My reflection on 2016

This will be my last post for 2016 so I thought it an idea to reflect back on what has happened this year.

2016 has been a great year work wise (and personally too, but this is more of a ‘work’ type blog, so I’ll skip that). I’ve continued co-running our RBI global QA Chapter with Bhagya (https://bhagyagdm.wordpress.com/), bringing 75 testers together on a quarterly basis to create a testing community, where we help each other, ask questions, give support, perform demo’s etc, and we are looking at how we can reboot the Chapters for other disciplines.

I’ve also been jointly running the Distributed Teams workshops with Bhagya which we both learned about at the March 2016 Test Bash from Lisa Crispin and Abby Bangser – we have done 3 internally, and all were very successful.

In April at the UK Test Management Forum, I presented a talk on the Challenges for Test Managers, as there are less of us. What does the future hold? It was an interesting discussion and led onto another talk in December – see below!

From TestBash, I brought back to my team the concept of Lean Coffee meetings, and we adopted those for our team meetings and also for the QA Chapters – hugely successful as it gives every tester a voice, whether they are shy and unused to speaking openly or not.

Then I found that I spent the summer preparing for a busy Q4:

In October I presented by first Webinar, thanks to Unicom, on Being a Better Tester. It went down so well, that I am now presenting it as a talk at Testing Showcase North in Manchester in February 2017!

In November I had an amazing visit to India, where I was privileged to speak in front of a large number of testers about Being a Better Tester – essentially delivering my webinar live. Also I ran a smaller version of the Distributed Teams workshop for the team we work with and they found it hugely informative. (More details on my India visit blog page).

And in December, I spoke at the British Computer Society, Testing Interest Group on ‘Challenges for Test Managers’ after being invited to do so, following on from my April session. It was a privilege to be asked and to be able to run an interactive session with a larger number of attendees, which I felt was very rewarding. I have just typed up a small article for the BCS Tester magazine to report back on the talk and the ideas that came from the audience, as I find that a lot of conferences don’t do enough of this – we should do more interactive thought gathering sessions and share that around.

It feels that this year has been about adding value to others. Giving something back and helping others to do their jobs better – this is the reason I go to work, and why I do conferences, articles and this blog. If I am not making a difference, then what is my purpose? It’s something that is very important to me.

So, now I am starting to look forward to 2017, and there’s a lot lined up already:

  • I have a magazine article coming out in January (Test Magazine) on ‘Changing our approach to Training – how tester training needs to evolve’.
  • In February I have the Manchester talk.
  • A week later Bhagya and I are leading a session on Communication at the inaugural UKSTAR event, which I am hugely excited about.
  • In May I am hopefully speaking at the National Software Testing Conference.
  • I have also volunteered to be a mentor to a new speaker, which will happen later in the year.
  • And I am still involved in helping with the UKTMF, which will be getting a revamp in 2017.

It’s great to have all this planned before getting to the end of 2016, but it takes effort. Nothing just falls into your lap – I have had to put myself forward to do these things, and it is definitely worth it.

If you have read any of my postings this year, I would like to say thank you. I do enjoy receiving comments – I know that someone has either found it useful or challenged enough by what I say to respond. Without readers, it wouldn’t be worth doing!

I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous and successful New Year. Here’s to 2017!

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A visit to India

I am writing this after 4 days in India, visiting the offices of our offshore delivery partners, Nagarro. It’s my first visit to India and it has been amazing so far. We are just outside Delhi, in a 5* hotel, with cars to drive us to and from the office, so we havent had to get ourselves around, although our attempt to use Uber last evening failed as the driver couldnt find us, but never mind. And of course the food is fantastic, so colourful and rich in taste.

Being out here and meeting the team has been a great experience for me and for them. The team are so friendly, helpful and genuinely pleased to see us. Having people visit shows that we care about them, they are offshore but not forgotten. Face to face contact is so important, as its hard to build up relationships over the phone or Skype in the way that a chat in the office and a drink after work can do.

I’ve been able to run through the testing process with them and discuss some of the issues they face. Yesterday I was invited to perform a talk to well over 100 testers on a topic that I presented as a webinar last month on being a better tester, which was an honour for me, so thanks to the people at Nagarro for asking me to do this. We had some good questions from the testers here and they were really engaged in the subject. It’s given me a number of new followers too  🙂

Today I ran a workshop on working with distributed teams – with some of the guys putting themselves in the position of being the Onshore team – I think they found it quite eye-opening.

In terms of new experiences, I can fault it. In terms of building relationships, it has been outstanding, and in terms of productivity, I cannot believe how much I have crammed in this week. There is one day left with only one planned meeting, but I have a feeling that there will be a few ad-hoc ones with the team as they make the most of having two of us out here with them – and who can blame them.

I’m very thankful to have had this great experience, and can definitely say how much I like India already. Sightseeing Saturday is yet to come – I cant wait!

Its all about people.

This might sound really obvious, but not much can get done without human involvement somewhere along the line. Therefore people are important, and that is the same whatever industry you happen to be in.

Working in technology, we can be forgiven for believing that technology is king, and people are somewhat incidental. We are focussed on delivering changes to products and using technology to do so. Code is written, tested and released in regular cycles, to deliver benefits to an end-user – a person. But what about the people who are not those referred to in a User Story? Those actually involved in gathering requirements, writing the code, testing it, releasing it? Are they not important too?

Yes, I believe they are, and I also believe that too few companies genuinely believe this to be true. Thankfully the company I work for is very people focussed and personal and professional development is not just something we pay lip service to. Failure to invest in people just means that they will leave. A new study on how millennials see the world indicates that they are happy to just jump ship on regular intervals to get ahead. That contrasts with my belief in loyalty and that moving too often looks as though you lack staying power, but there is a generation gap here, so maybe the difference in outlook is not so surprising! In any case, it’s not just about Generation X, Y and millennials, but people in general. We all need to feel valued, that we are doing something worthwhile and appreciated, stretched so that we have learning opportunities, and trusted to do a good job. No-one wants to feel bored and undervalued, whatever year they were born in.

The problem is that managing people is hard work. Everyone is an individual, with different motivators and needs, and a good manager has to keep track of each person and deal with them in the way that works for them as individuals. When I first started managing, I believed in treating people the same – that’s fair isn’t it? And treating people how I would like to be treated. Both admirable ideas, but fundamentally flawed. Firstly I assumed everyone was motivated by the same thing, and that isn’t the case. And secondly, my preferences are not the same as others. So by trying to do the right thing, I missed out on looking at people as individuals.

Roll forward a number of years and as I matured into my role, attended training courses and benefitted from coaching by my line manager, I came to realise and appreciate the differences between each of my team members. I manage 9 testers now, all unique in their own ways, and I absolutely celebrate those differences. I love being able to find out what motivates someone, and give them opportunities in those areas. It’s great to see how they respond, and the passion with which they do their work when truly trusted and motivated. There is so much to be gained as their manager, as I get to celebrate their successes with them, and see them fired up and ready to tackle new things.

Whilst writing this, it strikes me just how much of a mind-shift I have had to make over the past 5 years, but it has been totally worth it. I would like to think that I am a good manager – not perfect, and still with a lot to learn – but no longer taking a lazy approach to managing people, and instead considering them as individuals, and treating them as such. I mentioned earlier about treating people fairly, and I can still do that by giving them all different opportunities, and not leaving anyone out. It isn’t about treating everyone as though they were clones of each other, and it isn’t about assuming that everyone is motivated by the same thing or has the same dreams and aspirations.

Yes, it takes effort and time to get to know every individual, but then if it isn’t about the people, what’s the point?

My first Webinar!

A week ago I delivered my first Webinar, courtesy of Unicom Seminars (www.unicom.co.uk). They had approached me to see if I was interested, and after blogging, writing a few magazine articles and speaking at conferences, this was something I had not done before.

The theme was around learning and it worked well for me as I have been on a bit of a mission to help my team to do some tester pairing and Thought Leadership to stretch themselves, and I felt I could deliver something of value to others.

As I was writing the slides (and notes), I noticed just how much we focus as an industry on the purely technical skills that we want testers to have. It struck me that we are ignoring the analytical skills and soft skills that we want as well, which are the three areas I feel a good tester needs to work on. There’s no point in hiring a good technical tester who lacks analytical skills as they wont be able to plan the tests to actually automate. There’s also little point in hiring someone with little or no soft skills. Good communication skills are vital.

I managed to get the point across in a 30 minute slot, with 40 ‘live’ attendees listening in, and I was very pleased to have around 10 questions to answer as well.

Doing something like this has helped me to give something back to the wider testing community in a different way, and I am grateful for that opportunity. My next magazine article will be in Jan 2017 Tester magazine on this very topic so you will be able to read more there. Unicom have also asked me to do a conference session in Manchester in February on this topic, as they felt it would come across well.

I would encourage anyone reading this to have a think about stepping out and giving something back. The Ministry of testing offer the chance to do 99 second talks on a test related subject which can be put on a website, and this is a great first step towards doing a conference talk, webinar or writing a blog or article. It’s worth it, believe me.

Routes into testing

I’m going to make a guess that you (as a reader of this blog entry) never dreamt of becoming a Software Tester when you were at school or college. You may have had dreams of being a doctor, lawyer, train driver, astronaut or a whole host of other things, but Software Tester was not something you would necessarily have even heard of.

For decades, anyone wanting to get into the field of IT would aspire to a Development (or Programmer) role, as these were the main roles that we heard about. Even today, whilst Computer Science graduates have heard of testing, by virtue of the fact that A levels (in the UK) and degree courses now do something akin to a nod towards the fact that software testing is actually something important, and there are people who choose not to write code but to test it for a living. As an example, Oxford university offer a course on Software Testing as part of a Software Engineering degree, which is something that didnt happen in the 1990’s or 2000’s!

There are many graduate schemes which bring people into IT, but even today primarily this is Development, Security and Operations type roles. There are Testing Services companies that will train testers as graduates, but I wonder what the ratio is of graduate testers compared to other roles in IT?

I fell into a testing role for my second job, moving from one bank to another, from a non IT role into a role that I had never heard of. There were no training courses and I learned on the job. It took me a while to understand what the role actually was, and even now there are many people with differing opinions as to what Testing actually is – but that’s not for this post!

Over the past few weeks there have been some interesting Twitter posts about whether Testing is a role that anyone can get into or not. My view is that we are all testers anyway, without realising it. We test the temperature of bath water before bathing our small children. We test the fastest route from A to B and try different ways. We test boundaries of behaviour and acceptability. We test how much we can eat in a ‘eat all you can’ buffet before we feel full. We test just how much longer we can wear our old trainers before they fall to bits! We test all the time.

It seems to me that just about anyone could in theory become a tester, no matter their career background, but not everyone would be good at it. To be a good tester requires having the right attitude as well as technical ability and the right mindset. Technical skills can be learned, how to approach testing can also be learned, but attitude and the right mindset cannot be learned.

It’s interesting therefore to look at how current Testers (at all levels) actually got into software testing as a career. A common story is where projects have required assistance from business units with User Acceptance Testing, and those who helped out became involved that way, staying in Testing and bringing their business knowledge. I’d love to hear your stories as I’m sure there must be some very unusual routes into Testing out there so please share your story and how you found the transition.

Another great day at work!

Ok, I am a few days late, as the day was actually Tuesday 13th September, but I haven’t had time until today to get blogging.

Back in May, I blogged about taking TestBash to work – well we did it again this week! With my colleage Bhagya  we ran our second ‘Building Quality with Distributed teams’ workshop for over 20 people from four different teams within our organisation.

We had learned a lot from the first workshop, namely to have a timekeeper as well as two observers, which really helped, plus we extended the timings of the tasks a little to see how that worked.

We managed to keep it to 3 hours, and with 100% positive feedback from participants that they all found it useful, but almost unanimously suggesting that we add a little more time as it felt rushed as we wrapped up. So, our next one will be 3 1/2 hours long! Each time we will try to take on board feedback and make improvements, so as to maximise the benefits that the participants gain from the time invested – and it looks like we are in demand. Our parent organisation has asked us to perhaps run a session as a pilot to see how that works, and we may we asked to run externally as well.

All of this arose from attending a workshop at a conference, and proactively taking it from there and implementing it ourselves. So thanks again to Lisa Crispin and Abby Bangser  for sharing the resources and supporting us with this. They could so easily have kept it to themselves, but that isn’t what we as testers do. We share our expertise and knowledge with others for the benefit of everyone in the industry, and that’s what I love about the testing community, so long may it continue.

Here’s a challenge. What have you read about, seen at a conference or experienced that you could share with others?

Good testing – luck or judgement?

I get to talk to a lot of testers, not just those in my team, but other teams in my organisation, testers at conferences and those I interview, and it struck me the other day that there is no real way to tell from a person’s background whether they are going to be a good tester or not. Wouldn’t it be great if we could apply a formula – it would make life so much simpler, but I don’t believe it comes down to training or background – it’s either in-built or not. What I mean by that is that in my opinion, good testing cannot be just left to luck (although it can be I suppose if you just happen to find that critical bug without looking for it!), for me it is all about attitude and mindset. Technical ability and the focus on automation seems to be the overriding requirements for many testing roles, and whilst they are important, they are not the ‘be all and end all’.

If we define a good tester as someone who can write automated tests, then we are essentially defining a developer. So why do we need a tester to focus on writing code if developers can do that?

Good testing comes from understanding the application, understanding the requirements (usually from a User Story if we are following Agile), and determining whether the requirement is testable, whether there are any omissions, clashes with other stories, potential impacts on other applications, and what types of testing are needed in order to prove to the Business Owner that the team have delivered what was requested. Good testing is found in how a tester approaches their job, and I know I have mentioned this before, but it is where a tester adds value to a team. Having another individual who can just automate the acceptance criteria that a Business Analyst wrote adds no additional value – and the team have employed a developer essentially.

A good tester needs to think about the application, and consider it as an end user, ask the questions that no-one else thinks of and be inquisitive. A good tester has to exercise good judgement in determining what to test and how to test it, and whilst this can be learned (to a degree), much of this will come from a person’s character.

If you are a good tester, then luck will play second fiddle to judgement, every time.