My Stump Speech – Asking for your Vote for AST Board

Hello! My name is Eric Proegler, and I am Context-Driven.

I am writing today about my candidacy for the Association for Software Testing Board of Directors. I’d like to tell you a little more about me, and why I’m running.

I live in Mountain View, California and work for SOASTA. I have worked in testing for 16 years, and been engaged with the CDT community for 11.

Of the work I’ve done in the testing community, I am most proud of being a Speak Easy mentor. I’m also an organizer of a long-running peer workshop (WOPR, the Workshop on Performance and Reliability), and a member of the Community Advisory Board for STPCon. I have been a member of AST for several years, first attending CAST in 2010.

After last year’s CAST, I set out to form the AST Committee on Standards and Professional Practices to help AST engage with issues affecting our profession as a professional trade organization. This work, and my experience working with AST to get this Committee started led to me accepting a nomination to run for the AST Board.

I am asking for your vote because there are things I hope to accomplish for our organization, our community, and our profession as an AST board member. I believe I have a track record of getting things done, by digging in and doing them myself. I think that’s what we need more of on the AST board. With urgency, focus, humility, and willingness to iterate, we can accomplish a lot.

The ideas of our community’s founders and leaders changed testing forever. I want to publicize our school’s approach to testing as viable, respectable, and highly effective to the testing AND software development worlds, giving our membership support and resources for implementing modern testing principles. I also want to help solidify a launchpad for the next generation of our community’s leaders to lift off from. We have a bright, passionate, and diverse crop in our community that will shine very brightly when they get their turn.

I am sorry I won’t see so many of my friends and colleagues in Grand Rapids next month. During CAST, I will be speaking at an Agile Development conference (Agile2015). I plan to talk with that community about testing, and how “automating everything” is sure to miss many bugs. From where I sit in the heart of Silicon Valley, this desire to turn testing into checking is an even greater risk to our profession’s future than factory certifications and testing standards – and is not an empty house of cards like these economic tactics.

I will push AST forward as an organization by challenging the organization to improve as an advocate for all testers, whether they identify as a member of our community or not. AST should continue to proudly be a Context-Driven organization, but the business and profession of testing has been defined by large commercial interests for too long. We must present a credible, experience-based alternative to the obsolete, ineffective command and control processes recommended by those seeking to profit from marketing McTesting process and “expertise”. We will win with our superior ideas, demonstrating that in a world of faster development iterations with smaller teams, it’s our community that is moving the practice forward.

I hope to help AST do more for its membership. My first set of tasks are to help members to find and collect tools and links for self-learning, aid them with job posting and searches, help them connect with peers for advice, and provide them with practice references when they set out to improve testing in their organizations. A key task for helping this happen is to revitalize the AST website so that others can easily contribute their research, experiences, and voices to a common body of knowledge. I will ask the board to allow me to revamp the AST website towards community engagement, and I will personally do much of the work to make it happen.

I want to help AST expand its footprint internationally. While much of our membership is American, there are thriving communities in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and even Asia. AST can support and sponsor decentralized, loosely affiliated CDT conferences in places where there is demand and people on the ground.

Lastly, I will continue to work with the STP board to welcome CDT content and speakers into those conferences. If you take a look at our fall schedule, you can see that is going quite well.

To learn more about me, you could visit my blog here at contextdrivenperformancetesting.com, follow me @ericproegler, or chat with me sometime. I’d love to hear more ideas about how to increase AST’s accountability to the community, so that it can better earn the community’s attention and participation.

Debates, Rent-Seeking, Personal Attacks, and Apologies

Yesterday, XBOSoft hosted a webinar entitled “The ISO 29119 Software Testing Standard – Friend or Foe?”. Philip Lew hosted a debate, somewhat formally constructed. The panelists were Jon Duncan Hagar, Rex Black, Jean Ann Harrison, and Griffin Jones.

As a close follower of this discussion, I’d say that not a lot of new ground was tread, but the significant issues were discussed, and it was the right size twitter event to participate in. Claire Moss provided detailed play-by-play. Iain McCowatt had some pointed comments. Lalitkumar Bhamare, Perze Ababa, Tim WesternKate Falanaga, and @dsynadinos also contributed. The hashtag was #ISO29119, but some tweets are under #ISO29119Debate. I don’t intend to describe the whole event, but to talk about something specific.

One of the specific things that ignited discussion was the term “rent-seeking“. When Griffin mentioned the term during the debate, it definitely got a strong reaction. Even Phil as the moderator objected. Here is the resulting discussion:

Rex’s response today led to me writing this blog post, because I need more space than Twitter to properly respond.

About Rent-Seeking

I first heard this term in James Christie’s talk at CAST 2015. James borrowed this term from his degree in economics, using it in his talk about standards, certification, and regulation. His hypothesis was that the term “economic rent” was useful in discussing some our community’s concerns, by providing language for discussing how some of the actors/vendors in the testing market can exert control on how business is done in that market. I recommend watching his talk, because he certainly says it better.

The term “rent-seeking” resonates for me, in both professional and political contexts. Like many really delicious words, it is rich in meaning. It describes a complex process that takes place in many industries, in many countries, in many contexts. There are degrees; pointing to a financial benefit from an activity doesn’t mean that it is inherently unethical. It does mean that the interests of people who profit from these arrangements are judged differently.

Some vendors have used standards for financial gain. This should not really be in question.

The definition on the mobile Wikipedia site – the one Rex referenced – is even harsher in making an ethical and value judgment. It says “rent-seeking is expending resources on political activity to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating wealth.”

All this makes Rent-Seeking a loaded term to use in a discussion. That doesn’t mean it is inaccurate or not useful. Still, I should find a less pejorative term here that describes how a market changes with requirements for entry are added.

The Personal and the Political

I respect and admire Rex Black, who has had a long and successful career in software testing and training. He has worked hard and achieved a lot. He’s smart and funny, and I’ve enjoyed our brief in-person interactions. I think that Rex can point to hundreds (thousands?) of people he’s trained in software testing, and say that he’s has helped many people’s careers. Rex has put a great deal of time and effort into ISTQB, ASTQB, and other testing organizations, and can say that he has given a lot back to testing. He’s spoken and consulted all over the place. It’s more than a little presumptuous for me to call him a colleague, given his accomplishments.

That being said, Rex and I have fundamental disagreements on some issues in software testing. He’s taken a lot of fire from all over the CDT community. I once joked about him trolling CDT, and he suggested the opposite is true. I think that is exactly correct: as the personification of Big Quality to many people in our community, he’s taken some pretty rough criticism, and some of it has been personal.

I am friends with and respect some of the people that Rex has blocked on Twitter, but I can also understand why he’s blocked them. Many professional disagreements end up as personal ones; you don’t have to look too far in our community to see formerly close friends/mentors/partners/collaborators who won’t speak with each other today. In some of these cases, I think the person choosing to disengage has made the right choice. I don’t think any of these people are terrible, just that we’re still basically monkeys that wear clothes and sometimes throw shit at each other.

I won’t adjudicate Twitter behavior – but no one comes out ahead when someone feels attacked. We have professional issues about the current and future states of software testing to debate, and it is unfortunate that we find ourselves here: many people disagreeing with Rex, and him expected to debate dozens of people by himself. I don’t know who to nominate to help him, but I empathize that it must be exhausting. I feel that his willingness to articulate another point of view and engage in debate makes him a resource for our community that we should value.

I think it’s problematic to tell people what they ought to be or are allowed to be offended by. It’s hard not to internalize criticism of work that’s important to you, so that criticism should be done with care. You should be very, very careful about assigning motives to someone, and be even more careful in questioning their ethics. You can make a contribution by being slow to take offense, and patient and forgiving with those who make mistakes, but you also need to take care of yourself.

My Role, and My Apology

I’ve made some pointed comments in debating Rex, trying to walk the line of criticizing specific things without being personal. He has objected to some of the things I’ve said that have been too harsh. When I have agreed, I have apologized. He has accepted these apologies, and has not blocked me. I greatly respect and appreciate that.

Yesterday, I made the implication that Rex offering ISTQB certification classes after helping define the ISTQB standards was a form of Rent-Seeking. I put a sharp edge on it, and threw it out in a tweet with about 5 seconds of thought. I was wrong, and I am sorry I said it.

The reason I was wrong was because the point could have been made without implying that Rex was trying to rig a market, or that he intends to shut down competition, was seeking to purchase favorable regulation like a giant agribusiness, or was otherwise behaving unethically. The “unethical” charge that should not be made casually – and in this case, it’s just not supportable. I should have been more respectful, and been more precise in my criticism.

What I Should Have Said

I believe that all ISO standards are proposed as a standard for governance, whether that is corporate or legally (If it was in person, I might have added a sly comment referencing conservative political philosophy being opposed to needless regulation). I think that these governance standards add overhead and barrier to entry for testing companies, particularly small ones, because they require study and compliance overhead. When a standard is proposed, its very nature is that it wants to become as widely observed as possible.

The claims that ISO29119 makes about correctness and applicability are very broad, and from what I’ve read so far, it does not include qualifications on when, where, or how it should NOT be applied. When the lead author was asked about this, he said you can forego the standard “If you work in your garage (and are) not working with any clients.” I disagree with this, to say the least.

Certifications make similar claims in applicability, and have similar effects in creating barrier for entry for individuals to the profession of testing. When companies require a certification for hiring – that is the goal for every certification, to become the standard measure of competence, right? – they are making it harder for testers to get and change jobs without investing time and study into achieving these certifications. I think that by participating in writing these certifications, and then training people for the certification tests, there is a financial benefit realized while simultaneously imposing a cost for entry, reducing the efficiency of that market.

That is the extent of what I meant to say, and it’s damn close to the definition of Rent-Seeking. It’s still wrong to attack someone’s motives and ethics, and it’s toxic when you are trying to debate important issues.

Again, I am sorry.

Speaking Easy, Part 4: Diversity and the Bigger Picture

This is Part 4 of a series of blog posts on why I am volunteering to mentor speakers at testing (and other) conferences for Speak Easy. Part 1 is herePart 2  here, and Part 3 here.

We’ve discussed some very practical points about conferences and presentations. I see connections to larger issues, and I would like to talk about those a bit.

It would be presumptuous of me to attempt to discuss these issues with any authority. Most of the time, what white dudes need to do when the issue of diversity is being discussed is to shut up and listen, since they do most of the talking all the rest of the time anyways. We should also be aware that appropriation is not just about headdresses at Coachella, either. Go listen to other people – preferably people with first-hand experience, please.

My experience is second-hand at best, and I continue to discover more aspects of my privilege. My perspective is less interesting because of these blind spots. I hope that readers will point out anything I am missing, have misstated, or should have mentioned. I welcome the opportunity to be educated, publicly or privately, if you feel like it…with one exception.

Discussion of diversity issues makes many white dudes uncomfortable. Hopefully, this makes you want to learn more and explore that feeling. If you (as a white dude) are feeling the need to express that discomfort by disagreeing with what’s been said in this post, it’s OK if you *don’t* tell us why and how you disagree. If you are frustrated that you haven’t been heard and had your opinion dismissed out of hand, that you’ve been lumped in with other people based on attributes you can’t control and shouldn’t define you…do I need to continue? Also, if you are a “reverse-racism” or “intolerance” guy, read this, this, or watch this.

Conference speaking is a window into our industry, and our society. As a society and as a species, we are still very immature. Most of us have agreed by now that every person of every background should have the same opportunities to succeed, and understand that overt (and non-overt) judgments of people based on demographic information is not only deeply unjust and incompatible with the future most of us say we want, it is harmful to people on the wrong end of this bias, and it is highly inefficient. Only to the far right wing have I said anything remotely controversial in this paragraph; we have a broadly-held, nearly universally proclaimed consensus on these goals.

Where we disagree starts at assessing how close we are to achieving these goals. Even in places where laws purport to guarantee equality and opportunity for all, and are amply reinforced by policies and training, the reality still falls far short, in a thousand small ways that add up to real handicaps. From what I can tell, it’s tougher every place and always to be a woman, a person of color, a recent immigrant, to have a sexual orientation besides hetero, or to have a sexual identity that is not strictly cisgendered. At intersections of these, it gets even harder. These facets of an identity do not define who a person is, their potential, their skills, or their abilities. Unfortunately, they strongly affect how people treat them.

In the workplace, credibility and influence are both earned and given. <- Seriously, read that. I know I throw a ton of in-line links, and I can see from site stats that most people skip them, but this particular one is important. A taste:

Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings. As this and other research shows, women who worry that talking “too much” will cause them to be disliked are not paranoid; they are often right.

A typical "leadership gathering"
A typical “leadership gathering”

Leadership dynamics are complicated, but everyone notices, at least subconciously, who talks, who gets interrupted, who is credible, who is challenged, who gets credit, and so forth. Patterns get reinforced all the time, and people are constantly pressured back towards the external expectations others have. This is an effective way to squash dissent and turn collaborative processes into echo chambers for the people that call the meeting and set the agenda…er…I mean, show leadership. When people are pressured to be quiet, they eventually run out of energy. Why should they continue to struggle against the undercurrent of dismissal, when they will punished for speaking up?

Scale-emphasized, still significant
Scale-emphasized, still significant

Tech believes itself to be at least as diverse and a more merit-based industry than others, but it simply isn’t. Tech is sort of like education, marketing, civil service, or other industries where the rank and file are diverse and full of stars from all sorts of backgrounds, but then gets all pasty and lumpy towards the top. At least in the US, we’re losing women year over year in one of our fastest growing industries.

If your response to the discussion of diversity in conference speakers is to point at under-representation in submissions, please think it through one step farther. Why are there fewer submissions from every group besides white guys? Don’t the demographics of our industry suggest there should be a more diverse set of applicants? What are the forces working against that?

I was chagrined the day I finally understood how frequently I was talking over women to restate their ideas, co-opting them and dragging them away from their owners. I’d be even more embarrassed if I told you how recently that was. Dudes, I am paying a lot of attention to this lately, and what I’ve learned is that even with generally good intentions, I’ve been part of the problem. While I will never really understand what it’s like to not have the credibility, influence, and confidence I’ll be listened to just for being me, I will be a lot less of a jerk if I think about it at all. That’s where the bar for being decent on diversity is – pretty low, but still higher than most seem to be willing to reach. Any real awareness is so much better than continuing to coast.

Speaking of coasting, continued acceptance of the advantages we enjoy leads to our world being more crap, because of mediocre white guys taking opportunities they don’t actually deserve from smarter, more qualified people in other demographic groups. Yes, I am willing to live with the potentially painful personal consequences of that, and you should too. The mythical true meritocracy would be a much better place for all of us to live.

Our friends, our spouses, our brothers and sisters – they need us to step forward and help them fix this. Being listened to and taken seriously is a good first step. We can help people be heard, and help them be more confident that they should speak up. As a society, we are doing better lately, but we have a long, long, LOOOONG way to go. Helping people become speakers helps them become leaders, and will make our future better.

Part 5 is out there somewhere, and it’s about my experience learning to speak. It might be a bit before it comes out.

Speaking Easy, Part 3: Developing Your Presentation

This is Part 3 of a series of blog posts on mentoring speakers at testing (and other technical) conferences for Speak Easy. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

In yesterday’s installment, I talked briefly about preparing an abstract. Today, I want to talk more about that, and developing your presentation. We’ll use a theoretical subject that I am not qualified to present on, as you’ll see shortly.

Getting Started

You need an idea to start – what is your presentation going to be about. When you can articulate it in 3-5 compelling paragraphs that include learning takeaways, you’ll be ready to submit it.

Let’s say you spend a good amount of your work on testing web forms. Let’s also say you’ve done some reading about effective GUI design, you follow @mralancooper and other designers, and you discuss interfaces with the people you work with. You know something about this, even if you don’t consider yourself an expert or work as a designer. You might be an expert as a tester, though.

Think about the techniques you use. What heuristics or shortcuts have you developed to do your job? How do you evaluate an interface? Do you have a method to help you remember to apply them? If not, just make a list.

How do you report and contextualize these issues to make your information actionable? What do you think about when you need to summarize what you’ve found to managers/developers/designers/other stakeholders?

Abstract

You now have takeaways – describing how you do what you do, why you do it, and how you describe what you find. These are things you are an experienced practitioner in, and practical advice in one or both of these areas could be helpful to many people.

Borrowing from yesterday’s post: Look at conference programs/schedules. Here’s the “STARry” larger test conference programs to look at, here is STPCon, and here are some CAST conferencesall linked in a row. Maybe Let’s Test? If you are interested in writing a paper too, you could look at PNSQC. TestBash, Nordic Testing Days…there are dozens more conferences, all around the world, and I apologize to the volunteers that keep all of these conferences running for not including every one. There are people who maintain links for the various software testing conferences, and you can use those to see more. There are many hundreds of presentations every year, and most will need to be replaced next year.

After reading these session descriptions, you now have examples. Which ones are compelling to you? Which ones are not?

Start writing! Your ideas are the payload, so get them laid out and don’t worry about whether it is pretty at first.

Also from yesterday: Work in a local document – you don’t want to compose in someone’s web form and then lose it, or have to remember what you sent in later. Plus, if you are not accepted, you may want to propose again to a different conference.

Select a Target

Do you have a conference in mind that’s coming up? Make sure you understand the deadlines for submission. Make sure you can commit to the dates of the conference if you are selected, and make sure you know how you will get there. You probably won’t get paid by the conference for your travel, lodging, meals, etc, so make sure your employer is on board for the expenses, and your time.

Putting speaking goals into your review is a good hook to have prepared for this conversation. Your employer should be happy to support your personal growth, and to realize the recruiting benefits of having employees speaking. If not, maybe you have friends/family you can stay with near the conference, lowering travel expenses. Still try getting paid for the conference as regular time (not vacation) if you can, as you can point to the “free” conference admission. If you can’t even get that, you may need to make tough choices, including perhaps one about continuing your current employment if you are not in the right environment to grow. I’ve spoken at a conference on vacation, but speaking is work, and you should be spending vacation days on not-work. 

Back to your abstract in progress: Get feedback from multiple sources, such as your Speak Easy mentor. Take some feedback, ignore some feedback, wonder why you asked that person for their opinion, and polish. When you are happy with it (or more likely, when you are nearing the deadline), copy your abstract into the submission form, cross your fingers, and push submit.

There’s a trend of announcing submissions on Twitter. I don’t because I’m an insecure introvert, but that’s up to you. Then, let it go, and wait to hear back.

Outlining Your Ideas

Some weeks after your proposal is sent in, it will be enthusiastically accepted. Uh-oh. Now you have to really work at it! Graciously accept, block off your days, sign up for any hotel deal, and make a calendar reminder to book your flights several weeks before you go.

Find your abstract, and build an outline from it. It would look like this at first if I did it in a few minutes while writing a blog post:

  1. Introduction: You, where you work, what you do. Describe your context.
  2. Issues in testing GUIs
    1. Field Data types and validation
    2. Localization/Date/Currency issues
    3. Usability/Screen Resolution
    4. Ask room for suggestions (limit to 5 minutes)
  3. Techniques
    1. Checking data validation
    2. Duplicate data, other interesting interactions with backend
    3. Incomplete submissions/returning to complete
    4. Browser nav (forward/back/reload)
    5. Some of your collection of weird strings to paste into fields (supplemented by link to your blog, where you have them all collected?)
    6. Your checklist of these techniques and others you didn’t delve into (Other browsers, bad wireless networks, accessibility, etc)
    7. Tools you use for screenshots, http inspection, etc
    8. Ask room for suggestions (5 mins)
  4. Demo on a public-facing website of some of these techniques (10 minutes). Pick a target where you can illuminate an issue or two that you’ve previously described.
  5. Reporting GUI issues – who, what, where, how, and the why that matters for which stakeholder(s)
  6. Takeaways and Questions

45-60 minutes is not so long once you lay it out, particularly when you allocate time for questions and audience interaction. Now you can start putting together your presentation.

Your Presentation

Some people say PowerPoint sucks. It works for me, and for many other people. Some people have learned Keynote. Prezi works for some people. Very few or no slides works for some people. If you can get to the point where you are not leading slide read-along time, you’re good enough for now.

A detailed discussion of what you project while you talk or how to talk is out of scope for this post. What is in scope is the how to prepare: hammer out a rough copy of what you want to show, and start practicing talking in front of it. Fill in the gaps you’ll find once you start discussing the issues, and iterate. Don’t worry about “pretty” yet (unless you need a procrastination technique), worry about completing your content. Your talk is the time to watch, not slides. Slides are only there to support you.

Practice, practice, practice, especially before your first presentation. Audio record yourself. Time yourself. Use the right words instead of the biggest ones, and choose words that are natural for you to say. Make sure you are not talking too fast, that you are speaking clearly, that you are explaining any jargon, and that you are ready for transitions.

You want to identify and knock out “um”, “ah”, “as you know”, “obviously”, and other verbal tics. You need to pause for a couple of moments between slides to signal transitions, and it’s fine to be quiet for longer and let people read/absorb. You might not guess it from my blog posts, but I am a big fan of cutting the fat to make what’s left look better.

If you have not been in front of people yet, this might be a time to get a couple friends together and do karaoke, however well or badly you might do, to experience the queasy stomach feeling in a safer place.

Before the Conference

Aim to have your slides done two weeks before the conference. You will continue to tweak them afterwards, but you probably need to send them in for posting, to preserve the time for fiddling and a couple more practice runs, and reduce last minute-induced crapness. It’s also a good idea to make sure you know how to make your laptop project, have any necessary adapters, etc. You might want to check your slide resolution and make sure it is a common projector resolution.

An aside on slides – some people horde them, many people ask for them, very few actually every look at them. Some conferences want attendees to get them from their site. Some people protect their slides. I put my CAST 2014 presentation on Slideshare, even though I have given other versions of it since and will again. AST also posted a video of it.

Your job is to be generous to everyone that wants to learn from you, responsive to the conference that gave you the opportunity to be heard, and confident and forthright about what’s yours and what isn’t.

Your Session

You will be nervous as your session approaches. Trust your preparation, and channel your energy into practice/last minute slide tweaks if you must, but you are better off not making decisions under duress.

Conferences are valuable learning and networking opportunities. I’ve met many of my favorite people at them. Go to sessions and support other speakers. Volunteer for the conference if they need any help.

The wrong way to prep for your session
The wrong way to prepare for a session

Spend as much time as you can with your fellow conference goers, and see how much you learn from people talking about what works in other contexts. Just don’t stay out too late the night before your session, and don’t get too “dehydrated”.

The session before yours, you will not be paying much attention, so avoid being a distraction by preparing somewhere else. Make sure you have enough water, make sure you don’t have too much, that your laptop is charged, your phone is silent and won’t vibrate, you have a dozen business cards handy for your new fans, and any demos work.

Go to your session’s room as soon as the previous session is over. You need the length of the break to set up your laptop, test A/V and slide clicker, find a clock you can see while you talk, put your phone in your bag, get one glass of water, feel really nervous, and then breathe. I still get butterflies, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. The 4-7-8 technique might help.

Make eye contact, smile, and say hello with each person as they come in, if you can. Accept that you’ve done what you can to prepare, and that you’ll do the best you can. Force yourself to start slow. FADE OUT.

FADE IN: Your room is clapping, and then filling out enthusiastic evaluations. Be gracious to everyone who comes and talks to you after.

Wrapping Up

Jot down any notes you have for yourself. Ask any friends in the room for their feedback.

Turn your phone back on. Star any tweets you like about your session and #followback your new twitter followers.

Congratulate yourself for making it to the other side. Allow yourself more “enjoyment of the conference” that evening. Thank the conference organizers. Add the talk to your LinkedIn profile.

Tell your boss how grateful you are for the support to attend and speak. Look for any local Tester Meetups that you could bring the conference session to. Look at what other conferences you might want to try next; now that you’ve given this talk once, you can improve it.

A few weeks after the conference, watch for speaker evaluations, and take any feedback. Remember that not everyone scores the same way; some will score 3 out of 5 as perfectly respectable. There will be some empty glowing reviews, and almost always, one negative review that after closer reading, you are not sure they were actually in your session.

Whew! It was a long journey, but we got here. Also, it takes a while to prepare for a conference.

In Part 4, I’ll talk about why the subject of diversity matters to me personally.

Speaking Easy, Part 2: You Can Do It!

This is Part 2 of a series of blog posts on volunteering to mentor speakers at testing (and other) conferences for Speak Easy. Part 1 is here.

In case you didn’t get it in the title…

You Can Do It!

You, yes you!

Ryan wants you to speak
Ryan wants you to speak

Really, you can. Hopefully not much more than about 220 days a year, you go to work and do a job. While you are doing your work, you are collecting experiences, researching and implementing methods, getting practice, and breathing in the how and why of what you do. You are accumulating hands-on knowledge every day, and improving at your craft. You know a thing or two about a thing or two, and the world might benefit from you sharing it.

You might look at who speaks at a conference, and think that you don’t match up for some reason. In terms of presentation skills, that might or might not be true at first, but you should never assume that you have less expertise in your subject matter. Many of these speakers have less experience than you at the things you work on. They may have seen more contexts, but they don’t know yours as well as you do. We need fewer blowhards describing the wildly successful implementation of processes they’ve spent talking to managers on the periphery of for a few days, and more sharing by practitioners of techniques and reporting on experiences.

You might not have an obvious subject in mind to talk about when you decide that you want to try speaking. That’s OK. Read conference programs, attend conferences, talk with peers, do some research – you can find something that will spark you. You only need a rough draft of a couple paragraphs of abstract to get started with research and asking for feedback. You don’t have to go all the way through with submitting – you can wait until next year or try a different conference.

Plus, you have these factors working for you in how conferences select speakers:

  1. There are usually not that many submissions. Often, conferences are scrambling to fill the number of speaking slots they have. When you see experienced speakers doubling and tripling up on track sessions, or you see a conference repeatedly publicizing approaching deadlines, you have evidence of this.
  2. There are submissions that are well, not as good as others. The obvious corollary to there not being many submissions is that there are not many abstracts being turned away. Near the end, what gets accepted is helped by the need to pad out a schedule.
  3. Submissions are just summaries. Professional authors will tell you that the best way to sell a book is “on spec”: a sample chapter, and some description of what the book is about. They don’t have to write the whole book until they’ve sold it. Conference presentations work the same way. More on conference submissions later.

hey-you-can-do-itNet-Net: Your proposal doesn’t have to compete with the most compelling submissions from the most experienced speakers. It only has to compete with the last set of submissions that are accepted, or an experienced speaker’s third session.

This all varies, of course, usually down to the track level for conferences that try to maintain subject lines over their conference days. I’ve been turned down for conferences I really wanted to speak at. I’ve also been asked to submit for conferences I had not heard of before I was asked, presumably because they saw my name on other conference programs.

Reviewers and conference staff want to program the best conference they can for attendees, and want great content. New blood is necessary to keep conferences vital and interesting. The old boys network is sort of a thing, but not as prevalent as you might think. Conferences want to have high energy, and that tends to come from people who are still doing the work, not just talking about the work. Killer ideas matter much more than good slides and patter.

So, study what other conference session descriptions looks like, then write three to five compelling paragraphs about what you want to talk about, tailoring it to the format of what you see for previous conferences. Here’s the “STARry” larger test conference programs to look at, here is STPCon, and here are some CAST conferencesall linked in a row. Maybe Let’s Test? If you are interested in writing a paper too, you could look at PNSQC. There are dozens more conferences, all around the world, and I apologize to the volunteers that keep all of these conferences running for not including every one. There are people who maintain links for the various software testing conferences, and you can use those to see more. There are many hundreds of presentations every year, and most will need to be replaced next year. Why not you?

Work in a local document – you don’t want to compose in someone’s web form and then lose it, or have to remember what you sent in later. Plus, if you are not accepted, you may want to propose again to a different conference. Casually embedded idea: you might be able to find an experienced speaker and ask if you can co-propose with them.

Get feedback, polish it, make sure you’re happy before you submit, but remember that you only need to summarize your main points at this stage. You’ll have months between an accepted abstract and a completed talk, and you almost always can revise your abstract for the program, before the conference.

In terms of asking for help directly from the conference, I think it can be a good idea, with some qualifiers. As a reviewer, I don’t mind giving feedback on drafts when it asked for well ahead of deadlines, and I don’t mind coming up with a couple of provocative questions to help sharpen an abstract. I have also been in situations where I felt like I was being politicked for special consideration more than any genuine desire for feedback, and didn’t care for that. People will respond positively to honest seekers.

Maybe you get accepted, maybe you don’t. It hurts a little to get rejected in any context, but it’s going to be OK. Save your abstract, look for opportunities to do more with it (Meetups, etc), and dust it off when the next conference comes along. There are any number of reasons why your talk might be fine, but just not fit for that specific conference. It could be overlapping with someone else’s proposal, or there might be too many talks for that one track. You might not have missed it by much. Sometimes you can get feedback on why, but I’d recommend giving it a few days to cool off before you ask. Just don’t give up!

The responsibility of the reviewers to the conference and its attendees is to select the best content possible, but that is multi-dimensional. A diverse set of subjects, approaches, and experiences creates the richest program. Programs drive attendance, and momentum between conferences depends on successful conferences that people enjoy attending.

schneideryou-can-do-itIt’s hard work and it takes practice to become a good speaker. I couldn’t tell you anything about becoming a great one. But the opportunities to try are not so hard to come by, and you probably have something to talk about.

If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. It’s not for everyone.

Just don’t decide there isn’t room for you – there is plenty, please come on in. We need you, and we’re really hoping to hear from you soon. How can I help?

In the next post, I will talk about how I develop conference presentations.

Speaking Easy, Part 1: Why it Matters

I recently volunteered to be a mentor for the Speak Easy program that Fiona Charles and Anne-Marie Charrett have started. Being accepted as a mentor is one of the proudest moments of my career. I’d like to talk about why this program matters, why I volunteered, and why this honor means so much to me.

First, the program:

Speak Easy came about when Fiona Charles and Anne-Marie Charrett decided to walk the talk about creating diversity at technical conferences. As conference organisers, they’ve seen the challenges in sourcing diverse speakers for their programs. As experienced speakers they’ve understood and seen the difficulty in getting experience and confidence to speak at a professional level.

This initiative is designed to bridge that gap.

This is a very real thing:

My experience as a conference organizer bears this out. Women are not the only underrepresented group as speakers at most technical conferences; it’s essentially every demographic besides straight white dudes that has a less-than-proportional ratio of conference attendee to conference speaker at most conferences I’ve attended. Try that experiment – assess proportions of the audience relative to the proportions of the speakers – at the next conference you attend, or when looking at a board, executive team, government body, etc. You know, in case constantly being told this is an issue wasn’t enough, and you needed some independent verification.

Why Does It Matter?

Because speaking gigs improve careers. A lot. And these opportunities should be accessible to everyone who deserves them.

Many conferences don’t pay anything beyond a conference admission for the time spent preparing and practicing a track session. Some will help a little with hotel, meals, or other travel expenses. Keynote speakers are more likely to get a small honorarium. None of this compensation is significant compared to the raise a promotion can bring, or the revenue of a consulting gig.

Some people are lucky enough to speak at conferences on an expense account, but consultants give up billable time to attend and speak at conferences. The time spent preparing material is also significant, and is more non-billable time.

So why do we do it? We often call it marketing, because getting your name and your company’s name out there can be of real value, and it’s good to have Google results. Plus, that lets you use marketing budget for travel expenses. But that’s not the only reason – and for most people, it’s not the biggest value they personally get.

Not only are speaking gigs exposure to the world at large for you and your ideas, they are practice for stepping in front of a group of peers and confidently declaring a point of view. Only half of the phrase “thought leadership” is about ideas. That is an important part – study, research, and articulating what you know is a learning exercise that will help you grow. The other half is about confidence, persuading, connecting with an audience, and other skills that are necessary to lead effectively, both formally and technically. The experience of stepping out on front of a room that you think is staring at you, getting over your terror, fielding questions/challenges, and staking out your claim as an expert will increase your effectiveness in a variety of situations. I’ve known a very few people self-possessed enough to confidently speak in front of a group. Everyone else has to get over their impostor syndrome and learn how to do this in order to advance their careers.

Speaking at a conference is one of the best ways to get this experience, and will help your career. It’s a valuable opportunity, and if you hope to lead, either formally or with your ideas, it is something you should strongly consider pursuing. If you would like a gentler on-ramp, consider addressing a Meet-up, or lightning talks/ “speed-geeking” at a conference.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2: You Can Do It!

On Certification

The Agile Alliance saved me a blog post, and said it much better.

It is the position of the board of the Agile Alliance that employers should have confidence only in certifications that are skill-based and difficult to achieve.

We also believe that employers should not require certification of employees.

And…

We are not a certification body and do not endorse any certification programs.

Seriously, click the link. It would be nice to see AST say something like this.

Defending Against Standards and Certification

In the few weeks since James Christie scared the crap out of CAST 2014there have been a number of blog posts, a hashtag, a slow and large skeet target, a petition, and other actions taken. We now know about rent-seeking, some have properly contextualized ISO 29119, some of the lions in our field have spoken, and some of us have laid down markers for longer engagement with these issues.

Tough questions continue to be posed, and strong analyses of who is involved and what they’ve said in the past continues. A usual suspect has oscillated between poking fun at these concerns, saying that standards don’t really matter, and attacking our motives and how we identify ourselves (a rotation “Greatest Hit” rather than anything new, admittedly). Interesting how people who complain about “disrespectful and antagonistic rhetoric” have such constructive things to say.

Someone else is now unpopular (or, newly – James Bach has attempted to engage with him on multiple issues in the past), and there is enough of that to go around. There are sincere people who think standards can be helpful. Some have said that what has happened is an overreaction, but I think of it more as an overdue one.

rentseeking
The Uninteresting Fits of Capitalist Dreams

It’s the most coherent and together I’ve ever seen my community on an issue. There are long-standing, deep divides between my community and others who work in software quality on standards and certification. We disagree on issues that have a significant impact on our profession. Tone policing doesn’t address the actual disagreement. Intellectually eviscerating the content and arguments is simply waved away. We could talk more about compliance, pathetic and otherwise, but it seems we are finding a collective voice, and hopefully, we will no longer be dismissed as a lunatic fringe.

Rather than try to talk about all of the issues or re-echo some of what has already been said, I want to talk about why these issues matter to me enough to seek action. What are the practical impacts of standards and certifications on people working in testing?

I am against the testing standards and certifications I’ve seen because they I think their goals lead towards making testing a shitty job for a lot of people, and amplify the idea that testing and testers can be commoditized. When the experimentation and learning of testing is reduced to a series of reproducible steps, it is easier to “manage” (hire/fire/outsource) the people that do it, and to pay them less. Let’s not be mistaken: skilled testers are not desired in many of these situations. They are expensive, difficult to replace, hard to scale – and hard to commoditize.

Who Does This Affect?

For starters, everyone that works as a software tester. It’s difficult to know how many software testers there are in the world, and if that number is growing or shrinking. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has a job code for testing, but seems to lump testers into a group called “Computer Occupations, All Other” with many other classifications. There were 196,000 US employees in that bucket in 2013.

I found a citation of 350,000 US testers in 2007. I heard Laurent Bossavit’s soft but steely voice in my head as I pursued this number (intersecting with the infamous NIST $59.5 billion annual cost of bugs legend), and found talk of calculations based on how many developers there were (~1.2m in 2007). The bucketed classification scheme I mentioned previously has only 183,000 for 2007 in the US. If we choose to base this on some custom calculation of available data, we could choose a fraction of the 1.4m developers as previously guessed at, or maybe even the 3.6m in IT.

ISTQB claims they have certified 336,000 testers through the end of 2013, with about 50,000 certifications issued in 2013. 8.1% of these in the Americas is claimed; that’s about 27,000 in the Western Hemisphere.

In any case, this gets us to a number somewhere between several hundred thousand and a few million testers in the world – and only a tiny percentage of those are flying the CDT flag.

The Testing Profession

My testing job – and the jobs of most of the people I know that work in testing – are decent jobs, but that’s because we have generally found our way to situations where we can apply judgement, experience, and skill to interesting and challenging work. These days, that circle is selected to the people I know from testing conferences and Twitter, which is certainly not the testing community at large.

Many – and I nearly said most – of the jobs I’ve seen in testing outside of this circle have not been good jobs, particularly in larger organizations. They have the “lowest-rung” IT job, sometimes considered just above first-level help desk, and sometimes below. Many testers use these jobs as stepping stones to get to something that pays better and is more interesting. Others see it as a path to management. Very few people see testing as a viable career, particularly when faced with what the testing jobs in their organization are. These testing jobs are always about to be reorganized/outsourced/sacrificed as budget markers because of how people react to issues reaching deployments, and because these jobs are difficult to tie to revenue.

One reason why these testers are not as effective is because of how they are forced to work; they spend a lot of time producing test case/test execution documentation – the primary criticism of (and prescribed “output” from) ISO 29119. Producing test case documentation might be interesting, and is an opportunity to find issues the same way writing automated checks is; you can find a problem while exploring the software in order to create test cases. Repeating the subset of activities that were actually documented from this process as manual checks is not the most effective way to find software problems, and usually doesn’t find new ones. It is checking to see if old problems reappear, and isn’t really testing. Documenting this low-value activity in detail is not useful, and lowers whatever value and effectiveness the “testing” effort was going to have even more by increasing the time spent not testing. These distinctions are either hard for factory testers to understand – or deliberately avoided.

Only Until Automation Is Cheaper
Only Until Automation Is Cheaper

Perhaps more importantly, checking and documenting checking is shitty, boring work that is not enjoyable and has significant handicaps to finding bugs baked in. It might give someone who has never seen the software before a guided tour, but testers who work with the software every day are not learning anything that will help them improve the software – or themselves. Testers stuck in these jobs spend their days doing uncreative, ineffective work, increasing the justification for and ease of implementation in outsourcing or automating their jobs away, leaving them without marketable skills and prospects the next time a desperate executive pulls out his spreadsheets, looking for something to squeeze costs on.

Developers seized their profession and remade it so they could be more effective, stop wasting their time on low-value, irrelevant tasks, recover their craft from industrial thinking, and made their job more rewarding, in multiple senses. Couldn’t and shouldn’t we do that, too?

Liability

Liability Musical Chairs - Who's The Least Cunning?
Liability Musical Chairs – Who’s The Least Cunning?

Sometimes when things go very wrong, there is an insistence that liability land on someone. Sometimes not. One example of scapegoating people for failing to prove a negative is the six-year jail sentences, and $10m in costs and fines assigned to 7 scientists in Italy who were held “responsible” for not warning the public about an earthquake. My experience is that testers are easy scapegoats for quality problems; the public sees bug escapes as testing failures instead of engineering failures.

My community’s resistance to ISO29119 and other attempts to control how others test could be critical to some future ally tester trying to defend intelligent testing – and themselves. In the US legal system, the rules for evaluating whether a technical or scientific methodology is relevant is directly tied to consensus, and maintenance of standards.

The Daubert Standard, from http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/daubert_standard:

Standard used by a trial judge to make a preliminary assessment of whether an expert’s scientific testimony is based on reasoning or methodology that is scientifically valid and can properly be applied to the facts at issue. Under this standard, the factors that may be considered in determining whether the methodology is valid are: (1) whether the theory or technique in question can be and has been tested; (2) whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) its known or potential error rate; (4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation; and (5) whether it has attracted widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The Daubert standard is the test currently used in the federal courts and some state courts.  In the federal courts, it replaced the Frye standard.

The rigor our community applies to evaluating claims is a good fit here. We need to keep loudly and consistently calling bullshit on hand-wavy best practice and standard assertions, or they will become the *standards* our work is *judged* by.

Legislation

Many people throw up their hands about government activities, considering it a waste of their time to follow, frustrated by its arbitrary, uninformed, and frequent ineffectualness. Others rage over the sinister motivations assigned to the side they don’t agree with. There are always plenty, living in libertarian fantasies (redundant), who want to call the whole thing irrelevant.

Meanwhile, in the real world, government makes decisions every day, careening from one crisis to another, trying to solve every problem with lobbyist-authored, detailed instructions on how everything must work. Seems like a standards or certification board? Or at least the reality of what they want?

Here is my US Representative (lower Federal House) – the representative for all of Silicon Valley – trying to ask a question about a “Security Wall” for healthcare.gov. She is brushed off with the weakest of doubletalk.

It seems clear that we can choose to engage with this issue, or let other people define the terms for everyone. I want us to avoid becoming to subject to standards and certifications chosen for us by people who don’t understand the issues involved. Can we educate them and the public? Or will we have them respond reactively in the heat of a moment?

The Future: Algorithms, Automation, and Robotics

2014-05-13-google-self-driving-car-8
Once we solve for potholes, and road debris, and weather, and construction…

People get excited about hardware, but the future arrives in software.

I see these amazing test challenges all the time, mostly because this picture was taken within a mile of my house, and even closer to where these are being developed. Old-timey automakers are working on this now, too. There are other vehicles standing by.

The economic drive to automate shows no sign of letting up. Economic drives do not have consciences – they require people to pay attention and check abuses.

Our present already runs on algorithms that can cut communicationsshut down powercrash the stock market, or even kill us when there are bugs. Our access to water, food, health care, education, employment, housing, and transportation are all subject to computer systems working correctly – even when people operate them “correctly”. This is a very good place for a reminder that software and testing are still very young fields, with a lot left to learn and a lot farther to go.

HypeCycle_2014
This is not Sci-Fi. And if it were better, it would have bio-hacking. Still!

In the future, more and more complex tasks will be automated, to the extent that the important decisions can be automated. A few humans will be needed for exception cases, but software will be expected to handle more and more routine tasks. The economic effects of this trend are troubling enough. The risks of autonomous software issues in medicine, transportation, economics, energy, and “defense” need to be met by engaged, expert testers. We need thinking, exploring testers with time and space to do their best in order for our future to be safe.

The Bottom Line

I want people who work on software to demand skilled testing because of its superior risk mitigation. Modern testing is the way forward because it is more effective for exposing bugs. Our natural allies in the Agile Community will be happy to have us step forward and take control of the testing narrative. They are no more interested in us wasting time generating proof of compliance documentation than we are in doing it.

I will speak up for my values, and the values of my community. I will help amplify the ideas of my community, and look for ways we can influence how the world at large thinks about testing. I will push for our community’s treasures to be acknowledged as serious testers who are the very best in the world at what they do.

I want testing to be a skilled, well-paid profession. I want testing to be a profession that bright people can learn from, improve at, and advance in, not just something they pass through on their way to something else – unless they want to. As well-trained critical thinkers, they should be successful wherever they go.

Enough sitting out, being polite, and waiting for someone else to step forward. I will not stand by while consultants sell out our craft as a marketing exercise. We must rescue testing from compliance and documentation, and make it so that skilled testers are expected to choose the appropriate test methods and documentation for the stakeholders and context they find themselves on.

So far, I have helped set up and maintain professionaltestersmanifesto.org, which I hope you’ll consider signing. Karen Johnson has done a great thing for our community in helping articulate our principles.

I have talked about these issues in a podcast interview, though it has not posted yet. I have some writing to do here, and other places. I want to speak clearly and loudly about the benefits of modern testing, and how standards and certifications limit testers and testing.

Longer term, I have other work to do on this. Shortly after CAST, I made a formal proposal to AST for a Standards and Certification SIG. More on that soon.