Monday, June 15, 2015

Knowing When To Step Down

For the past four years I have had the joys & frustrations of working with an organization, as well as serving on its Board of Directors. That organization is the Association for Software Testing (AST). The positions I’ve served in for those four years include three years as the organization's treasurer, and this past year (so far) as its president. These years have been filled with successes and challenges, satisfying goals completed and frustrating loose ends still to be resolved.

In August, at the Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST), those candidates who wish to run, or who are up for re-election, will put their hats in the ring and make a case as to why they should be selected. Earlier this year, I anticipated I would be creating a post asking for your support. Instead, I am putting this post together to encourage others to run and get involved, as I will not be seeking a third term.

Why am I making this decision, and why am I talking about it now?

First, I want to give those who want to run for the board a chance to get their names out and be considered. Second, I want to discuss some of the things being involved with the board entails, and how you can be effective or hope to be effective. Third, I believe that becoming entrenched within an organization for too long can be a hindrance to moving forward, whether intentional or not.

Due to circumstances in both my work and personal life, and the time and attention needed in areas important to me (my family and my career), it is clear the time and attention I can provide to AST, in the role of a board member or executive officer, is no longer sufficient to be effective. To make the time to be effective, I will have to pull away from two critical areas. My kids are at a key point in transitioning from teenage years to adulthood. My work environment has changed due to the death of my director. I've stepped in to fill many of the roles he played. In short, the conditions that made it possible for me to be effective as a board member are not there now. To keep serving in this capacity would be a disservice to the organization. I want to make sure that the work I care about regarding AST can be accomplished. I still want to be part of that mission, but I have to be realistic as to what I can offer and do.

For the first three years of my involvement, I was the treasurer. That meant I had to make sure our financial house was in order. Making sure the money that came in and the money that went out was accounted for was my primary responsibility. Once you get a handle on it, you can do it reliably and have time to think about other things. During the years I was treasurer, we made great strides in breaking out where our money was going, and how to use that money effectively to help local and international initiatives. I still think the AST Grant Program is one of the best kept secrets of our organization. It’s there, but only a handful of people take advantage of it.

Three times a year, we gather together as an in-person group to discuss the business of AST. We have done our best to pick a central location to minimize traveling costs.  For the past four years, that has meant the U.S. midwest or east coast. One of those tri-annual board meetings also coincides with CAST. Anyone who runs will need to be cool with being able to travel for those meetings.

Getting seven people to agree to a decision can be daunting. While we can reach consensus on a number of areas, sometimes we just don’t have the bandwidth or the agreement to put those items into motion. We have been criticized for moving too slowly. The fact is, in some areas, we do move slowly. We are aware that we represent a large and diverse membership. No decision we make will please everyone. Still, we try our best to make choices and develop positions that will benefit the entire organization, rather than be of benefit to only a small number of members. Additionally, if we must make a choice, we will choose not do something if the alternative is to do something poorly.

Once a month, we get together for a monthly conference call to discuss business that needs to be moved forward, and making the time to have that call happen each month is important. Outside of these calls, and triannual in-person meetings, the work of the organization needs to get done and moved forward. Often, real life interferes with that happening.

If you are interpreting my words here as saying “those who wish to run need to have both vision and bandwidth to make sure things get done”, you have interpreted correctly. If you are reading this and thinking I am dissuading others from getting involved, that is the opposite of my intention. I encourage those who do want to run for the board to do so, and do it loudly! While there have been stressful moments, it’s also been fun, and I’ve been really excited about what we have been able to do. I think CAST is one of the best software testing conferences out there. The vision of AST and the members of the board and its various committees make it possible. I think that BBST is a very valuable series of classes. I’ve enjoyed being an instructor these past several years. Even though I will not be on the board after November, 2015, my involvement with BBST will continue. I intend to keep teaching, and aiming to help improve the process and delivery of that teaching.

My recommendation for those interested in running would be to look at something AST does, and demonstrate how you can help sustain and/or improve what we are doing. If AST is not doing something you think we should be doing, make a case as to why you feel you can make that possible, and how you can help make that happen. In the past, those who've been elected had a goal they wanted to see achieved, and they had the energy to see it through. If this fits you, I wholeheartedly encourage you to see our Election page, and make a bid to run for AST's Board of Directors.

I want to thank the AST membership for four memorable years. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve in this capacity. I’m leaving the board, but I am not leaving AST, nor will I stop focusing on initiatives I feel are important. I must adjust to current realities, and serving on the board is a commitment of time, talent and energy. There’s a great group of people already there, and we will need great talent going forward. You could be one of those people.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Learning With Repetitive Action

Yesterday I posted about the idea of developing a "mise en place" system for the things that you do, and I also mentioned that this is something we can do with any number of tasks and goals. One of the things that I have always wanted to do, admired, but never seemed to get any closer to doing, was Native American beadwork. This, I know will probably come across as a strange subject, but it's something I've admired and wanted to learn about and practice for years. Like so many other things, though, the barrier to entry and to regular practice is real.

Below is a picture of what, on the surface, may look like a simple project. As far as bead working goes, this is relatively simple. This is also my "mise en place" for when I do this type of beadwork.

It's a "roach stick" or a "roach pin". For those who dance in Native American Pow Wows, the common head-dress is the "porcupine guard hair roach". These headdresses are held on by a lock of braided hair or through a base material that can be tied to the wearers head (me being bald, I opt for the latter). The roach pin is what is used to hold the headdress in place, either passing through the braid, or acting as an anchor for the shoestring used for tying. These pins are often beaded with rich colors and patterns.

The style of beading that this is is called "three drop gourd stitch". Unlike applique, loom or lane stitch techniques that allow you to string lots of beads together and put them down at one time, gourd stitch is done one bead at a time. This is because the beads are literally woven into a spiral net, and each pass of the thread goes through an adjacent bead to make the pattern. Because of this, you have to plan your design both stylistically and mathematically. To have a design that truly repeats around the piece, you need to make sure that your piece can have beads that wrap around it in a multiple of three, and even better, also in multiples of six. This allows pattern design to match up.

I use what is called "bead graphing", where I take a piece of paper, the bead spirals arranged in the pattern I wish to use (typically that means a clockwise pattern with the beads stacking in a right to left diagonal going up). On these papers, I make a design, and then I count the "circuits" needed to make the design, meaning the number of times around the object in a given row. As an example, this roach stick needs 24 beads to make a straight line around the project. Divided by three, that means I have eight beads in any given circuit. Divided by six, that means I have four regions I can create a repeating design. With these values, I can chart and decide what I want to make.

I'm working with seed beads, which in this case are 11/0 cuts. 11/0 is the size of the beads. Eleven strung beads will cover one inch. For every square inch, there will be 110 beads. Multiply by the total area of a project, even for small projects, that's a lot of beads. These beads can go as small as 18/0 (eighteen in series an inch long, or 324 beads per square inch.

The other tools needed for this are very thin but strong thread, thin needles, and clumps of beeswax to wax the thread (which helps it slip through the glass beads and not fray or, worse, break).

On a good day, if I'm in the groove, it takes me about an hour to do a single inch of beading. On days when things don't quite work out right, it may take me a lot longer to cover the same inch. Additionally, the pattern ideas and designs I work with now are fairly rudimentary. I stick to bands of color, zig-zags, or hexagons, but I would like to expand to do more unique shapes like feathers, flags, flowers and birds. The challenge, of course, is that I won't actually know how to do them until I sit down and painstakingly, bed by bead, actually construct them.

This is where many aspiring bead-workers falter, get frustrated, and stop altogether. I know, I've reached this point several times over the years. This pictured roach pin is the current largest piece I've ever made. I've planned to make four of them, each different, each using motifs that I want to get better at. If you look just behind my beading palette, you will see a flat fan with a white handle. After I finish the roach sticks, that will be my next project. I already know it will be huge. It may take me 40 hours plus to do it. What's been helpful is that I've gotten used to using the tools and thinking about the process, and actually losing myself in the process, and discovering ways that it can be done more quickly, more efficiently and more effectively.

I also allow myself the ability to let my mind dictate what I can and will do in a given day. Right now, it's a simple goal, one hour each day. Some days, I put in a lot more. Some days, I literally just practice a pattern and then cut the threads loose to try another approach. As I've talked to other bead workers, they've all commiserated with me and said that they have been there and understand. We tend to be in awe of those who can do these things effortlessly, who seem to be so much better than we are. In truth, they are better than we are, but not because they have unerring instincts or some super natural talent. Instead, it's because they have built a skill, honed over perhaps hundreds or thousands of hours of practice, often to meet needs they have, and frequently with false starts, frustrations, and cutting the whole thing apart to start again.

This is decidedly different than most of my posts, but the parallels to software testing are abundant. We can talk a mean game about the techniques and tools we use, and the ways in which we use them, but to become truly good at them, we need to put the time in, hone our craft, practice, get frustrated, throw in the towel and walk away, and then come back and start it all again. Can it be tedious? Sure. Is it always fun. Not remotely! Will we get better if we persist? Very likely. Will we wow people right out of the gate? Again, most likely not, but that's beside the point. The best we can do is to work and practice and make things that help us. As we get better at that, others will possibly notice our work, too, and over time, consider us the experts. In their minds, we may well be, but we'll know the truth, won't we ;)?

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Value of Mise en Place

I have to give credit to this idea to a number of sources, as they have all come together in the past few days and weeks to stand as a reminder of something that I think we all do, but don't realize it, and actually utilizing the power of this idea can be profound.

First off, what in the world is "mise en place"? It's a term that comes rom the culinary world. Mise en place is French for "putting in place", or to set up for work. Professional chef's use this approach to organize the ingredients they will use during a regular workday or shift. I have a friend who has trained many years and has turned into an amazing chef, and I've witnessed him doing this. He's a whirlwind of motion, but that motion is very close quartered. You might think that he is chaotic or frantic, but if you really pay attention, his movements are actually quite sparse, and all that he needs is right where he needs them, when he needs them. I asked him if this was something that came naturally to him, and he said "not on your life! It's taken me years to get this down, but because I do it every day, and because I do my best to stay in it every day, it helps me tremendously."

The second example of mise en place I witness on a regular basis is with my daughter and her art skills. She has spent the better part of the past four years dedicating several hours each day drawing, often late into the evening. She has a sprawling setup that, again, looks chaotic and messy on the surface. If you were to sit down with her, though, and see what she actually does, she gathers the tools she needs, and from the time she puts herself into "go" mode, up to the point where she either completes her project or chooses to take a break, it seems as though she barely moves. She's gotten her system down so well that I honestly could not, from her body language, tell you what she is doing. I've told her I'd really love to record her at 10x speed just to see if I can comprehend how she puts together her work. For her, it's automatic, but it's automatic because she has spent close to half a decade polishing her skills.

Lately, I've been practicing the art of Native American beading, specifically items that use gourd stitch (a method of wrapping cylindrical items with beads and a net of thread passing through them). This is one of those processes that, try as hard as I might, I can't cram or speed up the process. Not without putting in time and practice. Experienced bead workers are much faster than I am, but that's OK. The process teaches me patience. It's "medicine" in the Native American tradition, that of a rhythmic task done over and over, in some cases tens of thousands of times for a large enough item. Through this process , I too am discovering how to set up my environment to allow me a minimum of movement, an efficiency of motion, and the option to let my mind wander and think. In the process, I wring out fresh efficiencies, make new discoveries, and get that much better and faster each day I practice.

As a software tester, I know the value of practice, but sometimes I lose sight of the tools that I should have at my beck and call. While testing should be free and unencumbered, there is no question that there are a few tools that can be immensely valuable. As such, I've realized that I also have a small collection of mise en place items that I use regularly. What are they?

- My Test Heuristics Cheat Sheet Coffee Cup (just a glance and an idea can be formed)
- A mindmap of James Bach's Heuristic Test Strategy Model I made a few years ago
- A handful of rapid access browser tools (Firebug, FireEyes, WAVE, Color Contrast Analyzer)
- A nicely appointed command line environment (screen, tmux, vim extensions, etc.)
- The Pomodairo app (used to keep me in the zone for a set period of time, but I can control just how much)
- My graduated notes system (Stickies, Notes, Socialtext, Blog) that allows me to really see what items I learn will really stand the test of time.

I haven't included coding or testing tools, but if you catch me on a given day, those will include some kind of Selenium environment, either my companies or my own sandboxes to get used to using other bindings), JMeter, Metasploit, Kali Linux, and a few other items I'll play around with and, as time goes on, aim to add to my full time mise en place.

A suggestion that I've found very helpful is attributed to Avdi Grim (who may have borrowed it from someone else, but he's the one I heard say it). There comes a time when you realize that there is far too much out there to learn proficiently and effectively to be good at everything. By necessity, we have to pick and choose, and our actions set all that in motion. We get good at what we put our time into, and sifting through the goals that are nice, the goals that are important, and the goals that are essential is necessary work. Determining the tools that will help us get there is also necessary. It's better to be good at a handful of things we use often than to spend large amounts of time learning esoteric things we will use very rarely. Of course, growth comes from stretching into areas we don't know, but finding the core areas that are essential, and working hard to get good in those areas, whatever they may be, makes the journey much more pleasant, if not truly any easier.

The Early Bird Pricing for #CAST2015 Ends TODAY!

I know that there may be some last minute folks out there, and I want to assure you all that it would be well worth your time to sign up TODAY for the Early Bird Discount for  CAST 2015. After midnight tonight, the prices go up considerably.

I should also mention that our Monday Tutorials are selling out quickly. Rob Sabourin's tutorial is sold out, Christin Wiedemann's tutorial [Update: is now also sold out], and we have two more tutorials with seats that will likely go fast. If you want in, act now :)!

Now look, I know what a lot of you are thinking... "of course he's yelling about CAST 2015. Since he's AST's president, it's his event!" In a way, you are right, but that doesn't even come close to telling the whole story. We are offering what I think is an amazing program, full of cool tutorials (on Monday) as well as excellent Track Talks and Workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'm proud of the lineup, but I had absolutely zero hand in the selection process. I deliberately stayed out of those discussions, and encouraged the Conference and Program Committee to put together the most awesome program possible. From what I can see, I think they succeeded.

We have also partnered with Speak Easy to encourage more first time speakers to speak at CAST. This is something I take great pride in seeing at CAST each year, the diversity of speakers, not just of physical attributes, but of experiences, skills and opportunities that you are not likely to hear at other conferences. Bold statement? Sure. Do I stand behind it? Absolutely.

But hey, why take my word for it? Why not take a look at our program and see for yourself. If you like what you see, you still have, by my reckoning, about 12 hours to still get in at the discount price. Don't miss what (if I have anything to say about it) will certainly be the best conference you will attend this year. Also, if this fires you up, will you help me spread the word? Please share this post with any and all who may benefit to see it.

Here's to early August and a great conference. Lock those savings in while you still can :).

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Wanna' Come Work with Me? Socialtext is Hiring!

If you are in the Palo Alto, California area, or know someone that is, and you think you meet the criteria of what's listed below, Socialtext is hiring, and I would love to talk to you.

A few things to get out of the way first:

1. This is a local position, meaning you have to be at least local to the Bay Area, and able to come into the office on a regular basis (working from home a day or two a week is not a big deal, but remote workers are not being considered at this time. I will certainly update this if that stance changes).

2. I often rail about software testing jobs being advertised, but toolsmiths are what is desired. In this case, while programming ability is an absolutely nice thing to have, and we are certainly looking for some help to beef up our automation capabilities, it is not a show-stopper if you are not a master programmer for this position. This is a job that really requires a software tester's mindset.

Job Details

Title: Senior Quality Engineer
Location: Palo Alto, CA
Position Type: Full-Time Regular
Experience: 5 years (or thereabouts)
Education: Bachelors Degree
Travel Required: No

Job Description 

Working on PeopleFluent's Socialtext, you will solve challenging problems in the social and collaborative software space. You will work closely with development and product management in an Agile development shop. You are as comfortable helping to define functional requirements as you are ensuring that they are met. You typically translate two or three functional requirements into automated tests before breakfast. You love helping teammates solve both the hard and easy problems and are happy to pair when needed. You know your way around localization testing. 508 does not faze you. X-browser testing is good for your soul. You come at stories sideways, it's how you think: hit them where they are weak. You care about customers and take bugs that make it out into the wild personally. You keep an eye on new testing techniques and technologies and know when to adapt them and when to keep with the current process and can defend your position. You abhor run on sentences. You don't believe in walls between QA and Dev, but you do have a little us versus them in you. You like working in a small team where your voice matters and not everything is planned out. You are one of us.

(Yes, I had a hand in writing this ;) ).

Job Requirements 

*5+ years experience with quality assurance testing
* Good understanding of the QA and Automation process.
* Proficient at writing, executing and validating test cases and the ability to pass that knowledge to other, more junior, team members.
* Proficient at writing clear and concise defects and the ability to pass that knowledge to other, more junior, team members.
* Able to accurately estimate task duration and meet schedules.
* Excellent communication skills.
* Experience testing Web based products across browsers is required, including what makes IE unique
* Knowledge of automation (Selenium)
* Experience with Linux.
* Ability to provide leadership in product testing, including setting testing direction for a particular project and the mentoring and leading of less senior Quality Engineers
* Ability to function and lead in a team environment

In short, if you think this fits you, or you know someone you think fits this description, please contact me directly, as we have a much better chance of placing people we directly refer than those who submit cold. I think we're a pretty cool group at Socialtext. If you'd like to join us, let me know :).

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Gearing For Kids? A "Larsen Twins" Update

First off, I wanted to say thank you to "Women Testers" for including a guest article that Amber and I wrote together. It was about how she prefers to work with me when it comes to learning about programming and testing. If you would like to check that article out, you can download the latest edition of “Women Testers” and look for "Show the Way, Then Get Out of the Way”.

With this article in mind, I offer the following update. Since I want to encourage Amber to write more and share her own thoughts and ideas, we will continue with writing joint blog posts like this one under the tag “Larsen Twins” (because silly and a little fun and why not ;)?).

Amber and I have been looking through a number of books and online materials to help her understand coding and testing concepts. One of the areas that I thought would be tricky to explain or focus on would be the ideas behind computation. A book that I recently reviewed and that I found helpful is called “Lauren Ipsum”, and I personally thought it was cute and  engaging in explaining topics I’d learned the hard way. I was excited to have Amber read this book and tell me what she thought of it.

“It was a fun and cute story, and I get what they are trying to do. By having Lauren help a turtle move in certain directions, it focuses on showing how instructions are executed.”

Ok, good so far.

“However, I kept finding myself waiting for the payoff… what’s the point of this?”


“I think younger kids would think this is great. This might be a really good book for someone in fourth or fifth grade, but I was getting impatient as I was reading through it. Maybe I’ll feel different when I have tried some more of the ideas out.”


Seeing as I have been revamping the SummerQAmp materials, I have been trying to think how I could make it more fun, more relatable, and help explain some of the ideas in a less wonky way to kids. Amber just gave me an interesting piece of reality to consider. Many kids my daughter’s age have been interacting with technology their whole lives. As such, they have become attuned to getting the information they need quickly and directly. The idea of a story to give them the ideas and concepts doesn’t really appeal to her; she wants the straight stuff.

“It may just be me, but I think I do better when I am shown an idea, and then given some ways to play with it and figure it out. I will admit, I thought the chapter on recursion was cute, and that helped me understand the idea a bit, but I still don’t feel like I fully ‘get it’. I’ll have to actually use it to see it in action to really feel like I understand it”.

After pondering this for awhile, I remembered I had another book in my Tsundoku pile;  “Understanding Computation” by Tom Stuart.

In the preface, it says the following:

"This book is for programmers who are curious about programming languages and the theory of computation, especially those who don’t have a formal background in mathematics or computer science. If you’re interested in the mind-expanding parts of computer science that deal with programs, languages, and machines, but are discouraged by the mathematical language that’s often used to explain them, this book is for you. Instead of complex notation we’ll use working code to illustrate theoretical ideas and turn them into interactive experiments that you can explore at your own pace.”

Now that sounds promising! I think this just moved its way to the top of my pile :).

Amber is an excellent case study for my own ideas about teaching and how to teach, because she throws me curveballs. For a girl that loves “kawaii”, the cute and entertaining in her everyday life, she can be decidedly “hard boiled” in her other pursuits. Perhaps David Grohl of the Foo Fighters sums it up best… “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”. We’ll see if Understanding Computation will help us do that. More to come, stay tuned :).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Packt Publishing Rolls Out More FREE Learning

I've kept the advertising on the site to a minimum over the years, but there are a few publishers who have been super kind to me, and have given me many free titles to review. Truth be told, I have so many titles, I could do a book review a week and not run out of books for a couple of years at this point.

Packt Publishing in the UK is one of those companies that has given me much. Therefore, when they do something that I deem could be helpful to the broader community, I feel it appropriate to draw attention to it.

What is Packt up to this time?

They are giving away a free eBook each day.

Update: Packt has confirmed that this promotion is ongoing.

From Packt's Site:

It's back!  And this time for good. Following on from the huge success of our Free Learning campaign, we've decided to open up our free library to you permanently, with better titles than ever -- from today you can claim a free eBook every day here.

Each eBook will only be free for 24 hours, so make sure you come back every day to grab your Free Learning fix! From AngularJS to Zabbix, we'll be featuring a diverse range of titles from our extensive library, so don't miss out on this amazing opportunity to develop some new skills and try out new tech.

Judging from the image above, it looks like this promotion is running through May 17th, but if I'm reading correctly up above, their plan is to offer a free book every day indefinitely (update: yes, it's going to be a perpetual promotion). To be clear, one book is available each day, from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59p.m. GMT.

If, like me, you are jonesing to add to your Tsundoku, here's another opportunity to do exactly that :).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ever Had Your Screen Talk Back To You?

As many TESTHEAD readers will notice, I've been on a tear with regard to Accessibility this year. It's become my monomaniacal focus, and I've entered a semi-crazy co-dependent relationship on this topic with Albert Gareev. It's been a lot of fun talking about and focusing on this topic the past few months, as each time I think I understand what's happening and how we can do better, I learn something more that shows me just how far we have to go.

I remember back during STP-CON at the beginning of April witnessing an "A-Ha" moment for a roomful of people. that moment was when I asked the attendees in my session to open their laptops if they had them, or other devices, and turn on a screen reader just so they could "hear" what various sites were saying. Since a majority of the users in the room at that time had Macs, loading VoiceOver was quick. They started VoiceOver... and then things got interesting. As I watched people's faces, I could see the curling of lips, the furrowing of brows, and the nervous laughter pop up at points. The blast of electronic voices that erupted from system speakers was very enlightening, and watching a roomful of people realize just how difficult it was to listen to the output of their favorite sites made it crystal clear how hard it was for sight impaired users to get useful information from an average web site (or at least, a site that hadn't made considerations for accessibility).

This coming Saturday, we will be doing a session on screen readers with Weekend Testing Americas. I'm suggesting Mac users configure VoiceOver, and PC users download NVDA.

This session will be an introduction to Accessibility through the use of Screen Reader applications. My goal is to give people a chance to play with these features on common sites and see how well those sites make the general information on the page accessible to users, and how much useless information they receive. We will use these examples to have a discussion about how to address issues related to Accessibility, as well as building a case for making Accessibility part of an overall testing strategy.

If you would like to join us on Saturday, please send a request to “weekendtestersamericas” to add your SkypeID. In your request, mention that you want to join this Saturday’s session. On Saturday, twenty minutes before the start of the session, please contact us and ask to be added to the session, and we will do so. Here's hoping you can make it ;).

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#CAST2015: Full Program is Posted

It's that time of year again. The time when the #CAST2015 hash tag starts to get a lot of play. For those who stumbled here from another location, #CAST2015 refers to the Conference for the Association for Software Testing, which has been an event that, for my not being directly involved in its planning or execution, has taken up a fair number of cycles of my reality. 

The full program was announced today, and it is available to view here.

To paraphrase the Conference Committee (or more accurately, just steal it whole cloth):

The Association for Software Testing is pleased to announce its tenth annual conference, CAST 2015 “Moving Testing Forward,”to be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 3-5.Since our first CAST we  have seen dramatic changes in the nature of communications and the nature of delivery, from PC to client/server to the web and web services. Deployment is different; monitoring is different, builds and test tooling are different. We have a variety of new models and methods for our testing. CAST is where we talk about how they actually work out in practice, based on experience. At our tenth CAST, in 2015 speakers will be presenting stories, workshops and tutorials regarding their experiences surrounding how to advance software testing.

Join us this summer for our tenth annual conference in downtown Grand Rapids at the beautiful Grand Plaza Hotel August 3-5, as we explore “Moving Testing Forward.”

As President of the Association for Software Testing, you can bet I will be addressing a whole lot of CAST stuff over that the official web site, but right now, I'm actually stepping back a little bit and I'm talking totally off the cuff, not as the President of AST (though this will certainly be seen by some as "official pronouncements" anyway, so whatever).

First, I want to say that I am impressed with the variety and variation we have in the program this year. CAST is a diverse conference to begin with, but we made a specific focus this year to invite people who had not presented before to really give it a go this year. I am happy to say that there are several speakers who will be giving their first conference talks at CAST this year. I'm also proud that AST partnered with Speak Easy and arranged to work with them to help develop talks for the conference. Speak Easy has made it its mission to help encourage women to speak at conferences, and we are delighted to say that four talks that were mentored by SpeakEasy were picked for the conference.  CAST has prided itself on being a place where different voices get heard, and not specifically catering to the "rock stars" of our industry. We've had a good balance, I think between male and female speakers, male and female keynotes, and a diverse group of participants from different countries and backgrounds. Compared to many conferences I've been to, I'll dare say I think CAST really is one that deserves high marks for diversity. Can we do better? Most certainly, but this year's lineup makes me feel like we are in the vanguard. 

I'll borrow a couple of posts from Lisa Crispin to help make this point even more ;):

Another area I want to talk about is the two hour workshop that will be offered on Tuesday, August 4, 2015 called "Black Box Accessibility Testing: A Heuristic Approach". This workshop will be given by Albert Gareev, with some solid peanut gallery support from yours truly. I'm sure some of you are looking at the title and thinking to yourself "Wait a minute, that sounds a lot like the talks Michael has been delivering this year. Are they at all related?" The answer is, of course, yes. Albert and I have been working for quite some time to help develop both design and testing approaches that help bring Accessibility to light and get some focus and attention. We've both written and presented extensively on these topics, and this year, we have melded minds to help present and deliver a solid workshop of testing skills and techniques that anyone can walk away with and be effective. So why is Albert listed as the speaker and not me? First and foremost reason, the workshop is primarily Albert's research, practice and learnings, so he very much deserves the credit for presenting the workshop. Do I have a hand in what's being presented? Sure, and I'll be spending a fair amount of time helping hammer out the paper that will be available at the conference (yes, we are writing the paper together :) ).

For those who want to attend a conference that will be first rate with regard to content, diverse speakers, unique and original voices, and talk about topics that are relevant to your everyday work, and not retreads of stuff you've heard many times before, I want to personally encourage you to sign up and attend #CAST2015 with us in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's going to be a great time, and I hope to see you there as we work to "Move Testing Forward"! 


Monday, April 20, 2015

When The Music's Over

The past two and a half weeks have been very difficult for me to process. Part of me is numb, part of me is frustrated, and part of me is deeply sad. All of these feelings have conspired to render my writing nearly non-existant, because I couldn't produce anything until I addressed the overwhelming elephant in my reality.

On Friday, April 17, 2015, Socialtext Director of Quality Assurance, Kenneth Pier, completed his battle with cancer. We received word around noon that he had passed away at home, surrounded by family. Two and a half weeks earlier, we spoke on the phone together to make sure I knew the steps to perform a release from start to finish. At the end of that conversation, he told me he felt very tired, and might need to take a day or two off. I answered "by all means, do what you need to do. We'll talk again when you feel better". That was the last time we'd speak to each other directly.

I don't want to talk about losing Ken. Instead, I want to talk about how he lived, and what he meant to me. I met Ken for the first time in December, 2010. Matt Heusser invited me to a "tester's dinner" at Jing Jing's in Palo Alto. The resulting conversations turned into TWIST podcast #30. I remember being impressed with Ken right off the bat. He was a little gruff, and no-nonsense with his answers, but he was a straight shooter, and he possessed a wealth of skill and a practical approach that he was happy to share.

Over the following two years, I would run into Ken at various meetups, workshops and conferences. Each time, we'd talk more in depth, getting to know each other better. In the summer of 2012, I had the chance to sit in with him and Cem Kaner at CAST as they discussed ways to balance automation and exploration. As I was set to give a talk in two days on the same subject, that interaction and deep questioning caused me to discard much of my original talk and start fresh. Ken took the time to answer dozens of questions I had, and in the process, helped me make a talk I would deliver several times over the ensuing years. That final product was hugely inspired by Ken.

A few months later, when I expressed an interest in a change of scenery, and a desire to work with a broader testing team rather than keep going it alone, Ken lobbied me to join his team at Socialtext. I accepted, and thus began a daily interaction with him that lasted for two and a half years. I learned a great deal from Ken and his unique style. Ken was not one to idly chat or play games. If he felt you were doing something good, he told you, immediately. If he felt you were losing focus or going off the rails, he told you... immediately :)! You always knew exactly where you stood with him, what was working for him, and what wasn't. He also took great care in representing his team to upper management, both within Socialtext itself, and when we were acquired by PeopleFluent. Ken was fearless when it came to telling people what could be done and what couldn't. He didn't care if upper management was frustrated or irritated with an answer, he'd rather give them the straight truth than make a promise we couldn't deliver, or push something that would be sub-par.

During many of the stand-up meetings we'd have each morning, Ken would have his oldies station playing over the phone system (half our team is distributed). Some mornings, he'd start singing at the start of stand-up, and often, he'd ask me to sing along with him, since we were both vocal performers (he sang with a number of choir groups, and had a wonderful baritone voice). Over time, though, due to the cancer treatments, the singing voice was quieted, and we heard it less and less. Now, the singing has stopped. I won't hear it again in my day to day work life any longer. I think I will miss that most of all.

I want to invite my friends who are wine connoisseurs (because Ken was definitely one of those) to raise a glass to Ken. He was a man who understood testing, and represented that understanding very well. He inspired a lot of love and admiration from his team, and from everyone that knew him. He was generous with his time, energy, and knowledge. He loved to roll up his sleeves and do the day to day work that, by virtue of his position, he absolutely did not have to do. Still, more than just doing the day to day work, he reveled in helping his team learn something new, do something they'd never done before, and encourage them to go farther and get better each and every day. It's a trait I hope I can exhibit when I work with others in the future.

Thank you, Ken, for just plain being amazing. Our team has a massive hole in it, and I doubt we will ever truly fill it, but we will do our level best to make you proud of us nonetheless.