Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My First Experience with European Weekend Testers

As I have lamented in the past, there is a real challenge when you work as an "Army of One". The biggest factor is the oft feeling of isolation and lack of interaction. It can be frustrating to go through each work day knowing that you are responsible for all testing, all interaction with the other groups, all reporting of issues. Who is there to tell you that you might be able to look at something in a different way? Who is there to give you advice and suggestions when you are frustrated, who is there to give you a set of fresh perspectives to consider?

For the Army of One, the answer usually is "no one". We are left to our own wits, to our own instincts, and to our own judgment. Often that is fine; we are well versed in the techniques and methods to determine how we will test a given situation… but wouldn't it be great to just step back, breathe deep, and reach out to others who might have similar issues and challenges, or may have potential answers to those challenges? Well, if you live in Europe (or are willing to sync to European hours) you do have a way to reach out to others, and actually practice the test methods and ideas that you have, and possibly learn others. Let me introduce you to Weekend Testers!

Weekend Testers actually started in India. Pradeep Soundararajan gets the credit for starting the first chapter, and the idea has spread, first throughout India, and now into Europe. It's a decidedly simple one; give users access to an environment via Skype, a puzzle to examine (sometimes an application, sometimes something unrelated to software), a way to pair up with other testers, and then discuss the issues you found (or didn't find) and the techniques you used (or wished you could use).This activity has spread to Australia and New Zealand, and it has also spread to Europe (courtesy of excellent facilitation by Anna Baik and Markus Gartner).

Now, I know the first question you are asking… Yeah, I said it, too. "Why are you having to call/Skype Europe?! To do software testing, of all things!" Actually, my answer is really simple; it's because there isn't a chapter of Weekend Testers in the U.S. at this point in time. Yeah, I was stunned to see that as well. It strikes me as interesting that, with the testing talent that we have here in the Western Hemisphere (yes, I'm looking at you Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, the U.S., Venezuela and anyone else I happened to miss :) ), that someone hasn't picked up on this idea and run with it yet. The reasons why or why not are irrelevant, and ultimately, not even entirely necessary, because the European Weekend Testing group is a great bunch of people to get together with.

I joined them for their EWT30 testing session. EWT stands for 'European Weekend Testers" and the 30 stands for, well, the fact that this is the 30th time they have gathered since their inception. This also helps when you visit the Weekend Testers site and want to see what has happened, what has been discussed, and understand the interesting dynamics at play. I had the chance to join in and work with a group that tested a collaboration application. I was able to step right in, discuss the situation, explore the mission statement of the testing needed, install and try out the application in question, pair with another tester, talk through the features and limitations that we discovered, and comment on the issues in a tracking system. At the end of our allotted testing time, we all gathered together and had a debrief and discussion about what we tested, including traps we fell into, issues that prevented us from achieving our goals, and key things we learned in the process. My partner and I discovered an annoying issue that we fixated on and tried to replicate and get down so we could report it… only to discover that we were so fixated on this particular issue, that we ran out of time to actually test the primary purpose of the testing, which was sharing of applications (Whoops!). The group had a good laugh, and I was able to share that I actually learned something; when we get fixated on little things when we test, we often miss the bigger picture… in this case, the whole point of what we were actually testing!

Each of the test sessions is summarized, and the attendees are listed and the chat sessions are available for review. The interaction is fantastically valuable; I was only there for two hours, and when the session was shutting down, I didn't want to leave! I'm not sure if that speaks to my being starved for tester interaction in my daily work life, or just the fact that this was a good group to keep company with (or perhaps both) but I really enjoyed the time I spent with this group. Scout Camp precluded my attending last Saturday, and Wood Badge will preclude me this weekend, but barring any other commitments, which I'm hoping not to make, I will be there for EWT33 :)!

So to those out there who are feeling a little less than stimulated in your testing lives, who want the opportunity to interact with other testers and learn a thing or two (or five) and get to rub shoulders with both experienced and new testers, all with unique insights… oh and don't mind using some of your morning hours on a Saturday (the EWT30 session was 8:30 AM - 10: 30 AM for me), then I highly recommend that you participate in a Weekend Testing Session. I plan to participate as often as I can, and who knows, if I get enough experience with the paradigm and the method, and find some like minded folks in the Western Hemisphere, perhaps we can create a chapter of our own and help bring up the testing knowledge here as well. Why should Europe and India get to have all the fun :)?

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