Things I learned at the North West Exploratory Workshop on Testing

Over the weekend of March 18/19 I attended NWEWT2 at the former Atlantic Tower Hotel, now Mercure in Liverpool.  Following on from its inaugural outing last year this deep dive conference focused on the theme of ‘Growing Testers’ with its two primary questions;

  • As a Tester, how do you grow to keep up with the current trends in testing and development?
  • As someone responsible for leading Testers, how do you help Testers grow?

Each attendee gave a talk on their thoughts, experience, models and ideas for growing Testers.  The audience was varied from those who regularly present at conferences to those with only a few years experience in software testing.  Following each talk it was ‘open season.’  The facilitator would note who had questions using a card system I hadn’t encountered before.  Green was a question following a talk, yellow was a follow up question during a ‘green’ thread and red if you had to say something immediately.  Fortunately there was only 1 of those and despite being taxing on our hard working facilitator it worked really well in not only ensuring conversations flowed with no interruptions, but also making sure everyone’s points were heard.  It also encouraged us to go deep into subjects and challenge each others ideas, cordially of course. 

My presentation focused on the creation and on-going development of Test Xchange, our internal testing community over the last year or so.  I offered our emergent model of a risk based participant built backlog and regular agenda items of lightning talks, discussions and testing challenges.  Given I heard about this opportunity at fairly short notice I must confess to a bit of a ‘cheat’ here as most of the material came from a scheduled talk I am giving at Test Atelier in Leeds on the 9th of May.  So that was lucky!  (See related blog for more)

My main goals, besides sharing the great work our testing community has done in knowledge sharing, was to gain an understanding of how others were approaching tester development and bring back ideas we could use.  With coffee helping abate yawns from my 6am start driving from Yorkshire to Liverpool ready for a 9am start, we began.  So, what were the things I learnt over the two days? 

How does your garden grow?
There are so many ways to grow, gain knowledge and share information about testing.  The Testing Community is wide and diverse and there are many conferences, events and meet ups happening all round the country.  Online resources such as the Ministry of Testing are hubs of information not to mention the many talented individuals writing blogs.  Online magazines pass on knowledge and ideas while there are many excellent books on the subject.  YouTube is also a brilliant resource to watch the most ‘famous’ industry thought leaders share their views.  No matter your learning style there’s something for you out there.  All you have to do is find the time! 

I’m forever growing bubbles!
The Testing Community wants to help educators to pass on testing skills.  We all live in bubbles.  Family bubbles, social bubbles, community bubbles etc.  At the moment there’s an education bubble around software development that doesn’t have much room for the Testing Profession.  Course literature and Computer Science curriculums have little reference to testing as a discipline.  There were some passionate opinions expressed on reaching out to schools and Universities and offering the Testing Communities services to pass on knowledge of the ‘real world’ and testing skills, philosophies and passions.  The four-hour tester (http://www.fourhourtester.net/) is a project that focused on simple exercises to teach some of the skills and thought processes needed by testers.  I particularly like the Mary had a little lamb heuristic.  Give it a try.  The weekend testing community (www.weekendtesting.com) recently undertook a similar activity to create a testing syllabus.  Also well worth a read.  The question is now, am I brave enough to stand up in front of impressionable younglings and promote our profession?  I’ll get back to you on that one… What is for sure is that more efforts are needed to get out of our bubbles and into others.

How did I get here?
Very few people plan to be a tester.  Going round the table and aptly demonstrated by ‘Bullseye or The Testing Wheel’ (presentation available on slideshare.net by Ash Winter), career models are perceived as linear but very rarely are.  Despite our best plans be it through assignments, job change or sideways movement, most people swirl around quite a bit on their journey.  My own path to here has included roles such as logistics manager, auditor, director, business intelligence manager and test team lead to name a few.  While I had some version of testing in other roles it was by being asked to perform testing on a software system that peaked my interest. Then when I found out such an interesting and fun activity was a real full time job I was hooked.  What I didn’t realise is that there are so many similar stories of people moving in many varied directions on their road to becoming testers.  Maybe, like the saying about love, you don’t find testing, it finds you?

Mums have the best sayings!
You can’t stick your apples on other people’s trees!  Jit Gosai (test engineer at the BBC) talked to us about how he saw Mark Zuckerberg had floated Facebook and made billions at 27.  He was 27.  Did that make him a failure?  Of course not, but he vowed to do more, learn more and share what he found with others.  Later he was frustrated his sharing wasn’t landing how he’d like.  His mum told him about apples.  You can influence, you can give knowledge, you can lead, but you can’t make your ideas be someone else’s.  That doesn’t mean you should stop trying to share with those around you. No matter how annoying they are! 

So that’s some, but far from the only things learnt over an extremely enjoyable conference.  I’ve a decent sized list of people, models and sites I want to look into.  Another decent list of ideas for discussions, challenges and things we can do at Test Xchange.  Even some blog ideas.  And maybe, if I’m brave enough and survive Test Atelier, some more talks too.