Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PNSQC Report: Day 1

Day 1 of PNSQC

Monday was an active and focused day of learning, meeting new people and helping out where I could. I had the pleasure of listening to the Keynote speaker, Tim Lister, as he shared his experiences in patterns in the workplace, and how the patterns tell us much more about the organization than the supposed “best practices” of the organization. Some wonderful examples were shared and illustrated things that we see in our everyday work worlds. One telling slide was his talking about the “Cider House Rules” (John Ingram book and later film), in which it points out that teams and organizations frequently live by two set of rules; the official rules, and then what are the “real rules”, or the ones that the organization genuinely supports and fights for.

I moderated the morning session on Test Techniques. That basically means that I introduced the speaker, kept track of time, made sure that we paid attention to the time, and gave out and selected feedback forms for the presentation. The presentation that I moderated was Michael Dedolph’s “Contextually-driven System Architecture Reviews”. Turned out to be a very interesting topic, as it showed how he has conducted architecture reviews, and tied it into testing and how we could use the same ideas. I found the notion of the “snow card” to be a good idea, and I plan to use this when I get back home.

During lunch, we had what was called a “birds of a feather” presentation, actually a number of them. I was interested in the session on Test Data and Configuration Management, and had great interactions with a number of people and had a chance to hear about the way that test data management is conducted in other places.

Two of the highlight talks I attended in the afternoon were Alan Page’s talk on code reviewing from a testers perspective, and the value of a checklist in that process. Alan made the point that testing one item at a time yields better results than doing an ad-hoc review to look for problems. Once one checklist item has been finished, go to the next one. I also received a copy of "How We Test Software at Microsoft" (signed, even). Needless to say, I know what my next book review is going to be :) ).

Another presentation that I found interesting was Denise Holmes “Managing Polarities in Pursuit of Quality” . This was a session based on process improvement, and I actually found the idea behind this to be very interesting. A polarity is the idea that there are opposite pairs of things (the example used was “planned vs. flexible”). The idea puts the two contrasting items on an X-axis, with the opposing terms on either side. The Y-axis is broken up into a positive site (the pluses, literally) and a negative side (again the literal minuses). What ends up happening is that, in real interaction a feedback loop that looks like infinity takes place, where there is give and take for each of the polarities. Understanding this idea helps organizations to determine where they actually want to meet to discuss approaches or gather a consensus. We often think of “meeting in the middle”, but we don’t really. We meet at the point where the polarities are both satisfied to a reasonable level.

With four tracks and multiple meeting options, it’s impossible to attend every session, but one of the great resources from this conference is the proceedings booklet. Every talk and presentation is printed and available for the attendee to read at a later time and do continued research (and proceedings from previous years are available at http://pnsqc.org/ if you are interested in topics covered; proceeding for 2010 will be posted soon, and very likely by me :) ).

The Monday night social event had some excellent food, and a number of presenters that were showing “poster papers”. These papers are poster boards with presentations about ideas that may not warrant entire talks, but make for a good five minute discussion. Some examples of what I saw were the idea of a Virtual Extreme Programming Workbench, using white box techniques for creating automated tests, issues related to testing portable devices, and my personal favorite, testing software used for running a “Lego League” robot (presented by two high school freshmen).

On a personal note, I decided to “do like the Portlanders do” and instead of drive in and hunt for parking, I walked to the TriMet station near my hotel and rode the train into the city and to the stop near the World Trade Center Portland. This manner of travel allowed me to meet up with a few tourists who were looking for Voodoo Doughnuts. A stop at the Chinatown station, a few block of walking and, well, one of the more interesting places to get doughnuts in Portland can be found and enjoyed (for the record, the bacon and maple bar is awesome :) ).

Day one down, come back tomorrow for my report of day two.

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