WeTest Weekend Workshops 2015: Thoughts

Outline
Last weekend I went to WeTest Weekend Workshops, a community-run Testing conference that has been run from the city I live in (Wellington, New Zealand) the last two years, but was in a different city (Auckland) this year. This year was phenomenal and I’ve decided to put some of my thoughts to paper on my experience up there (starting with the sessions I attended) and see where it leads me.

A word from Edwin
WeTest had several sponsors this year, but one is worth mentioning in particular. Assurity have been supportive of WeTest since the start: the two co-founders at the time were both employees there, WeTest Wellington generally runs out of one of their buildings etc. What was notable about their sponsorship is that Edwin Dando who runs the Auckland branch of Assurity asked to say a few words. He explained why they were a sponsor, and why he (who is more known for his links to the Agile community and practices, not to the Testing community and practices) was so keen to be involved.
Edwin talked about his history with Agile: that he was an early proponent in NZ, saw the difficultly in uptake and in people taking Agile seriously or giving it a fair go, and describing the maturation of Agile in NZ over the time he’s been involved. He talked to how he saw the same progress of maturation, development and growth in the Testing community in NZ through groups such as WeTest.
While I’m sure there’s some element of commercial gain in sponsoring community groups, I didn’t doubt what Edwin was seeing or saying. It spoke well to the testing community that our growth is being noticed by other parts of the larger IT community, and it spoke well to Edwin that, from his experiences in the New Zealand Agile community, he’s on board with giving us in the New Zealand Testing community his support. Shirley Tricker tweeted on the day that Edwin’s sponsor talk was “the best a few words from our sponsor ever”, and from my limited experiences, I’d agree (as did others on twitter).

Diversify
The Keynote for the conference was given by Katrina Clokie (amongst other things, co-founder of WeTest Wellington and editor of Testing Trapeze). The theme this year was “Diversify”, and Katrina gave a punchy speech on four areas in which you can diversify as a tester: How you think, your Technical skills, a Specialism and Leadership & Community outreach. She talked to examples in each of these areas, and had a hand-out with many references and options for development in each direction.
The speech and ideas presented were powerful, and presented well. She made her intent explicit to get people thinking as if there were no standard confines for the career and personal development of a Tester, and I think she succeeded. While my reaction on the day wasn’t particularly strong (I had had spoilers, being privy to an earlier version of the speech), I have already started looking into some of her examples/options (such as Alan Richardson‘s book “Java for Testers”).
The Keynote was recorded as is available on YouTube. It’s not a long watch, and it’s well worth listening to. Katrina has also made a copy of the hand-out available here.

Visualising systems
In the first session I ran a workshop on visualisation techniques. It was a tweaked and updated version of a session I’ve run before (at the previous WeTest Weekend Workshops 2014), this time using the more relatable mnemonic NEPAl (Narrative, Elements, Perspective, Abstraction level), but following the same broad strokes. I plan on blogging on this mnemonic in more detail in the future, so I’ll move on to the other sessions I added and insert a link afterwards to whatever write-up I end up doing on the NEPAl mnemonic.

All Kinds of Minds: Let’s Talk Mental Health
The highlight of the day for me was Aaron Hodder‘s talk (and the following discussion) on Mental Diversity. I think, given the number of tweets flying during and after the talk, that it may have had a similar impact on others too. Aaron had previously presented an ER on the topic at a WeTest Wellington MeetUp which evolved into this, initially about his experiences with Social Anxiety Disorder, but now also discussing some elements of Depression and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
One of the first ideas raised was that, like the benefits of having other forms of diversity in the workplace, having mental diversity in the workplace brings benefits too. Aaron couched this from the perspective of “super powers” – people who have previously struggled with mental illness, or with the consequences of their form of mental diversity (such as ASD, or even introversion) may have fundamental differences in the way their minds work, and those differences can almost be like super powers. Some examples include that, as Social Anxiety Disorder causes an over-reliance on over-analysis of social situations, people with this disorder are likely to have strong analytical skills. They also tend to be highly empathetic, and other examples were discussed. Depression was noted as reducing optimism bias which could have benefits for testers, and so on.
The flip-side to the super-powers that the mental diverse can bring to the table is the kryptonite that they might suffer from. A large portion of the open season after Aaron’s talk was around how to maintain the care and feeding of those who don’t fit the standard model of the new IT professional in Agile – of which the discussion focused around the usual drive to hire and work with extroverts who interview well, and who can communicate in a particular given communication style. At this stage there weren’t many useful answers, far more questions were raised than answers given. In discussions with others after the conference it sounds like there might be some answers out there already, but not all grouped up in relation to the topic, possibly due to the stigma that still exists for talking about issues that touch on mental health.
This is another topic that I intend to come back to. Aaron has also expressed an interest in fleshing out the topic further and presenting it again in other circles in future, and i hope he does. I personally feel very strongly on the topic. The largest takeaway I had from the session was that the more people who step up and talk about this topic (even if there are legitimate concerns that it might have negative impacts on the way people see them), the easier it will be for others to talk about it; until people are willing to talk about it, there’s unlikely to be change.

Be a great manual tester to be a good technical tester
The third session I went to was Jennifer Haywood‘s session on Technical Testing. This session is one that I would highly recommend for people feeling intimidated by technical testing, or otherwise feeling like they cannot or are having difficulty breaking into the technical side of testing. The core message I took from her presentation was that the dichotomy between “technical” and “manual” testing was a false one; many people buy into the facade that they are a “manual” tester, and that there is some kind of jump that needs to happen to get to “technical” testing. She very effectively broke down these assumptions using suggestions and examples from the attendees, and showed simple and effective ways of using the techniques of “manual” testing that can be used to move into the “technical” space.
Of the sessions I attended I feel that I got the least from this session, but not because it was a bad session. Jen spoke well, recovered from technical difficulties with grace, and presented her ideas effectively. At the time I felt very frustrated in the session due to the assumptions underlying the questions she was asking – but it turned out that was intentional; in fact, looking back on it in hindsight I think that she presented her ideas in a way that I might have done so myself, which has led to me asking some questions about my own reactions to the session and what I can learn from that.
Jen also has presented previously on the topic of Technical Testing, and has written a related article in the latest Testing Trapeze magazine, which is well worth reading.

The Game of Testing
The sessions for me for the day were rounded out by Mike Talks who ran a game in groups of 4-5 people, where one person per group acted like an old-school Binary Search-type game, like one that I remember played around with in QBASIC when I was a kid. Each “build” of the game had different bugs, and the person playing as the computer could only respond in given ways. How the testers in the group handled the responses, and how and when they moved on to new builds prompted insightful comments from Mike on different elements of Testing practices, both good and bad.
I ended up playing as the computer in my group, which got quite far into the game. Some of the interesting curveballs I was thrown were players trying an “infinity” input (which I wasn’t quite sure on whether to treat as a number of not) and the performance tester in the group building a loop to cycle through different inputs and responses. Requesting to modify the program (for instance, log files) was one of the explicit lessons discussed. Mike also talked to sources of information in testing (using the known rules of the game to extrapolate test conditions from), and a small pointed notes on the topic of when we stop testing, based on how much we really need to know the report a bug; an excellent example of this would be the talk in Gerald Weinberg’s book Perfect Software about the difference between Testing and Debugging; do we need to find that a bug occurs, or find reason that a bug occurs? How much of each are we obligated to do before having the information acted on?
Mike’s session was an excellent one to finish the day on, It was engaging and energising (which is very a good note to close conference sessions on), and his insights still brought learning to the table despite our beleaguered minds (I at least had felt quite drained after the second session).

Other sessions:
John Lockhart: Incorporating traditional and CDT in an agile environment
Lightning Talks:
Craig McKirdy: Our future testers haven’t left school yet
Jennifer Haywood: Diverse Teams – The Myth of The Perfect Tester
Natalia Matveeva: I want to be a tester. What’s next?
Kateryna Nesmyelova: Miscommunication
Katrina Clokie: Become someone who makes things happen
Vikas Arya: Tester Accountability
Viktoriia Kuznetcova: Going to the Clouds
Adam Howard: Talking the Walk

One notable session here to me was Vikas Arya’s session on Tester Accountability – I was luck to talk to Vikas before the Keynote started, and thought his session sounded interesting, including a lot of discussion around how you justify your methods of testing and reporting (which is a topic of personal interest to me). There’s also a mention in the latest Testing Trapeze that he’ll be writing an article next magazine, which I’m sure given the feedback I heard for his session will be excellent. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Vikas’s work in future.

Wrapping up
It’s been nearly a week, it was a pretty intense day, and it’s provoked a large amount of thinking and overthinking in me, so it’s good to get at least some of it out in writing. My next two things that I intend on writing (as mentioned above) are more on the session that I ran, and further thoughts that have come out of Aaron’s discussion on Mental Diversity – so watch this space.
I’d like to give a big round of applause and congratulations to the organising team from WeTest Auckland (Shirley Tricker, Erin Donnell, Morris Nye, Kim Engel, Natalia Matveeva and Jen Hurrell), who did a fantastic job. This year was absolutely spectacular, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next year between the Wellington and Auckland WeTest communities.
Also, a shout out to the other people from WeTest Wellington who made the trek up to Auckland (many of who also volunteered their time to present and/or help set up the location), both for the support that it provides the testing community in NZ, but also because those that were on the same flight(s) as me were excellent company, even when I was completely out-peopled in the evening.

Parting thoughts
Were you at WeTest Weekend Workshops? Did you have a different take to me? Did you go to other sessions? How did you find it? I’d be keen to hear from you, be it in a comment, over Twitter or other methods. If you weren’t at WeTest and we’re local, would you consider going next year? If you’re not local, have you had success with, considered looking for, or even starting a community group?

4 thoughts on “WeTest Weekend Workshops 2015: Thoughts

  1. The day went by in a blur for me so it’s great to read your write up and have a chance to think about the day. We’ve had lots of feedback on what went well and suggestions on things we can do to improve.
    I’m glad you raised the point about your reaction at the time, and after, to the ‘manual-technical tester’ session. I’ve been thinking about how some people chose to respond to the sessions/speakers/content they didn’t like. Some had been assigned to a session they didn’t want to go to, or a session didn’t meet their expectations, or they disagreed with what was being said.
    Some people have said (verbally and in other write ups from the day) they got value from sessions they weren’t expecting too. I noticed those same people put their ego and assumptions aside and listen, take time to respond and be respectful even when they didn’t agree or weren’t fully interested.
    Sadly, there were a few who seemed determined to be right, to find fault or shut down opposing views. Our speakers are not paid/professional. They’re brave to stand up in front of their peers. They know they’ll face some scrutiny, but some responses to them were just plain mean-spirited. These things disappointed me:
    – An attendee having a loud side conversation during a session where they didn’t agree with the speaker.
    – An attendee talking over another attendee until they backed down and stopped talking.
    – A speaker being approached during an activity break within a session and told their content was wrong.
    I will speak privately to each of the people concerned, but they weren’t the only ones on the day who assumed they were right, jumped to conclusions or disagreed in way that shut down debate.
    Our testing community is strong and smart. I would like to see a little more kindness.

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      • If it were me you we referring to, or anything similar had happened with me, it’s feedback that I would prefer to have than not; speculative introspection can only get you so far with self-improvement.

        While speakers were volunteers, I’m not sure I agree on the “professional” part of your sentance; both from a perspective of the quality of what I saw (I don’t think I would categorise the quality of my experience there as lower than “professional” by any means), but also I’m inclined to think that if you’re putting your ideas into the public space with the statement or implication that you know enough about the topic to claim it as useful/accurate/etc? Isn’t that a claim as a professional? I think there’s a time and place for challenging the content of public speakers. It can be more difficult for people to find an appropriate time and place for sessions that don’t have time set aside afterwards for Q&A/Open Season/other similar time.
        That said, that those who put themselves in the public arena should be open to response doesn’t excuse mean-spiritedness on the part of the challenger – the challenge itself still needs to serve it’s own purpose, and I suspect that mean-spirited challenges don’t serve their own purpose particularly well (though this thought isn’t fleshed out yet – might be a tone argument, needs more thought on my part).

        In the examples you’ve given and my own experiences, I think I’ve noticed a few heuristics for when challenging may or may not be appropriate at that specific point in time, but I don’t think they’re fleshed out well enough yet. I think this is a topic I might want to think about and explore in future; I suspect my thinking on the matter has much room for growth.

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  2. Pingback: Visualising systems: the NEPAl mnemonic | Raine Check

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