Saturday, October 21, 2017

How is European Testing Conference Different?

One sunny afternoon in San Diego over three years ago, I took a call with Adi Bolboaca. That call has since it happened defined a lot of what my "hobbies" are since (conference organizing) but also set an example of how I deal with things in general. From idea to schedule that call was all it took. We decided to start a conference.

The Conference was named European Testing Conference to reflect its vision: we were building the go-to testing conference in Europe and we'd take on the challenge of having the conference travel. In the three edition so far, we work with Bucharest (Romania), Helsinki (Finland) and Amsterdam (Netherlands).

As the Amsterdam Edition is well on its way to take place in February 19-20th 2018, someone asked how we position ourselves - how is European Testing Conference different?

Testing, not testers

Our organizers are an equal mix of people who identify as tester and programmers. What brings us together is the interest to testing. The conference looks at testing as different roles do it and seeks to emphasize the collaboration of different perspectives in making awesome products. We like to think of testing as Elisabeth Hendrickson said it: it is too important to be left just for the specialized testers. Our abilities to solve the puzzles around feedback make a difference for quality, speed of delivery and long-term satisfaction for those of us who build the software.

Practical focus

We seek to make space for sessions that are practical, meaning they are more on the what and how as opposed to why, and they are more on the patterns and practices. We start with the idea that testing is important and necessary, and seek to raise the bar in how testing is done.

Enabling peer learning

We know that best sessions in conferences with regards to learning often happen in the hallway track where people are in control of the discussions they engage in. Many conferences formalize hallway track to happen on the side. We formalize hallway track sessions to be a part of the program so that we increase the chances of everyone going home with a great, actionable learning from peers.

Peer learning happens with interactive sessions that have just enough structure so that you don't have to be a superb networker, you can just go with the flow. As a matter of fact, we don't give you choice of passively sitting listening to a talk when you could learn from your peers in an interactive format, so these session are always conference wide.

The do three different kinds of interactive sessions:

  • Speed Meet makes you go through people while giving the structure to ensure that it's not the usual chit chat of me introducing myself, it is learner driven what the introducer gets to share. Each participant creates a mind map, and the person you get to know will drive the discussion based on what they select on your map. 
  • Lean Coffee is a a chance of discussing testing topics of the whole group's choice. Regardless of its name, it is more about discussions and less about coffee. We invite our speakers to facilitate tables of discussions, so this is also your chance of digging in deeper to any of the topics close to heart of our speakers. 
  • Open Space makes everyone a speaker. A good way to prepare for this is to think about what kinds of topics you'd love to discuss or what knowledge you'd like to share. You get to propose sessions, and they could also be on topics you know little of but want to learn more about. 

Lean Coffee and Open Space are regular sessions in conferences, but we have not seen anyone else do them as part of the day program, whole conference wide. You will meet people in this conference, not just listen to the speakers we selected.

Schedule by session types

Interactive sessions have no talk sessions to listen to passively at the same time. Similarly, when talk sessions take place, we have four of them scheduled on tracks. We also have in-conference workshops, and again when it's time to workshop, there's no talk sessions available simultaneously. This is to encourage a mix of ways of learning. It's hard enough to select which topic to go for, and if the session type is also a variable, it just gets harder to get the learning mix right.

Speakers selected on speaking their stories

All speakers we have selected have been through a collaborative selection process. This means that we did not select them based on what they wrote and promised they could talk on, we had a chat with each and every speaker and know how they speak. We're hyped about the contents they have to share as part of our great program.

Some of the talks are not ones the speakers submitted. When collaborating with a speaker, sometimes you learn that they have something great to share that they did not themselves realize they should have submitted.

Track speakers are keynote quality

We take pride in treating our speakers fair, meaning we guarantee them that they don't have to pay to speak but we compensate the direct costs of joining our conference. We go a bit further, sharing profits with the speakers. This means that the speakers are awesome. They are not traveling to speak with the vendor marketing budget to sell a tool or service, but are practitioners and great speakers.

Enabling paired sessions

Our program has sessions with two speakers, and when we select a session like that, we pay the expenses of both the speakers. While we strongly believe that a two person talk is not a talk where two people take turns on delivering a talk one could deliver, we actively identify lessons that require two people. We pair in software development, we should be able to pair with our talks too.

Organized by testing practitioners

Our big fancy team is a team of practitioners doing the conference as a hobby. We love learning together, creating together and making a great program of testing available together. We spend our days testing and programming. We know what the day to day challenges are and what we need to learn. Our practitioner background is a foundation for our ability to select the right contents.

Traveling around Europe

Europe is diverse area, and we travel around to connect with many local communities. It sometimes feels ambitious of us, as every year we have a new community to find and connect with to sell our tickets. Yet, going to places and taking awesome content to places is what builds as forward as a bigger community. 

We love other testing conferences

We don't believe that the field of testing conferences is full - there's so many people to reach and enable to join the learning in conferences. If your content and schedules are not right for you, we encourage you to look at the other. We love in particular conferences that enable speakers without commercial interest by paying their expenses and often give a shout out to TestBashes (all of them!), Agile Testing Days (both Germany and USA), and are delighted to be able to mention also Nordic Testing Days, Copenhagen Context and Romanian Testing Conference. 




Friday, October 20, 2017

Sharing while minding the price of shame

Some weeks ago, I was sitting at the London Heathrow airport, with a little post-it note in front of me saying "review, write, finalize". I had three separate writing assignments waiting for dealing with, and what would be a better place to deal with writing than being stuck at airport or a plane. I started with the review, to an article that is now posted and still causing buzz on my twitter feed: Cassandra Leung's account of power misuse in the testing community by Mr Creep.

Reading it made me immediately realize I knew who Mr Creep was, and that I had tolerated his inappropriateness in a different scale just so that I could speak at his conferences. I knew that with who I was now, I was safe. I had the privilege of thinking his behavior was disgusting and yet tolerating it. Reading the experience through the eyes of someone with less privilege was painful.

I could do something. So I talked to this Mr Creep's boss. They did all the rest. Shortly after, I saw this Mr Creep changing his status for in LinkedIn to Looking for new opportunities. I can only hope that the consequences of his own actions would make him realize how inappropriate they were. And that he would learn new ways of thinking and acting. At least, he no longer is in this position of power. He's still an international speaker. Hopefully he is no longer the person who thinks this slide is funny:


This slide happened years ago. We did not realize what it could mean for the women in the community. While the source of this is this Mr Creep, there's other creepy "funny" slides with exclusive impact. Don't be Mr Creep when you present. 

The article that started this for me came out later. At time of publishing, the proper reaction from the conference was already a fact, making this article very special amongst all the accounts of creepy behavior. This Mr Creep remains unnamed. And I believe that is how it should be. In the era where a lot of our easy access to power comes through social media, there are kinder forms of displaying power and expressing inappropriateness. Bullying the bully or harassing the harasser are not real options. For a powerful message on the price of shame, listen to a TED talk by Monica Lewinsky.

Calls like this are also common:
Outing him could be necessary if we didn't know he was already addressed. But all too late.

There's been a number of women who have also come forward (naming in private) with their own experiences with Mr Creep in the testing community, some with exact same pattern. Others shared how they always said no to conference speaking in places associated with him. And the message of how unsafe even one Mr Creep could make things for women became more pronounced.

In the last days of me thinking of writing this article, my motives were questioned: maybe I just want to claim the credit for action? But there is a bigger reason that won't leave me alone before I write this:

I need to let other women know that they have the power to make a difference. When it appears that organizations will prioritize their own, sometimes they prioritize their community. They need someone to come forward. If you've been the victim, you don't need to come forward alone. Coming forward via proxy is what we started with here. And after creating the feeling of safety, we brought down the proxy structure giving power where it belongs - back with the victim.

I need to let other women know that the conference we've talked about in hushed voices has chances of again being a safe place for us to speak at.

I need to let the everyone know that seeing all male lineups may mean that all the women chose to stay safe and not go.

I was in a position of privilege to take the message forward. I was an invited international speaker, with an open invitation to future conferences I was ready to drop. I had a platform that gave me power I don't always have. But most of all, I couldn't let this be. I had to see our options.

While what I did was one discussion of someone else's experience, it drained me. It left me in a place where I couldn't speak of my experience as part of this. It left me with guilt, second guessing if other people's choices of boycotting would really have been an option. It left me with fear that Mr Creep targets his upset on me (haven't seen that so far). But most of all, it fill me with regrets as I now know that I could have made choices of addressing the problem a lot earlier.

Mr Creep had to hurt one more person before I was ready to step up. Mr Creep got to exist while I had something I could personally lose on outing him or confronting him on any of his behaviors.

I need to write this article to move forward, and start my own recovery. This Mr Creep is one person, and there's many more like that around. Let's just calling out inappropriateness while considering the appropriate channels. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Innocent until proven guilty

I read a post Four Episodes of Sexism at Tech Community Events, and How I Came Out of the (Eventually) Positive and while all the accounts are all too familiar, there is one aspect that I feel strongly about. Story #3 recounts:
It takes me two years to muster the confidence to go to another tech event.
The lesson here is that it is ok to remove yourself from situations where you don't feel comfortable. There is a very real option for many people that we don't show up because someone can make us feel uncomfortable in ways that matter.

I hate the ways people report being made feel uncomfortable. And I particularly hate when someone reports a case where they were made uncomfortable being dismissed or belittled by the organizers of conferences because there is a belief that the "offenses" are universally comparable. That alleged perpetrators are always innocent until proven guilty. This idea is what makes people, word against word in positions of unequal power, allow for the bad behaviors to continue.

There will not be clear cut rules of what you can and cannot do in conferences to keep the space safe. Generally speaking, it is usually better to err on the side of safe. So if you meet someone you like beyond professional interests in a professional conference, not expressing the interest is on the safe side.

Some years ago, I was in a conference where someone left half-way though the conference for someone else's bad behavior. I have no clue what the bad behavior was, and yet I side with the victim. For me, it is better to err on the side of safe again, and in professional context reports like this don't get made lightly. Making false claims is not the common way of getting rid of people, even if that gets recounted with innocent until proven guilty.

We will need to figure out good ways of mediating issues. Should a sexist remark cost you a place in the conference you've paid for - I think yes. Should a private conversation making others overhearing it cost you a place in the conference you've paid for - I think yes. On some occasions, an apology could be enough of a remediation, but sometimes protecting the person who was made feel unsafe takes priority and people misbehaving don't have the automatic access to knowing who to get back to for potential retaliation. It's a hard balance.

The shit people say leave their marks. I try not to actively think of my experiences, even forget them. I don't want to remember how often saying no to a personal advance has meant losing access to a professional resource. I don't want to remember how I've been advised on clothing to wear while speaking in public. I don't want to remember how my mistakes have been attributed to whole of my gender. There's just so much I don't want to remember.

Consequences of bad behaviors can be severe. Maybe you get kicked out of 2000 euro conference. Maybe you get fired from the job. Maybe you get publicly shamed. Maybe you lose a bunch of customers.

Maybe you learn and change. And if you do, hopefully people acknowledge the growth and change.

If you don't learn and change, perhaps excluding one to not exclude others is the right thing to do.

In professional settings we don't usually address litigation, just consequences of actions and actions to create safer spaces. Maybe that means taking the person stepping forward feeling offended seriously, even when there is no proof of guilt.

I don't want people reporting years of mustering the confidence to join the communities again. And even worse, many people reporting they never joined the communities again, leaving the whole industry. I find myself regularly in the verge of that. Choosing self-protection. Choosing the right to feel comfortable instead of being continuously attacked. And I'm a fighter. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Caring for Credit

Last three years have been a major source of introspection, as I've taken upon the journey of becoming (more) comfortable with pairing and mobbing. Every time someone hints that I want to pair to "avoid doing my own work", I flinch. I hear the remark echoing in my head, emphasizing my own uncertainties and experiences. Yet, I know we do better together and fixing problems as they are born is better than fixing them afterwards. 

A big part of the way I feel is the way I was taught to feel while at university. As one of the 2% women minority studying computer science, I still remember the internal dialogue I had to go through. The damage the few individuals telling me that I probably "smiled my way through programming classes", making me avoid group work and need of proving my contribution in a group being anything more than just smiling. And I remember how those experiences enforced the individual contributor in me. Being a woman was different and I took every precaution I could to be awesome as much by myself as I could. If I ever did not care for doing more than others, that would immediately backfire. And even if I did care, I could still hear the remarks. I cared then, I still do. And I wish I wouldn't. 

My professional tester identity is a way of caring for credit. It says about what of all the things I do are so special that I would like it to be separately identified. It isn't keeping me in a box that makes me do just testing, but it says that that is where I shine. That is where I contribute the most of my proud moments. Yet it says that I'm somehow a service provider, probably not in the limelight of getting credit, and I often go back to liking the phrase:
Best ideas wins when you care about the work over credit.
I want to create awesome software, and be recognized for my contributions to it.Yet I know that my need of recognition is a way of not getting the best ideas to win - nor anyone else need of recognition.

As a woman, attribution need can get particularly powerful. If you're asked of the great names in software, most people don't start listing women - even if that has recently changed in my bubble that talks about awesome people like Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hamilton, and Grace Hopper. And looking a little beyond into science, listing women becomes even less of a thing.

The one man we generally tend to think of first in science is Einstein. Recently I learned that he had a wife, who was also a physicist and contributed significantly to his groundbreaking science. He did not raise her significant contributions to general public.  Meanwhile, Marie Curie is another name we'd recognize and the reason recognition is tied to her is due to her (male) colleagues actively attributing work to her. 

Things worth mentioning are usually a result of group work, yet we tend to attribute them to individuals. When we eat a delicious cake, we can't say if it was great because of the sugar, the eggs or the butter. All were needed for the cake to become what it is. Yet in creating software products, we tend to have one ingredient (programming) take all the credit. Does attribution matter then? 

It matters when someone touts "no women of merit" just for not recognizing the merited woman around them. It matters when people's contributions are assessed. Reading a recent research saying that women researchers must publish without men to get attributed and thus tenure made me realize how much the world I was taught in school still exists. 

People are inherently attribution seeking - we wish to be remembered, to leave our mark, to make a difference. A great example of this is the consideration of why there are no baby dinosaurs - leading to a realization that 5/12 identified species are actually just adolescent versions of the adult counterparts. 

From all of my talks, the bit that always goes viral is adaptation of James Bach's saying: 
I've lived this for years and years, and built a whole story of illusions I've broken, driving my tester identity through illusion identification. Yet, I will always be the person popularizing past sayings. 

Caring for credit, in my experience, does more harm than good. But that is what humanity is built around. Take this as a call of actively sharing the credit, even when you feel a big part of credit should belong to you. We build stuff together. And we're better off together. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

What a Product Owner Does?

As an awesome tester, I find myself very often pairing with a product owner on figuring out how to fix our ways of working so that we could have best chances of success when we discover the features while delivering them. My experience has been that while a lot of the automation-focused people pair testers up with developers, the pairing on risk and feedback with the product owner can be just as (if not more) relevant.

Over the years, I've spent my fair share shaping up my skills of seeing illusions on a business perspective, and dispelling them hopefully before they do too much damage. Learning to write and speak persuasively is part of that. I've read tons of business books and articles, and find that lessons learned from those are a core to what I still do as a tester.

I find that a good high-level outline of the skills areas I've worked on is available with the Complete Product Owner poster. Everything a product owner needs to know is useful in providing testing services.
Being a Product Owner sure is a lot of work! - William Gill

In preparation of a "No Product Owner" experiment, I made a list of some of my expectations on what a product owner might do (together with the team).

What a Product Owner Does?
  • has and conveys a product vision
  • maintains (creates and grooms) a product backlog - the visible (short) and the invisible (all wishes)
  • represents a solid understanding of the user, the market, the competition and future trends
  • allows finishing things started at least for a preagreed time-box
  • splits large stories to smaller value deliveries
  • prepares stories to development ready (discovery work)
  • communicates the product status and future to other stakeholders
  • engages real customers and acts as their proxy
  • calculates ROI before and after delivery to learn about business priorities
  • accepts or rejects the work done
  • maintains conceptual and technical integrity of the product 
  • defines story acceptance criteria
  • does release planning
  • shares insights about the product to stakeholders through e.g. demos 
  • identifies and coordinates pieces to overall customer value from other teams
  • ensures delivery of product (software + documentation + services) 
  • responds to stakeholder feedback on wishes of future improvements and necessary fixes
  • explains the product to stakeholders and drives improvement of documentation that enables support to deal with questions
These people are busy, and can use help. How much of your testing is making the life of a product owner easier? 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Run the code samples in docs

I was preparing for a session on exploratory testing in a conference, wanting to make a point of how testing an API is just like testing a text field. Even the IDE you use just gives you keyword recognition based on just a few letters, and whatever values you pass in are a guided activity. The thinking around those fields is what matters. And as I was preparing, I went to my favorite test API and was delighted to notice that since the public testing sessions pain, there was now some basic getting started documentation with examples.

I copypasted an example around approving arrays into the IDE, and things did not go as I would have expected. Compiler was giving me errors, and I could extend my energy barely to see what the error message was about. There were simple errors:
  • a line of code was missing semicolon
  • a variable a was introduced, yet when it was used it got renamed to x
As a proper tester, I was more happy than sad with the lack of quality in the documentation, and caused a bit of pain to the poor developer asking not to fix in for a few hours so that I could have other testers also see how easy finding problems in a system is because documentation is part of your system. I think the example worked nicely around encouraging anyone to explore an API with its documentation.

The cause of the problem I saw was that the code sample was never really executed. And over time even if it was executed once, it could break with changes as it wasn't always executed with the code.

A lot of times, we think of (unit) tests as executable documentation. They stay true to functionality if we keep on making them pass as we change the software. Tests work well to document drivers. But for documenting frameworks, you need examples of how it calls you. It makes sense to do the examples so that you can run them - whether they are tests or other form of documentation.

Documentation is part of your API. Most of us like to start with an example. And most of us choose something else if possible if your documentation isn't helpful. Keep it running.

Calling bs on the pipeline problem

Yesterday was a day of Women in Tech in Finland. After the appropriate celebrations and talks, today my feeds are filled with articles and comments around the pipeline problem. I feel exhausted.

The article I read around getting girls into the industry quotes 23% of women in the industry now. Yet, look at the numbers in relevant business and technical leadership positions. One woman among 5-6 people in the leadership groups isn't 23%. No women as head technical architects is even further from 23%. And don't start telling that there are no women of merit. Of course there are. You might just not pay attention.

In the last week, I've personally been challenged with two things that eat away my focus of being amazing and technical.

First of all, I was dodging a "promotion" into dead end middle management position. How would that ever make me a head technical architect I aspire to be? Yes, women with emotional intelligence make strong managers. But we also make excellent technical leaders.

Second, I was involved in a harrassment getting someone fired case in the community. It has been extremely energy draining even if I was just in a support role.

Maybe having to deal with so much of the extra emotional labor is what makes some people think again less of my merits. And I'm getting tired of it.

We talk of the pipeline problem, on how little girls don't take interest in computers and programming. If they look forward into their role models, they see women fighting for their advancement and mere existence. The pipeline leaks, and almost everyone who is in it is regularly considering exit just to get rid of the attitudes the ones with more privilege don't have to deal with.

How about improving things for the future generations on focusing on the current one so that we can honestly tell our little girls that this is the industry worth going for? It is the industry of the future, and we're not going to leave it, but a little bit of support for the underdogs would be nice.

When I do keynotes in conferences, I get the questions of  "are you here to watch your kids while your husband speaks" from the other female keynoter's husband. I get the questions of  "you're one of the organizers" when most of the organizers are women. And yet in the same places I get men telling that there is no difference in how we are treated.

Just pick 50% of women of potential into the relevant groups we all want to reach. Those 50% of women are not going to be worse than the men you're selecting now. Those positions help them realize their full potential. And showing this industry is more equal might just help with the beginning of the pipeline too. Because the little girls don't only have a dad who makes sure they get interested in math and STEM, they have a mom who could be more too.