Reflections and fun stats from 2021

I started my previous post by saying “2021 was an improvement over the previous year”. This was due, in large part, to the growth and new challenges at work. Here are some more reflections and a few fun stats from 2021 on those new challenges:

Growth

Growth at Promenade came as we hired people all over the engineering team from Testers to DevOps, VPs, Directors, and many other roles. Scanning my calendar I see some fascinating stats:

  • Took part in 61 interviews. 45 of which were in the first half of the year (we slowed hiring in the 2nd half).
  • Helped hire a number of executives including: VP of Engineering, VP of Product and Director of TechOps.
  • Our engineering team grew from 9 people in January to 26 people by the end of December. (There’s even more now)

Hiring is challenging in and of itself. Even more so when you source and screen all your own hires with little to no recruitment help (like I tend to do).

Management Work

For the first time I got an official engineering manager title. I already had people reporting to me but getting the title to recognize the position was a nice step. The challenges then became how to manage people across different business units and how much coaching, and 1:1 time to give vs spend on my own work.

  • 2 remote community of practice events
  • 1 remote team building event

For the first time(s) this year I ran a few events virtually. With teams spread out over different businesses it’s important to me to look at my team as more of a community of practice, rather than a separate group.

Metrics became a thing. How do we think about assessing and reporting on quality and test systems? Do we do this for people as well? This seems to be a very interesting topic in and of itself.

Professional development. I informally started building a career ladder for software testers and a professional development plan. This has always been a goal I’ve had in the back of my mind. I give each person on my team goals with classes to take and pass. Now I’m going to share it with others. Scary!

Community Work

Community work included:

  • 1 talk given at the Odyssey Conference
  • 1 BBST course taught on our new Platform
  • 2 (or was it 3) hosted AST events
  • 1 in-person conference organized (I helped in a very small way)
  • 2 (or was it 3) Twitter spaces held

Simplifying things like this is fun but it also makes it seem easy and last year was anything but easy. It certainly was fun.

CAST 2021 Recap

When I hit publish on my article CAST 2021 is AFK a few weeks ago I said:

I’m in an airplane for the first time in years on my way to Atlanta, GA for CAST 2021. CAST is both my first conference in-person and the Association for Software Testing’s first since 2019. I’m pretty excited to confer safely at an in person conference AND to see people from the community.

Me

I was so excited (and nervous) to be at an in-person conference I recorded video of the trip and made a short 2 minute overview of the conference and the AST’s board meeting afterward.

A 2 minute narration of the conference

CAST2021 was meant to be a test of the communities readiness to attend in-person events. As such it was made to be small and safe.

Small meaning no more than 50 people. Safe meaning open only to fully vaccinated individuals (with proof checked upon entry) and designed to be partially open (hence the baseball park). We ended up with 40 excited and energized people learning and conferring over 2 days in Atlanta, GA and it was quite exciting. If that wasn’t enough I probably met 30 of the attendees between conversations, food, a tour of the stadium and of course games, games, games.

Tariq King’s tutorial on Testing AI and Machine Learning

The first day was Tariq King’s tutorial. There’s a ton of information to absorb, we we walked through foundational concepts in AI and ML, while also trying out a number of hands on exercises using publicly available tools such as Teachable Machine, Tensorflow Playground and Google Cloud vision. Tariq used GitBook to list out all of the tools in the tutorial which you can play with here. (Although by now it looks like it has been rebranded from CAST2021).

I’m still digesting what I learned, but one of my biggest questions around AI in software testing tooling space was addressed by Tariq. The primary advantage I’ve seen advertised is around better locators which ideally translates into less maintenance. While useful this also seems rather bland and perhaps not very compelling for my context.

What I learned is the AI/ ML tooling ends up being an abstraction layer around our test automation tools. Rather than having a tool look into the DOM to understand html or javascript elements like many popular tools do, computer vision is used to identify what is on the page. Once the machine knows what’s on the page (after it’s trained) from there you can build a model on what to do. From there it matters less what tool is driving the actual interaction.

Day 2 – Conference Talks

Day 2 of CAST offered the full conference experience with 6 speakers. CAST is famous for it’s use of k-cards and facilitated discussions. I’m always amazed at how a few small questions can lead to tangents and additional clarity during an interactive discussion. I get way more food for thought after this exercise than I do online or in a slack channel (most of the time).

James Thomas (a fellow AST board member and friend) did a great job writing up each of the talks at CAST. I highly recommend checking out each of his articles:

Per usual, James did a great job coming up with funny (pun-worthy) names. He also did some sketch noting which you can find in his articles and via Twitter using #CAST2021.

Ultimately I’m super happy to have gone to CAST. I met a lot of folks from the Atlanta testing community and I learned quite a bit from the talks and tutorials. Two weeks have passed since the conference and I still feel energized from the learning and bonding opportunities I was given. Hopefully I’ll see those same people and a few more at CAST 2022!???


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CAST 2021 is AFK

I’m in an airplane for the first time in years on my way to Atlanta, GA for CAST 2021. CAST is both my first conference in-person and the Association for Software Testing’s first since 2019. I’m pretty excited to confer safely at an in person conference AND to see people from the community. While it’s always fun to see friends, I’m probably most excited to meet people in the Atlanta testing community.

As an Engineering Manager I spend a good deal of time on LinkedIn and Twitter talking about my team, what we do and connecting with individuals who I might want to hire. Honestly, it’s one of the few parts of being a manager I enjoy. Connecting to peers, talking about testing + quality problems and helping out where I can is important.

For weeks now I’ve taken a similar approach with regard to CAST. Reaching out to my few connections in Atlanta I asked about their interest in attending. I got a sense of who they knew (friends, co-workers or others) who might also be interested, until I was connecting with the Atlanta testing community organically. (Small but organically).

Those connections and conversations have had me pumped to get to this conference for weeks. Nothing against the CAST program which looks quite good, I am definitely looking forward to meeting those new people whom I have some connection and back story with. Add on top of this new board members, many of whom I haven’t met in person, and it’s going to be a good week!


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Came for the training, stayed for the community

When I look back on my nearly decade journey in the testing community, it all started with the Association for Software Testing. I came to the AST seeking their BBST courses, but I stayed for the supportive community of people I met both online and afk.

Once Upon a Time

In 2011 at StarWEST I took an Introduction to Rapid Software Testing. Somewhere during the class it was suggested I look into the Association for Software Testing and their BBST classes. Subsequent conversations and online research also confirmed the value of the classes.

I joined the AST and took the first course, BBST Foundations. It was intense and yet very rewarding. Over the next two years I went from Foundations to Bug Advocacy to Test Design with a cohort of testers.

By 2015 I was attending my first Conference of the AST (CAST) and even I was surprised by how many people I “knew” through the community; it was truly special. That same year I attended my first peer workshop (which happened to be hosted by Cem Kaner and facilitated by Andy Tinkham). More than a few people at that workshop were AST members who again I had “met” through the community (and whom I still talk to this day).

Patience and Dedication

Much of my journey toward better understanding my craft has depended on the patience and dedication of people who care to help. Who spend their free time trying to do something for others in the pursuit of making the world just a little bit better. This is the world I came up in and I feel the need to do the same.

I became a BBST Instructor for this reason. I’ve made other connections in the testing community seeking to learn and help. From mailing lists to skype groups to conferences there were (and still are) many overlapping communities and sub-communities in the world that offer a very similar “helping hand” for those who are looking to learn more.

I owe a great deal to the community the AST has fostered over the years. This isn’t to say I don’t also owe a big thanks to all those other communities because I do, but it’s been the AST’s community which has driven my understanding of the field and in many ways my success today.

My Testimonial

In my search for help I read Lessons Learned in Software Testing, which led me to the Association for Software Testing. Through the AST I found the BBST courses which changed the way I understood software testing. Each course brought a greater level of understanding and a deeper respect for the complexities of the problems we seek to solve with software. I decided the best way to continue learning was to teach it. It’s been a huge part of my life and my contribution back to the community. I’ve been an AST member ever since!

My testimonial from the AST site

Even today as I help run the AST I’m looking to carry on and evolve that community so that others will say they also stayed for the supportive community of people.


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Better Tester Training Materials

Last month the Association for Software Testing (AST) announced a new partnership with Altom, the owner of BBST®, that enables the AST to refresh our curriculum lineup with the new BBST® Community Track and help fund the future growth of the materials. This partnership and refresh are a huge milestone for the AST. 

For some perspective: Cem Kaner developed the BBST courses over a long period of time, starting with Hung Nguyen in the 90s. In the 2000s after Cem Kaner was recruited to Florida Institute of Technology he and Becky Fielder received grants from the National Science Foundation to adapt them into online courses. Some time later Cem began collaborating with the AST to teach and develop the courses further. Those courses became known as AST-BBST to differentiate the way they developed and were taught (by passionate volunteers). Eventually Cem formed his own company, developed BBST® further and sold it to Altom after he retired. 

BBST® classes are well known for their depth of core testing knowledge and focus on improving through peer review work. That’s great for students but frankly it’s a maintenance challenge. Long before I started with the AST the problem has been, how do we properly maintain and evolve the materials and classes?

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Not good enough

A month ago someone on LinkedIn thanked a website and the person running it for helping them learn. They recommended others use the site. When people in my network commented on how the site wasn’t any good, I took notice. It reminded me of what Seth Godin said in ‘Not good enough’ is an easy place to hide:

The people who are paying attention are the ones who are trying. And shaming people who are trying because they’re not perfect is a terrific way to discourage them from trying. On the other hand, the core of every system is filled with the status quo, a status quo that isn’t even paying attention.

Seth Godin’s Blog

This is a really hard but important distinction to remember: It’s easy to criticize work in the name of peer review but end up on the bandwagon of not good enough. (There’s a fine line between effective peer review and unwanted comment).

One major lesson I’ve learned from interviewing testers is most aren’t paying attention. They aren’t looking around at how to improve. They don’t read blogs, books or take classes. So while it’s tempting to criticize the work people are putting out, it’s more impactful to reach out to those who are doing nothing and encourage them to try.


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I’m Speaking at TestFlix

It’s true, I’m speaking at TestFlix on November 28th, 2020. You should sign up to join; it’s free to register!

I recorded and submitted my 7 minute talk on “Using Test Idea Catalogs for Better Testing”. The premise is:

Testers can develop a set of tests or test concepts for a specific object or risk and re-use them in similar projects or products. Catalogs come in many shapes and forms, they can be lists or more detailed. They can be public or private. They can be developed by individual testers or as teams within companies. But they all help you test better!

Slides

References

I plan to write more on the topic of Test Idea Catalogs in the near future but I mentioned a few in the presentation that I’d like to call out here:

I’m running for the 2020-2022 AST Board of Directors

Elections just opened for the Association for Software Testing’s Board of Directors for which I’m a candidate. If you are a voting-eligible member of the AST I’d appreciate the consideration as I run for my 2nd term.

For those who are voting (or possibly just interested) I completed a list of candidate questions. For fun you can compare them to my answers from 2018.

I did want to highlight a few questions that I think are important:

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My First Term on the AST Board of Directors

The Association for Software Testing (AST), a non-profit professional organization dedicated to advancing the understanding and science of software testing, has announced a call for nominations for the Board of Directors for 2020-2022. This means my two-year term as a director is coming to an end. I feel fortunate and grateful to announce I’m running for a second term. The AST has helped a lot of people including me. For this and a few other reasons described below, it feels like the right moment to reflect on what it has been like to help run this global non-profit.

The Golden Ticket

I was elected in August of 2018 while attending the Conference for the AST (CAST) in Melbourne, Florida. An AST member since 2012, I started volunteering in 2013 after I became an AST-BBST Instructor. Coming up through BBST, I thought educational advocacy was one of the AST’s most important community services. You can’t advance the understanding of the craft until testers have a solid understanding of what already exists. I really wanted to improve our offering and felt the best way was to help set priorities at the board level. 

AST Board of Directors

Elections happen every year with roughly half of the 7 person board up for election each year. The election process starts with a call for nominations and then candidates introduce themselves via questions posted to the web. Finally voting takes place during the time of CAST (typically the first week of August) and on the final day of the conference a new board is announced.

As a member-elect you are elected to a position by the sitting board members based, in part, on your preferences. In 2018 during a discussion with existing board members it came up there was a need for someone to take on the Treasurer position. It wasn’t the role I initially wanted (VP of Education was my first choice) but I felt reasonably competent so I accepted.

As with any official board position it’s a starting point for your contributions. I really wanted to focus on education but my fellow AST-BBST instructor Simon Peter (with whom I taught countless classes) wanted the position as well. We quickly both decided it made sense for him to take VP of Education and I take Treasurer. Just like we had done in our teaching we decided it would be fun to collaborate on the many changes we wanted to see in AST-BBST. I had my official role, Simon had his and yet we worked together whenever we could to improve our educational program.

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Late-August updates

August has been crazy busy with a mixture of travel, AST elections, my day job and the annual CAST conference. Some recent updates:

Learning

  • Joined my first TestAutomationU course on WebDriverIO. I already use WebDriverIO v4 but figured since it was using v5 it might be fun to see what is new and how someone else approaches designing their framework. So far I’ve picked up a few different libraries and approaches to config files. At some point I’ll go back through the class. code up the examples and put them in my repo on GitHub. Always a good idea to show your work / build a portfolio!
  • Finished reading Bad Blood. Oh such a fascinating, fun and yet frustrating book on the blood testing startup Theranos, it’s founder Elizabeth Holmes and how she was able to deceive so many people. Essentially the company used the threat of lawsuits, internal security and departmentalizations of employees to keep most people from knowing the truth or learning too much. From an a casual observer I’m fascinated how, despite terrible working conditions and low levels of trust within the organization they attracted top talent with the promise of helping revolutionize the healthcare industry. I mean that’s how powerful a message and a founder can be. There’s also a lot to be said for how smart and powerful companies are able hide information and the true power of journalism to fight against it.

The Association for Software Testing

  • The AST had our board of director elections (run by myself and Simon Peter Schrijver).
    • We welcomed two return members: Eric Proegler and Ilari Henrik Aegerter and three new board members: Lena Pejgan, Louise Perold, and James Thomas!
  • Turns out running a conference is time consuming, who would have guessed?Lol
    • I didn’t spend much time in conference sessions at CAST due to work, networking with a few people, and generally trying to keep the conference going smoothly. The funny thing is I still learned a lot!
    • I’ve written a few summaries of sessions that I hope to post recaps for but just need to find the time.
    • Now that the conference is over, a lot of work falls to my role as the Treasurer to wrap things up with speakers, etc. Its fine work but it takes time.

ETC

  • In addition to traveling with the family to Florida for CAST we also hit up Disney World a few times during our week long stay. Never been and despite it being overcast a number of days it was still incredibly hot. Thank goodness for the great weather in SoCal.
  • The first round of updates for my slides and presentation at STARWEST are done. Yay! Now to continue iterating!

There’s so much more to write about regarding CAST, my time on the board of directors, etc. so look out for those up comings posts!