Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Drumming and Learning and Testing

I really don't have time to be writing this blog entry.  I should be working on the exam study guide for the Black Box Software Testing (BBST) course I'm taking through the Association for Software Testing (AST.)  If not that, I should be finishing answers submitted some time ago to Ask the Tester through STP.  I'm getting there, but a couple of the answers I wrote I'm not really satisfied with.  I also should be polishing the slides for the presentations I'm doing at STPCon next month.  ALMOST done, is not DONE.  Right? 

I needed to come up for air after having a bit of a break in my schedule though.

One of the commitments I have that is fairly long-standing is teaching drumming.  Since July, I've been working with a group of absolute novice drummers with a pipe band on the East side of Michigan - about two hours from my home.  So, we got together once each month in July, August and September, then twice a month since then.  We met on Saturday afternoons for four hours. 

The youngest student is eight years old, the oldest is in his late 30's.  The goal was to teach them enough where they could play with their band.  Two students had some drumming experience outside of the world of bagpipe bands: one is a middle-school student learning drums through school; the other is his dad.  Dad had some drumming but no formal training.  The lesson in July consisted of "This is a drumstick.  This is how you hold a drumstick." 

The first week of December, one of the students made a comment that he felt like they were doing a lot of exercises but bot really getting what they needed to actually play with a band.  I asked what he meant.  He said "We do all this stuff, I'm learning a lot but I'm not sure how it applies to me playing in the pipe band."  My response was "You all are closer than you think.  There is no reason why at least two of you will not be able to play with the band at the band's ceilidh (a party/celebration - lots of music and dancing and bagpipes) in February.  Everyone else will be able to play with the band by May."  They looked at me in complete disbelief. 

The next lesson, shortly before Christmas, I passed out a new exercise, a full sheet of music.  I told them, "This is a drum salute that you will all be playing in February.  All of you can play everything on this page."

Their performance was last night.  My lady-wfie and I, grandson as well, drove across the State to go to the band's ceilidh, which is their biggest fundraising event of the year.  The place was packed - hundreds of people in a hall.  A short introduction and the drumming students came out first - before the full band.  Then they played.  They did really well.  I was terribly proud of them and what they had done. 

When they finished as a group, the pipers marched into the hall and joined them.  The students who were not quite ready stepped back and moved off stage while the other drummers played the rest of the performance.  At the end of the night, this band came out again along with the two guest pipe bands and played together.  Some of the stiudents went out to play with the other bands, some did not feel comfortable doing that.  No worries.  No pressure.  The idea was to have fun.

All of them are reinvogorated.  The most consistent comment I heard from them was how much fun they had playing.  Even the ever-so-cool teenage boy smiled and said that was a lot more fun than his school stuff.

So, after driving back across the State this morning (hoping to beat the nasty weather predicted) I was thinking about the drumming students experience and my own with BBST.  Part of the opening lecture was about reading carefully.  I muffed two questions on the last quiz and one on the one before because I did NOT read carefully enough.

In working on answers to the essay questions in the exam study guide, I find myself challenging my own statements, thinking hard about the answers and running through them in my mind.  I am finding myself more challenged than I have in some time to look at how I think about things, testing in particular.

In the current project at work (yeah, I'm trying to keep up with that as well) I find myself thinking about concepts I've just read or re-read from the course.  (If the boss thinks I was passionate about how testing can be better at the company before this course, look out!) 

It IS more work than I expected.  I knew it was going to be a lot of work; it is simply more than I thought it would be.  At the same time, I'm also having fun learning and stretching how I think about things.  That is very rewarding in itself.  So, yeah, like the drumming students, I'm having fun.

Oh.  I forgot to mention that STPStanley came along with us.  We took a lot of pictures and will be posting some of them shortly.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Speaking and CASTing or Presenting Your Ideas In Context

I'm really excited today. 

I find test conferences amazingly inspirational.  What I find to be the best part of many conferences are the converstions that presentations can inspire. 

One way to get a lot of ideas out there is by lightning talks - quick presentations on a topic.  Sometimes, that's it.  Somebody talks for a few minutes and the next person gets up and talks on a totally different topic. 

Some conferences, like CAST, are different.  Any time someone presents an idea (gives a talk) there is scheduled time for discussion.  If the participants in the discussion want to continue their chat after the alloted period of time they can grab a corner or a hallway and carry on.  The next person gets up and gives their presentation and the cycle repeats itself. 

Now, the CAST version of "lightning talks" has often been an "emerging trends" session track.  This year the take is a little bit different.  The idea is that you can check out the conference schedule and see what is being presented, what topics are being discussed.  If there is one that you believe should be discussed and you want to present it, you can submit a proposal for the Emerging Topics track. 

This track will feature 20 minute time slots which include 5 to 10 minutes of discussion, for the topic that people want to speak on and believe would be important. 

Here's the cool part.

Instead of signing up on a paper stuck to a wall, you, the person with the idea, can enter a proposal at a WIKI set up specifically for this.  (The good folks at Socialtext are contributing the wiki space, thanks folks!)

If you would like to speak at CAST 2011, you can propose a topic for the Emerging Topics session.

Now, each topic is slated for 20 minutes with at least five minutes for discussion. If you think that you would need more time to "do justice" to the topic, please make your case and reasons clear.  The deal is, the more topics that get more time, the fewer the number of people who will have the chance to speak.  So, the organizers would really like to make that the exception than the rule. 

To propose a session, you need to join the CAST 2011 Socialtext group and create a wiki page using the proposal template.

Once you have created your proposal, other folks will be able to vote and comment on your proposal and others as well.  You can read the notes, change your porposal - and evaluators can return and comment repeatedly as well, and change their scores!  

Voting will be cut off a little early - right now the plan is July 15th.  That way we can create and post a coherent program before the conference so folks can see what may be of interest to them in advance.  The idea is to take the feedback from votes in serious consideration, along with conference theme and reputation of the speakers.

Now for the part that I am personally excited about...

In order to apply email either Matt Heusser ( or ME ( and ask to be invited to the CAST 2011 Emerging Topics Group on Socialtext. One of us will send you an email about the group and a link to follow.  From there you can follow the instructions to add a talk or comment on a talk or whatever. 

We also may need some help - one or two people to manage the rooms. Depending on how things go, that role might be expanded to include some wiki gardening and possibly help creating the schedule. You could be an ombudsman, sergeant-at-arms, or whatever other title you'd like.

We can not offer any compensation for helping out, nor for giving a talk. If you give a talk or help out, I would be personally in your debt.  I can tell you from my previous experience that the conference will have greater value for you in that you can build deeper relationships, be more engaged and generally have a ton of fun while learning.

Matt says "One thing I can promise if you give a talk or help out with emerging topics: At CAST two thousand and eleven, at least ... you'll never have to eat a bagel alone."

My take is "If you give a talk or help out with the emerging topics at CAST2011, I'll think you're way cool."


July 20, 2011 -

The Submission and Voting period is now closed, selections and a schedule have been made.  This has been an interesting, thought provoking and fun project to work on.  I am looking forward to meeting everyone in person after communicating by email and telephone.

Thanks to all who participated -  Pete