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Monday, September 10, 2018

Ridin' Along, Singin' a Song - A Memoir of Friendship (Part 2)

Somewhere in Monument Valley

Jerry and I took our first road trip together in November of 2007. He’d been forced by emergency surgery to miss the previous year’s AYE conference, and I went to visit him for a few days in March 2007 while he was still recovering. Though he’d been writing fiction, it was harder for him than non-fiction, and Jerry was taking a break from it.
Playing with Caro

We spent the week as writing buddies. Jerry was writing “Perfect Software” and I was working on a long piece about end-to-end system integration testing. We’d write each morning in our respective solitudes, have lunch together at the Weinberg house, then read, review and discuss each other’s work in the afternoon. In late afternoon we’d go to wonderful places, like the Bosque Wildlife Reserve, or the Rattlesnake Museum. And we played with the dogs.

Looking up water birds at the Bosque

By then we knew each other pretty well. We’d met at PSL in 2001 and at AYE conferences from 2003, and I’d been in the SHAPE Forum and his Consulting Skills workshop. Jerry had mentored me through the whitewater rapids of my work on several troubled projects, and we had an extensive email correspondence covering a vast range of topics. He’d reviewed article drafts for me, and I’d reviewed drafts of his first novel and some of his other fiction.

At the end of the visit, I made Jerry an offer. I knew he had always driven to Phoenix for AYE and would be determined to drive as usual that November. After what he’d been through, I was worried about him doing that drive alone, and I suspected Dani would also be concerned. We’d had an easy companionship over the course of my visit and we’d never stopped talking. I thought Jerry and I could enjoy a road trip together, so I offered to drive with him to the next AYE. Knowing Jerry, I put it on a business basis: suggesting that I’d do the drive in exchange for payment of my expenses on the way. “Humph”, said Jerry. “We’ll see”. I flew home; we emailed as usual, and continued reviewing.

Next thing I knew, it was a done deal. Not only were we doing the drive together, but Jerry suggested that we should make a little vacation of it. Instead of driving the 400 miles in a day, we’d explore some of the glories of the Southwest, taking 4 days to get to Phoenix and 4 days back by a different route. He started planning a tour.

I hadn’t driven a car with a manual shift in years, so I took a couple of lessons to brush up. We exchanged emails about what music we’d listen to in the car and I pulled together a batch of CDs.

We never listened to a single one. What do you think happens when you put two people-who-never-shut-up in a car together for days on end? We talked endlessly. About everything.

We shared a love of road trips and of driving, of dogs, of Baroque music and Mozart, of natural wonders and of native ruins. We both liked back roads and country diners and trading posts. We had a similar (okay, sometimes awful) sense of humour. Our driving styles were compatible—fast, but not outrageously so. It was the first major outing for Jerry's new Jeep (and I got chocolate on the passenger seat). At first, Jerry wanted to do most of the driving, but he gradually relinquished control and l drove more and more.

Sometimes we played word games or sang silly songs neither of us really knew the words to:

Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny

But we’re ridin’ along, singin’ a song
Side by side

Off-road on the Mogollon Rim
 Every day we went to fabulous places. I took too many photographs. Sometimes we took a short hike. One splendid day we went off-road for miles along the Mogollon Rim. Jerry’s son Keats went to AYE that year, and on the way back we met him and his family to explore the native ruins at Walnut Canyon and then got together again at the Grand Canyon South Rim. Last stop was Chaco Canyon.

Evenings were for quiet time. We’d have an early dinner, then retire to our respective motel rooms for some much-needed solitude, emails and other introverted computer stuff.

Did I mention that we had a lot of fun?

It was a pattern we were to repeat, with variations, for 3 more road trips to AYE. (But I never again bothered to bring CDs.)

Jerry climbed steadily straight up that stair. I had to take a breather.

Reading tourist info aloud at Chaco Canyon

To be continued. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Problem-solving in the Wilderness - A Memoir of Friendship (Part 1)

"In these times of wonderful revolution, and incalculable & sudden changes in the fate of empires and the fortunes of individuals, the only good things of which we can feel absolutely secure are the possession of our minds, & of the esteem & affection of our friends."
 -Maria Edgeworth to Etienne Dumont, 12 August 1815.

Tent Rocks, New Mexico

In June 2009 I flew to Albuquerque for Jerry Weinberg and Esther Derby’s class in experiential session design. I landed a couple of days early, partly because I’d flown from England and needed to deal with jet lag, and partly to spend a little pre-arranged time with Jerry.

On the morning of June 20th we had planned to drive to Tent Rocks, a national monument with bizarre and wonderful rock formations. But it was raining, and threatening more rain. Jerry said the canyons could be dangerous and he wanted to see if it cleared before we went.

The sun shone bright after lunch, so we drove to Tent Rocks and set out on a loop hike into the canyon. A  light rain started again almost immediately. We walked for a while, but there were some very narrow passages with high sides—okay to walk through usually, but they’d be traps in a flash flood. And there were several tiny canyons running down the mountains, and feeding into our canyon on either side. We met a lot of people coming in the opposite direction and one of them said there was a storm coming over the ridge. Jerry said the biggest danger is rain above you, which can suddenly turn to flash floods several feet deep rushing down the canyons, and it wouldn't do for us to be in a place where we couldn't climb to higher ground quickly. He couldn’t do anything like that quickly, so we stopped and went back. Of course the rain stopped too, once we were almost back at the start. 

Jerry leading the way in the canyon
Feeling a little cheated and still in the mood for an excursion, we didn’t want to drive back tamely the way we’d come. The good gravel road we’d entered the park on continued past the hiking trails, so Jerry thought we could drive on through and come home that way. We met a ranger who said he thought the road would be ok. He told me the Navajo name for the place and got me to say it a couple of times.

The really good road!
At first the road was indeed excellent gravel, but it soon turned to rocks and dirt and Jerry put the Jeep into 4-wheel drive. It became an adventure drive like a couple we’d done together before: happily jolting along on a "primitive" road without a map. Jerry adored difficult drives and the scenery was glorious. There were good bits of road, and then bad. Some of it was extremely challenging, with deep cracks and potholes and large rocks. A fallen tree partly blocked the way at one point. For a while, we drove alongside a sharp drop off a steep cliff.

After some time, the road became less definite. It was harder and harder to tell if the faint track we were following was road at all, or if we'd missed the way when it branched. We knew that homeward bound had to be downhill out of the mountains, but we kept climbing steadily. As Jerry drove carefully on through the forest of thinly spaced trees, I watched out the windows for any tracks that looked as if they might possibly be roads.

Eventually we had to acknowledge that we’d reached a point where there really was no road in any direction. We hadn't met a soul or seen a car since talking to the ranger, and apart from very occasional horse poo and a single soft drink can, there’d been no signs of civilization whatever. With only two or three hours to sunset, we were getting a bit concerned.

We stopped to consider our state and our options. We were out of cell phone range. We didn’t have a compass. We weren’t in any present danger, but driving a rough track near cliffs after dark would be risky and foolish. Whatever we did, we might not make it out of the woods before dark.

We devised a contingency plan. There was plenty of bottled water in the back of the Jeep and a somewhat grubby cotton quilt. We had a few hard candies. If we were forced to sleep in the vehicle, we could keep warm and hydrated. In that eventuality, Jerry would try before dark to place the bright red Jeep somewhere where it could be seen from below if anyone came looking for us.

Obviously, spending the night in the wilderness had nothing to recommend it but possible necessity. Jerry was most anxious that Dani wouldn’t know where we were. An incorrigible urbanite, I was anxious at being lost in the woods and I was also worried about Jerry, aware that he was in pain and not feeling his best. We needed to make a decision and get moving.

Jerry never liked backtracking. On any of our road trips I could never convince him we should go back to the diner or motel we’d just passed. However hungry we were, however late in the day, he always wanted to press on in the certain (though rarely realized) hope that we’d happen on another, better one just down the road.

This time going back seemed the only prudent thing to do. So we agreed to turn around—not easy in that space—and try to retrace our tracks. Jerry had to drive. He was tired and unwell but he was an experienced, skilled off-road driver. I’d driven the Jeep on challenging mountain roads, but I’d never driven off road nor in 4-wheel drive—and I had the better eyesight.

At first we stopped frequently for me to squat down and scan the dry ground closely for something resembling our tire tracks. I continued peering intently out the open window as they became clearer. It was a considerable relief when we finally knew we were on the right track back to the park. Once, we came to a road going in the other direction that Jerry said his instincts told him would take us down the mountain and out. We did discuss taking it, but agreed it was better to go for a sure thing at that point. Arriving at the park gates just before dusk, we saw 5 mule deer silhouetted against the sky and several jackrabbits on the hill. On the road, the sunset and the light on the mountains were gorgeous and when we were back in town and looking for a restaurant I spotted a coyote. 

Dinner was BBQ, of course.

Back in my B&B that evening, I reflected gratefully that despite all that mutual anxiety we hadn’t wasted energy on tetchiness, but had unhesitatingly moved into total problem-solving mode, discussing our options calmly and making decisions together with humour and mutual respect and trust. I wasn’t about to recommend getting lost in the wilds of New Mexico to anyone, but I couldn't think of many people I'd have trusted or felt as safe with in similar circumstances.

Jerry called that afternoon “our experiential problem-solving exercise”—a prelude to the week’s class in experiential session design.

The day had ended well, but I decided that I wouldn’t go off-road again with Jerry unless I could confidently take over and drive us away if he became ill. So I demanded that he teach me. Jerry harrumphed and said “perhaps”, but on our next road trip he directed me into a relatively easy off-road stretch and talked me through the rudiments. Later, we took a rough back way into Chaco Canyon and I got more practice. I completely got the allure. In 4-wheel drive on tough terrain, the Jeep felt like nothing I’d ever driven and I loved it.

After Jerry’s death, I read a blog post suggesting that he had somehow lacked the capacity for friendship. Gobsmacked, I thought, “Well, that was your experience. It was certainly not mine, and I’m sure it wasn’t the experience of many others.” Au contraire, Jerry had an extraordinary capacity for friendship. I know of many people who loved him and rightly called him friend, and there are many more I don't know. That love wasn't one-sided. He had an unusually large number of real friends: deep friendships of the heart and mind. Many of us began with Jerry’s books, workshops or mentorship. Each unique friendship grew in its own way and through its own interactions.

To be continued. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

How to Evaluate a Workshop

[Reformatted and revised slightly from my original post on the EuroSTAR blog.]

Why I prefer the workshop format

In the course of a typical year I speak and present about a dozen times at conferences, meet-ups and client sites. My preferred mode of presentation for most topics is a highly interactive workshop; I enjoy the interactions with my students and I always learn from them. Of course, workshops aren’t the only way to learn. For some topics they may not be the best way, but for many, a workshop can provide a deeper and more memorable learning experience than a lecture-style class like the ones we all endured at school.

There are always people who sign up for a workshop without understanding what to expect. Most participants dive in happily and enjoy the experience of working with, and learning from, their peers. But some feel cheated because they thought they were coming to acquire knowledge from an expert and there was no presentation to listen to. Where possible, I try to steer these attendees to alternative sessions that are a better fit for the way they prefer to learn.

In the subjects I teach there are no indisputable answers, no solutions that will apply to all contexts. That’s why I design workshops with opportunities for participants to explore the important areas of a subject and discover ways to arrive at answers that they can use in their own contexts.

So if you come to one of my workshops, what should you expect? How should you evaluate the workshop when it’s over?

What to expect at one of my workshops

I see a workshop as a collaborative effort. My role as the “presenter” is not to deliver material to passive learners, but rather to structure and facilitate experiences where everyone in the room has the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas and to learn new things.

You and the other students are active participants in the learning process with me. Interaction is central to the workshop model, as is the expectation that everyone has something valuable to contribute.  While we won’t quite be peers in the workshop operation—since I will be there as the person who designs and leads the session—some of the participants may well be my peers in knowledge or experience. They come to learn about the workshop topic, but they don’t expect all the learning to come from me as the leader. Instead, they expect to join with me in exploration, discovering new things (as well as reinforcing some old ones) that come out of the interactions I have designed and will guide.

Evaluate a workshop using criteria that fit the format

Teaching well takes skill and practice. The skills required to design and facilitate a good workshop are significantly different from those needed to prepare and deliver a good lecture.

Like most presenters, I work hard to grow and refine my teaching skills. I rely on participants’ comments to help me learn about what has and hasn’t worked in a session, and how I might improve for the next time. But I find that the standard conference evaluation forms rarely elicit useful workshop feedback, perhaps because they were designed for lecture-style sessions. I need participants to apply different criteria for evaluating workshops.  

The primary consideration is whether you found the workshop useful. If yes, asking some of the  more particular questions in the list that follows may help you articulate why it worked for you and how it might work even better. 

If no, the same questions may help you articulate why not.

Either way, a comment or two will help me (and other workshop leaders) continue to grow and offer good sessions in the future.

Questions that can help you evaluate a workshop

  • Learning
    • Did I learn something useful, wonderful and/or important?

    • Did the workshop challenge me and others to think?
      • Did I discover new ideas and understanding?
      • Did it help me to see things I already knew in a new light?
      • Did it provide opportunities to interact and learn from others?

  • Comfort and safety
    • Did I feel safe in the workshop (even if it took me outside my usual comfort zone)?
      • Was it okay to opt out of exercises and observe if I wanted to?
      • Were group sizes varied so that I had at least some opportunities to work with my preferences?

  • Design and structure
    • Was the workshop engaging?
      • Were there interesting and useful exercises?
      • Were groups sized appropriately for each exercise’s purpose?

    • Was the workshop well-structured? Were there:
      • Exercises building on learning from previous ones?
      • Opportunities to reflect on and consolidate what I learned?

  • Pace
    • Did the workshop move along at a reasonable pace?
      • Did it keep us energised or allow boring lags?

  • Leadership
    • Was the workshop leader warm and welcoming? Did she:
      • Listen to participants and acknowledge contributions?
      • Provide opportunities for everyone to contribute (and not allow loud voices to dominate)?
    • Did she lead the workshop capably?
      • Did she exhibit firm but unobtrusive guidance?
      • Was she flexible and able to work with emerging ideas and participants’ energy?

    • Did the leader guide discussions and debriefs so as to facilitate learning? Did she:
      • Ask good questions?
      • Speak knowledgeably about the workshop subject?

And finally...

  • Was there anything else that struck you about the workshop?


Friday, April 10, 2015

Women and Conference Keynotes

How do we get more women to speak at conferences? Or, a more basic question, how do we get more women to make satisfying careers in tech that they want to stay in and grow with? 

I think the two questions are linked. I don’t have simple answers. I don’t think there are any simple answers, but I do believe there are positive steps we can take. Anne-Marie Charrett and I have embarked on one with Speak Easy. Another important one is to highlight role models for tech-minded girls and women who are actually in tech. One place to do this is at conferences with keynotes by successful women with interesting ideas.

We don’t see enough women giving keynotes at software testing conferences. What’s “enough”?  Well, one would be good for a start! At least one at each conference, in fact.

I hear a couple of contra-arguments here.

One is that most conferences are businesses. Organizers want keynote speakers they believe will be a “draw”, speakers who’ll bring in the punters. And that’s fair enough.

But I look at it this way. Maybe you’re missing out on female punters who’d like to see more people like them. From what I hear and see, there’s a market of women testers out there that you’re not really tapping into. And you’re not attracting nearly enough women to submit track session proposals. Far more men than women are submitting conference proposals, more than seems warranted by the numbers of men and women in testing. 

Are you scaring the women off? Or could it be simply that they don’t see enough other women speaking? They don’t see a culture where women are regularly on the keynote podium. Could it be that in a very important way, they don’t really feel part of the culture?

I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this lack of visible role models were at least part of the answer.

Another argument I hear, primarily from younger women, is, “I don’t want to be chosen because I’m a woman. I want to be chosen for my experience and my ideas.”

You bet your booties, honey. So do I! So do we all. But (at the risk of sounding patronizing) I find young women’s post-feminist optimism shockingly naïve. Because before you can be chosen for your ideas, you have to have been considered. And men – and not only men, sometimes it’s women too – forget to consider women and their ideas more often than you’d think. Scouting for keynote speakers, they may forget you even exist. Still. In 2015.

I don't believe there's a vast male conspiracy in testing or test conferences, all joining together to keep good women down! In many ways, that would be easier to fight. I do think there's a general tendency to be oblivious: not to notice that there aren't (m)any women in the room or on the list, when actually, there should be. Because there are women of significant merit that they forgot to think about.

If it takes a quota to remind conference committees to expand their field of vision, then so be it. We all need reminders. We all have unconscious biases.

I think we are at a stage in human evolution where thoughtful people have to make conscious choices in order to overcome unconscious biases. It's natural for people to gravitate to the other people they feel most comfortable with, which very often means the people who are most like them.

A quota – say one woman keynote per conference – isn’t necessarily tokenism.

Let's say a bunch of people got together to do a job and suddenly realized that there weren't any men in the group. "Oh no", they said. "This looks terrible! People will accuse us of sexism if we don't have a man. Let's ask Paul. He won't make any waves (and we can get him to make the tea)."

But say the same group of people said instead, "Oh dear, this is starting to feel as if we've only looked at women candidates for our group. There's a whole pool of people we forgot to consider, and we know we would do a better job if we were more diverse. Paul would do a great job. He does excellent work, and is well respected in the community.  We know we will all work well together."

The first scenario is clearly tokenism, but is the second? Or is it simply a refocusing on the wider talent pool made possible by a conscious (however belated) attempt to overcome an unconscious bias?

I said on twitter that it’s shameful having no women keynotes at EuroSTAR 2015. I stand by that. The program committee chose excellent speakers. But given the talent pool of excellent women speakers, it's disgraceful that the committee didn’t expand its field of vision and choose at least one.

And it’s not just EuroSTAR, by the way. Take a look at StarCanada, only one other example. There are plenty of others.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Signing the ISO 29119 Petition and the Tester's Manifesto

I forgot to include these links in my previous post on ISO 29119. I have signed both. I urge all testers to read, consider the arguments and, if you agree, add your signature.

Why I oppose adoption of ISO 29119

I don’t oppose the idea of a testing standard, though I’d like to see a programming standard to accompany it. But ISO 29119 and its predecessors are not testing standards. They are fundamentally standards for documentation of testing and things called “testing processes”. There is little that goes into a testing process practiced by a skilled tester that a document about documents can capture or codify.

In a long career I have yet to see any indication that so-called “test” standards have done anything to improve the skill levels of testers or the quality of their testing. Instead, I’ve seen many organizations doing mediocre rote testing with testers who are forced to produce reams of impenetrable, repetitive documents that nobody outside the company testing circle reads. I repeatedly see test strategy documents showing not an ounce of strategy yet compliant with standards such as this. Those same organizations often insist that their testers obtain certification.

Whether or not this is the intent of the ISO 29119 proponents, it is how adoption will play out in real life in many organizations. As James Christie has pointed out, contract lawyers, internal auditors and managers who know nothing about testing will insist on the grand panoply of fat documents because it’s a standard and therefore must represent “best practice”. Nervous and unskilled test managers will embrace templates based on ISO 29119 because all those documents make them feel secure and important. People on Agile projects will struggle with the conflicting demands of their projects and the standards.

I have yet to see evidence that compliance to any “testing” standard equates to good testing.

Testing is a skilled activity. (James Bach calls it a “performance art”.) The only true measurement of testing is skill exhibited in live practice. Some proponents of ISO 29119 sneer at the “craftsman” (or craftsperson) mentality espoused by many of us. I wrote in an earlier post that I grew up thinking of craft as “skill fuelled by love and integrity”. You who sneer at the idea of craft and make snide jokes about medieval guilds should take a look at some highly-skilled professions in the modern world. Do you think a surgeon never speaks of, nor works to grow, her craft? Is a person licensed to perform surgery because of the fine strategies, plans and reports he compiles in templates?

I don’t doubt that surgeons must plan and devise strategies. They have procedures they must follow and forms they must fill. But ultimately, surgeons are evaluated—and licensed by their state-sanctioned governing bodies—based on their results and the skill they exhibit on a real live human, tools of the trade in hand. They must also pass exams on their knowledge of the human body and its pathologies, as well as a range of tools and techniques. But the exams surgeons undergo are much more rigorous than anything developed so far for a testing certification. And no-one becomes a surgeon merely by passing exams. Like other craftspeople, surgeons serve an apprenticeship: studying, practicing and exhibiting on the job the skills they must have to qualify for  their profession. As do lawyers.

I’m not pretending that software testers normally require the same level of skill as surgeons, nor as extensive a education program. But I do think that scaled down the analogy holds.

I would welcome a real testing standard, though I’d like to see a programming standard to accompany it. A true testing standard would focus on demonstrated skills assessed by qualified practitioners. It might set boundaries for the levels of testing skill required to work alone or under supervision, and the types of software testers at differing levels could work on. Education to meet such a standard would combine classroom studies with on-the-job practical training, and judging of live testing. At successful conclusion of her education, a tester could be certified as a professional. Very skilled testers could become master testers, in demand for very high-risk software.

We aren’t nearly organized enough to devise a real testing standard in the near future. But I don’t see ISO 29119 as an acceptable substitute. It puts too much focus on the wrong things.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Off the top of my head - Some skills & personal qualities that a tester can benefit from

My previous blog post - on why I believe it's good for testers to learn to code - triggered discussion and some protests, especially from testers who argued that testing involves so much more than an understanding of coding. Which is indubitable (to me at least).

So I thought I'd post this mindmap, an undoubtedly partial - in both senses of the word - list of tester skills and personal qualities that I threw together a few years ago in an idle moment. These are all things I believe a tester can benefit from. It's a very high-level, i.e., superficial view. I'm sure I've missed some very important items. Of the items I did list, it's clear to me that not all testers need every item in every context.