Monday, November 27, 2017

Agile Testing Days #9 - Once Upon a Time in Unicorn Land

Last week I joined the Agile Testing Days for the third time in a row. This conference is dear and special to me due to various reasons; but this time it was even more special as I had the opportunity to join as a speaker for the first time. There's a lot to share about this event, so be prepared for a longer blog post! It would be worth several posts but I'd like to keep these thoughts together, so please bear with me.

Finally Back in Unicorn Land

When I arrived in Potsdam, it really felt like coming home. I had this kind of feeling already last year; and it only had increased since then. And the best part: A dear colleague came with me and I could introduce her to the whole conference family.

But why unicorn land? In case you are not familiar with the Agile Testing Days, or you've been there but still wonder why you will find lots and lots of unicorns at this conference, here's your answer.

My Personal Highlights This Year

There's so much to share from this conference, but I'll try to limit the following to the best of content and interactions.
  • Monday was tutorial day. The last years the tutorials were invaluable learning opportunities. Therefore I was really looking forward to the tutorial I've chosen this year: "Mob Testing" with Maaret Pyhäjärvi. And it even surpassed my highest expectations! First of all: We were a small learning group - only six participants including myself. Second: We had not only Maaret as facilitator (which was awesome by itself), but Llewellyn Falco as well. This way we even learned from two experts sharing their different perspectives. And last but not least: I already knew what a great learning experience mobbing can be, but this group made it even better. Thank you Gert-Jan BarteldsGabe NewcombLars Kjølholm, Hasina, and Katrin. Overall: This tutorial was perfect to get to know mobbing, practice it in a group of people who did not know each other in the beginning but did quite well in the end, and improve our skills in different facets of testing. Thank you all for this opportunity! I will definitely bring this to my company and do a mob testing workshop with our testing community.
  • Tuesday started (traditionally) with a lean coffee session, and ended (traditionally) with a big costume party. Both were awesome, but my highlight of this first conference day was Angie Jones' keynote "Owning Our Narrative". Brilliant talk comparing the automation of musical entertainment with the automation of "testing". She encouraged us to not resist change as it's inevitable, but to write our own story instead. If you have the chance to listen to her - please do so. Highly recommended!
  • Wednesday's Agile Games night was great! I had the chance to test George Dinwiddie's new story telling game together with a nice group - really fun. But the best was that I happened to have a prolonged talk with Thorsten Dobelmann whom I met on last year's Agile Testing Days. We both wanted to go to bed early, but then found ourselves standing in front of the stairs for about... two hours? This is what makes this conference so special: the people. We enjoyed our conversation last year, and meeting him again felt like we could just pick it up where we left it and continue. Thank you!
  • Thursday morning was all reserved to support two of the dearest persons I got to know at Agile Testing Days: Toyer Mamoojee and Viki Manevska, both having their talks this morning. And they were awesome! For Toyer, it was even his very own birthday and the conference organizers surprised him with a birthday cake just before his talk.
  • Friday came - the last day of this full week testing festival. I was really looking forward to the keynote that should open this day: the Afghan Girls' Robotic Team telling their story on stage. And then it happened: The sleep deprivation throughout the week exacted its toll - and I overslept. What a pity!! Many people expressed how this keynote moved them to tears, but also inspired them deeply. I can only hope that the recording will be made available soon; but watching a video is simply not the same as experiencing it live.
  • Fortunately, there were two more keynotes this day which turned out to be personal highlights as well. Maaret shared how she discovered mobbing for herself as a very safe way of "Learning through Osmosis", encouraging everyone to give it a try. And Janet Gregory shared the "Pivotal Moments" of her life, asking everyone to watch out for them to be ready to take them when they come. Both told very personal stories and left me so inspired! Thank you!
  • Overall, if you'd like to see a short version of all keynotes, check out the awesome sketchnotes of Stuart Young.

I'm speechless... I'm a speaker!

Not only that I could attend this year's Agile Testing Days again, not only that I met wonderful old and new people, not only that I gained new insights and got inspired; but this year I also had the opportunity to join as a speaker and host two sessions myself.

First, I gave my talk "'I am Groot' - Learning Agile Testing". It was awesome to see so many people being in the room who supported and encouraged me on my way! Among them Lisa, Toyer, Viki, and John my former manager - just to name a few. Thank you; I owe you a lot. Furthermore, thank you Llewellyn for providing detailed and constructive feedback on my talk, helping me improve and grow - heavily appreciated! And last but not least: I was blown away as I saw that someone did the very first sketchnote of one of my talks - thank you so much Marianne Duijst!
Second, I absolutely enjoyed to host the workshop "Testing in a Continuous World" together with the most awesome Lisa Crispin, one of the kindest and most supportive persons I know. It was great to see so many participants heavily focused and contributing! Also, I'd like to give a big shout-out to Dragan, who volunteered to help with our workshop and supported us perfectly - on his very birthday!
Attending the conference as a speaker changed my personal experience as well.
  • First of all, I had the opportunity to join the speaker's dinner for the very first time. Absolutely great and inspiring to talk and listen to all those awesome people!
  • Furthermore, I already knew from the last conferences I've spoken at that I won't be able to focus just before and after my session; so I definitely missed out on awesome talks taking place around mine. However, knowing about that fact in advance helped me this time, telling myself to be kind to myself and that's it's okay as it is.
  • When moving around the conference, I suddenly got recognized and addressed without me doing anything. I already saw this at TestBash Germany this year where I hardly found the time to eat, but due to the very positive reason of many great conversations with many new people. At Agile Testing Days it was sometimes hard to just cross the room to go to the toilet. I don't want to have it sound as cocky as it obviously does, but I was honestly surprised by the amount of people addressing me. As I rather identify as an introvert this helped me a lot as I did not have to start the conversation myself, so thanks to everybody coming up!
  • It is always hard to find a good balance between meeting people you know from last years, and getting to know new people. I think getting recognized as speaker added to finding the right balance, but still it's a tough question how to celebrate the reunion with the ones you know and still be open and inclusive for newcomers. Pete Walen wrote about this before the conference, and Lisa Crispin shared her thoughts just afterwards, as well as further ideas how to make conferences more inclusive.
  • It seems I could trigger some people to start sharing with the community as well; or at least I hope I did. In any case, I will continue to try doing so.
All in all, I am quite relieved that my journey to get on stage and all the effort I've made to make it real paid out in the end.

A New Pact to Come

With both of us getting on stage, Toyer and I fulfilled the deal we made on last year's Agile Testing Days to return as speakers; the very thing that scared us the most.
Not only that we found ourselves as lifelong learning partners supporting each other to reach our goal; we could also inspire others to start a pact themselves, or join us for our next one! This feels just great.
But what next? How will our next pact look like? Currently I'm pondering on what scares me the most nowadays. I'd like to make use of this special learning relationship this year as well, so it has to be something scary but helping my career. I have some ideas in mind but need to give them more thoughts before making a new pact public.

Whatever it will be, I know I have to find a better balance with my private life as it suffered quite a bit. I invested a lot of free time to make this challenge work out for me. Don't get me wrong, it was definitely worth the learning experience - but for instance I just discovered today that I have postponed to continue playing my latest computer game for exactly six months! :-o So, this year was special and it sort of kick-started everything, but now I have to find a better balance between learning and enjoying other things I love. Time is flying and will not come back, so I will try to make the best out of it.

Why I Go to Conferences, Or: Why I Go to This Conference

A few weeks ago, Maaret reflected on why going to conferences at all. Here's Guna Petrova's response:
And here you'll find the reasons of Heather Reid:

But why do I go to conferences?
  • Quite obvious: To learn about certain topics. To gain new insights, hear different perspectives, try things out.
  • Even more important: To meet awesome people! People I already met but also new people. People I can exchange experience with, ask for support, learn from.
  • And in the end, to return full of ideas and inspiration. If you could see me now, over one week after coming home, I'm still beaming. I've seen it last year: this kind of experience will guide and help me until the next conference.
I found all this at Agile Testing Days at its best. A full week of people and learning, nearly all around the clock. To be fair, it was my first ever conference in 2015; I am aware that this fact definitely does bias me. But if it hadn't been a great experience, I would not want to come back every year. Check out this Twitter moment to get more reasons why this conference is special in my eyes.

If you made it to the end of this (indeed quite long) post, you might have seen a pattern. I have a lot of people to thank - and I did not nearly mention them all. But I know I'll see a lot of them again at next year's Agile Testing Days and that makes me very happy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Testers and Developers - Thoughts about Collaboration

This post had been triggered by a survey conducted by Maaret Pyhäjärvi and Franzi Sauerwein about the collaboration between testers and developers. As I'm quite passionate about the topic I wanted to share my experience as well.
While taking the survey I felt the increasing desire to write about my thoughts. So I asked Maaret and Franzi whether they would agree with me posting my answers, as I didn't want to spoil the research or bias anyone. Fortunately they confirmed I could go ahead. So, whether you continue reading the following or not: if you haven't taken the survey yourself yet, please do so and support the research!

The Survey

The survey starts off with the question with which role you identify (developer, tester, both, neither). As I identify as a tester, I took the related option. Here are the questions and my answers.
  1. Tell us about a memorable moment of working together with a developer
    Not long ago, I detected a strange behavior in our product and wondered what caused it. It seems I expressed my astonishment loudly. A developer overheard it and instantly came over to see the strange behavior himself. Another developer joined in as well, we debugged the problem together and identified the root cause way quicker than I would have done it on my own. (I really like those situations of spontaneous collaboration and joining in myself in case I overhear a developer struggling. Another perspective often helps, no matter our "roles".)
  2. Has a developer told you your contribution is valuable?
    Yes
  3. What did you do?
    • Going through test ideas together early and asking questions to clarify behavior/risks which had not been addressed yet
    • Testing an early increment together
    • Going through test findings with the developer and instantly fix them together
    • Finding issues in places the developer did not expect at all
    • Constantly trying to improve the product/team/myself
  4. What frustrates you when working to developers?
    • "Them vs. us" mindset and behavior; "those evil testers"; testers seen as inferior monkeys clicking around and doing monkey stuff -> fortunately all those points are not the case in my current team
    • Communication via ticket comments instead of direct face-to-face communication
    • When the developer hands over a build but did not basically test it themselves yet; e.g. when an issue is identified on first interaction with the product
  5. What do you enjoy when working with developers?
    • Close collaboration in general; pairing and mobbing (mob programming and testing)
    • Complementing each other regarding skills and perspectives to build a great product together
    • Shared vision to deliver a quality product which helps our users

The Other Side

After submitting my answers I was curious which kind of questions I would have gotten if I had provided another answer on the initial question regarding my role/identity. I found that interestingly two questions for developers are framed slightly differently: "Have you worked with a tester that turned out to be invaluable to the team?" and "What did they do?" This made me think. Right now I have an awesome team around me who really appreciate how I contribute and see great value in me being on the team. But when talking to other persons in our company I received different perceptions of testers.
  • Testers being the evil ones breaking the software. I'm with Maaret here: "Testers don't break the code, they break your illusions about the code". It had been broken before.
  • "Manual testers" only clicking around the software, just following endless scripts, and doing their "monkey stuff". I had been told this to my face; I guess the other person did not realize what they were saying. In that moment I did not succeed in changing their view on things, so I'm still pondering how to address this perception issue: testers as people who are not valuable if they don't automate things. You know, everything should be automated.
  • Testers being inferior when compared to developers. Probably a consequence of the last point, but we're often still seen as the underdogs who are either not good enough to be developers themselves, or who are still on their way of finally becoming developers.
  • Developers being proud of not needing any testers. Well, if the testing expertise and experience exists in the team and the team shares responsibility for quality and testing, I don't see any problems with not having a dedicated tester. However, even if not having a dedicated one, I would say they still do have testers on the team. I really promote the whole-team approach to quality and testing. But when a team tells me that they don't need any tester, I would love to join them for some weeks and just observe to learn how they do things.

Collaboration

After taking the survey and having those kind of thoughts, it occurred to me that I had posted the following tweets in the last weeks about tester and developer collaboration.
This made me realize again how much I enjoy the close collaboration with my awesome teammates. When working together it does not matter who has which role or does which activity in the moment. And this finally confirms again what motivates me and keeps me going: building great products which deliver value together with great people.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

TestBash Germany - My First But Certainly Not Last

Last Friday, TestBash Germany took place for the very first time, in my hometown Munich. It was my very first TestBash; I gave my second conference talk ever; and it was simply amazing.

Impressions

Let's give you an idea of the atmosphere first. Here's TestBash Germany in tweets!

The Meetup Before


The Conference Day


After-Conference Meetup 


Open Space 


Talking, Take Two

Just last week I gave my very first conference talk at SwanseaCon. Shortly afterwards I found myself walking a theater stage, giving my second conference talk. I felt excited to get this opportunity; nervous to get on stage in front of a bigger audience consisting of mostly testers; and a bit freaking out due to the big camera in front of me. Fortunately, according to first feedback the talk seemed to have gone down quite well. If you'd like to have a first glimpse, check out my slides: Next Stop: FlixBus! A Tester Exploring Developer Land. Later on you'll find the recording on the Ministry of Testing Dojo.
Of course, not everything went as planned and I think there are several things to improve on (like learning how to ignore cameras). However, all the feedback and tweets about my talk really made my day; especially the following from two of the most awesome testers and speakers I know of - still can't believe it!

My Personal Highlights

There were many awesome talks and sessions, but the following impressed me the most. 

Last But Not Least: The People

You already heard me say it several times, and I mean it: In the end, it's all about the people. The people make this great community. And the community makes events like TestBash great. Therefore: A big shout-out and thank you to everyone who is part of it. And if you're feeling you're not part of it yet - please don't hesitate to ping me on Twitter. And if you're not on Twitter yet, I'd really recommend you to create an account instantly! Twitter helped me enter the community! :-) 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

SwanseaCon and My First Conference Talk Ever

Let me share some of my adventures at and around SwanseaCon 2017 where I had the honor to give my first conference talk ever.

Before SwanseaCon, or: Off to Swansea!

February this year I was invited by Viv Richards to submit papers for SwanseaCon. SwanseaCon? To be honest, I've never heard of it before. During my research I found that it's an "Agile Development and Software Craftsmanship" conference in South Wales. I was honored to be asked to submit to a developer conference! Judging from the past years, it sounded really interesting - so I did submit. Only a few weeks later, Viv came back to me with the great news that I've been selected! That was the beginning of a great adventure to the north of Europe.

When planning my trip from Munich to Swansea, I decided to fly to Cardiff directly, which would mean to travel a few days earlier on Friday evening. This decision proved really valuable! First of all, I was excited enough already about the conference and my upcoming first talk without the
additional time pressure.
After arriving in Wales, the way from Cardiff airport to Swansea was not completely obvious for me, despite previous research on the internet. However, it was made easy for me as I met some great people on my way, traveling to Swansea together. The next day, I enjoyed a lovely sunny Saturday to discover not only Swansea's city center, but also the nice district Mumbles with Oystermouth Castle and some great ice cream at Joey's. Really recommended!
On Sunday my plan was to practice my talk again and maybe do some final adjustments, but well, the nature of plans is that things can easily go differently than we planned. In my case, I discovered that the travel adapter I brought with me did flawlessly charge my mobile phone, but didn't fit to my laptop cable! My bad. I had prepared well to avoid such incidents, but this one I had not tested out before. Lesson learned for the next travel to a country with a different socket type. So I asked at the hotel if they have any adapter available - and yay! They could provide one that fitted my cable. But: My laptop did not charge. :( So instead of practicing my talk or relaxing, I ran around Swansea to find any other travel adapter which might possibly fit my laptop cable. Lucky me - the fourth adapter finally fit AND charged my laptop. Phew! Well, I knew that Viv would have gladly supported me, but I was eager to try solve my self-induced problem myself before bothering him as I knew he had a lot to prepare for the conference.

On Sunday evening I had the chance to meet up with some early arrivals for the conference. That meant Viv himself (a pleasure to finally meet him!), Richard Bradshaw (whom I met in his tutorial at Agile Testing Days 2016 already), Carly Dyson (whom I only briefly knew from Twitter and had spoken at Nordic Testing Days) and Georgina McFadyen (whom I had not yet met and who was about to do her second conference talk at SwanseaCon). A lovely group to start with! As an introvert I was happy to get to know some friendly faces upfront to the conference, which instantly made me feel so much more relaxed. Ready for the conference to start!


During SwanseaCon

Conference Day 1 - Diving In

The conference took place at Liberty Stadium in Swansea. A nice venue! We were greeted with tea, coffee and cookies. The two session rooms were quite large and showed a friendly cabaret setup, having people group around round tables. All the sessions I attended were really great, each session in its own way. However, in the following I will only list my personal highlights of each day.
  • Let the conference begin! After a warm welcome and some introductory words by Viv, Sander Hoogendoorn kicked it off with his opening keynote "It's a small world after all". A great talk about how quickly time is changing and how everything is becoming smaller and faster. I especially loved the idea of "continuous culture".
  • In her talk "Don't Diss the Discipline", Georgina McFadyen shared her stories about how her company changed from waterfall to agile, and from being professional software developers who did their job, to software craftsmen who really cared about the product they were creating, about its quality and its value to the ones using it. Awesome experience report, I really loved her stories and presentation!
  • Seb Rose of Cucumber shared "10 things you need to know about BDD, Cucumber and SpecFlow". There were several misconceptions to be addressed and clarified! Though not everything was new to me, he did a well-rounded talk covering many essential topics around BDD and the core concepts or benefits of it. Great job!
The first day ended with some snacks and drinks, a nice socializing and networking opportunity to share and discuss our thoughts about what we heard with other people. Right afterwards several attendees decided to join a special meetup in town, where several of the conference speakers or attendees had the chance to give a lightning talk about any topic; prepared or unprepared. It was simply awesome! Many valuable insights given in short time. Nice way to close a conference day.

Conference Day 2 - My First Talk and Other Highlights

My talk was scheduled first in the morning, so I had the task to kick off the second day. In the beginning, not so many people had entered the room yet, but they grew more and more over time. And they were a lovely audience! In retrospect, when reviewing the received feedback and reflecting on what could be improved, I have to admit that it went really well, especially for my first conference talk ever. The dress rehearsals at my company and at local meetups really paid off (also regarding my level of nervousness). I forgot to mention some points (as always) and noticed some things I should work on (like me posture). But overall I cannot complain, it was a great experience! By the way, my slides are now publicly available.
The rest of the morning I attended further great sessions, but found myself not being able to focus on them as they would have deserved it. I got distracted by thoughts about this scary thing I've just done - public speaking, at a conference. I still catch myself wondering if this story really became true after all.

After a while, my focus was back; just in time to enjoy the following most awesome talks.
  • We had the honor to listen to professor Dave Snowden from Bangor University, the creator of the Cynefin framework. He gave his very insightful talk "Making Agile safe again: resisting the Borg" without any slides - just once using a whiteboard. Really impressive!
  • Afterwards, I heavily enjoyed columnist and author Kevlin Henney's talk about "Turning Development Outside–In". Such a great and entertaining presenter! He took us on a lively history of how development processes evolved and how we have to look closely for whom we are doing all the things we do and why.
  • Another talk I really enjoyed was "The Domain-Driven Coding Architect" by Nick Tune. Great storytelling of his lessons learned while finding out how to properly (!) read the DDD book written by Eric Evans! :D
  • The conference was concluded by Sallyann Freudenberg and her talk "The trouble with culture", talking about neurodiversity and how teams benefit from it. What an awesome closing keynote about a really important topic everyone should learn about! And definitely lots of food for thought.

After SwanseaCon Is Before SwanseaCon?

After the second day, most people went home directly. I took this chance to review the #SwanseaCon twitter stream, see what people shared about the talks I missed. So many great sessions! Even for a two-track conference it was really hard to choose between all those great speakers and topics. A pity that not all sessions had been recorded, but sometimes it's also the charm of a conference that you had to be there to experience them. Only there you can feel the whole atmosphere - and especially connect with people. You can't do that when watching a recording alone at home. I did connect with several people at this conference and am already curious what they will be up to next.

The trouble or sad news: This might have been the last SwanseaCon. Believe it or not, Viv does all that work on his own. The organization was awesome and his support outstanding, in any way. He engaged family and friends to help and everything went so smoothly and professionally. Still: There's lots of money included when you organize a community conference by your own. A conference which supports speakers with travel and accommodation costs, but still comes with very affordable prices for attendees. If no one buys a ticket - you basically lost a lot of money. As attendance on this third edition of SwanseaCon was worse than last years, and there's so much work and blood and sweat and money in it - he understandably considers not repeating it. Especially as this man volunteers with so many other great things for the local community already, while working a full-time job and having a family with soon to be five kids! All my respect goes to him.

What I loved about this special conference was the speaker and topic selection itself. Because in the end, it's all about the people. I you have a chance to come to Swansea, I really recommend this event. Would love to return to this wonderful conference where so many great people met to learn together.
"Having attended a fair few technical conferences, it felt refreshing and important to be part of something a little softer. Software development is about community, communication and culture, and SwanseaCon scored top marks on all three." - Thomas GuestSwanseaCon 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Long Story Cut Short - The Importance of Pausing to Think

Today was the day. My team released a huge epic introducing major changes in our application. Normally, we release many changes during our daily release slot. However, this release was unusual in itself, and it taught us a bunch of important lessons.

We started working on the epic on July, 11. As we had discussed the topic several times before, the whole team felt that we had a shared understanding and were ready to go for it. During the first two weeks only one developer focused on the topic, and gained first insights on how complex it actually was. He raised the issues he was facing and called for support, especially as delivering this epic was our highest priority. We decided to have the whole team step in and share the work load. We still highly underestimated how far this would go - or rather, how far we would let this go.

The whole team, meaning five developers, our product owner, our agile coach, and me as tester delved into the topic. And together, we gave birth to a monster. With every little change the whole solution got more and more confusing. It was incredibly hard to figure out what was expected and what was unexpected behavior, and especially how we would ever be able to understand our implementation in the future again. And by "future" I mean half an hour later. Everybody was having a hard time. Nobody was happy with what we did. The amount of curses increased rapidly. We all felt we would soon go insane. One teammate even suffered from nightmares and sleepless nights. We are really not proud of this tragedy, but this should give you a pretty good idea of what was going on.

Desperately, we discussed again and again if there would not possibly be any other way to fulfill the business need but also enable ourselves to keep our application maintainable, extendable, and last but not least testable. However, our discussions turned in circles. So we pressed on with implementing the epic, eager to get to a minimum viable version for which our product owner would let our users access our test system to get their feedback.

The fun fact - or rather really sad truth: As soon as we were ready to start the user acceptance test, one developer took the time to create a completely new prototype, based on a totally different assumption. And after only half a day, on August 30, he was ready to share his new approach with the team, to have them challenge it and find flaws in his thinking. We were stunned by his simple approach. We raised some questions, but couldn't find any reason why not to go with it. By only doing one thing differently, everything else became a lot less complex. Comprehensible. Consistent. Doable. With way less effort and way less changes in our application. What he did? He threw a convention over board which everybody had considered as a fixed precondition. You know, as soon as you have to handle x, everybody strongly recommends to do y to avoid problems. We had never challenged this assumption we had in our heads, all of us had accepted it as a given. But in the middle of implementation, it turned out that this convention made everything really bad for us. Neglecting the convention instead was fitting way better in our context, from business perspective as well as technical point of view.

Shame on us that we had to go such a long and winding road of learning how not to do it. Nobody had put pressure on us but ourselves, not our product owner, not our agile coach, not our stakeholders. We ourselves were driven by the thought that we have to get this done and finished as soon as possible, making us pressing forward without taking time to actually think and experiment early. The team even "temporarily" discarded our rule to stop starting and start finishing, meaning that all developers continued to start working on new topics before former ones had been completed. Unsurprisingly, this created lots of bottlenecks and context switching, making the whole situation even worse. And as soon as one of us felt we have a bit of time to breathe again - he found the clean solution.

To cut a long story short: within a few minutes of discussion, we wholeheartedly threw away our first implementation on which we had worked for nearly two months by common consent, in favor of this new and easy approach which we in the end fully implemented within about one week. After going through all this, we couldn't but ask ourselves in retrospect how this could have happened and why by all means it took us so long to challenge our assumptions, learn, experiment, and see the solution. But in the end we did learn the following.

Conventions are recommendations but not carved in stone; they might not apply or be a good fit in your context. Think outside the box (that you might have created for yourselves) and experiment early with different approaches. Don't get so busy that you cannot pause, breathe, and think. And last but not least: Don't be afraid to kill your baby, especially if it turns out to be a monster.

Bonus read: By coincidence or not, when thinking about publishing this story I came across the post On Real Options and Speculative Investments by Liz Keogh which nicely reflects many facets of our story. Besides the fact that I really relate to the core messages, it's a highly recommended read.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thoughts about Awesomeness

To be frank, I hesitated to write this post. I still wrote it because I think it is an important topic. I feel the need to document my current thoughts for my future self and to share them as a basis for discussion. The following reflects my non-expert, non-scientific impression of things. My personal thoughts of today will evolve as I learn more. This post got quite long, but please bear with me and read to the end.

At Agile Testing Days 2016 a Women in Agile Summit was hosted. To be honest, when I read about it, I was taken aback at first. Why would a women event be needed? Why excluding men and everyone who's not comfortable with this binary classification? I felt that making something gender-specific was not the right approach. I am not considering people for their gender first. We're all humans, right? We're having many different identities. In the end, we're all individuals. So I'd rather strive for equal chances than supporting women over others just because they're women; strive for diversity in all means, not only gender. It simply didn't feel right. It still doesn't feel right. But I might be thinking a bit too naive about the topic. Back then I finally decided: Well, I am a woman, I'm working in an agile environment, so I should attend this event and check out what it's all about.

At the summit, I joined a lean coffee session with several women coming from South Eastern Europe and Germany. We exchanged our experiences regarding gender issues at our work places. The German women saw things just about like me: well, there's no real problem anymore. If a few more women would join our teams, that would be great. To attract them, maybe we could advertise more that we're having an open and safe work environment. Right, and there's probably still a salary gap, but it appears to be closing more and more. Besides that, we didn't encounter discrimination due to our gender yet - well, at times some positive discrimination. But so far so good, we're getting there.

And then we heard the women coming from South Eastern Europe, telling us way different stories. Stories of women having to justify constantly why they are having a "man's job". Tales of women who learned that they had to show bossy behavior to get accepted by their male colleagues, and of others having to use their charms to survive in tech. Those women reported about struggles which never occurred to me. Naive me, to be sure. So, slowly but steady I realized that this topic is not at all out of date yet. For another view point I recommend reading Maaret's wonderful blog post about the summit. Personally, this event triggered me to be more aware of the topic.

The next thing that surprised me came early this year. I had submitted papers for Agile Testing Days 2017, so I followed their news about the submissions. When the call for papers statistics were published, I was really surprised.
29% of papers had been submitted by women speakers. One of my colleagues was positively surprised how high the percentage was. I, however, was rather disappointed; I would have expected that figure to be way higher. I mean, it was not about getting accepted at the conference, it was only about submitting. Why would less women submit? Does this only reflect that there really are way less women in tech overall? Or is there another reason?

Nowadays, again lots of discussions are going on regarding women in tech, minorities in tech, anyone in tech. Probably the most prominent example right now is the manifesto of a male engineer internally published at Google. I won't address the topic here, it has been discussed at length already.

Instead, I'd like to share another story with you. End of July, Ashley Hunsberger raised awareness of the following post.
It was quite commonly agreed that this kind of list rather served as marketing campaign than represented reality. On the one hand there were more women experts in test automation to be named and on the other hand same listed men seem to not match the profile at all. When people started to list further women, I found myself named as automation expert as well. Not my biggest strength, but people even started to follow me due to the mere fact I was added to the pool!
Shortly before that tweet, I had the honor to be invited to the Women in Testing Skype/Slack group, a group from and for women in the testing community (if you want to join, I can invite you, just send me a direct message via Twitter). As a reaction to above post, Anne-Marie Charrett came up with the idea to create our own list of awesomeness. The intention? Show the world that there are way more women in testing that could have been on a list. Way more that could get invited to speak at a tech conference. Way more to follow and get to know. And even way more who are not so publicly visible but worth being public.

Within very short time, we had a document with over 100 names on it. I could only contribute marginally myself; however, I was feeling so honored when realizing someone added me to the list as well. Even while creating this compilation of awesome testers, we felt how great it is to see who else is out there and which topics they're into so everybody could reach out to them more easily. We wanted to get this list out to the public. Agile Testing Days agreed to support and published the list on their blog.

The blog post leaked a few days before official publication date, and the reception was already overly positive and welcoming. I was even asked whether we also had a related Twitter list. Great idea! So we created it: https://twitter.com/lisihocke/lists/awesometesters Unfortunately not all women named have a Twitter account, but most of them do. The list is still growing as the Women in Testing working party is still adding to it. So look out for an updated version!
Side note: I would love to have gender, ethnic groups, educational backgrounds, or anything to be ignored and have a real diverse list of awesome testers compiled. The mere need of an all women list sticks in my craw. However, I found that sometimes support is needed to increase transparency and to point out issues. Also regarding my own biases. Just compiling this new Twitter list made me realize its difference to a personal Twitter list of awesome testers I created a while ago. Judging from the 70 testers I listed, I was aware of way more men (47) than women (23) in testing myself. I'll definitely have to add more women there as well. Well, every list is wrong in some way. Still, we can use them as a starting point and as a basis to trigger discussions.

In the end - there is no end to the topic yet. In my company, we have many awesome women. We also have many awesome men. We have colleagues from many different countries and cultures. I think (and hope) they had not been hired because of their gender or identity, but simply because they are awesome. Maybe we're still too similar when it comes to our education or work background in order to gain from actual diversity - worth finding out. Also, I'd like to further encourage hiring less for skills but rather for learning mindset and team spirit. Everyone deserves a chance to show that they are awesome in many different ways, and they deserve your support to grow their awesomeness.