Friday, February 22, 2019

Exploratory Testing Peer conference 2019 (or: ETC 2019, day 3 - sort of)

As I've mentioned before, I found a way to extend ETC by joining "Exploratory testing peer conference" that was organised by Maaret Pyhäjärvi, Anne-Marie Charrett and Alex Schladebeck. In essence, a full day of people talking about ET and trying to see what does ET mean today, after 30-odd years since the term was coined and kickstart some work to current knowledge to this domain.
Regardless of how would this day go, I learned one thing already: simply ask - I would not be having this experience without asking to join, and I'm very glad I did that. I'm also very thankful for being allowed to join, as it was a great learning experience for me.
I've never been to a peer conference before, and I didn't know what to expect, besides a bunch of smart people (and me) talking in a room, which is usually a great start.
The discussion was facilitated masterfully by Alex, using K-cards and we had an interesting addition to this: we had on the whiteboard the twitter handles of every participant, and noted each time. It looked like so:

This had an interesting effect, at least on me - I was more conscious about giving others time to speak (I received in the past feedback about taking too much "spotlight time" and am trying to be more aware of that) and I could use this tool to actually measure how much do I speak in comparison to others. The answer, which is not in this picture, is that even when I try, and even after asking several times to drop my turn after someone said something similar enough, I still ended up speaking more times than most, if not all, participants.

The subjects themselves were quite versatile: we spoke about sharing intent while mobbing, teaching ET to developers, what happens when good exploratory testers are looking on unit tests, an experience report on trying to integrate ET practices on large scale dark-scrum organization, how to give a 5 minutes elevator pitch on ET and microheuristics. Those are only the topics we got to actually talk about, and there were many more ideas, as can be seen here:

One important feature of the K-cards for such discussions is the blue note (orange in our case, due to logistics), the ability to signal "We're done \ losing focus \ I'm bored" is important and helped us several time during the day. 
Another thing I liked was  that after each discussion (at least in the first half of the day) we did a quick retrospective on the discussion and came up with some improvements. I have never before seen such a large group of people having a discussion that was so well organised. 

Naturally, there are some things I think we can improve for the next time. The main thing is to have a clearer goal for the peer conference. With a topic as vast as ET and with so little time, I felt the need for a narrower question\topic. During one of the breaks, after a discussion that we felt went astray, Lisi and I stood next to the board and tried to see which subjects are in the intended theme of the day (As we understood it) and as you can see in the picture above,  out of the 12 topics on the board at the moment, only 5 were positively there, and 4 were about something completely different that happened to have some ET close to it.  We could either trust the organisers to design a format for the day, or spend a short time box and decide on the way we wanted to do things, but as it was, we started the discussion without agreeing explicitly on our goal, which I think caused some friction. 

One thing I can surely say - If I thought that participating in a conference is an intense experience, this peer-conference took it up a notch. In a larger conference, it is always possible to find some small places to rest - either lose some focus in a talk, or find a corner where the crowd is providing some white-noise. With 24 people in the room, even taking a break is still speaking with the same people, and the mind-work done by actively participating in a discussion is more intense. At some point, just to get some air and let the mind rest a bit I went outside to play catch with Mira. By the end of the day, most of us were a bit depleted, in the most positive way possible. 

Of course, no conference is just ending just when the official time is up, and we all started to walk towards the hotel. In a smaller group, some further discussion was continuing and I think I got to understand better some of the words people were using. Eventually, though, we've decided it was enough, and started talking about getting something to eat. As it happened, I ended up walking with Thomas and Lisi. We just walked about, chilling off and talking. After such an intense day, I felt very recharged just speaking with them quietly. Then we got to a park that had a notice sign - closes in 20:30. As we still had well over an hour, we entered and walked through it for a while. when at 20:00 we got to the gate through which we've entered, we found it locked, as were the next gate and the two after it. We were starting to be slightly worried, but not very much. eventually, we saw someone other than us in the park, and could see an open gate. From there we could walk back to the city center and had a nice dinner. A great way to finish the day. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

ETC 2019 - day 2

Sketch by Marianne Duijst

So, after going to sleep somewhere around 01:30, I woke up for a completely new conference day, and I even got almost 6 hours of sleep, which is quite good for a conference night.
I met with Mor for breakfast and we headed to the conference venue. Today’s opening keynote was Dr. Sal Freundenberg’s story on getting back to working as a coder after a long time of doing other things, and to make things more interesting, she was doing that while ticking some checkboxes that make hiring harder even without such a break – being older, female, and autistic. What I liked in this keynote was how she took action to her own hands and took conscious steps to get her goal – Older (and experienced)? That means there are friends she could pair with to brush off the rust and reacquaint with the current tools & trends. Problem with bright lights, big crowds and loud noises? Find a place that works remotely and customize the workspace (I really liked the fidget things on the table). All in all, it showed that getting back after a long pause is possible, and at least by the way it was told – there can be a lot of fun in doing so.
Then it was time for the workshops – I chose to participate in Anne-Marie Charrett’s workshop about exploring an API. Right at the beginning I was informed that the focus of this workshop would be the opposite of what I hoped for and would be an introduction to restful APIs and show how they can be explored, rather than to assume familiarity with APIs and systematically exploring one. I decided to stay, since even in this case I could still see some of Anne-Marie’s ideas of exploration and use them to learn. I wasn’t disappointed – we started by modeling the application under test (found in ) we then started questioning the model and using the software to get some answers. We missed a bit of the instructions and started only to form the questions, but it was valuable nonetheless.
After the workshop I went to Clare Sudbury’s talk about how not having unit tests for a game she was creating for herself came back to bite her in the rear and how she used pairing to keep herself honest and avoid costly shortcuts. I really wish I could convey the feeling she projected in the room and pass it on to everyone who thinks unit tests are a waste of time, since the dry facts don’t do this story any justice at all. The animated GIFs were a nice addition.
I stayed in the same room in order to listen to the next talk: "playing port authority", which was about "unit testing" your docker configuration files. From all of the events I attended, this is the only one I was disappointed with, probably due to having wrong expectations – This talk was about a specific tool, written in Ruby. While this tool does seem to provide some nice shortcuts, it does not really do anything revolutionary or even interesting, and I say that as a person who is completely unfamiliar with Docker beyond the basic concept. Those tests are long (makes sense, since the setup is “deploy a container, installed whatever is needed”) and all the tool is doing is to wrap Docker API in order to provide some verification. If I ever face the need to test containers in such manner and I happen to be working in a language other than Ruby, I’ll probably go and write my own wrapper around it instead of adding another language to the soup. Things that would have made this talk better for me would have been answers to questions such as “Why would I want to perform such verification instead of checking it once and run faster checks on the docker yaml file? When it is appropriate to use? When it isn’t? What concepts make this specific tool better than what’s out there? What would I have to implement myself if I am not using Ruby? When is it appropriate to run such tests? What sort of infrastructure is required to gain benefit from such tests?
As it was, it’s been “just another tool” talk, and I am less connected to such talks.
But, no worry – after a short coffee break came the time for open space, which I have never seen go wrong. This time was different only in one thing – I managed to avoid suggesting a session myself. There were so many other sessions that were interesting. Since my coding fingers were tingling, I participated in Maaret’s session on exploring with unit tests where we used Emily Bach's Gilded Rose Kata as our target. It was interesting and I think I got a thing or two about using unit tests from it. I then moved to a discussion about contributing to open source projects, and seeing that I don’t add or gain value there I invoked the rule of 2 feet and moved to the middle of a session by Jessica Davis about “tips for the new tester”, the session was briefly hijacked in order to help another tester with about a year of experience to set up expectations and prepare for onboarding a senior tester to the team. After the session has dispersed we continued to chat a bit around this and I provided whatever opinions I had (which, as those reading here probably know, are not very intelligent, but sometimes sounds convincing).
After the open space time-slot has ended, it was time for the closing keynote. This time – Ash Coleman’s Story of being a minority in tech. I cannot stress enough the importance of this talk, which speaks, as you might have guessed, about diversity and inclusion. Most of the time it’s easy to dismiss diversity issues with a plethora of excuses (those are the people we find, or those are the only who are staying, or anything else. But in fact, the reasons behind such excuses are that that place probably has some unconscious ways of excluding people different than the mainstream. It might be assigning value to irrelevant properties (“His salary is higher because he has a degree from a top-college” is an example – if people are doing the same kind of work with the same skills, it really shouldn’t matter where did they get those skills). My main takeaway from that was that difficulties that are common for an underrepresented group are usually ignored, misunderstood or dismissed by people of the dominant group, thus prolonging the inequality. I went to ask Ash later what can I do to mitigate this blindness, and her answer was to find in my environment someone I can trust who is part of such underrepresented group and ask them to tell me when I’m missing something, mirror to me my behavior or ask explicitly for my help in cases where I’m not seeing the need for such. I’m keeping this advice with me.
That’s it. The conference was done. Now it was time to say thank you and goodbye to a lot of people. I helped clean the auditorium (a fun part of that was to peel Marianne’s sketches from the walls and roll them up). Somewhere around that time I Asked Maaret about that peer workshop she mentioned during the open space and asked if I can squeeze in (The answer was yes, for which I’m grateful). After that I took a short while to rest in my room and joined a large group of people (including a few who were not at the conference but came to participate in the peer workshop) in a bar somewhere in the city center. We chatted a bit, had some fun and some drinks, then went to another place to eat.
Dinner was great – a whole lot of people that I wish I could spend some more time with. I don’t remember how we started speaking about languages, but we were all thrilled to learn that the same word (“rahat”) is used in Finnish to indicate money and in Romanian it means “poop” (There was a story about a parking tickets machine that asked for money, but i don't recall the exact term or it's translation from Romanian to English, maybe "Loud poop" or something like that). By the end of the evening I found myself with Lisi, Kristine & Jessica who told us how she got around to be in this conference (and her way into testing, as well). Kind of a cool story, I think.
Back at the hotel, some people were still at the lobby. I got to listen to Marit, Sarah, Franzi and Clare talk about difficulties in the work place that males do not experience.
An important reminder to any male readers – The fact that you are allowed to listen to such a conversation is not an invitation to sound your own opinions. It might be ok to ask a question here and there, but generally the right thing to do is to STFU and listen. Who knows, you might learn something new. I, for example, learned about the concept of a sponsor in a workplace and why is it important.
Then – sleep before the peer workshop starts, and more on this - in a later post. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

ETC 2019 - day 1

Source: Sarah J. Wells keynote slides

So, European Testing Conference 2019 is officially done, and what a blast it was.
There's so much that went on, so I'll start with a short summary - I got to meet and connect with great people - some of which I've met before, others I met for the first time. Selecting which content I wanted to listen to was harder than ever as the talks topics was superb and I got out with a few insights from both official content and just talking to people. If you weren't there - your loss, and you should remedy this next year.

A tiny tip for conferences - if you can, stay at the conference hotel (Sometimes it's official, in other times it's just the hotel closest to to conference) as it will enable you to have a little bit more time to connect with people over breakfast. I started my first morning with a short chat with Alina Ionescu, which apart from being a pretty cool person in and of herself is also part of the team that created ETC (and if my memory serves me well, has been doing this in the past 4 years as well). We didn't have a lot of time to chat because mornings are hard, and she had to go and organise some last things at the conference venue, but it was still a pleasurable start of the day.
I took a bit longer and got in time for registration, managed to say hi to some familiar faces and went to listen to the opening keynote by Angie Jones. Angie's talk has been quite different from my expectations, in a very good way. The talk was a story of a challenge that was just too much to overcome and the problem remained unsolved. The full talk will be online somewhere in the (I hope near) future, but I took from it a couple of things:
First of all, it was a reminder that culture is stronger than any single person, no matter how talented or creative they are. Second, there isn't yet any constructive way of speaking about testability - what it is and how to approach it. As for now, the best attempt I've seen is the 10 Ps model (There's probably a better link somewhere, I didn't find one) which is a great way to expand many aspect of it, but still very abstract in nature. All in all, it was a thought provoking keynote. Just the right way to kick-off a conference.
We then moved to the second building - the venue was, sadly, split in a manner that required getting out to the street to get from one part to the other. Normally I would assume that this is a major setback that will interfere with connecting people, but the organising team proved once again that when's there a will, there's a way, and I didn't see any such effects. In fact, their choice to leave the central auditorium empty during regular session time provided a very nice place to sit and speak with someone when we needed some quiet from the crowd. Anyway, back to the session. I went to a talk about contract testing for a microservice environment. It was a very good talk for me, since it dealt with a problem-space close to me, and presented an intricate implementation of an idea that I need to investigate a bit further. I'm not sure I understood exactly how is the mechanism works and where exactly it it beneficial to apply contract testing, but every talk that leaves me with some homework to do is a good one.
Then - running back for speed meet. This format is tough, and I like that the organisers still experiment with it. On one hand, it's a great way to create some new familiar faces and break the ice in a safe environment. On the other, it's very loud and crowded, easily creating sensory overload and easily  draining a lot of energy from introverts and ambiverts. This has made the announcement at the beginning ("If at any time you feel you want to leave, just do so") very important. I liked the standing-up setup we had this year - no more fussing with chairs, and the acoustics of the hall made it a bit less noisy than last year, even though there were more attendees (I think). There are still things I think we can improve - Slowing down and providing a bit more than a minute is one thing I might consider - meeting 20 new faces in quick succession is great, but that can be a lot, and one minute is very difficult to manage. Second, I wonder about the mind maps - it's just too easy to hide behind them instead of having a short conversation, perhaps a more condensed format (such as "three words related to you") will be more effective in creating some face-to-face conversation and not face-to-paper one. Still, despite everything, the main goal is clearly working - after the speed meet there are a lot of new familiar faces, and the choice to make it just before lunch is nothing short of genius, to allow people to continue conversations in a more relaxed situation.
I skipped the next track of sessions - and instead sat to speak with Kristine about SpeakEasy (I ended up agreeing to help two new mentees,  which is rather cool). Then we moved again to lean coffee - my favorite activity by far - and then the closing keynote for that day.
Sarah J. Welles told a fascinating story about the challenges and insights we face when working in a fast-releasing environment. For instance, did you know that some sharks really like the taste of the Vietnamese internet cables? This talk, like other CD tales I've heard in the past, left me thinking about what can be taken from those systems to a higher risk, slightly higher regulated environment and what would be the stepping stones in the way. Slow & big releases are painful.

A closing keynote means end of the day, right? Not in ETC. There was a conference party\dinner\something going on. There was food, there were people, there was time to chat and process. I got to speak with new people and had time to speak with some friends as well. Somehow it just happened that I found myself so immersed in a conversation that I didn't notice there were closing the venue, When we did notice that we simply moved to speak in a nearby tapas bar - it was not that we were hungry, but rather just wanted to continue talking. By 23:00 we decided that the smart thing to do would actually be to go to sleep. So we went to our hotels.
Well, remember what I've said about using the conference hotel to extend the conference? I saw some people sitting in the lobby and thought "I can say hi for a couple of minutes".
90 minutes later we called it a night and went to sleep.

This ended my first ETC day - fully packed and positively exhausting.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

ETC 2019, day 0

So, it's ETC time of the year again, this time in Valencia.
As usual, I took a couple of days to get to know the area and do some touristy stuff.
I got here by Monday evening, dropped my bags at the hotel and went for a short tour around to get a feeling of direction and of the environment. One thing I've noticed here is that people around here don't English well. Or, in fact, almost at all - The little time I've spent using Duolingo was sort of paying off when I could tell people "I'm sorry, I don't speak Spanish" (Or, in the short version: "Excuse me, English?")
Anyway, I found something to eat and went to sleep a while.
Tuesday was when my plan actually started. When travelling I always have the same plan: Walk until My feet fall off, and then some.
I started with a walking tour, which gives me both the opportunity to walk around a bit and to make a quick checklist of interesting things. For example, one thing I've learned is that a bat and a dragon are, essentially, the same thing. At least in Heraldry, both signify protection, and since it is easier to draw a bat in a frontal position (or maybe, because when you draw a dragon in that position it looks very much like a bat) then the two of those are kinda merged, and one can see how over time a front facing dragon will turn to be a bat. So, if you ever wondered why does Valencia have a bat as part of it's shield - now you know.
Another thing I got from the trip is a recommendation to try a local drink called "horchata", with the warning that either you like it, or you really don't. Apparently, I really don't. The other beverage that was mentioned, which is an alcoholic one, is "agua de Valencia" (Valencia's water) which is a nice cocktail that has the important property of not tasting like strong alcohol.
After the tour I wandered a bit more, found a place where I could buy a charger for my computer to replace the one I forgot back at home  (Well, almost, my laptop is a monster requires 170W and the strongest they had was 120W, which is enough to keep my computer from draining and charge it while it's off) and then I went to climb the stairs of Micalet, a bell-tower with a nice view of the city roofs. Micalet which is Valencian (A language that is still taught at schools in the region) for "little Michael" (I think that in Spanish it's "El Miguelte"). The bell itself is little in the same sense that little John is - It's a heavy metallic monster, the biggest in the area.
After climbing those 207 narrow stairs, and then down, I relaxed a bit by going to the ceramic museum - Some nice things in exhibition, but I was hoping for some more detailed explanations or a coherent story or something. Still, a nice place to be in.
Dinner, then sleep.
Wednesday I started by walking through the park from my hotel in city center to the Science museum near the beach. It's a nice park, and the walk was a leisurely paced stroll of ~30 minutes, so I enjoyed it a lot. The science museum was rather nice, even if some exhibitions were being disassembled. I went out feeling that it's a nice start, but can be a bit more. As I was already there, I took a trip to the oceanografic -Basically, an aquarium. I made a mistake and assumed that since it was partnering with several projects aimed for ocean preservation it won't be one of those aquariums that is essentially a zoo - holding many marine species out of their context (there's a nice one in Vancouver where they treat animal and try to restore as many as possible to nature). Visiting there didn't seem like it was doing anything like that, so in retrospective I should have checked more thoroughly. It also can be that I got a false impression, so if you care about those things and consider going to the Oceanografic, do your research better than I did.
After the visit I strolled towards the beach, where I stumbled upon Lisa Crispin who introduced me to the rest of the gang that was hanging out there. I ended up walking back to the hotel with Kristine and we had an adventure trying to figure out the city-bike rental scheme. We didn't manage to do that and settled on a bus, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless. Naturally, we didn't go straight back to the hotel, but stopped to meet a bunch of people for dinner. So, in a manner of speaking, the conference has begun.
So,  Happy ETC to everyone!