Interview with Aaron Hodder

Aaron Hodder is an experienced and passionate context-driven tester. Before joining Assurity, Aaron worked at Metra Weather as a Test Analyst for the Weatherscape XT product, a weather graphics presentation system used by TV stations nationwide.
Aaron is active in the testing community, having co-founded WeTest, attending the peer conference KWST and presenting at STANZ on using Lean Visual methods to plan and report on testing activities. Aaron will be giving a presentation at CAST 2013 on Mind Maps – A practical, lean, visual tool for test planning and reporting

How did you find yourself being an advocate of Context Driven Testing?

When I started out testing, I was one of three testers in an organisation of around 50 developers. The testing budgets I was given was often in the order of hours or days, not of weeks or months. It was an environment where I put my hand up to be a tester, and now suddenly had to learn what testing actually was. I was very insecure for several months. I was testing in a primarily exploratory manner, and talking directly with developers, but I was worried, after all, the textbooks told me I should be writing test plans, and I should be writing test scripts with expected results, and pre-conditions. But it wasn’t working for me.

To write the test script, I had to interact with the application and learn about it. Then I would write the script. But I had already performed the test I was about to script! At a conference, I timidly approached James Bach, and expressed my concern that I wasn’t testing “by the book”. He responded, “Why would you want to test by the book? The books are wrong!”

At that moment, a door opened, and I realised that I could set up my own sail, and develop my own ideas on what testing could be; that what constituted good testing depends on the context you find yourself in. I started seeing other testers around me in other organisations writing massive test documents and saw it for what it was: mostly ceremonial paper pushing.

It was then I realised there are two futures in my chosen profession. A future in which software testers are interchangeable commodities performing clerical superficial checks and wasting a lot of money, or a future in which software testers are respected and skilled members of a software development team who bring their critical and lateral thinking skills to bear to find problems noone thought about. I know which I want to be a part of, and I try to bring as many people along with me.

I remember when we first met, you had us Grads play the dice game – what do you learn from the dice game that applies to software testing?

I don’t want to give too much away about the dice game, but it teaches that software testing is a process of learning, modelling and testing all happening in parallel. You cannot discover the answer to the dice game with loads of upfront planning and pre-scripted testing; it’s only through a variety of activities happening in parallel can you discover the answer. It also teaches about challenging the constraints of the ‘game’ you’re in (many projects are treated like games, with conditions for ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ and keeping score via bug counts and other silly things). It also demonstrates that testing can be a lot of fun!

What prompted you to start WeTest?

I co-created WeTest with Katrina Edgar. The goal was to unearth testers in the Wellington region with storie and to share those stories with other testers on the front line. It’s to build a local passionate testing community. The important factor with participating in WeTest is that if you are presenting, you must have skin in the game. You must also speak from experience. Then you must accept the challenges and questions from the participants, all of whom are also practitioners.
This wasn’t about talking about theoreticals, this was about sharing real stories. We felt there was a gap for this kind of event. It was also important to us that it remained free for participants; we wanted testers from all experience levels to attend. We want people who may have felt like I did at the beginning of my testing career to realise that they aren’t alone, and to give them the confidence that their feelings and concerns are legitimate. Thanks to the support of Assurity, this event has remained free, and it has gone from strength to strength. Our first half day weekend workshop is coming up in November to mark one year of WeTests.

What’s the most difficult challenge you face as a tester?

There are several; I’ll give you two.
One, is the constant learning you must do as a tester. Every project has something unique about it which requires you to upskill quickly. Even having to rapidly learning about a new client, and what’s important to them, what they value, all about the problem that this software is supposed to solve, through tot he technical solution before you’ve even considered how you’re going to test it can be very challenging.
The second challenge, and the one most difficult is communicating that the way I test may be different t how you’ve seen others test before. There can be resistance when you suggest that pre-scripting tests upfront may not be the best use of your time, and it’s easy to displace your frustration at those asking for test scripts, rather than those that make money perpetuating the folklore that testing is merely the writing and execution of testing scripts.

What’s your favourite part of being in Testing?

To me, Software Testing is where computer science and social science collide. Working out what people value, then working to give them information that align with their values is incredibly satisfying. I love software development, and I’m glad there’s a role for me in it. Working in software development means you’re exposed to incredibly talents and creative people all working to solve a problem in which often involves creative solutions.

Interview with Michael Larsen

Michael Larsen retired from a career as a rock and roll singer to pursue software testing full time at Cisco Systems in 1992. Larsen has worked for/with a broad array of technologies and industries including virtual machine software, capacitance touch devices, video game development and distributed database and web applications.

For the better part of his career spanning 18 years, Larsen has found himself in the role of being the “Army of One” or “The Lone Tester” more often than not. This unique view point, along with ideas and advocacy regarding continuous education and learning/re-learning for testers, is frequently the grist of the mill for TESTHEAD

Continue reading “Interview with Michael Larsen”

Interview with Nadine Henderson

Nadine is responsible for Assurity’s HR, recruitment and graduate recruitment. She plays a key role in helping to drive the company into its next stage of growth.
Her strong background in IT recruitment – she worked as HR Manager at Intergen for three years – gives her the knowledge and know-how to recruit the best people in New Zealand

1. What do you like about working in IT?
While I don\’t officially work in IT, I do work in the IT industry and I really like enjoy that I get to work with people that have passion that oozes for what they do!  The people tend to be very clever, and like minded in that they have a natural tendency to what to know more, do better, get their hands dirty (so to speak!).   The IT professionals I work with are different to other professionals, and not in the stereotypical way!
2. What do you look for in a software tester?
The things mentioned above!  I love seeing people that love what they do, they almost have a spark in their eye when you ask about a particular tool/project/methodology – so having that enthusiasm and passion for testing is great to see.
Communication and client facing skills are extremely important in any consultancy.  Our employees are representing the company out on client site, so its essential that they do it well and to a high standard.
We also want people that have ambitions to develop their careers, training and development is something we encourage, so having people that naturally want to do this means we can work alongside them to reach their goals.
Culture fit is a biggie at our work – to have this means people should tick all the boxes mentioned above for starters.  They should get along well with others in the workplace and want to get involved in our many extra activities offers (e.g Toastmasters, Social engagements, Learning groups etc).
3. When you were at uni, did you see yourself working as the People and Culture Advisor at a Software Testing Consultancy?
Not in my wildest dreams!  I had no idea what I wanted my career to be when going through Uni, and I kind of fell into IT recruitment before also moving into the HR/People and Culture side of things.  Very happy with how things have panned out though!
4. Where do you see software testing heading in 5 years?
Probably somewhere we haven\’t even thought of yet!  But in the shorter term, say the next 2 – 3 years, I think Agile/Lean will start becoming a lot more common practise in Testing.
5. What’s the coolest thing you’ve learnt since you started at Assurity?
That I work for a company that isn’t just awesome at what it does, but a company that delivers on what it promises and that caring for its staff isn’t just a ‘catch phase’ they throw around, its something they live and breathe.

Interview with Markus Gaertner

Markus Gaertner has been a software tester since 2006 and is located in Germany. Personally committed to Agile methods, he believes in continuous improvement in software testing through skills. Occasionally he presents on Agile and testing related conferences. He is a black-belt tester and instructor in the Miagi-Do school of software testing, and a co-founder of the European chapter of Weekend Testing.

1. For those of us who are not familiar with the Miagi-Do School of Testing, can you tell us a little about it?

Initially Miagi-Do served as a filtering mechanism for people who really wanted to excel in their craft. As more and more people reached out to Matt Heusser for helping them advance, he figured, he needed to sort out the people that really mean from the ones that want quick and cheap answers. We solve this problem by giving out testing challenges. The ones that follow up on it are the ones we would like to work with.

Since I took the first challenge, we have grown a bit. Initially only mouth-to-mouth communication served the purpose. Right now we have a blog set up, and even communicate more to the outside world about the stuff we are doing.

You can think of Miagi-Do as the secret Fight Club from the movie with the same name. We are hard to find, we are sort of a secret club, and we really care about the stuff we are doing. From my perspective Miagi-Do is an apprenticeship model that seems to work at growing the next generation of software testers. We are not so sure about the scaling thing, though, that Cem Kaner mentioned in a recent blog entry.

2. What attracted you to software testing in the first place?

Seriously, I sent my resume in for a position in the release management department. I got invited to a job interview. In the job interview I was told I am interviewing for the position of a software tester. I got the job, I started, and found myself in a testing group leader position 18 months later.

It was not so much an attraction. It was more that I wanted to do work after finishing my time at the university. I started my job, started to like it, found out that I always had this nitpicky element in me all my life. That\’s when I started to like the stuff I was doing, and grow from there.

3. What’s the most difficult challenge you face as a software tester?

Right now, I am involved with lots of companies with traditional testers. With the changes of team-based software development, our industry faces a serious problem. Since decades we have been in the role of fighting for the quality in our products, we have been the last line of defense for the customer, and now we need to learn how to contribute to a group of people that we found was our enemy for the past decades.

This is a cultural change we need to overcome.

As a software tester that means that we have to find how to become a first-class citizen. A few years back I found myself in the “you are too slow”, “we need to deliver this stuff” sort of trap. Eventually I found out that our automated tests demanded too much maintenance. We were able to replace the crap we had “grown” over the period of one year within 18 weeks by using a new approach, using elements from the Agile and XP world, and considering test automation as software development. After we took these steps we were able to serve the project instead of slowing it down. That was the time when my team was seen as first-class citizens. As an industry we still need to learn that lesson, reach out to more testers, and help them become more valuable to the projects and the companies we are working in.

4. Where do you see software testing going in the next 5 years?
Oh, I am really bad at this. So don’t bet on any of these words.

To me the next step involves growing communities. Right now we are sort of separated in different schools of thought, as James Bach calls them. We have the school of thought where testers are seen more as a replaceable resource, we have the community around the Agile development methodologies, and we have a community around the context-driven school.

In the next five years we might not be able to reach common ground on our differences and commonalities, but I think we need to exchange our thoughts. Over time we might be able to find ways develop better products to start. Once software development as the larger industry is able to reliably produce code that works, we will find out that we need to fill in new roles, different roles, and find new frontiers.

5. When your friends (outside of IT) ask you “What do you do as a software tester?”, what do you tell them?

Seriously, they never ask that. I sense a problem there. In German, there is a word called “fremdschämen”. That means to be ashamed for someone else.
Most of the time conversations start with: “What do you do for a living?”
“I am a software tester.”

In that silence you can feel “fremdschämen” if you look for it.

From my perspective this has to do with the outside view to our profession. What really bothers me about that is whether we are helping the outside view improve by fighting with each most of the times.

I don’t have an answer for that.