When will we stop shooting ourselves in the foot?

I read a post on LinkedIn today which made me wince. I know that sounds extreme, but it really made me feel a mixture of sadness, annoyance and disappointment that even after so much work over the past few years trying to advance the thinking around testing, we are still having posts which elevate those who can write automated tests and put down those who spend more time performing exploratory testing (ie manual testing).

How is it that we still cannot get away from the thinking that those who write lots of code are more valuable? I agree that there is value in automating the right tests, those that we want to run repeatedly either overnight or on each build, and there can be time savings associated with this. However, what I keep seeing are people within the tech industry deliberately playing down the role of other testers who are not writing code. Why?

As far as I can see, a tester needs to use a lot of analytical skills to review a requirement (or user story), understanding what the user needs in context with the application, They do this by using prior knowledge, common sense and by asking questions to gain a good understanding. Then the tester needs to determine what test scenarios are needed in order to meet the acceptance criteria – both functional tests and non-functional. A tester needs to consider the types of devices that are in scope, the browsers, the user types, the desired behaviours, anticipating what could go wrong, test for accessibility, for performance, security etc. The list goes on. There is a lot of thinking that sits behind a set of test cases.

An automation tester typically picks up the test cases after someone else has already thought about them and defined what is needed. The automation tester may select the tests needed for regression, or have them passed over to them to automate. There is of course a skill involved in writing tests that are efficient, cover the scenarios needed, can report on pass/failure with evidence, and update their team with the results via a dashboard or some sort of notification. The automation tester needs to investigate tests that fail – is it a data issue, is it a genuine defect, or has the application changed and the automation code is out of date. Its a different set of skills.

Comparing a tester performing the non-automation tasks with a tester performing automation tasks is like comparing apples and pears – they do not use exactly the same skillsets. There is some overlap but its not a direct comparison. So why do we insist on comparing one with the other and devaluing one set of skills?

I suppose it was naïve of me to expect that we as an industry had started to move forward in this discussion, and that is one of the reasons why I am disappointed that there are those who still post this kind of ‘thing’ (I was thinking of something less polite!!).

If you are a leader in IT, and you really do understand the equal value that testers bring, can I ask that you do one thing to help please? When you see the next post or hear a conversation where testers who are not writing code are devalued, please speak up or reply to the post, and point out the value that the testers bring. Remind whoever it is that there are different ways to measure the value, and that it is demotivating to testers to see/hear/read this kind of thing, and we should be building people up not tearing them down.

I’d like to know if you agree or disagree – please feel free to reply.

Thanks for reading.

Testing Web Accessibility with 8 lines of code

Web accessibility is something that has interested me for a while. In fact it wasn’t something that was uppermost in my mind until I attended the National Software Testing conference in late 2021, where I attended a talk on accessibility and why it mattered. That was the point in which I was hooked, as up until that point no-one had really explained the impact of a non-accessible website.

Its easy to say that we should just ‘know’ this stuff, but it is difficult to put yourself fully in the place of someone with web accessibility issues, because there isnt just one cause. There are many reasons why someone may find accessing a web page difficult – far more that I had realised, and it made me really think about how disadvantaged people can be, due to either ignorance or lack of education.

I came away from the talk with some notes around screen reader tools, WAVE Chrome plug-in, Deque and their Axe tool (“can we hook into Selenium???”), and of course a new acronym – WCAG.

WCAG as I learned from the website https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/ is a set of international guidelines to help make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. There are four principles:
Perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

I decided to look at our web pages to see how accessible they were, starting with the WAVE plug-in. Its a great start point but manually testing pages like this is not sustainable. So I went back to my notes about hooking something into our existing Selenium C# tests which navigate and open pages, as once opened, perhaps the Axe code could scan the pages?

With that in mind, I went to the https://www.deque.com/ site and looked up the Axe tool, and found that there is a free version available from https://github.com/TroyWalshProf/SeleniumAxeDotnet. I decided to do a proof of concept on a couple of web pages, using an existing automation framework, and having read through the documentation, I made a start by adding the Selenium Axe plug-in within Visual Studio via NuGet Package Manager.

Once installed, the code to perform the assessment is quite simple. I added a Feature File which covered navigating to the page and then assessing if standards are met.

It took a few days to implement the code in a way that worked for me, as there are some decisions to be made – where to save the output reports, and what level of issues to report and what to ignore. I wanted the tests to fail if there were any critical or severe issues, but pass if any minor ones exist, as minor ones really dont cause a problem.

It came out as 8 lines of code, plus a couple of comments.

Thats it.

Using Cucumber, I wrote a simple feature file with a ‘Then’ statement which is the key one to validate whether the open page meets the standards, and set parameters for the file location, and passed in the page name to check which is also used in the report name:

 [Then(@”the “”(.*)”” meets web accessibility standards”)]

     public void ThenThePageMeetsWebAccessibilityStandards(string pageName)

     {

         string filename = reportPath + “_” + pageName + “_” + browserName + “_AxeReport_” + DateTime.Now.ToString(“ddMMyy_HHmm”) + “.html”;

         //Build an HTML report for WCAG2A, 2AA, 21A & 21AA standards showing Violation and Incomplete result types

         var builder = new AxeBuilder(driver).WithTags(“wcag2a”, “wcag2aa”, “wcag21a”, “wcag21aa”);

         AxeResult results = builder.Analyze();

            driver.CreateAxeHtmlReport(builder.Analyze(), filename, ReportTypes.Violations | ReportTypes.Incomplete);

         //Fail test if any Violation & Incomplete results exist where impact is critical or serious

         var Violations = results.Violations.Where(v => v.Impact == “critical” || v.Impact == “serious”).ToArray();

         var Incompletes = results.Incomplete.Where(v => v.Impact == “critical” || v.Impact == “serious”).ToArray();

            Assert.AreEqual(0, Violations.Length, “Violations exist”);

            Assert.AreEqual(0, Incompletes.Length, “Incompletes exist”);     }                                                                                            

Its so simple and easy to implement – the tags list the standards that you want to cover, and you can decide which result types and impacts you want to report. The reports were great and I shared them with our internal teams to get some changes made, but they are mainly text based so you could use something like WAVE to help with a more visual representation. Whilst Axe doesnt claim to cover every single guideline, it covers 56% of them, including the most important ones.

I hadnt realised just how easy it was to add these tests to our framework, and all credit to Troy Walsh and the team at Deque for making this code available. If you havent started to look at accessibility, I recommend that you do, as it isnt going away, and I guarantee that the first report will show you some surprises!

Thanks for reading, do let me know how you get on.

Hustef 2022 – how to run a great event

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a country and capital that I had not been to before, and Budapest certainly didnt disappoint.

The reason for the trip was that I was one of the speakers at the HUSTEF2022 testing conference, held in Akvarium which was a great venue. The fact that 3 days after I return I am still buzzing from it must tell you just how great it was.

Firstly as a speaker, so much had been organised behind the scenes – the hotel was literally 5 minutes walk away from the venue and had been paid for by the HUSTEF team. I added an extra night and paid that myself but they had already sorted the extra night for me. They offered to pay for flights as well, which is very generous.

I arrived the evening before the conference and made my way to a restaurant (Hilda) which had been opened just for us to use for a speakers dinner. Again, this was paid for by HUSTEF, and I cannot fault the food at all, it was fantastic.

On day 1, I headed to the venue after a hotel breakfast and found my way into the auditorium where the keynote talk from @PaulGerrard, introduced by the head of HUSTEF @TiborCsondes. It just kept getting better from there. I met testing friends who I have known for a number of years – Paul Gerrard, @MIkeJarred, @MartaFirlej and made a lot of new friends – I’ve got to say that @RayArrell has a wicked sense of humour! (There are just TOO many people to add here, so please dont feel offended if I dont list you).

The organisation of the event was spot on. Every speaker was announced, and there were two big screens at floor level so you could see the timer count down and your slides, so you could continue to look at the audience but be aware how much time you had left. During the talks the audience could vote on the speaker and content, and post questions via Hopin. When the talk ended, the very talented @EditSzalay popped up on stage and went straight into the Q&A sessions with out any gaps. We kept to time really well, and the audience know where to go when there were 2 tracks running.

I have been to many conferences, some well run, and others pretty chaotic, with delegates not knowing what was happening or where to go.

This has to be one of the best organised and best well run conferences I have ever been to, and the team at HUSTEF have raised the bar high. Not just because they offered to pay for speakers expenses, but for the time and effort put in to find the right venue, hotel & restaurant, to organise the program, ensure that everything needed for the speakers was in place, ensure delegates know where to go and when. It was totally stress free for everyone, and I havent seen so many smiling faces at a conference before – every single person was enjoying the talks, and the opportunity to network.

All credit and a huge vote of thanks to @CsillaKhol, @AttilaFeteke and the rest of the team who made all of this happen.

Other organisers – take note. You get out of the event what you put in, and the way you treat your speakers is reflected in the success of your event and the feedback you will then receive.

Servant leadership

Queen Elizabeth II

Today is a sad day, following the death of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II yesterday, 8th September 2022.

The fact that it wasn’t expected makes any death more of a shock – there were no days filled with news of failing health. Indeed she met the outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the incoming Prime Minister Liz Truss only 2 days previously at Balmoral, although she did appear to be a little frail, yet in good spirits.

When you have grown up with someone who has been part of your life forever, it is hard to think how things will be going forward. It feels as though the Grandmother of our nation has died. A new Prime Minister and a new Monarch in 2 days is a lot to process, but it has to be said that our Queen left an unparalleled legacy. And that’s what has inspired me to write this blog.

Throughout her reign, she has been a servant leader. From her first ever speech, right up to the letter she signed following her recent Jubilee as ‘your servant’, service has been her driving force. She has gained the respect and admiration of so many people, not just in the UK or the Commonwealth, but worldwide by the way in which she lived her life. Her humanity and humour shone through. How many other people can we say that of – there are only a few that come to mind.

Giving up your own desires and ambitions to serve others is not something that we see readily in our society, and sadly I don’t think we will ever see another leader who embodies the ideals of being a servant leader again. Selflessness is not something we associate with leaders – its usually ambition and wanting to make a name for themselves.

What can we learn from her example, and how can we pay our respects?

We can learn to put our own selfish desires to one side and put others first. Easy to write, very hard to do, as we are fighting against a society that champions ‘self’ and ‘fulfillment’ over ‘others’ and ‘service’.
As human beings we can do this with our families, friends and neighbours, helping when we can.
As managers or colleagues at work, we can adopt the role of ‘servant leader’. This doesnt mean being trampled on by others, taking on things that we shouldnt, and accepting poor treatment from others. It means not micro-managing but giving people opportunities to learn and grow, not overloading and being overbearing but being supportive, calling out aggressive behaviour, leading by example, coaching and mentoring, giving credit where it is due and not taking all the glory, protecting your team instead of throwing people under the bus. The list goes on.
How we treat people says a lot about us as individuals – humility and respect go a long way.

I’ll probably refine this post at some point but for now, thats all I want to write. The best way to protect Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy is to live it out, follow her example and make the world a better place to live and work in. And what better way to pay tribute than that.

Thank you for your service to us all ma’am, God Bless and Rest In Peace.

Is Testing ‘Rocket Science’?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve started taking an Advanced Testing accreditation as I thought its about time that I did some more learning and increased my knowledge. Although I have over 30 years testing experience, that in no way means that I know all that there is to know. Things are constantly changing, and it is important to keep up with the latest trends, so this seems like a good idea.

I’m part way through and whilst I am still glad to have started this, part of me is a little concerned that we are still trying to over complicate what testing is and how it is to be done.

Testing is not always appreciated by other disciplines who often see what we do as negative – we try to break things, hold up releases, push out deadlines etc, and then when a defect is found in production, its the testers fault!

It seems that there are many in the world of IT, particularly testing, who feel that the answer is to make testing look more complicated. I wonder if there is a school of thought that believes if the work looks to be very involved, then there will be more appreciation of our craft? If so, then I disagree.

Reading the syllabus, there is so much that I will be learning that will never actually be applied in my daily work, and this is a waste of time and effort. One example is the sheer amount of effort learning about reviews. It goes into great detail about the many different types, informal and formal, who should be involved, and how they can work. I wonder just how many organisations perform reviews based on this format – most will do a hybrid version based on the roles and individuals that they employ, and this is perfectly fine. What would be more useful is to simply state that there are different types of reviews, what the outcome is that you are looking for from a review and these are some ways that they can be performed.

This is just one example based upon the course, but there are other examples within our own industry. There are many senior testers who have been working for many years who are well known and respected, not just for their knowledge which they share, but for courses and conference talks that they have given. We’ve all read something or attended a conference or talk where we have come away with something of practical benefit. Unfortunately though there are too many senior figures who are making it seem as though testing is rocket science, and need to keep inventing new types of testing with fancy names. I’m not sure why, maybe its to make their mark or generate business, but its an unnecessary distraction.

What we need is to simplify what testing actually is for two good reasons:

  • testers will understand exactly what their role is, where is fits in and how to perform it without worrying about 100 plus different types of testing methodology they think they need to remember
  • other disciplines understand what testing is without having to read up or have things explained to them in detail

Once testing and the role of testers is fully understood and appreciated by every other IT discipline, not only will the roles be more open and available to others, but testers will find that they are included in discussions, developers will consider the impact of changes on testers as they know exactly what we are going to do with the code they have written. Making things simple to understand should be something that we all aim for.

Testing can be complicated, but lets not keep trying to reinvent the wheel and make it look more complex just for work creation. We have enough work to do as it is – lets focus on building great testers by providing courses that cover the things that we need, and not the ‘pie in the sky’ ideal world scenarios. We live in the real world and thats what testers need to be taught about.

You may agree or you may not – either way I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences.

Happy new year, and thanks for reading.

Robotics and Test Automation – are we ready?

I hope the title grabbed your attention, and I bet if it did, it was the ‘Robotics’ part that did it, right?

I was privileged to be involved in a round table talk a few weeks ago, thanks to Andrew Turner and the London TAD sessions (you can listen to the session here https://youtu.be/GUr1U_c50HU) about Robotics and Test Automation, and it led me to start thinking about the way we automate tests.

The phrase Test Automation annoys a lot of people, but I think it encapsulates the use of using automation tools to write code which will exercise specific scenarios that need to be checked multiple times. The point being, that whatever people decide to call it (and I really dont mind – life is too short to be pedantic about it), the aim is to save time without having a human running the same tests repeatedly, as it takes a lot longer, and is not easily repeatable.

This post isnt concerned with the pros and cons of writing automated tests either – we all know that they do not give 100% coverage and should only be used as a guide to the health of an application, and I am not getting into a debate around testing vs checking (again life is too short!). The point is that we have been following a certain approach to writing automated tests for the last 20+ years. Who among you was a tester in the 1990’s when Rational Robot was around? Yep, me too. I also remember prior to that working on Dec Vax applications and hand crafting tests in around 1995 even before Rational. It seems that we are still writing code to test other code that has been written – I have often wondered how far we should take it, i.e. who should write code to test the testers code that tests the developers code, but I’ll park that for now (my mind does go off on tangents).

Back to the round-table discussion. It was a very interesting one as it opened up my eyes to a possible new way of creating tests that can be scheduled and run without a human doing the work. Robotics tools were primarily used for automating work processes. A good example of this is employee onboarding, where there is a need to capture and process a lot of information, trigger checks and provision user accounts and new hardware etc. There are many examples on Robotics vendor websites of organisations who have implemented these to replace the mundane tasks that a human would have previously performed. Of course a human needs to set up the process and maintain the tools, but essentially the processes can run during work hours or after work hours – lets say a document is received at 9pm, a robotic tool can process the document ready for the next working day.

That was my view of robotics tools, great for automating business processes, but not necessarily something to use for testing. However, these tools have evolved a lot in the last few years, many now have an AI capability, so that they can ‘learn’ about different business processes and make decisions. So how does this affect testing?

It struck me that at a basic level, when we need to create sets of test data, a Robotics tool could be a better solution to use than writing C# or Java code in a Selenium Webdriver wrapper, as the act of creating data often needs to be performed via a UI rather than injecting into a database, particularly where there are a number of legacy applications that share data and all need to be in alignment. The same process that business users follow in a Production environment can be followed in a test environment using the tools. We could by-pass this by adding data to a db if that is possible, but using the tools is one way of ensuring that the process works – it acts as a regression test. It may not be possible or practical with legacy apps to inject data via a DB, so this would be a good approach and if an organisation is already using tools in this way, we as testers could leverage the work that has already been done rather than having another set of tools that duplicates it.

At a more advanced level, if a tool is following a business process, it could be one where data is sent from one application to another, or a batch process is triggered, and the tool needs to wait for a job to complete or to be at a particular status – which means that the tool has the capability to check whether a condition has been met or not before continuing. Hang on – that sounds a bit like testing doesnt it? Validating that a particular outcome has (or has not) happened after certain steps have occurred. In which case there is more of an overlap between a more tradition test automation tool and a Robotics tool.

So, what could this mean for testers?

Many testers do roles which are described as Test Automation Engineer, or Software Developer in Test, where the focus of their role is writing code, whether C#, Java, Python etc, and this has been something they have spent time investing in. In the short term I cannot see a great deal of impact, but in the medium term we could see a shift away from writing code to perform tests and a wider use of Robotics tools, particularly as they evolve.

As testers we need to be thinking about the skillset needed if the tools that we are going to use change. I’ve seen a number of posts over the past few years about ‘codeless automation’, and it isnt going to go away. I believe that the emphasis will move away from learning a particular language, and instead focus on the business processes and rules and the requirements that need to be tested, which is where I believe the focus should be anyway. The danger with existing automation roles is that too much time can be spent on the coding part (it can be a massive drain on time), and not enough on the test analysis part, and testers who have lost the ability to analyse the application, the stories and requirements and think about the tests, will be at a disadvantage.

I know that I have said this before, many times, but I think it is becoming even more important for testers to focus on the 3 core skillsets – technical, analytical and soft skills. We need to be good all-rounders, not just proficient in one area.

From what I have read and from the round table conversations, testing is about to change, and we need to be ready.

If you are using Robotics tools to help with your testing, I’d be really interested in knowing more about how you use them and the pros and cons, so please do get in touch.

Thanks for reading.

We live in interesting times.

As we near the end of 2020, inevitably as humans we start to reflect on the past year and start thinking of the next.

Covid-19 has dominated everything this year – work life, home life, social life, how we shop, where we can exercise, who we can see, where we can or cannot travel to. No-one could have predicted that we would all spend so much time working from home, which is pretty ironic as so many organisations have been reticent to allow people to do much of this for fear that people would be less productive and company culture would suffer.

As I look back over the past 9 months, its not just the changes to working habits that have changed for me, as I’ve been lucky to have had an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and learn new skills.

At the beginning of 2020, as a Senior Test Manager, I had 10 direct reports. The testers worked within the 5 product teams, so it was a form of matrix management which I know many managers will be familiar with. The testers reported to me, but other team members reported to the Team Leads, which of course can cause confusion. One of the concerns was making sure that Team leads and I were in alignment with whatever needed to be done from a testing perspective, as I never wanted to put anyone in the position of being pulled in two different directions. I think we managed this pretty well, but it was not always easy, so in July the testers started reporting to the Team leads as it made more sense, and my role became Head of Quality Engineering a title I suggested as it reflects the different focus of the role. As Head of QE, this is more of a coaching role, looking at testing standards, our automation approach, tools etc, and additionally I also assess how teams follow the SDLC to cover all areas of delivery.

I was just getting into this when I was asked to step in and become an interim Team Lead. As a role, its quite broad, working with Product Managers to plan the delivery of stories in each sprint, so we deliver against the roadmap. When I was asked, I realised it was a stretch for me – I have had no formal scrum master training, and am not that technical, so managing developers was a concern. But I said yes, without over-thinking it and with no major concerns. The younger me would have worried, as I had a very bad experience 20 years ago when asked to step in a look after a team temporarily whilst a manager went on sabbatical – they knew he was not coming back and I was left to flounder with no support, managing testers on unfamiliar products. Since that time I’ve been suspicious of stepping in to help in case of being stitched-up, but not here, as that’s not the way we work.

The first day I came back from annual leave in August, I had a call with the Senior developer and my manager, and we shaped out how to cover the role. All the tech questions would sit with the senior dev, and I would cover the delivery side. From then on, I went into ‘Steve’ mode – wanting and needing to know everything all at once, and trying to run before I walked. Although I was under no external pressure, I didn’t want to let anyone down, and felt I had to know everything, which of course takes time. We were halfway through a sprint, so I needed to get to grips with the ceremonies, processes, what the status of the tasks were, who was working on what, meet each of the team 1-2-1 to get to know them properly, and start thinking of the next sprint. It was hard to start with – I made lots of notes, skim read the Essential Scrum book by Kenneth S. Rubin, and just dived in.

Looking back at the first few weeks, I felt like I was drowning at times. The role is big, there are a lot of things to co-ordinate, and with no formal scrum master training, I ended up using common sense to work out what to do. But, it got easier and quite quickly. With great support from the senior developer, tech lead and product manager, I was able to suggest and make some changes:

  • I had noticed that the team didn’t always have stand-ups over Teams or Zoom, and often had text based updates instead. So the first change was to have daily calls with all attending, and only making a text based update if we had company meetings that took precedence.
  • The next challenge was the backlog and ensuring we had stories ready to work on in the next sprint, so I introduced grooming meetings a week before the new sprint, to review candidates and select stories that were important to the product owner that had full description and acceptance criteria.

Immediately as a team we saw that this has a positive impact. Stories could be worked on without the devs or testers needing to seek clarification from the product owner. They were also easier to break down and estimate.

From that point on, life became easier, we got into the 2 week sprint cycles and to be honest I don’t know where the time has gone. We delivered some big pieces of work, one of which I am particularly proud of, but for commercial reasons will not be sharing details. The point is, I was making a difference, the work I was doing benefitted others, and as someone who like helping other people, it was a win-win.

Fast forward 4 months, and the new team lead has been in place for 4 weeks, and I’ve completed the handover piece. My next chapter is going to expand on the Head of QE role – coaching the testers, looking at improvements for 2021 and delving into monitoring.

I’m so glad that I was asked to step in, and that I had the confidence to go for it. Too much of my career has been in areas I am comfortable in, following the bad experience of 2001. But what I have learned from this over the last 10 years is that we all need to be stretched. I did this back in 2013 to 2016 in a previous role, taking on other tasks and responsibilities, and I have always come away from it with new skills, more resilience and the knowledge that I can do even more than I thought.

If I were to give one piece of advice, I’d say to go for any new experience you can, whether you are asked to do it, or whether you offer to take something on. You will find it hard, you will have doubts, you will make mistakes, but you will learn a lot about yourself, and you’ll be more resilient because of it.

Have a great Christmas and a happy new year for 2021.

Quality? Who Cares?

A few weeks ago I was really fortunate enough to be involved in delivering a Unicom talk on Quality, followed a week later by a round table talk which I hosted, and was set up by Billy Senior.

The topic of Quality is something that intrigues me in the context of software engineering. Most of my career has been dedicated to checking whether the work of someone else does what it is meant to do, and doesn’t do something that it shouldn’t. It sounds bizarre when you think of testing as just that – we are validating that a software engineer has written code that meets the requirements and expectations of an individual or group of individuals. 

But quality is not just about testing to see if something works as it should – plenty of things ‘work’, but the experience is awful, or it takes a long time to do. Quality isnt just about testing to see if something unexpected happens that causes a problem of some sort. Quality is many things to many people, as I found when I did some research for my Unicom talk – and its all subjective!

The essence of my talk was that as testers it is so difficult for us to know whether something we test can be of ‘good quality’ or not. The problem is that we have to make judgements on behalf of others, the end users. As everyone has a different perception as to what quality means to them, the only way that we can do this is by understanding what our end users want from the software we are developing for them. 

  • What is the problem that needs solving?
  • How will our software help?
  • What do they actually need to do?
  • Are there any constraints (e.g. time) that affect whatever it is?
  • What does success look like for them?
  • And so on

Only by asking questions and understanding the end user, can we as testers make any sort of recommendations. Our role is to highlight any risks that we see, and to give information to our stakeholders in order for them to make an informed decision. We may think that something is not good quality but it isnt our role to judge, its to give the right information. Why do we think that? What is the impact on the end user? do we have any suggestions?

Whilst I was writing up the slides for the talk, I still felt that this was too big a topic to do justice to in a 20 minute slot. It was also a monologue, and after doing the research, I really wanted others involved, and this is where Billy came in.

I saw a Quality Advocates post on LinkedIn, and contacted Billy to say that I’d like to get involved with a round table discussion on quality. He called me and within 20 minutes, I was going to be hosting a session 🙂  

He went away and came back with a fantastic group of professionals to join the discussion – Nicola Martin, Marie Drake, Seema PrabhuSufyan Farooqi, Oana Rusu and Rafaela Azevedo. Sadly Stuart Day couldn’t join us on the evening.
We had spoken about how diverse the group should be, not because its a buzz word, or that we need to be ‘seen’ to do it, but I don’t want to hear just from people with my background. I learn less that way, so I genuinely wanted to hear from people that came to testing from different backgrounds, worked in other industries, and in other countries. 

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We had a Slack group and had a group chat to get to know each other – I liked the fact that this gave me the chance to make new friends and contacts – and we did gel as a group.

On the evening, we allocated an hour – and we used it well. The discussion was really free flowing, and it was interesting to hear people disagreeing about what quality is – its fantastic when that happens, and a really healthy thing. We need to disagree and challenge each other at times, and I’m thankful to the group for that.

I havent posted about what we said – and that is because if you are interested in this (and assuming you have read this far, I guess you are), you can watch the recording here.

Please do watch it and add a comment here, as I’d love to know what you think about quality – what is it, who cares about it, who’s job is it to be responsible for it etc.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Get the balance right…

Those of you old enough to remember the 80’s may recall a song by Depeche Mode called ‘Get The Balance Right’ – nothing to do with testing or tech, but just a great song, and as I was thinking about this post, that’s the title that came to mind, and thus my musical memory.

I’ve been reflecting this morning on Diversity. It’s a word thrown around a lot to basically mean ‘not only white men’. It’s not saying that my views, opinions and participation in things are no longer wanted, but that everyone’s views and opinions are wanted, not just people like me.

In a few weeks, I will be taking part in something (online of course) and only saw the list of other participants over the weekend. We are all male, from different countries, so we are diversified in that we are not all British and white, but not in terms of gender balance. And this is what we forget – diversification isnt just one thing – its not just about skin colour or just about gender, or just about nationality, or just about background – its all of those things. Lisa Crispin posted a Tweet which started off with the line ‘There’s no excuse at all for not having plenty of women speakers at DevOps / CD / SRE conferences…’ and its a good one to call out. I had assumed there would be a better mix as this is 2020 after all, and all organisers should be aware by now – but this isnt always the case. And hence this post.

Equality doesnt have to mean that every workplace, every conference etc has to have an exact 50% male/female ratio – it can flex either way, but should never be 100/0 either as that doesnt represent the testing profession (which actually has a higher ratio of women – certainly in the teams I have managed!). There are professions with a higher female ratio – e.g. nursery and primary school teachers – is it a problem or just a reality? Does it matter? Is anyone disadvantaged? Does it mean that boys grow up thinking teaching jobs for men are only in secondary schools? Answers on a postcard (as they used to say on TV).

Thinking about conferences etc, there are arguments around whether we are making them ‘women friendly’ enough and whether thats the issue – and I struggle with that a bit. If we say that women are finding it difficult to put themselves forward, are we recognising that there are barriers or just generalising all women in the same way? Generalising is lazy, and makes it seem as though women have the problem – and I dont agree with that. There are many amazing women speakers out there, but a lot still haven’t been heard. Why is that? Has the work been done to properly understand the reasons?

And its not just that we are only missing women’s voices – we are missing so many testers who are not involved in speaking, for any number of reasons. I wonder how many conference organisers in their feedback sheets have questions asking ‘Is there anything that prevents you from putting yourself forward as a speaker?’ and ‘If so, how could we help you?’. Even anonymous answers would give some key pointers as to what is holding people back for any reason – could be shyness, language barrier, timing etc.

Of course the thing to remember is that we should not force people to do jobs or tasks they dont want to do – whether male or female. I think we miss the point that as humans, we have the right to choose what we want to do ourselves.

Diversity is about giving everyone the opportunity to do something if they want to, and not just to fill a quota, whether that’s in terms of a job role or speaking at a conference.

As testers what can we do to help each other?

If invited to speak at a conference, or accepted to speak at one, ask who else is involved. Is there a good balance? Call it out if not.

Work with an awesome tester you know who could be good at speaking, and help them plan out a topic, guide them with preparation, and encourage them to tell their story. Coach them!

Offer to pair talk – I have done this a couple of times with first time speakers and it worked really well. It can be a good stepping stone for a new speaker to build confidence and go on to do a solo talk afterwards.

If they are not ready to speak, encourage them to write a blog. Help them to get their voice out there and get noticed in some way that build their confidence.

Share their posts and when they are ready to speak, recommend them.

And as conference organisers, what can you do?

Stop being lazy and just asking me who I know! Get out there on social media, look on Twitter and start following testers there, see what they post, get a sense of who they are and approach good people to involve them.

Plan who you want to involve – and if that means declining me because you have already got more testers like me and want to have a better mix of people, please be open and tell me. I’m ok to hear that as a message.

Just because you invite 10 testers from different backgrounds to speak, it doesnt mean they will all say yes – they may just not want to, and thats ok. But leaving it there is not ok. Persevere. Create a wide pool of testers who you can pick from and dont just rely on the same group each time. Keep going until you have a good mix of people who really represent the make up of our industry.

Thanks for reading – please let me know your thoughts, especially if you face barriers to getting more involved – message me privately if that would help.

A very different world

This may be a little rambling, so I apologise. I have literally brain dumped things that have been going around in my brain for the past few days.

I guess when we look back at the Spring of 2020, those of us who are living through it might find it hard to explain to others exactly just what has happened to our global society in such a relatively short period of time.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has literally swept away everything that we knew about how society worked. Workplaces and shops are closed, severe restrictions are in place and around 25% of the world’s population are in lock-down. If anyone had said this could happen, we would have thought they were mad.

Yet it has happened, and already I have had 9 days working from home, and have got used to it quite quickly. We are using tools to keep in touch and there are some really inventive ways of doing virtual team activities, so it doesnt feel too bad for me. I am introverted so am quite happy to be on my own, but I imagine extroverts are straining at the leash to see people! On the plus side, saving nearly £400 in train fares is a win 🙂

We are now 3 days into a initial 3 week lockdown here in the UK (we can only go out for limited purposes), and our usual working pattern has gone – getting up, commuting to work, spending time in the office, walking up to people, meeting with them, grabbing lunch, travelling home at the end of the day, having dinner, watching TV or going out, then going to bed and doing it all again. Now we get up, maybe dress, have some breakfast, work somewhere at home – jump on various Zoom calls, stop for lunch, have a walk/run, work some more – with more Zoom calls, finish and then have dinner and watch TV as there isnt much else to do. Then we do it all again.

I will add at this point that it feels weird not to just pop out to the shops or the pub or to get a coffee, go to work, the cinema, to be able to see friends and family, go to Church etc, but we do seem to adapt to changes pretty quickly – and if this goes on for a while, it wont feel so weird, it will feel almost ‘normal’. That will be odd!!

The lack of travelling somewhere else means I need to find a way to separate work from home, and that is to work in a bedroom at a desk. I have a morning routine and start working around 8.30 – it grounds me and gets my brain into thinking that I need to focus on work tasks. The struggle is that we now spend virtually all day looking at a screen, whereas before we would get up and wander away to speak to someone or sit in a meeting. It means a lot less walking and exercise. I hadnt realised this until someone said it to me today, so we have to take care of out physical well-being. Doing exercises in the house every now and then (or garden if you are lucky) will help with that. I have an exercise bike thankfully.

We also have to look after our mental health. Keeping in touch with others is fundamental to our humanness. People genuinely struggle without human interaction, and in my organisation we are deliberately over-communicating to ensure that no-one is isolated. I check-in with my team members each day and many teams are doing ad-hoc get-togethers. Outside of the workplace people are doing virtual parties, pub quizzes, dinners etc just to keep sociable.

I find that taking breaks is important for both mental and physical health, and I am making sure to walk each day at lunchtime. I’ve noticed how quiet things are outside. I can hear birds singing, there is hardly any traffic and therefore 90% less background noise – and it struck me that it must have been like this 150 years ago, and tells me just how noisy we humans are. The impact we have on our environment is immense – yet look after a few weeks in other places just how much cleaner the air is. I feel much more relaxed and then more willing and ready to get back to work again.

Around all this, it’s been interesting to see how people are coming together in ways that we couldnt have imagined before. And within just a few days. We cannot visit people or have visitors, and we must remain 2 metres away from others, but people are really looking out for each other and doing what they can to help. We just stood at our front door and clapped to say thank you to our NHS workers, and saw people down the road who I’ve never spoken to (we have lived here for 13 years) doing the same. Community spirit is an amazing thing – when we give it time to surface. Sadly there are those who seek to turn things like this to their own advantage, but thankfully these are a small minority, a stain on society, but inconsequential when you look at how seriously people are taking the warnings and wanting to stay safe but also help the vulnerable. Over half a million volunteers signed up to help the NHS within just a few days (and the tester in me did wonder how they found time to stress test the site!).

Events like this which have such a far reaching impact into our whole existence must make us take a step back, stop, think and reflect whether we really want to go back to the frenetic pace again once this has finished.

It would be incredibly sad if all we did was revert to how we behaved up until 2 weeks ago, in our own world, rushing here and there, not having time to think of others, missing the world around us, and for many people, missing valuable family time once they are no longer working from home again.

I’m sure there are those who cant wait to get back to normal, for a variety of reasons, but I really hope that as human beings, we can take the time to think how we can change the way we live for the better. Imagine if 10% of us said ‘no’ – not going to do a long commute any more. Imagine the impact on traffic, noise and pollution. Now imagine if it was 20% who said that and the global impact.

We dont know how long this will go on for, but it gives me hope to think that some good may yet come out of this awful virus for us and our planet.