A Journey to 99 Seconds and Beyond......Part 3

The Countdown

I only had a mere 99 seconds to fill and months to figure out how to fill it, how hard could that be. I was bound to be struck by a lightening idea, have someone whisper in my ear in the night or experience something that stood out given this new and exciting reality I was in…… surely.

Tickets to Testbash Manchester bought… CHECK, contract in full flight… CHECK, exposure to helpful and knowledgeable peers… CHECK. This was all very easy. Only it wasn’t really easy, it was taking time and effort. Value comes from time and effort though so I was fully aware and encouraged by this investment into self-development.

Whilst it was still a long way off, I was eager not to wait for an idea for a 99 second talk to come and slap me round the face with a wet kipper. I needed to expose myself to the right environments; the right people and most importantly make the most of opportunities that presented themselves.

I was getting the chance, courtesy of Liverpool Tester Gathering (@LplTesterGather), to listen to the likes of Jit Gosai (@JitGo) and Claire Reckless (@ClaireReckless) even before her amazing Testbash Manchester 2017 talk. Now I will openly admit that the distance to Liverpool, whilst being perfectly manageable, makes it difficult to attend as often as I would like. There was also the North West Tester gathering in Manchester to get up to, again not quite around the corner. It did however drive out the interesting question of how much interest and how valuable would a test meet up closer to home be. Would there be enough interest and enough sponsorship. Would the time commitments to set it up be even more demanding than travelling to other events further afield? It was certainly an idea that warranted further consideration but could I really pull something together even close to what Messrs Rathbone (@villabone), Nisbet (@duncnisbet) and Thacker (@TeamLHC) have pulled together in Liverpool. A hint of imposter syndrome maybe?

I had new and interesting challenges in my contract and challenges are good right. I won’t profess that it’s the perfect environment but that in itself creates opportunity for improvement and learning. I started the idea of a personal retro that automatically loaded on booting my PC at work. I was intent on capturing my observations and learning’s for three key reasons.
• In the hope I could provide some help, guidance and coaching to the testers around me. • To help improve myself • To try and capture ideas that might spark a 99 second talk.

I was actively looking around for interesting blogs and articles to guide my exploration and discovery. Step forward Ministry of Test. After Testbash Manchester this shouldn’t be a surprise but alas I continued to be amazed by how many roads lead back to Ministry of Test when I delved around the world of testing and test-focussed learning. Don’t get me wrong there is a whole world of testing knowledge and ideas out there if you are willing to look around for them. This was probably one of the most valuable lessons on this journey I was on, that the key to learning was looking, listening and asking with an open mind. I’d never really listened to a podcast before but I now find myself with somewhat of a minor addiction to a couple of podcasts in particular – Super Testing Bros (@SuperTestingBro) and Testers’ Island Discs (@TestersIsland).

So time moved on pretty quickly over the coming months. It’s amazing how time skips a chunk around the school holidays, 6 weeks disappears in a heartbeat. Before I knew it I was only a month away from something that had seemed a lifetime away at the start of this journey. Testbash Manchester 2017 was now a matter of weeks away and my excitement levels were rising. I’d booked my hotel and was fully committed to arriving the night before for the ‘Pre-Testbash Manchester Workshop Meetup’…… the title needs a little work Richard. That in itself proved to be a master stroke. I was talking to a colleague who was attending the conference day about it regularly at work. Something about the build up to this year’s Testbash felt decidedly different and I was like a kid in the build up to Christmas. Was it the new reality I was in? Maybe the fact I was throwing myself into the whole experience this year fully intending to be a part of the testing community? Or was it because the commitment I made to myself 12 months earlier was now coming into full view……. Wait, what? Oh yeh that 99 second talk thing? Whilst I hadn’t entirely lost sight of it, it had faded further back in my mind and as such I felt no closer to having a convincing topic I was confident to talk about. Sure I had some vague ideas to consider but none were really selling themselves to me as either original, interesting or relevant. Maybe I just needed to pick something and go with it. The idea of not doing a 99 second talk weighed on my mind a little and I couldn’t shake the thought that if I wasn’t comfortable with a subject to talk about, I wouldn’t go through with the talk. Something I find myself constantly guilty of is over thinking things. This can be beneficial in testing as it allows me to cover many angles and consider many questions. It can however be somewhat of a burden and this felt like one of those times.

After a further blink I was into the week that would be Testbash Manchester and logistics were overtaking any thoughts of my 99 second talk. I had kind of settled on a possible topic but had by no means convinced myself that it was the right topic.

Testbash Manchester 2017 - The Beginnning

For someone who has a reasonable grasp of the area between Stoke and Manchester you’d think I’d have planned the logistics of getting to the ‘Pre-Testbash Manchester Workshop Meetup’ (just rolls off the tongue) a little better. I wanted to get to my hotel, check in and get the metro into Manchester to allow me to relax a little and have a drink. Leaving Stoke at 5 probably wasn’t my greatest bit of planning and I found myself rushing a little. The whole meetup aspect of this years Testbash seemed almost as important as the actually event itself and I was determined I wasn’t going to miss it. That said as I worked my way through the traffic and the start time of the meetup drew ever closer, I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider crashing in my room when I reached the hotel. I certainly didn’t fancy walking into the meetup in the middle of a talk. Fortunately my excitement for the whole Testbash event got the better of me and I was able to do a lightening stop at the hotel to drop my things off, jump on the first passing tram and arrive at the impressive RentalCars.com offices just in time for the first talk.

I’d missed the pizza but a beer was on hand and Matt Thomas (@dovesian - our RentalCars host and first speaker) kicked off my Testbash experience in style. He was talking about Coaching vs Teaching, a topic that has been prominent in my mind throughout many of my years in testing. Hell it was also a massive part of the change in mindset I’d been through over the previous 12 months. I’d always considered myself someone who leaned (or at least attempted to lean) towards a coaching style and guiding people towards finding answers for themselves rather than readily enforcing my own wisdom on others. It was fascinating listening to Matt talk about the balance between learning and coaching and a great sign of things to come over the next few days. Following on from Matt was Beren Van Daele (@isleoftesting) and Marcel Gehlen (@MarcelGehlen) with a session on using the TestSphere game to drive out and address testing risk. This was of particular interest for me, having seen Beren introduce the cards so passionately a year earlier at Testbash Manchester 2016. I was interested to see the evolution of the previous 12 months, especially given the extra support from MOT and Marcel et al. I have to say I wasn’t disappointed and the cards became a must have pretty quickly. Not just because of the experience and knowledge invested into the cards but also because the game looks to be a great communication tool. It proved to be the perfect opportunity for me to jump into the social aspect of Testbash Manchester. The team I was in with for the exercise, which included the ever enthusiastic Heather Reid (@heatherreiduff), Shailesh Kumar (@AdaptableTester) and Nick Pass (@SlatS), had quite a breadth of opinion and clearly a great deal of experience. What struck me though was how relaxed and comfortable chatting everyone was (even beyond the scope of the game and even beyond the scope of testing at times). This was the social/meetup side of Testbash that I’ve heard so much about and had committed myself to.

All good things come to an end…………. Fortunately (for those of us a little later arriving) this wasn’t the end of this particular night. A number of the group headed back to Salford Quays for drinks in a bar and plenty of relaxed, genuine, friendly, even at times slightly bizarre, (@KITesting will know exactly what I mean), conversation and merriment. I can safely say I went to bed even more excited (if that’s possible) for the coming days and importantly, without even a hint of consideration for what I would do for my 99 second talk or even for that matter whether I would be doing one.

The following morning started off with the most pleasant of surprises. I’ve been to Salford Quays on a number of occasions and after growing up in the country had never really considered it a serene and calming setting. My stroll to the Lowry in the morning sun for the Workshop day was everything I wasn’t used to and put me in the perfect frame of mind. I woke up with a slight clash between anticipation for the day ahead and the nerves of spending the day learning and sharing with some of the testing communities most experienced and revered names (a hint of imposter syndrome maybe). The walk in however left me so relaxed that I walked into the meet area where everyone was beginning to gather and without my usual hesitation, headed straight for a table with an nervous attendee sat alone and struck up a conversation. Whether it was the affects of the previous night’s frivolity or the calming effect of the stroll along the quays, I was feeling confident and ready for the day ahead. We were soon joined by a few other attendees, including the distinctive southern hemisphere tones of one half of @SuperTestingBro (@JamesEspie) and a gentleman named James Sheasby Thomas (@RightSaidJames), who I would later find out was doing a fabulous talk on Accessibility Testing the following day.

The decision on which Workshops to attend hadn’t been particularly easy. I was initially drawn to the Exploratory Testing 101 full day workshop but was eager to expose myself to as much learning and variety as possible. As such I took the decision to attend two different workshops, it was just a question of which two. The options were such that there was no obvious choice. I could easily justify attending any of the workshops but had settled on a morning with Michael Bolton (@MichaelBolton) learning new ideas around recording reporting and an afternoon with Anne-Marie Charrett.(@Charrett) discussing quality.

The workshops were two contrasting delivery styles. Michael’s provided an excellent session taking us through lessons on the importance of understanding the story we are trying to tell and how that feeds into the decision on what we report. I had another moment of awe in Michael’s workshop as I observed the wealth of experience and knowledge in my peers around me. I was on a table with @_Testheader, @MarianneDuijst and the aforementioned @RightSaidJames with many more prominent peers around the room. The first exercise didn’t quite kick off according to plan due to the (so called) cross platform software we were asked to download only having an executable installation (not ideal for the mac users around the room). The upshot to this was, in my opinion, a beneficial side effect, meaning more people collaborating around a smaller number of laptops and ultimately greater discussion and sharing of ideas. It was eye opening to walk around seeing other people’s ideas on note taking and reporting with some excellent approaches on show (mind mapping is my new best friend). It also gave me my first introduction to @constancehermit, although at this stage I was oblivious to her artistic talents (becoming a cartoon drawn by Constance is now officially on my bucket list). Michael’s expressive and passionate way of getting across his ideas and concepts (with the occasional rant thrown in) was a good demonstration of ‘teaching’ in action. I can even confirm that I have now actively replaced “Expected Behaviour” with “Desired Behaviour” in my testing terminology.

The break between workshops was, what can only be described as a missed opportunity. With so much to take in from the morning workshop I figured I’d take some time over lunch to reflect on what had been a fantastic session with young Mr Bolton. Unfortunately rather than reflection, I found myself missing out on what should have been a valuable opportunity to meet, greet and talk test for what turned out to be 30 minutes of indecision and procrastination around 99 second talks. The worst of it was that at the end of the 30 minutes I felt no more confident about doing a 99 second talk (or not doing one) than I had over the previous 6 months.
The feeling of a wasted lunch break left me even more determined to make the most of the afternoon session and added to the fact that I felt confident in the subject matter I had a good feeling about the quality workshop. Anne-Marie had a distinctly different engagement style than Michael and she made it clear right from the start that this would be a discovery session from which we could form our own conclusions. Don’t get me wrong Michael and Anne-Marie share the same air of confidence over the topics being delivered and both gave me a feeling of faith in their opinions and views. Anne-Marie’s workshop however felt distinctly more like a coaching session for which no answers were given. In turn this approach left me feeling even more at ease.

It was fascinating to see such a breadth and depth of opinions and perceptions on where quality fits in. The session was designed to help us to understand that quality can be emotive and due to the fact that it means something very different to different roles in different contexts, requires clarification with wide ranging input (an exercise all to often dismissed as to difficult or not important enough. The example product that the exercise was based on was a challenge to get familiarity with and it became quickly clear that marketing was unlikely to become a career choice anytime soon. The same can be said of pretty much all of in our group. Nevertheless there were valuable takeaways around techniques to try and ensure those difficult discussions take place around what quality means to any given business. Also how that can be opened out to parts of the business that may otherwise have very little awareness, understanding or enthusiasm for quality.

The afternoon workshop also helped introduce me to a young and enthusiastic @pravkpatel. Prav was attending his first Testbash and had the added incentive of having found out, literally that day, that he had been promoted to test lead. What struck me about Prav was how keenly he was listening after asking some pertinent questions. He seemed to be absorbing everything being said and discussed with such focus. If he takes the passion he was showing in our conversations for Testbash and learning into his team then I’m sure he will do an excellent job. It proved to be another example of just how valuable, how supportive and how much of a motivator Ministry of Testing is in the testing community.

With roughly 24 hours until I was planning to do my 99 second talk, my desire to do a talk had been expanded by the impressive Michael Bolton and Anne-Marie Charrett but the decision on what to talk about felt harder than ever............

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Matt Parker

16 years in software development, 12 of those in software testing, 6 years test automation and 4 years in an Agile environment. What have I learnt? There is no right way to test just a right mindset.

In fields of green