his idea of what a test strategy should look like (one page, 4 corners: automated, deterministic, stochastic & manual, scrolls…), what good implementation of Canary Testing should look like, how to inform the team and wider that what you’re doing does indeed have value… In a team/project where we currently only dream of continuous integration, I came out of this talk with my head in the clouds, even despite the weight of everything I’d absorbed!
Last of all, the 99 second talks. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for these as I had a train to catch. But the concept of them itself is fantastic: once the speakers have had their fun, it’s anybody’s turn! Choose your topic, get on stage, and go. I had in mind a much-shortened version of my upcoming talk “the art (read: farce) of multitasking”, but alas, it was not to be. Next time! And catch me at lightning Talks, Agile North East on April 10th if you’re interested!
And so I left, brain appropriately full from a huge day listening to the best of the best in our field tell me how they do what they do. Truly, truly inspirational.
It was about this time I realised something else; today was my birthday! The concept had been completely shoved from my mind in the face of all this glorious knowledge ripe for absorption, so off I popped to grab a beer or two to celebrate on my 6-hour trip back north.