Monday, July 27, 2015

On Elections for the AST Board of Directors

An Open Letter to the Members of the AST on the Board of Directors Election next week:

Elections are an interesting thing. It does not matter if it is for a National Election, a Regional Election or the Election of Directors of an organization like AST.

I remember reading once that the problem with Hereditary Monarchy is that from time to time you get a reluctant ruler. The problem with Democratic Elections is that they actually want the job.

For the last three years I have been a member of the Board of Directors of AST. My first year was finishing a partial term after a vacancy. At the end of that year I stood for election again. After three years on the Board, I am stepping down to let others step up.

The time commitment varies, of course. Not everything takes every moment of available time.

Sometimes it feels that way, though. For some, well, that is another story altogether.

Things I’ve learned

I have been on the Board of several non-profit and volunteer based organizations. The first time was shortly after I got my Bachelor’s Degree. There was a vacancy on the Board for a Credit Union and one of my former professors recommended me. I was voted in by the sitting Board, then was re-elected several times, stepping down when it was time for new challenges.

Other organizations were examples of an axiom I learned many years ago “Never Volunteer.”

When an organization functions because of the work the volunteers do, it is easy to be drawn further and further in. Keeping a balance as to what and how much you are willing to do is a bit of a fine dance. You want to make things better and you need to maintain a life as well. Rather like the “work-life balance” so many people wrote and spoke about a while back.

The common theme between these is simple: Great ideas, visions and huge ambitions are important; someone needs to take action and do something to make them happen.

The bulk of the work that needs to be done by members of volunteer the Board of Directors of any non-profit – including AST – is taking the ideas and visions and doing the hard work of making them reality.

Much of my time on the Board has been doing things that are not noticed. I’m OK with that. Part of me likes the limelight, as many years as I have played in bands, in public, I like applause and I like cheers better.  Still, when it comes to work, I am most comfortable making sure things happen. Part of this also is supporting people as they work on their initiatives – from revamping a program to working through the details that might be mundane, but are needed for the organization to function.

There are many people who can give inspiring visions. Can they make the transition from vision to action and fact?

Politicians are criticized for not doing what they promised to do. Part of the reason they fail to “keep their promises” is that they are not actually the ones turning the promises into a reality.

Once elected, they need to work with other politicians and get them to support the initiatives, the promises made to get elected. Except those other politicians also made promises to get elected.
In the end, if the politicians are not ready to help each other out and offer reasonable compromises, not much happens.

This is not how the Board of Directors of AST is intended to work.

People, Board Members, have projects and initiatives they’d like to see done. Then they do what they need to do so those things happen – or don’t.  Of course, there is the always popular “this was not a priority for the Board.” This can be translated a couple of different ways.

The first way is this – when talking with the Board about what was important, no one agreed that that initiative was important. In my three years on the Board, I cannot recall any initiative that was not important enough to at least be considered and researched – as in “What would it take to make this happen? What would success look like? What obstacles or risks are there to success?”

Typical project planning work – except it withers and dies because no one actually takes the step of doing the research - and then the actual work.

The second way is this – the idea is presented to the Board, there is some discussion and there is agreement on it. Instructions are issued: “Go forth and make it happen.”

And then the person realizes that THEY are the ones who are now expected to actually “make it happen.” They need to do something.

That something might be to get people with similar interests to talk about and help on the project. That something might be to simply start working on it and blow trumpets announcing the “new initiative” and see if others join in.

And this is where I have seen “Big Idea” people fail time and again – the actual doing part.

Elections for AST

For the last three years I have tried to be a person doing something. I have tried to make the things I was doing meaningful and of value to the membership of AST.

It is well and good for people to “blow their own horn,” as my grandmother used to say. It is better when others sing your praises for what has been accomplished. Shallow accolades sound well, but for me, mean little.

In the end, Leaders are needed. Leaders who get things done and make things happen. In “work” environments, these can be people who issue instructions and others will go fulfill them.

Again, that is not what happens with volunteer organizations. Here, “Leaders” are not the ones who say “Go do that.” Leaders are the ones who roll up their sleeves and dive into the dirty, hands-on tasks that need to be done. They lead by example and recruit and encourage others with similar interests.

They set the environment and call out “Follow me!” And then they move forward.  

They make things happen.

When considering the candidates for Board positions this year, look at the candidates’ Biographies. Read them carefully. Google them. Google their organizations. If you are at CAST, look for them before voting and chat with them in the hall. Ask them (in person or by email) “In what way will you do the things you said you want AST to do? How will you go about making that happen?”

Then look for the people with a track record of doing things. It is people who do things that we, as an organization, need leading us.

Dreams and visions are wonderful.  It takes work to make them more than dreams or empty promises.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why CAST (Director's Cut)


It is a good question. I was asked that by a manager I had several years ago and it is still relevant.

For the last 13 months, I have been working on the preparations for CAST 2015. The last 2 months have been amazingly busy (which explains the lack of blogging from me - not an excuse, something simply had to give.) I’ve organized two day music events for 800 of our closest friends. I’ve been part of the organization effort for  various events, festivals, contests and the like. Being the Conference Chair for CAST has been more demanding than any of these and, by far, more rewarding.

The morning of August 3, 2015, I’ll know if the work done in advance was done well – as will some 120 other people participating in the Tutorials that are such an integral part of CAST. The 200 people participating in all of CAST are also integral parts - Each are part of what makes CAST, well, CAST.
My first CAST experience was in 2010, when CAST was in Grand Rapids the first time. It was held at Calvin College on the outskirts of the city.

There were 90 to 100 people at CAST that year (it was a troubled year in many respects). Still, the conversations were good. I met many people in person whose writing’s I had learned much from.  It was the people present, the attendees, who stick out in my mind. The conversations were free flowing and constant. It did not matter a whit if the participants were famous writers or testers or presenters or what.

All were discussing and debating as equals.

That made an impression on me.

Since then, every CAST I have attended and participated in it still makes an impression. It matters little if the person espousing a view is a famous author, pundit, speaker or personage in testing – someone will question them on something. The discussion will flow greatly and freely.

The idea that a successful conference is dependent on “Famous People” speaking or on the location as a “Tourist Destination” is to me, a sad comment on the quality of the content for conferences that rely on that as the "major reason" people go to them.

Conferences that rely on telling people what to do or what they should do or, more chilling to me, why not doing what the conference speakers are telling them to do may cost them their jobs if there are bugs found hold little appeal to me - and seem a sad reflection of the politics of fear found in many countries.

At one time, an informal expression in various militaries was something like “jackets off” – meaning indications of rank and position had been removed and everyone was speaking as equals. At CAST, the jackets are always off. 

At this year’s CAST, you may notice something different from many of the conferences available:  The speakers are practitioners.

They are people who do what they are talking about for a living. They are not globe-trotting frequent conference speakers who will flog whatever theory or buzzword is in vogue at the time. They are not advocating for a set of letters to add after your name which they, by sheer coincidence, can administer the training and then the exam to get them.

The speakers have deadlines and projects that are troublesome and have unexpected problems. Some have managers who don’t understand some of the things they are being told and want a simple explanation.

They are talking from their own working lives. They are not talking theory, or “studies have shown” or “best practices.” They are people talking about what they have first-hand experience with.  They are people talking about what worked, and importantly, what did not. They are talking about dealing with doubts and problems and what they learned and took away that may be applicable elsewhere.

If you have not signed up for CAST, check out the schedule here, then compare what is being discussed with what the large “major name” conferences are discussing. Look at who is presenting at CAST versus who presents year after year at the “major name” conferences. Sure, there is likely to be some overlap in speakers – look at the content. Look at what they are talking about.

Look at what they have to say.

If you are want to learn more, by all means, I invite you to register for CAST. We have some seats left, not many, but some. Most of the tutorials are at capacity and one has 6 spots left.

Join us. Come with an open mind and you might just leave a better thinker which will make you a better tester.

Even if you can’t join us in person, by all means join us via the webCAST. We have worked very hard to carry all plenary sessions and one full track for two days, live online – for free! This is followed by an evening discussion called “CAST Live.” Check it out here.

I’ll see you in Grand Rapids in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

CAST 2015: Pre-Conference Tutorials

When I look at conference programs, one thing I always look at are the "extras" - the things that are not part of the conference proper, but the add-ons that bring specific, useful ideas I can bring back to the office the next week and apply THEN.

When I look at those items, I look at a couple of main tests:
1. No deep thought is needed to answer "How do I apply this at my company?"
2. No fretting over "This stuff sounds great but the boss will never go for it."

If there are sessions that meet those tests, I'm willing to pay out extra money to attend. Plain and simple. Sometimes, it is the technique I am looking to learn and apply better. Sometimes, it is the consideration and thought provoking ideas I need to weigh - and other people's insight on that or related topics are appreciated.

When looking at the extra-cost "Specials" this year's CAST, the Conference of the Association for Software Testing, I looked for sessions that had something to offer that I, as an attendee, would be willing to pay my money to go learn.

I think the four we have lined up this year meet those simple tests - and offer significant insight to how software professionals at the top of their craft do their work, and their lessons can be applied specifically to testers.

Mobile App Coverage Using Mind Maps. 

Dhanasekar Subramaniam is offering what looks to be an interesting session on Mobile Testing, and using Mind Maps to help guide coverage. I met Dhanasekar in passing at CAST last year. He seemed very intelligent and had some very good ideas. Alas, my schedule last year was far too hectic to permit more than a simple chat. However, the session he presented got rave reviews from people I respect. Want to know more about him? Check out his "About this blog" page which explains a fair amount about his thought processes and ideas.

There are a lot of people who tell people how and what to do when testing Mobile Apps. In looking at this session, what strikes me is that it is based on real experience, with lessons learned and applied successfully. The core of the issue in many instances, is people have ideas that they have not examined deeply, not explored adequately. This session contains much that can be applied to people considering testing Mobile apps.

Frankly, I expect people who are interested in test coverage in general would get good ideas from this session.

Speaking Truth to Power.

Fiona Charles is reprising this session she did at CAST 2010, with a new twist and ideas. I'm intrigued by the idea that most of the time, testers who are truly experimenting and testing software will find information that is of great value to the team. Sometimes the information found is not the type that managers or "key players" want to hear. No one likes it when their pet project goes pear-shaped, do they?

Fiona does a deep dive on how we can deliver the difficult (perhaps, unpopular) messages we sometimes need to deliver.

Why Fiona? I find her to have information people can act on, or think deeply on and then act on. People tend to seek out those they agree with, all the time, maybe to reaffirm their biases? I'm not sure if that is wise. Fiona has the ability to question the presumptions and statements people make, either gently or directly, and drive to a crucial point. I find Fiona to be someone I learn something from even when we disagree.

Follow Your Nose Testing.

Christin Weidemann is presenting what looks to be an interesting take on testing. Not writing scripts or test plans or making bar charts to show progress, but testing. She is looking into "overturning convention" and considering the reinvention of testing practices.

The challenge I see so many people have with testing is they get wrapped in the rituals around it they forget that one major portion of testing is curiosity. So many forget the most important question I can think of in testing - "What happens?" Christin seems to be looking at how to focus on that very question.

I met Christin at CAST 2011 in Seattle. We were both in Michael Bolton's tutorial on mind mapping. Our paths have rarely crossed since, but she struck me as an intelligent, thoughtful tester.

Testing Fundamentals for Experienced Testers

Robert Sabourin looks at what it is to reinvent and develop yourself, even with years of experience.  Rob looks at how we can transfer skills from one environment or system to another. Simply put, fundamentals.

He challenges concepts others take for granted by looking at the characteristics, the areas of those fundamentals.

I met Rob in person a couple of years ago. I found the conversations with him to be interesting and intriguing. Like conversations with Fiona, I always learned something from them. 

These are merely the start of this year's CAST. Technically, they are not part of the conference itself. CAST contains many sessions. Some folks might find greater value in some sessions than in others. That is often the way at conferences, I guess.

There is a wide selection of track sessions and workshops that look at a variety of topics around testing and leadership and personal development. Check out the program here.

Early Bird Registration ends on June 5.  You can find information on Pricing and Registration here and information on the host hotel and venue here

I look forward to seeing you in Grand Rapids this August.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

CAST 2015: For Managers

I have been working with a group of people preparing for the 10th annual CAST - the Conference of the Association for Software Testing - in Grand Rapids, Michigan this coming August. 

The program was announced recently here.

We had over 100 submissions to work though and very few spots to fill which made deciding what proposals NOT to select far more difficult than which proposals TO accept.  After some discussion and back and forth exchanges, we pulled together what I think is a solid program

While we don't do formal "tracks" as some conferences do, today, I am looking at the sessions I believe to be of particular attention to Managers.

Josh Meier is presenting an interesting take on Culture of Quality. He'll be looking at the "Quality is everyone's responsibility" meme that gets cited so often by so many people. What makes this look interesting is that Josh is speaking from experience, as opposed to theory so many cite.

Ken De Souza is presenting a session on Feedback. Many people, including managers, struggle to give (and receive) meaningful feedback at any point in their career. While this is a challenge for people in supervisory or coaching/mentoring positions, Testers are giving feed back to other people, even though it is not often recognized as such, as in bug reports. 

Jeff Woodard is presenting a slightly different take on Feedback. In this case, Jeff is discussing how to use feedback to get to a fact-based evaluation and determining what is real, or not, for a team. 

Megan Studzenski is presenting a session on Training and Developing testers. This is something that is challenging for many organizations - getting people to be able to contribute in a meaningful way as quickly as possible even when they have little or no testing experience.   

Joseph Ours is presenting a session that I think managers in particular might find useful on Metrics.  He'll discuss the purpose of measurement tools and how to leverage measures and metrics effectively. 

Rob Bowyer has a session on Hiring. Simply put, hiring good testers is hard. Getting hired as a tester can likewise, be hard. This looks to be an informative session for managers and anyone else who has struggled with interviews for testing positions.

Right. There are many more sessions. Some folks might find greater value in some sessions than in others. That is often the way at conferences, I guess. These are the ones that, looking at the selected sessions, look like they'll have ideas specifically applicable for Managers.

Early Bird Registration ends on June 5.  You can find information on Pricing and Registration here and information on the host hotel and venue here

I look forward to seeing you in Grand Rapids this August.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Community & Conferencing & CAST 2015, part 1

Let us begin with the definition of "community" in the Oxford Dictionary.

Community: com·mu·ni·ty /kəˈmyo͞onədē/ noun
1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common;
2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals;

There are many, many people who talk about community in one form or other. When they talk about a community of testers, I tilt my head a bit and listen (or read) perhaps a bit more carefully than I do other times. I suspect it is because I am curious about what they mean and how they intend to use the phrase.

I admit that sometimes, particularly when it is someone with whom I have fundamental disagreement in areas of testing, I listen because I am suspicious of their motives. That may be a failing on my part. Or, it may be that I tend to think carefully and critically about certain things.  Among those things are words and how they are used.

My education included teachers from Catholic Religious Orders, Dominican, Franciscan and one Jesuit. Thinking carefully and how words get used was a hallmark of my education. Perhaps that is why when the first time I read There are good practices in context, but there are no best practices." my reaction was something of "Of course. Why is this revolutionary to some people?"

It seems that idea, perhaps more than any other single idea, is rather off-putting to some people. I understand the retort that such terms as "best practices" are misleading and lazy and disingenuous. I also understand the charges that people are selling snake oil as solutions to testing problems without actually understanding what those testing problems are.

I've written before about the idea of "best practices" and shall not repeat my argument here.

When I first read that idea, which is one of the Principles of the Context-Driven School of testing, it seemed I found a group of people with whom I join in that part of a community of testers. For some time, I have been working closer and closer with people. Some of them I agree with. Some I disagree with. The vast majority of them, I respect greatly.
In 2010 I went to my first CAST conference.  I found a large number of people who had inquisitive minds who were willing to talk and debate and discuss well into the early hours.

Every CAST I have attended and participated in since have born that out.

The fact is, some people do not like having their ideas challenged. Others thrive on it. Some people look at direct questions as an attack, sometimes personal ones intended for them them. (I expect that happens when people wrap so much of their own self identity with their work and ideas.) Some folks look at it as an opportunity to better understand something.

Some people, when their ideas are challenged, crumple up in a ball. Others attack the challenger. Others attack the right of the challenger to have a contrary opinion and voice them - IN PUBLIC.

If you have never attended or participated in CAST before. This might be a good opportunity to find out what it can be like hanging out with thinking people who are not willing to take everything, or anything, said from a podium at face value. A significant portion of each session - including keynotes - is dedicated to "open season" - where people in the audience can ask questions in a moderated, facilitated format.

I've been working with some really talented and dedicated people on this year's CAST. I think it will be worth your while to check it out. You can see more information on the conference here. There is a link to register from the same page.

The schedule is being announced later this week. It is going to be good, if I do say so myself.

Monday, March 23, 2015

On Spring, Gardening, Apple Pie and Defocusing

Too Much Fun

I've had an absolutely crazy couple of weeks. Way too much to do in too short of a period of time. Along with that, there has been too many things that are "absolutely top priority."  You know how that is - where there is a stack of "absolutely can not wait items."

Not just work stuff - but life stuff.  Home and family stuff that needs to be addressed. People who need help with something. All of this is important, right? All of it takes energy.

In the mean time, there is stuff that seems, well, maybe too big to handle on your own? Problems that don't seem to have a solution?

Maybe you never had that issue. Maybe you never had a problem like that.


Ah well - Winter seems to be gone, in my neighborhood anyway. Most of the snow has melted. There are some very large piles of snow that are hanging around - and even they are a shadow of what they were a month or so ago.

It has been warm all week. Now, "warm" is relative. I do live in Michigan. (Today we reached the scorching high temperature of 48F/8C.)

The result is, I could spend time working in the garden on Saturday. Gardening is a wonderful thing. No, really. Saturday, I cleaned up the last of the Christmas decorations that were in the front garden.

Well, these were fake poinsettias set in garden pots in the front yard, that had, around Christmas time, small, lighted trees on them. There was 1 one each side of the front steps. The small, lighted trees and the garland came down some time ago. I also took down the red led "mini-lights" that were on the weeping cherry tree in the front garden.

The lights are kind of fun. The last several years we've wrapped lights up the stem and onto branches of the tree. When they are lighted at night, the tree looks like a red palm tree.  Oh. We also wrap green lights around the tree. The green lights go on the tree first, then the red lights.

The red lights are turned on just before Christmas. They stay on until after Valentine's Day. My habit is to unplug the red lights and turn on the green lights on March 1 - St. David's Day. They stay on until sometime after St. Patrick's Day.

They need to come down shortly after that most years, because as the weather warms, the flowers in the garden begin awakening and the weeping cherry begins to bud out.  We need to get the lights off the tree before that gets going full steam. So, the red lights came down Saturday. I left the green lights on for now. They may come down tomorrow.


After putting the lights and fake flowers away, I got out the rake and gently raked around the plants in the front garden. The daffodils and other flowers beginning to poke out, if not blooming, were exposed from their layer of leaves that covered the garden all winter.

Scooping up those leaves is a very satisfying thing. Really. They are bagged up and the plants were exposed - and, to be perfectly frank. The garden looks really nice after this - in an early spring sort of way.

Working in the garden this time of year gives a certain level of satisfaction that may not be there at other times. The ground, as it awakens from its winter sleep, has a healthy scent of strength, growth and new life.

Clearing away the collected leaves and various bits of... stuff, that settled over the winter reveals new growth and a promise of beauty in a matter of weeks. Mind you, there is a certain beauty of the garden as it is.

It no longer looks as a wild, abandoned place. Instead, it looks like a place where the growing things can be seen for what they are and the promise that they have for beauty later in the year.

It is funny how satisfying a few minutes work can be. Obvious results and a sense of completion that often is missing in software. Sure. We can say we "finished" a project, but mostly we see evidence around that "finish."  We don't actually see the results.

Seeing results is pretty cool. That is why I like gardening.

Another reason is, you can do it and completely relax your mind.  There is no reason whatsoever to engage in deep thoughts on what is to be done or how - you just do it. And it is done. And it is a pleasure to look at.

Apple Pie

It is an excellent way to get something tangible done and free the mind. The thing is, sometimes the best thing you can do when you have a pile of work that "must get done," is to work on something unrelated. It helps clear the brain and rest the mind - even while working on something else.

Do you remember Men In Black? The movies with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones playing Agents in an unnamed, extra-governmental agency dealing with aliens? The third movie in the collection featured Will Smith going back in time to help a young Tommy Lee Jones deal with an evil alien before he can kill Tommy Lee Jones?

At one point, they wander into a diner for pie - well, because grand-daddy talked about the power of pie. Some debate, hemming and hawing - and -

Apple pie - with a slice of cheese on it.

And Will Smith's character goes off on how he always orders that and... the light goes on. The odd comment made earlier suddenly makes sense.

And there is a classic example of the point - Defocusing.

Stepping away from the problem at hand to work on something else. The mind is freed from what it has been mired in. While working on another problem, the solution sometimes (often) presents itself.

Why? In my case, it is because I let go and worked on something "mindless." This activity allows me to let off steam and mentally relax and let go.

This gives me two results.

One, a task I need to do gets done (like, work in the garden).
Two, in the midst of raking and pulling and cleaning, I find the answer I had been struggling to find while I was "working" on it.

I don't know if it will work work for everyone. I  just know it works for me - and a lot of people I know.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Needs, Wants and Being Told What to Do

Brace yourself. 

This is a bit of a rant.

For most of my 30+ years in software development, many of them have been working with companies where software is made to support their primary business. It might be Insurance or Manufacturing or Sales or Distribution & Transportation - but many of these companies, the people using the software don't pay for it. They really don't have an option. To do their jobs, they need to use whatever stuff they get from IT.

If this does not describe the type of organization you are working in, you might want to skip this. Of course, if you have worked in an organization like this, or might possibly work in an organization like this, or perhaps you're curious what has me so worked up - please read on. Thanks.

Sometimes IT people annoy me. Of course, sometimes Internal Business folks annoy me, too.

How often have we heard or heard about IT/software development folks, telling people in business units what they need from the software to do their jobs?  After all - the IT folks know what the computer systems do and can do and so they are the experts.


The accounting and finance courses I had in school, longer ago than I want to admit, while it helped me work through and understand journal entries and balance sheets and other basic finance and accountancy stuff - These do not give me enough understanding to tell the Chief Financial Officer or Company Treasurer or whatever, what they need from the software their staff uses in order to make good, informed decisions.

I can, however, discuss with them the intent they have for using new or changed software. I can discuss the gain they hope to achieve from said software. I can listen and take into consideration what their desire for the end product should look like.

When I am working on making software do something, I can do something else to help the people who need this for their jobs.

I will do my level best to make software and work with the team making the software, that fills the needs and purpose described and discussed.

When possible, I will do my level best to have it work as they wanted.

However - that is not a promise.

Instead, I will do my best to fill their need first.

I've learned that IT people see their "wants" as "needs" (rather like the "business" folks they make software for.)  Cool features or functionality are cool. They are pleasing to design and implement. Do the help the people they are intended to help? Sometimes, sure. Of course. Other times? I've seen too much time and effort put into something that business functional experts truly do not care about.

And what of the "Business" experts? 

The people who use the software every day to do their jobs. The people who make use of the results of that work, every day, to do their jobs. The "decision makers"  looking at reports or summaries or dashboards produced and built by IT - What about them?

Do these people understand the business rules the software is intended to follow? Do they understand what the software is intended to do and why? Do they understand the purpose of what it does now and what the change will be?

Do they understand or know this without asking IT folks for help?

When they do, can the IT folks help them without looking at the code?

Have people abdicated their responsibility and put others in place as their proxies?

Now, if these things sound familiar in your organization, is it any surprise that your software has problems?

None of us really like it when people with no clue what we need tell us what we should do next.

Do the people who are supposed to:
  • Understand the purpose behind the changes;
  • Understand the business rules that to be followed;
  • Understand the why behind these things;
Who is to blame for IT telling people what the changes will be and what the software will do?

Someone has to decide what it will do. I suggest it be someone who knows what the purpose and needs are.