Monday, December 1, 2014
A Yankee Let Loose In Eire: Some Less "Testy" Reflections
Let's start with the actual travel. As is routinely the case, we are recommended to get to the airports three hours ahead of time when any international travel is involved. I heeded that call, and was, of course, in and out of security in less than twenty minutes. Having the freedom to therefore relax and just wait for my flight, I did exactly that. As a little bit of housekeeping, I went through and got everything together I could for the flight, and made sure my adapter was working. I reminded myself that last time, I brought a power strip with me to help make things easier, and the net result was the blowing of the fuse of the hotel room when I was in Malmö. I learned this time, one device at a time, and also, I greatly reduced my packing footprint. Just my MacBookPro, my iPhone, their power cords, and the converter to handle UK/Ireland monster plugs. through judicious packing, I managed to get everything I needed into a single bag I could carry on my back. It was thick, but it met requirements to get under the seat, so I was golden.
I am grateful that trans-continental and transoceanic flights now have power outlets readily available in most seat rows, if not for each and every seat. I finally had the ability to keep power to my devices for the entire trip, which was wonderful. Keeping the devices actually plugged in? That's another story. I think with the frequency of use of these receptacles, it's near impossible to keep an adapter plugged in without it dropping of at some point. I quickly became adept at rigging up various jigs to hold the adapter plugs and such in place so they wouldn't disconnect mid flight.
My two hour layover in Washington, D.C. turned into a five hour layover because the oven in our trans-Atlantic flight was having problems. I'm sure some of you might be thinking "an oven caused that much trouble?" Actually, yes. Without an oven, a Trans-Atlantic flight cannot heat food, and going seven hours without food makes for a cranky set of passengers, so we were all shuttled of the plane and onto another plane at another terminal, along with its requisite checks (yes, the over worked this time :) ). One fantastic bonus was the fact that I had no seat mates for this flight. Not that I am not one who likes conversation with my fellow travelers, but the fact I could actually lie down across three seats, stretch out, and get some actual sleep? Awesome!!!
Out flight landed in Dublin at just a little after 12:00 noon. A quick step through Customs and Immigration including why I was in Dublin ("a software testing conference"... "a what?!" "yes, a software testing conference". I'm now three for three on having to explain that ;) ), and a trot over to get on the double decker green air bus, and I was whisked away to the Dublin Convention Center. I kid you not, I walked in, got my badge, walked up to the third level auditorium, sat down, opened my MacBook, and the official conference program and opening keynote started, right then and there. Sure, I'd have liked to have checked into my hotel first, and maybe changed clothes, but in a pinch, this was fine.
The half day program went quickly (my full running commentary of the day one of EuroSTAR can be seen here) and at the closing of the official session, we were treated to a drum corps that got our attention and then led us downstairs for the evening reception. As there was a dinner being held at Trinity College, but I didn't realize it until it was too late that we had to do a separate registration for that, I was happy to go out and explore Poet's Corner with Michael Bolton, Zeger Van Hese, Jokin Aspiazu, Ruud Cox and several other testers, including helpers in The Test Lab. We settled on The Bachelor Inn, which was a nice pub with good food and drink (and even something for a tee-totaler like myself :) ). As is always the case, the conversation was wonderful, and it is so hard to resist the temptation to hang out all night at these events. Alas, I was missing eight hours from my day, and I knew if I didn't make at least an effort to get some sleep, I would be struggling the next day.
I stayed at a little place called the Maldron Pearse, which was about a half a mile from the Convention center, across the Samuel Beckett bridge, and inside an area of Dublin that was an interesting mix of old and new. Many fresh new buildings stood next to those that looked like they were built in the early 1800s (or earlier). the Maldron Pearse is an older hotel, but undergoing some modernization. For the first time in awhile, I was hit with what it would cost to have WiFi service as a separate payment, and so I agreed to do so the first night, but not thereafter (worked out to being close to $20 a day!). Another factor that took a little getting used to is the latitude. At this time of year, sunrise wasn't until 8:00 a.m. and sunset happened just before 4:00 p.m. Also, though it was chilly in the mornings and the later evenings, it never felt frigid. I was able to make do with regular street clothes and a light snowboard jacket most days (it mostly stayed in the 40s F).
Day two covered a lot of ground. It would be the one full day end to end, so I made sure I was actively engaged in each session. My comments of day two can be seen here. Additionally I took some time to check out the Test Lab and see some of what they constructed and how they were encouraging participants to get involved. Outside of that, I will confess to walking over to chat with some friends over at SmartBear, but I spent very little time in the expo itself. If there was any one thing I was able to take away from the conference (and this may come down as blasphemy to some) it's that the tools and the peripheral software rarely solves the real issues facing a company or an initiative. there are so many issues that are more important to focus on up front that, frankly, if your biggest problem is that you don't have the right CRM solution or you need a different test management suite, I'll be frank, you're probably doing awesome.
For me, the bigger view was the fact that, even in Europe, the problems tend to be universal. They are issues with communication, with culture, with hiring, with getting a disparate group to mesh. In fact, if there was any one takeaway that I could sum up from this conference, it would be the fact that we are focusing a lot of attention on "physical diversity" (which is great, do not get me wrong, and I'm happy to see that happening), but we are still failing at recognizing the "emotional diversity" that our teams carry. We can do everything right on the hiring front as far as the gender, ethnic background, and sexual orientation, and yet we can still build teams that are remarkably homogeneous, because we tend to hire people like us, all external aspects considered and factored out. Getting a truly diverse team means you have to go into harder areas to quantify, such as emotional connection, communication styles, verbal and written expression, analytical and creative thinking, and being willing to be fluid with roles and responsibilities. Seriously, good luck getting a software tool to help you with that.
One of my favorite aspects of any conference is the ability to meet people I've never met before, but have had some communication with through other mediums. Software testing has taken to social media like few other disciplines I have seen. Through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Quora and other initiatives I participate in, there are so many software testers that I "know" but hadn't met in person. This event really drove home how many people "knew" me, by reputation, by prose, by initiatives I have been part of. I was able to meet someone in person for the first time and realize they knew a tremendous amount about me, about how I think, and about how I communicate. It was a thrilling feeling, and at time, I will confess, a little unsettling. Granted, I opened up myself for that by having a blog and a presence in social media, but I never quite get used to the feeling when I am talking to someone and looking to explain how I feel about an issue, and them answering that they already know how I feel about it, they'd read my comments on it just last month. Still, I really appreciate that so many people actually tune in to what I have to say, it's really humbling.
Our evening entertainment for Wednesday was an awards dinner and reception at Croke Park, which is the home to the Gaelic Athletic Association and what are the two national sports (outside of football) for the Irish; Hurling and Gaelic Football. Before this evening, I had no idea how big a deal these two games were in Ireland, and seeing the history, the names, and the highlight reels certainly drilled that point home. Croke Park Stadium felt huge to me. I cannot say whether or not it was the size of our American Football stadiums back in the states, but it certainly felt like it. Having had a wonderful night of conversation with friends old and new, a very filling traditional irish dinner, and some deserved awards (knowing that Rickard Edgren won the best paper award put it at the top of my list for items to review when I got home), the buses brought us back to the convention center, and we all made our way back to the comforts of our rooms, to sleep and prepare for another day.
For my final full day in Dublin, we took part in Day Three of the conference (all of which from my perspective can be read about here), and several talks that, again, deal with the real issues that teams face. Again, I will emphasize, the problems with software and products that ultimately fail are less to do with technology and tools, and more to do with people and interactions. Unless we get that part right, ultimately what we do on the product front will be less effective than it can be. Additionally, we all need to realize that the problems on the people front are the hardest to solve, and take the most time, talent and energy. I appreciated very much Shmuel Gershon stepping in to do a last minute keynote (which he did a fantastic job with) and Zeger Van Hese's closing keynote about the interconnectedness of everything we do. I also have to thank Zeger for giving me a term that has become very looming in my reality (Tsundoku), and a fighting desire to do something about it :).
After the closing keynote, we had a session that was about programming for testers. While I have had some experience with programming, I often appreciate these workshops because I like to see how they go from zero to sixty in however long it takes, and what we walk away with in the process. For me, I walked away with a free IDE I'd never used called Geany, and some quick and dirty tips as to how to get people who had never programmed up with some quick wins and the desire to keep going. My intention is to use the same ideas as I pair program with my daughter in the coming weeks. Geany seems a good tool to do what I am hoping to.
Our final night together had a bunch of us making our way over to St. James Gate, with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, and a museum dedicated to what is quite possibly the most iconic of Irish products. The tour was a great deal of fun, with a lot of history, some insights into a nearly 300 year old company, and what they have done to remain both profitable and relevant. Some good lessons overall in the tenacity of vision, and the willingness to play the long game (they have as one of their fist exhibits a document that is a 9,000 year lease for the St. James Gate property. Now that is long term thinking!). After a lesson in how to "pull the perfect pint from a nitrogen tap" and some breathtaking views from the top of the storehouse in the Gravity Bar, we went to get some dinner and continue the conversations in Crown Alley at one of the beter known and packed full pubs, where I was able to get an Irish translation of an American Thanksgiving dinner (which was quite enjoyable, I have to say :) ). A little walking around, and a little more conversation, then came the realization that there would be an early morning cab ride to the airport, some more waiting, and a long stretch to get home. I took my leave and got a couple of hours of shuteye, then packed up, got into a cab and made my way to the Dublin Airport.
A quick note on people in the States who complain about how much things cost. I found myself regularly doing the mental conversion of typical meals, costs for cabs, general purchases for items, etc. and I can honestly say that Ireland (or at least Dublin) has a higher cost of living than I do in my home town. I could chalk it up to being in touristy areas, but overall, I was still surprised at the costs of many items that I get for much less back home. Traveling to other parts of the world always opens ones eyes, and lets them understand the differences, even in little things.
The flight home I knew was going to be long. I'd have a seven hour layover in Toronto, as well as an almost seven hour flight from Dublin to Toronto, and a six and a half hour flight from Toronto to San Francisco. Interestingly, with my battle plan in force (reading through my collection of e-books and taking notes) coupled with the time it took to go through Immigration and customs in Canada (which to my surprise, meant I had no visit with customs in the U.S. when I arrived back home), those seven hours went much faster than I anticipated. The flight from Toronto to San Francisco, honestly, I slept most of the way. I landed just a little after 11:20 p.m. and by the time I walked into my house at two minutes to midnight (cue Iron Maiden in the background ;) ), I had spent twenty seven hours traveling door to door. Needless to say, I spent most of the weekend recuperating and getting myself back onto Pacific Standard Time. Today, I feel like I'm mostly back to normal.
To the organizers of EuroSTAR, I wish to say thank you for inviting me to your conference, and for giving me a free conference pass as "The Green Tester". It was an interesting situation to be a Yankee abroad, and to realize that I was one of the few people from the U.S. at this event. To hear so many different accents, so many different stories and situations, and to feel a part of a slightly bigger world, I am grateful for the experience. Additionally, to be a delegate without any other obligations, without having to speak, work a booth, do some background work, or other involvement that I have done the past five years, it was a terrific experience to just be at liberty to seek out and find answers to my own questions. In many ways, I did just that. For several questions, I didn't find answers, but I did find new avenues to explore and consider. I'd say that makes for a successful week :).