Missed Opportunity

I want to say I’m sorry to all of you. I’m sorry that I didn’t research better. I’m sorry I didn’t trust a group of people I knew would pull it off. I’m sorry that I didn’t try to drag any of you within driving distance with me.

A few weeks ago, I went to a testing conference in Columbus, OH. The conference is QA or the Highway. There were over 280 attendees (only 20 no-shows due to the weather). This is only the second iteration of this conference (the first was back in 2010), and the first time it was in a full day format. There were four tracks, two keynotes, ample time between sessions for an unofficial “hallway track” and no forced vendor sessions.

Joe Ours was the conference organizer, speaker, and opening keynote speaker (when Keith Klain had to back out last-minute… yeah he originally had Keith as his opener). There were a number of great speakers as well. Though I didn’t get to see it, I heard Raj Subramarian’s (a Cleveland local) talk on Mobile Web Testing went over really well. David Hoppe did a talk on Disintegration Testing that I missed since it was at the same time as my talk on how I (try to) motivate testers (that I did in a kilt). JeanAnn Harrison did a talk on Mobile Software Test Automation with so much information in it she had to skip over slides to fit as much into her one hour block. I also really enjoyed Hilary Weaver’s  talk on getting along with your developers “I don’t like you. He doesn’t like you either!”. It was funny, informative, and she managed to keep it within her own PG-13 rating. Matt Heusser did the closing keynote titled “Cool new ideas… and some old ones, too”. Most of the presentations are available here. Since I used Prezi and it doesn’t play nice with SlideShare, my presentation is available here.

The single coolest thing about this conference was it’s location. I don’t mean the building, I mean the fact that it took place in Ohio. This conference was a little over two hours south of Hyland. Every attendee got a real conference name badge and a conference branded backpack. I’m not all about the gifts, but it shows a level of maturity that I would not have expected for such a new conference. Put on in Columbus. By a guy who basically decided he wanted a good, local conference in the Midwest.

Next year, I will be promoting this conference heavily; including asking for Hyland presenters to represent (come on, it’s not that scary). We were out done by companies like Progressive and Nationwide who sent groups. More people attended from the Kitchener-Waterloo Software Quality Association (Waterloo, Ontario) than we had from Hyland. I won’t let that happen again.

Manager of Testing – That’s one way to get the QA out of your title.

Some of you were aware that I have been investigating a potential new role at Hyland (*gasp* I just said where I worked!!1!1!!! more on that later). I asked for, and received a flood of ideas, concerns and contacts to reach out to. As best as I can tell, there are too many positions exactly like the one I ended up in. Not that I’m claiming a world first or something, but the role focuses on things that a lot of people (imho) already do, just not as their primary role.

So as of this week, I am officially the first ever Manager of Testing at Hyland Software. No, that isn’t what I was before; that was the Quality Assurance Manager of Workflow. Previously, I managed a team of testers responsible for a portion of the product. Now, well, now I have a giant list of responsibilities that I created. Oh, and instead of testers reporting to me, I have our two awesome internal QA Education team. (I will give you a dollar if either of you see and read this). Luckily, when I wrote my position plan, I didn’t attach time frames to most of these, so I don’t /have/ to get them all done this year.

Here are some of the responsibilities I will be focusing on:

– Study serious issues that make it into production to look for patterns that are correctable or reducible, on the Dev and Test side of things
– Promote testing internally – make our testers aware of the opportunities they have to improve their skills and help them become better testers
– Promote testing externally – continue to build a network of testers locally (and not), by promoting testing in my community, and by working to make Hyland a destination for career minded testers
– Attend conferences and training (at least four a year) – I booked 2014 out before I got this written into my position plan, but having it be “work time” will definitely help
– Review conferences and conference sessions and help choose who gets to go to what, and what they have to do with the things they learn when they get back
– Bring new testing ideas in to the company from conferences,  meet ups, blogs, articles, books, and external training
– Create and run internal training on testing techniques and other needed skills
– Shadow new testers in the department to review their abilities and supply feedback to them and their manager
– Shadow teams in the department to offer feedback on their strengths and weaknesses and suggest or build specialized training for them
– Oh, and did I mention I wrote in 20% time to test?

As of right now, I am super overwhelmed. I haven’t even started yet and I already have a ton of ideas running through my head. First up, I need to create a short talk based on the results of two issues we found recently. Second I need to finish my talk for QA or the Highway (I promise Joe, I’ll have something). After that, it’s full on doing the awesome stuff.

Oh, and with this position change, I will be able to pay a little better attention to Twitter. I really do see that as one of my primary avenues for learning (about) new ideas.

Thank you again to everyone that helped me over the past couple of months. And thank you in advance to everyone that I will be asking for help in the future.

The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 3 – I Schedule Something!

Hi out there. How have you all been? I’ve been busy (which is true, and even if it wasn’t is better than me saying I was sitting on my ass all this time doing nothing). I thought I would give a quick update to the series.

Since my last post (wow, that was awhile ago… sorry for anybody that’s been waiting around for this), I have managed to accomplish a few things related to my meetup. Let’s see, at the end of March I went up to the MMTMD (Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down) near Lansing Michigan. I aspire to have a group as cool as this some day. For being the FIRST event ever for this new organization, Hilary had close to 40 people show. It was a 3+ hour-long event with multiple lightning talks, a main speaker (hi Matt), lunch and a testing game/exercise. I honestly thought this group had existed for some time, based on how smoothly things appeared to go.

I ended up giving a 6 minute ‘lightening talk’ on why I wanted to start my own meetup in Cleveland. Since I still had a bit of laryngitis, I did my talk via technology. I had typed up my talk in EverNote, sent it to Pocket, and then used the default text to speech British voice to read it via my phone + speakers. It was interesting. I made a few people chuckle, in what seemed like appropriate places. Phil seemed to think it was hilarious, but I couldn’t tell if it was my talk, or the over-the-top computer British accent.

I’m not going to do a huge write-up of the event as others already have (and did so far better than me) here (hey look, it’s my yellow shirt!) and here. If you are anywhere close to Lansing, MI, I highly recommend you attend the next event. Don’t see a next event on the calendar yet? Let Hilary know.

Previously, I had been trying to follow some advice given to me by Jeff “Cheezy” Morgan. He suggested I try to build an online community, to get people talking and connecting and THEN try to take it to a meetup format. Well, I’m either too impatient (maybe) or not that good at building a burgeoning online forum for testing discussions in the NE Ohio region (uh… yeah) so shortly before MMTMD, I decided to just start. I booked my first meeting for NOTiCE on April 17th. There will be coffee (sponsored with no strings!), and some talking… about… testing … Crap, I need a topic for this thing.

As I write this I have 15 members in the group (I stopped counting myself once I got over ten), and six attendees lined up for the first meeting (counting me), even without a topic set! I am really excited for this group to get going. At this point, all I need to do is pick a topic to discuss, and continue tweeting about this thing.

I am also hoping in the very near future that I will be announcing something awesome for me second meetup (I know, I know, I haven’t even managed to get one done and I am already on to the second). All I can say now is, if it works out, it will be super awesome. Really. It’s that exciting.

So, my next post will be a recap of my first event, and anything I can think of.

The Birth of a Tester Gathering Part 1 – The Story So Far

Somewhere around October of 2012, I got an idea in my head. More correctly, Matt Hutchinson and Michael Bolton got an idea stuck in my head. I had been searching for a tester meetup in the Cleveland area, and was having a tough time finding one. I had read tweets from testers all over the world, talking about their local tester meetups, or gatherings or whatever each group called them and wanted one near me. These were groups of testers, getting together to talk about testing. This sounded awesome to me, and I was sad I hadn’t heard about the local group. Sure, we have NOSQAA, which I attend, but I wanted something different in addition to what NOSQAA provides.

So I searched.

And searched.

Eventually, I accepted that there was nothing in Cleveland, so I spread my net further. I eventually found Matt Hutchinson’s Software QA and Testing Meetup in Columbus (if you’re in central Ohio, I highly recommend you go… more on that later). Matt first floated the idea of me starting my own group. The Twitter thread that followed planted a seed (see what I did there?) that has been growing ever since. I peppered Matt with questions on and off for a while, eventually asking him for more detailed input in mid-December. This is what I received from Matt on New Year’s Eve:

Things to think about:

What is the purpose of the group?

  • Looking to build a community of testers together?
  • Do you want to mentor others?
  • Is the group for any tester of any level? Other job functions welcome?
  • Focus on networking?
  • Focus on structured presentations?
  • Workshop formats?
  • Focus on specific technologies?

What topics are you interested in having?

Where do you want to hold meetings?

  • Physical meetings?
  • Virtually?

How often do you want to meet?

How would you like the meeting format to go? Same format for every meeting?

Food or no food?

Dues for the group?

Register as a non-profit?

How do you intend to get the word out and market the group?

Based on style of meeting, how many attendees can you support?

Are you interested in larger meetings or smaller meeting where everyone has a voice?

How will you handle logistics and manage your attendees? RSVP? Email lists?

My experiences:

  • I had a really hard time getting the word out for my group several years ago. I decided to restart the group back in 2012. Social media has made a big impact in this area.
  • I decided to gauge interest first my sending out emails/messages/Tweets first. I held online meetings/open forums where folks could stop in and tell me what they might be interested in learning about. That served as a way for me to get topic out initially. This also gave me time to find a location while still getting people engaged early.
  • Here is how I get the word out for my meetings: Twitter, LinkedIn Posts, LinkedIn Groups, forum postings mainly. Also, once people started attending, I asked them to spread the word. This year I will start an email campaign via LinkedIn targeting QA Managers to let them know that my group is meeting. My most successful way of getting the word out has been through the use of meetup.com. I also use that service as the vehicle for handling my reservations and members. It’s cheap and I use it as tax write-off.
  • I try to get the word out at the beginning of the month on what the topic will be for the end of the month
  • I decided early that I wasn’t worried about the numbers and that took off pressure. If I could get a small group of core attendees coming, I was happy. As long as everyone involved is getting something out of it, I am happy.
  • Meetings started out really small at first, maybe 2-3 people. Average attendance now is about 10-15. I expect this to continue to trend upward as I continue to network. I have not put a ton of time in advertising the group.

I wanted to use 2012 as a test to see what works and doesn’t work. Higher attendance may actually have a detriment to what my goal is.

My goal for the group is to get people together and create an environment where everyone could have a voice. There are a couple of other groups that meet (and they are good), but I wanted a different format than what I was seeing. Most meetups I go to went something like this: network, presentation, 5 minutes of Q&A if lucky, and then people leave. I didn’t feel like people were always engaged and there was limitations to information sharing.

My format is a bit different. I send out in advance a list of questions/topic for a given month. I do an intro for the night, start off with a “meet and greet” for everyone in the room (name, experience, role, etc.), then we dive into the topic for the night. The entire night is an open forum – I try to act as a facilitator only and try to keep the flow of conversation going. I am trying to get everyone to speak and have a voice, ask questions, share experiences, etc. This format is also good as I don’t have extensive powerpoints, I can invite “exerts” in and they have little up front prep work, and as long as I have a good topic, the night will go well. I leave the networking to before the meeting time and about 20 minutes after the meeting. I am usually setting up/tearing down.

I want my group to be available for anyone interested in testing – testers, test managers, test directors, those wanting to get into testing, other business functions that had an interest. I try to stress that point.

I tried to pattern meetings off of the “local computer clubs” that I attended with my brother in the mid 80’s and 90’s.

  • Dreaded name tags really do work
  • Bringing someone to help with setup and also welcome people really does help. The sooner you can get people comfortable, the better.
  • Finding a location was easy for me. I am working through Tech Columbus and the Platform Lab. They gave me space. All I did was meet with the director, told him what I was interesting in doing, and he set me up. The only thing I have to do is give a 2 minute spiel on what the Platform Lab is. I found it interesting that once I started to get the word out, that larger consulting companies in the area were lining up offer to sponsor the meeting and provide a meeting location if I needed one. Perhaps you can engage in talking with consulting companies for free space or to rotate locations on a quarterly basis if you can’t do it at your place of employment. When I started this, I was 100% working at home independently or working at my client sites so this was critical for me.
  • I chose to start the group meeting monthly. I am leaning towards not having meetings in November of December due to lack of reliable attendance. I was surprised that the summer meetings did not have a drop off. I also find it that people want to meet more than once a month like the other meetings got together. More often people meeting, better relationships can be formed.
  • I found a consistent date helps. I am going with the last Tuesday of each month. This is good if you can use one single location.
  • Coming up with topics has been a challenge for me and will directly impact attendance. Hitting topics with popular buzzwords helps the most in this area. I would be curious to know what sort of topics you are interested in for your meeting.
  • No dues, no affiliations for me. I can keep things simple and unbiased.

Start small, start simple. Let the group help dictate and react as needed.

 

It took me some time to go through all of this in my mind, but it helped to fortify my resolve. I started asking people at work if they might attend something like this if it existed. Several said yes. I began asking on Twitter about other meetups and how they ran. I heard from Pete Walen, Matt Heusser and Phil Kirkham about GR Testers, and from Matt, Phil and Hilary about the Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down. I heard from Tony Bruce about a group in London, and about the Leeds Tester Gathering. I received links to articles, and blog posts, and emails with information from other organizers, or about other organizers and how they did what they did.

Information and ideas kept pouring in. In January, I had the pleasure of working and meeting with Matt Heusser and Pete Walen for a quick, 3 day consulting/training stint (I was a participant, not a consultant). During that time, and the weeks after, we bounced ideas back and forth on Twitter, and others jumped in on the to the conversation.

I was now determined to start a group. I wanted a group that would represent the testers in the northern Ohio area. I wanted a group that would meet regularly, without dues, or networking hours or snacks (unless I could find a way to swing them… snacks are always a +) and talk about testing.

So I started doing something about it.

  • I registered to attend the February 27th session of the Software QA and Testing Meetup.
  • After some mild prodding from Michael Bolton, I reached out to several people at LeanDog and scheduled a meeting with them to get their insight into running meetups seeing as they run a number of the development focused meetups in the Cleveland area.
  • I registered for the March 23rd session of the Mid-Michigan Testers Meet Down.
  • I reached out to my marketing wonder of an Aunt for naming ideas.
  • I looked into meeting websites and personal business cards that I could use to share information about the yet-to-exist group. I thought about locations and possible sponsorship.

And so my journey begins.

I guess it’s a little late to back out now, eh?

A Quick Question

I am in the beginning stages of investigating what it would take for me to start a tester meetup of some sort in my area.  I had been thinking for awhile that I might write about the process, but so far I have met many people who already run or otherwise participate in a meetup, or some other form of tester community.

The question I have for you is, if I wrote about the process of creating a from scratch tester meetup, would you read it?

Please let me know via the comments below, or via Twitter.

EDIT: OK, so I had enough interest within the hour that I first put this up that I decided I will in fact start my piece (or pieces) on creating a tester meetup.  I don’t know when it’ll be up, but I will for sure do it.  If you still feel like you want to tell me you’d read it, that’s cool (and would make me feel good) but it will affect the existence of the piece any.

Trying on a few hats

As I have intimated here before, I have held several different roles in my career, all in the testing arena (or should I call it a stable, what with the farming metaphor-for-a-title thing and all…).  I have been a tester at three different companies of varying size/environment/culture.  At my current company, I started as an individual contributor, testing various parts of our product suite.  I was promoted to be a team lead, then a manager, and then a senior manager.  After four+ years in that role, that layer of management was removed and I moved back to a manager position.

After spending some time reflecting, especially on my more recent position change, I began to realize how much I had learned by wearing all of those different hats over time.

The time I spent at my first company (testing ATM software) taught me that I don’t like working in heavily regimented environments.  This company was (at the time) an ISO shop.  That meant I had stickers on all of my books and binders telling people, who may accidentally pick them up, that they contained out of date information.  It meant I had to go talk to the tester-turned-guard who manned the locked file cabinet if I wanted to see an actual “current” version of a document (this was the late 90’s).  I was eventually let go (along with all of the other contractors and some full time people) to help raise their stock price.  With that, I learned one of the consequences of working for a public company.

In my next position, at my second company (testing the print accuracy of engineering documents on wide format printers), I learned that I liked working in an open environment where I was allowed, and even encouraged, to work with my developers.  I was eventually let go (along with the newest 20% of the staff) to help prevent the office from closing (it was gone within a year).

At my current company, as a tester, I learned to really enjoy testing.   I was able to finally remove a (in my eyes) wrong approach to testing that my first employer had ingrained in me.  Later, as a team leader, I learned that I liked coaching people.  I felt satisfaction helping others to grow and mature as testers.  When I was promoted to manager, I had to completely change what I did every day.  I was no longer involved in testing the software.  I spent most of my time managing teams of varying sizes, trying to create training out of thin air, figuring out how to help develop and grow a team of people (up to 28 strong at one point), oh yeah, and making sure the software got tested.  After some time, practice, training, advice from others, and just possibly a little luck, I got my hands around most of the role.  I would never say I was awesome at it (I am a fairly strong introverted thinker if you follow MBTI), but I was able to manage (pun intended) and grow my people (yeah, and get some software tested as well).  Then, in the spring of 2008, I was asked if I would take on the new, not yet defined, role of Senior Manager.  A coworker and I were each given half of the department as reports.  I spent the next four years trying to manage my managers and stay connected with their teams.  I was too far removed from testing at this point to have any role in the development or advancement of testing.  Or at least I felt I did, despite some people’s best efforts.  I tried very hard to metricize everything.  I built Excel spreadsheet after Excel spreadsheet.  I reached the data filter limit of our internal support ticket and bug tracking system trying to report on the age of issues per manager.  I spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to sum everything everyone was doing into a simple, easy to digest number that I could pass up the chain.

NOTE: If you are thinking of trying this yourself, please take a look at Paul Holland’s wonderful post on Bad Metrics.

Eventually, I realized this was all in vain.  Sure, I could measure some things, like how long issues have been in test, or how long it’s been since a support ticket was opened, but trying to boil it all down so that I could compare testers of differing backgrounds, on differing teams, testing issues of differing size on different portions of the product in differing environments with differing complexities is ludicrous.  It took me too many years to figure that last line out.  So, my one and only peer and I started trying to affect change as best we could.  We took control of our hiring process and worked to find new places and ways to find tester candidates , we worked to improve processes, and tried to find ways to get the testers we hired to stay testers for the long term.

Last March, when this layer was removed, I was initially dumbstruck.  I was angry.  I felt let down, and didn’t know what I was going to do.  A couple of days later I came up with two demands:  to be sent to our user conference to regain a connection with our customer base (I ended up participating in three half day training sessions, and co-presenting in a total of five informational sessions) and I wanted to go  to CAST for the first time to reconnect with testing (I was at CAST2012).  Over the past year I realized that in the end, I didn’t really like the senior manager hat that much.  Sure, I learned a lot about myself.  I was eventually able to function at that level fairly well.  I spent four years focused at a level above where I currently work.  That makes it even easier to do what I do now (manage a team of nine instead of 65).  I’ve experienced managing translation teams, international test teams, remote employees (in other states, and other continents).  I grew more confident as a leader in that role, making many of the decisions I make in my current role seem like child’s play.  As of today, despite all I learned from the role, I don’t know that I would take that position again if it were offered to me. I wouldn’t go back and undo my time as a senior manager, but that is not where my passions currently lie.

The point of all of this rambling is that I learned something from each of the hats I have worn.  Each position has helped to mold me into the person I am today.  I may be lucky, but I work in an environment where changing positions is generally looked at as a positive thing, especially if your passion can be better utilized in a role still within the company.  With this environment, I felt comfortable stepping back into a role I was in previously, without feeling I would be looked at as some sort of pariah.

My advice is to not be afraid to try on different hats.  Sometimes you might even find that an old hat fits much better the second time around.  Without retreading an existing post by my host, I would expand a bit on Paul’s Reinventing Yourself, to say don’t just look at reinventing your tests, or how you approach things.  Don’t be afraid to change your whole role.  Feeling stuck in the day to day grind of testing bug fixes?  Have a penchant for usability?  Begin showing the value of having a dedicated usability tester.  If wouldn’t expect it to work overnight, but if you show the right people where your passion lies, and what they can gain from letting you loose in that direction, it will happen.

If your environment frowns upon people changing roles (and possibly asking to switch back if things don’t work out) maybe it’s time to look for a new environment. If you happen to like the greater Cleveland area, I know a company that’s looking for testers.