Monthly Archives: July 2012

Report from CAST 2012

This year’s Conference of the Association for Software Testing (CAST) is now in the books. I’m returning home with a head full of semi-digested thoughts and impressions (as well as 273 photos in my camera and an undisclosed number of tax free items in my bag) and will briefly try to summarize a few of them here while I try to get back on Europe time.

The Trip
I’m writing this while on the train heading home on the last leg of this trip. Wow, San Jose sure is far away. Including all the trains, flights and layovers… I’d say it’s taken about 24 hours door-to-door, in each direction. That should tell you a bit about how far me and others are willing to go for solid discussions about testing (and I know there are people with even worse itineraries than that).

The Venue
I arrived at the venue a little over a day in advance in order to have some time to fight off that nasty 9 hour jet lag. Checked in to my room. Then immediately switched rooms since the previous guest had forgotten to bring his stuff out, though the hotel’s computer said that the room had been vacated. Still got my bug magnetism in working order apparently.

CAST was held at the Holiday Inn San Jose Airport this year. The place was nice enough. Nothing spectacular, but it did the job. The hotel food was decent and the coffee sucked as badly as ever. Which I expected it would, but… there were no coffee shops within a couple of miles as far as I could tell(!) I’m strongly considering bringing my own java the next time I leave Europe. It’s either that or I’ll have to start sleeping more, which just doesn’t work for me at any testing event.

The Program
I’m not going to comment much on the program itself since I helped put it together. Just wouldn’t make sense since I’d be too biased. I’m sure there will be a number of other CAST blog posts out there soon that will go more in depth (check through my blogroll down in the right hand sidebar for instance). I’ll just say that I got to attend a couple of cool talks on the first day of the conference. One of them was with Paul Holland who talked about his experiences with interviewing testers and the methods he’s been using successfully for the past 100+ interviews. Something I’m very interested in myself. I actually enjoy interviews, from both sides of the table.

The second day I got “stuck” (voluntarily) in a breakout room right after the first morning session. A breakout room is something we use at CAST when a discussion after a session takes too long and there are other speakers who need the room. Rather than stopping a good discussion, we move it to a different room and keep at it as long as it makes sense and the participants have the energy for it. Anyway, this particular breakout featured myself and two or three others who wanted to continue discussing with Cem Kaner after his presentation on Software Metrics. We kept at it up until lunch and after that I was kind of spent, so I opted to “help out” (a.k.a take up space) behind the registration desk for the rest of the day. Which was fun too!

The third day was made up of a number of full day tutorials. I didn’t participate in any of them though, so again you’ll have to check other blogs (or #CAST2012 on Twitter) to catch impressions from them.

CAST makes use of facilitated discussions after each session or keynote. At least one third of the allotted time for any speaker is reserved for discussions. This year I volunteered to facilitate a couple of sessions. I ended up facilitating a few talks in the Emerging Topics track (short talks) as well as a double session workshop. It was interesting, but I think I need to sign-up for more actual sessions next year to really get a good feel for it (Emerging Topics didn’t have a big audience when I was there and the workshop didn’t need much in way of facilitation).

San Jose / San Francisco
We also had time to see a little bit of both San Jose and San Francisco on this trip, which was nice. I only got to downtown San Jose on the Sunday leading up to the conference, so naturally things were a bit quiet. I guess it’s not like that every day of the week(?)

San Francisco turned out to be an interesting place with sharp contrasts. The Mission district, Market Square and Fisherman’s Wharf all had their own personalities and some good and bad things to them. Anyway, good food, nice drinks and good company together with a few other testers can make any place a nice place.

As with CAST every year, it’s the company of thoughtful, engaged testers that makes CAST great. If you treat it like any other conference and just go to the sessions and then go back to your room without engaging with the rest of the crowd at any point during the day (or night), then I’m afraid you’ll miss out on much of the Good Stuff. Instead, partake in hallway hangouts, late night testing games, informal discussions off in a corner, test your skill in the TestLab with James Lyndsay or join one of the AST’s SIG meetings. That’s when the real fun usually comes out for me. And this year was no exception.

Going to CAST

Next week I’ll be at the Conference of the Association for Software Testing (CAST) in San Jose, CA. The first time I attended CAST in 2009, it quickly became my yearly top priority among conferences to attend. This is a “CONFERence” type conference (high emphasis on community and discussions) which usually produces a lot of blog worthy material for its attendees. I will try to write a couple of brief blog entries while at the conference, but if you want to find out what’s being discussed in “real time”, then tune in to #CAST2012 on Twitter, or check out the live webCAST.

If you’re a regular reader of this (little over a month old) blog, then you know that CAST was one of the inspirations behind the recent Let’s Test conference. CAST has always been a great experience for me and this year’s CAST will be my 4th. So far I have gone home every time with my head filled with new ideas and interesting discussions lingering in my head, waiting to be processed over the following few weeks, and I think this year will be no exception.

This year’s CAST will be the first where I’m taking part in the program committee (together with Anne-Marie Charrett, Sherry Heinze and program chair Fiona Charles) and so I’ve been reading through and evaluating a wide range of great proposals for the workshops and sessions that will make up the first two days of the conference, trying to help put together a really exiting program for this year’s theme, “The Thinking Tester”.

I’ll also be facilitating a few of the workshop and session discussions this year, which will be interesting. In Sweden we’re used to going to conferences to “learn” from the speaker and everybody take turns to ask their questions in a polite (read: timidly) and orderly fashion , much like we do when queuing at the supermarket or movie theater, Swedish style. At CAST on the other hand, it’s not uncommon for the speaker’s message to be challenged and/or questioned thoroughly. Needless to say, to get a discussion of that kind to flow effectively without derailing, good facilitation is key. Facilitation also enables other things, like making sure that more than one or two people get to talk during the Q&A or that discussions stay on topic. I like both that kind of attitude and format, and although I’ve already taken the stage as a speaker at CAST in the past, this will be my first time facilitating “over on that side of the pond”. So yeah, it will be an interesting experience for me for sure.

Looking forward to going there, meeting old friends, listening to interesting talks, facilitating discussions, blogging about it… Looking forward to it all!

Finally, those with a keen eye might have noticed that the headline of this blog has changed recently. The reason is simple… When I resurrected this blog last month, I just put the first thing that came to mind as the headline. Turns out, the first thing that came to mind was the exact same headline as Shmuel Gershon uses on his (well established and well worth reading) testing blog. We can’t have that. Huib Schoots was kind enough to point this out in his most recent blog post, titled “15 test bloggers you haven’t heard about, but you should…“, where incidentally, I’m one of the 15. Most of the other blogs on that list are real gems, by the way. One or two I haven’t heard about myself, so I’ll check them out this summer for sure.

Re: Adaptability vs Context-Driven

A couple of days ago, Huib Schoots published a very interesting blog post titled “Adaptability vs Context-Driven“, as part of an ongoing discussion between himself and Rik Marselis. This blog post represents my initial reaction to that discussion.

The long and short of it all seems to be about whether using a test framework, like TMap, combined with being adaptable and perceptive, is similar to (or the same as) being context-driven?

To me the answer is… no. In fact, I believe TMap and the context-driven school of thought live on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Context-driven testers choose every single aspect of how to conduct their testing by looking first to the details of the specific situation, including the desires of the stakeholders who commissioned the testing. It starts with the context, not a toolbox or a ready-made, prescriptive process.

TMap and other factory methods seem to start with the toolbox and then proceed to remove whatever parts of the toolbox that doesn’t fit the context (“picking the cherries” as it’s referred to in Huib and Rik’s exchange). At least that’s how I’ve seen it used when it’s been used relatively well. More often than not however, I’ve worked with (well-intentioned) factory testers who refused to remove what didn’t fit the context, and instead advocated changing the context to fit the standardized process or templates. So, context-imperial or mildly context-aware at best. Context-driven? Not in the slightest.

When I’m faced with any testing problem, I prefer to start with the context and then build my strategy from the ground up; testing the strategy as I’m building it while making as few assumptions as possible about what will solve the problem beforehand. I value strategizing incrementally together with stakeholders over drawing up extensive, fragile test plans by using prescriptive templates that limit everybody’s thinking.

I’m not saying that “cherries” can’t be found in almost any test framework. But why would I limit myself to looking for cherries in only a single cherry tree, when there’s a whole garden of fruit trees available all around us? Or is that forbidden fruit…? (Yes, I’m looking at you, ISO/IEC 29119.)

Well, now that’s surely a can of worms for another time. To be continued.

If you haven’t already read Huib’s post that I referred to in the beginning, then I suggest you do that now.

Thank you Huib and Rik for starting this discussion and for making it public. Testers need to engage in more honest exchanges like this.