Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Home Field Advantage: Welcome to #STPCON

It's here. After months of waiting working, tweaking and applying ideas, Software Test Professionals Conference (STP-Con) has come to Millbrae, California. I cannot begin to explain how nice it feels to be able to attend a conference that consists of total travel time from my house to venue of less than fifteen minutes.

I had a great opportunity Monday to teach and facilitate a workshop on "Teaching New Software Testers", and I received some great feedback about where the material is on track, where it can be improved, and some new ideas to consider adding to future presentations. Since it's an extra pay item, I'm not going to blog about all of the details from that talk, but if you read my blog regularly, you probably already know what I've covered :).

Tuesday night we had a Meet & Greet at Steelhead Brewery in Burlingame, and I was really happy to have two special guest attend with me; my daughters Karina and Amber. They have both expressed interest about learning more about tech and how it might be something they can contribute to in the future, and it was wonderful to see so many of my colleagues reach out to them, include them in conversations, talk about their careers, and other avenues that might get them excited. I want to give special thanks to Smita Mishra for taking the girls under her wing and introducing them to so many people, and to Ben Kelly for hanging out with them and talking all things Japan and Game of Thrones. On the drive home last night, they were happy and excited to have attended, and mentioned key conversation points and things that interested them.

Today is the first day of the conference proper, and that means the TESTHEAD live blog is now in full swing. There will be individual posts for each session other than mine (I'll post a summary of my session later ;) ).

We start off today with Karen Jonson giving a keynote about "How Nancy Drew Prepared Me to Become a Software Tester", but before she got into the main topic, she gave some great advice for career curation, including encouraging attendees to attend sessions that are relevant to their current work, but to also look for something that makes you stretch or may be outside of your current focus. You may or may not be working at the same company a year from now, but your career carries with you. Attend sessions that will grow you not just for now, but into the future, too.

For those not familiar with Nancy Drew, she's an iconic literary figure in children's books. She has different names in different countries, but she's a young lady who solved mysteries. a quote include in Karen's talk was that "Women in many occupations told of learning from Nancy to see adventures in problem solving and the joy of self-reliance". That's a great description of a software tester, too, isn't it :)? Every product is its own unique mystery. Now, to be frank, I didn't read many Nancy Drew books, but I read the Hardy Boys, which was the mystery series aimed for boys, while Nancy Drew was aimed to girls. If that seems a little closed minded, please realize, I was a boy in the seventies. I did boy things, but later on, I learned more about Nancy Drew, and especially wanted to learn more about her when my daughters came into my life. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books are similar in format, and in delivery. They both let the reader get drawn into problems and challenges, and follow along as the protagonist learns more about the situations, and they get to test out their own hypothesis about "whodunnit". These really are wonderful primers to help encourage young readers to see the mysteries and how they might solve them.

I've been a fan of the metaphor of tester as "beat reporter", but "detective" is a natural fit as well. We often have to take on different domains. They put themselves in unfamiliar situations. They observe, they take notes, the look for situations that could potentially be dangerous, and they present the case to find the "whodunnits". Karen mentions a book called "Making Thinking Visible", and how it allows people to visualize problems. The basic idea is the triplet of See/Think/Wonder. Testing at its core uses these three words, if you step back and think about it. Additionally, another triplet is Think/Pair/Share. We don't want testing to be a mystery, we want to be open and share our findings. The more people that look at testing as cognitively challenging and interesting, the more people will get involved with it, and frankly, we need more testers, even if tester is not part of their title.

Consider the fact that what we think about things changes as we get new information. We are conditioned to think tht changing our minds shows a weakness. It shouldn't. We should embrace the idea that "I used to think.... but now I think..." because that means that we are actively considering what we are learning. We should not get so tied up in our world view, because new information can change the entire trajectory of what we are doing. We should be open to and welcome that, even though that may be uncomfortable. We should embrace active thinking, and we should approach things with wonder. Believe me, that can be hard when you've tested something multiple times. "been there, done that" is not just mind numbing, it's dangerous, because that's the condition where we are most vulnerable to missing things. We get blind to what we see all the time, and we take shortcuts in our heads because we know what's happening... or so we think.

Ultimately, the same traits that excite the imagination the way that Nancy Drew mysteries (and OK, Hardy Boys mysteries for me when I was a kid), they really do give some great parallels as to how we can re-engage and make testing much more interesting.
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