A job you enjoy..smug

This job at smug mug inspired me to write this post as it sums up one of those great opportunities to relate your day-to-day job (and your skills) to a passion you may have, as well as joining a company that seem to be making big changes to the way photographers get their work out (and get paid for it).

I often hear testers say that they hate testing but I believe this strong statement is more about the job they have, than the work that a tester does.

There are numerous factors at play in any role, but I believe one of the biggest factors to affect your work is the product that you test.

The job at smug mug is interesting because I found it through my photography network on google plus. If you have an interest in photography it sounds like a good job. You get to test  a platform for showcasing photography. You get to test a community site based around the love of photography. You get to test a platform that is changing the way photography is managed, distributed and paid for. You get to work with other people who have a love of photography. If you enjoy photography this role sounds perfect. If you don’t enjoy photography then it probably doesn’t sound too interesting.

In fact, in order to do the role well you probably need to know more than most about photography to ensure that the terminology used, the technical details about each photo and the process flow that photographers go through is accurate. Sure, there may be specs, but I suspect you will add more if you have experience and knowledge of photography.

If you like cars wouldn’t a job testing car sites or car apps or on board car software be interesting?

If you like writing wouldn’t a job testing writing software or a platform for writer’s to collaborate be good to work on?

I’m not saying testing can only be interesting if we are working on a product that is related to our interests. We can also find enjoyment testing products that we can relate to. I enjoy testing call centre software because I can relate to it. I’ve enjoyed testing anti virus products because I can relate to this also. I enjoyed testing online voting because I can relate to it. I didn’t enjoy testing banking payments and settlements because I can’t relate to it and found it overly complicated. Each to their own. What I can relate to, others may not find interesting at all.

The product under test isn’t the only aspect of an enjoyable role for sure (culture, management, autonomy, team, office space etc), but I firmly believe that we enjoy our testing more, and can explore the limits of our own skills, if we have some connection and affinity to the software we are testing.

If you’re not enjoying testing could it be that you don’t have a connection to the product you are testing? If so, what could you do about it?

P.S

Do you really enjoying testing a product you can’t relate to or have no interest in? Let me know.

A conference story

Across the world there were similar journeys taking place.

Delegates are boarding planes, trains and automobiles to attend a European conference in the wonderful city of Amsterdam. For some this journey is short. For others it’s epic.

Some delegates would be travelling on their own. Others would be travelling with people they know; colleagues, friends, peers or family.

For the first time conference attendee the journey can be daunting and nerves can start to form around what to expect.

Some journeys go better than others.

In England one conference delegate is flying from a small city airport in a tired looking Bombardier Q400.

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The noise on-board is deafening, the coffee cold and the seats cramped. Despite these downsides the delegate can’t help but notice that the flight staff are welcoming, well trained and during the safety overview, incredibly well synchronised. He notices the menu in the seat-back and does some impromptu testing of the contents. The first obvious bug he spots is the use of the word “gourmet” to describe the microwaved cheese toastie.

Those who often attend testing conferences are somewhat obsessed. Testing isn’t just a career – it’s a calling (or a lucrative business). It’s something they’ve been doing their whole lives. Some might call this devotion to it strange, weird or sad. Others just see it as a way of life.

Over the Atlantic ocean is one of the conference speakers, asleep on a Virgin Atlantic jet. His journey started several hours ago. It won’t end for a few more hours yet. Tiredness is inevitable.

In Amsterdam there are already a large group of delegates descending on the city’s hotels, hostels, rentals and flats. Pockets of testers are occupying three or four of the main hotels. Many don’t know each other and are destined to spend the rest of their stay oblivious to the fact that the person next to them at dinner is a tester and attending the same conference.

All of the delegates share something in common; testing. They may approach the subject differently. They may oppose each others views. They may dislike each others personalities, but they all have a common thread to at least start a conversation. Yet many won’t. Many will spend the entire time alone. Some may enjoy this, others will inevitably feel isolated.

Some delegates arrive on the Monday, others wont turn up until the start of the presentations on Tuesday. The Twitter stream starts to fill with people discussing meet-ups, comments on the tutorials already taking place and general banter about the event.

Chat sessions fire up, text messages are sent and tweets are broadcast to arrange meals, drinks and gatherings. Many of these people are meeting others in the flesh for the first time. Relationships on social channels have paved the way for a seamless ability to meet-up in person. The hard work is done. The relationships can flourish further in person, or dwindle away at the realisation that online personas don’t always match reality.

As the evening comes around small groups of Testers are travelling to bars, hotels and restaurants to catch up and relax before the conference starts.

In an Indonesian restaurant in the city centre, a group of testers are gathered around vast quantities of food and beer. Conversations are flowing about testing, life and work. People are getting to know new people or are refreshing relationships with people they met at other conferences. As more beer flows the conversations become more lucid and discussions about the state of testing inevitably crop up.

As this particular group discuss certification schemes, standardisation and best practices, in the context of them destroying the industry, it is oblivious to them that across town, in a posh hotel where Heineken is served in impossibly tall glasses, there is another group of testers talking about how context doesn’t matter and best practices are what the testing world needs.

Just down the road in a small bistro is a group of well funded testers talking about how maturity models are the future for their giant consulting business. They are busy putting the final touches to new methods of quantifying the true value of testing to an organisation.

Across Amsterdam that evening there are many tribes of testers discussing testing. Some with polar opposite views, some in perfect alignment and some who are too tired, or drunk, to talk about testing. In hotel lobbies and rooms across Amsterdam there are also testers with no-one to talk to.

As Tuesday afternoon spins around the conference centre starts to get busy. In the corner is a tester filming the queues forming using a time delay app on his iPad. Upstairs are testers sitting around talking about strategies for handling regression testing and exploratory testing. Meetings are happening and discussions are flowing.

Many testers are pacing around the venue embroiled in conversations to someone on the other end of a phone call. Are they conducting business? Speaking to relatives? Pretending to speak to someone to look important?

In the Test Lab the lab rats are getting ready for people to do some testing at the conference – a concept that is alien to some delegates.

In the expo centre are salespeople and demonstrators trying to draw attention to their products, services and goods. Some are doing better than others. Some are more involved than others.

For some of the vendor representative it is their 20th conference this year. Some of the vendor reps haven’t been home for the last 8 months, their life is a constant cycle of conferences.

Throughout the event some presentations go to plan, some of the speakers don’t quite communicate their intended message well and some experience a few technical glitches.

Some talks are funny and insightful, others masked in terminology and concepts that aren’t appealing to everyone. Some are about systems, some about space rockets, some about video games and some about standards.

There’s a talk for everyone. Many delegates are complaining that there is too much to see and they are having to make tough decisions on which talk to get to. Some consider that struggle to decide the marker of an excellent conference.

This year sees a real sense of community and involvement. The community hub took a day to get going. But on the last day was well attended with delegates wanting to listen to lightning talks, chat to new people and contribute their views and ideas to the Testa Mappa.

It’s in the community hub that delegates get to talk to the speakers and other attendees in a welcoming and safe environment. Many delegates are changing their mind about the presentation after discussing the topic further with others. Many speakers are learning a lot about themselves, their presentations and their ability to communicate their core message.

Throughout the event there are many smaller and much more focussed meetings happening, some private and by invite only, some open to a wider audience. There is business happening, friendships being made, social connections starting and also ending.

As the conference comes to a close the delegates, speakers, organisers and vendors travel home, many leaving with new friends and connections. Many will return home to families, friends and colleagues more tired than they thought they would be. Conferences take their toll both physically and emotionally. The challenge for many will be filtering and putting in to action many of the interesting ideas they took away from the conference.

The challenge for some will be working out how they can talk to more people next time and how they can ensure they are invited to the many social gatherings that are happening.

For many though the conference didn’t end when the doors closed and they travelled home; the conference continued on the social channels for many more months. And that is often the real marker of a successful conference.

(I wrote this short observational story at EuroSTAR 2012 last year. It was a great conference and this years looks like it will another great conference too – see you there hopefully.)

Using Videos to demo

For the last few sprints we’ve been demonstrating our user stories (i.e. completed work) using the medium of video. It’s been really interesting to see how the teams have moved to video with ease.

The videos are often hilarious, some featuring more tech wizardry than others but all of them a great show of creativity.

I tweeted about this a while back and a couple of people asked why we would go to the effort of creating videos to show our features. Well here’s some reasons:

The demonstration were choppy during switch overs as teams had to sign in, get the system to the right state to show the new work and articulate clearly the story to the audience.

All demonstrations are at the mercy of the demo Gods. Sometimes they work, sometimes they fail – even though they may have been working just moments before (mostly it was due to logging in to the wrong accounts, dialling the wrong number, slower connection in the meeting room, nerves, data now in the wrong state after practicing the demo). We now simply line up each video and play them one at a time pausing for questions in between.

If you miss the demo you miss the demo. So for those that can’t make it to the meeting they don’t get to see the demo of the product. Videos let us post them somewhere central for the business to view at their leisure.

Also, as we move forward we will be starting to add the video demos to a central source when the feature is actually finished, which could be just a day in to the sprint. As we release to live weekly when we demo the feature to the wider business it may already have gone live. With regular release comes a new set of communication challenges! This allows the business to see the features as they become available, not just in one big chunk at the end of the sprint.

So the videos have helped this greatly. They have also been a great laugh to create and they are brining out the creative juices in the team. Not only are they experimenting with new video techniques but they are also working hard to communicate the right messages to the right audience, which is a great skill to have.

The only constraint we’ve currently set is that the videos shouldn’t take more than one hour to make. Ideally they will take just 30 mins or less, but some of the features are tricky to explain. We’ll see how it goes. Like most things here we are constantly tweaking and optimising.

Ha ha – told you so

Quite often I hear presentations and discussions from testers who talk about those moments when they feel it appropriate to say “Ha Ha, Told You So”.

You know? Those moments when the testers advice was ignored and it all went pear shaped. Or the time a tester said the company should be testing earlier, only to find a boat load of bugs too late in the day.

Over the years I’ve heard loads of people saying “ha ha – told you so”.

Sure it’s gone pear shaped, but it’s often at these times that you are needed the most; when your skills and ability are required by the business to get software out of the door.

If all you have to say at times like this is “ha ha, told you so” then you will appear petty, annoying and arrogant.

We shouldn’t be offending people and making them resentful because a decision was made that frustrated us. We need to step up and take ownership. Step up and contribute. Step up and make a difference.

At a conference a few years back a tester was presenting on how happy she felt when the project crashed and burned because they had ignored her advice. The crowd were joining in talking about “wiping the smug look off the developer’s face” and saying things like “at their peril will they ignore the tester”. It’s poisonous, unhelpful and downright ridiculous to think like that. (I was in the minority in the room btw – I walked out with a few others who found that session just too much).

So when you hear a tester shout “ha ha told you so” as a project takes a downward spiral, offer them some constructive feedback and ask for their support. Motivate them to act, not gloat in the destruction. How is that negativity going to help the business release good software.

Releasing software is a team effort. And tester’s are a part of that team.