Test Masters Academy Reinventing Testers

Test Masters Academy Reinventing Testers

It’s conference season for me! In my role, it’s imperative that I stay up to date with current trends and technologies, so for the next few months, I’ll be soaking up as much knowledge as possible via tech conferences.

One conference that really caught my eye was Test Masters Academy’s multi-track “New Testing” Conference which was part of their Reinventing Testers Week (September 25-29th). The reason this one piqued my interest is because my company is in that sweet spot where practicing agile methodologies has moved from a preached theory to an everyday reality. Part of my role is to help ensure that our Test strategy is also efficiently moving in this direction.

Leading up to the conference, I was extremely excited about attending. Sort of like a little kid waiting on Christmas day. Partly because it was in New York, partly because it was organized by Anna Royzman, but mostly because of the content of the program.

The speakers consisted of well-known thought leaders in the Test industry as well as some new voices who are making waves in the space. I pretty much follow all of them on Twitter and read their blogs, so I couldn’t wait to meet them and hear them in person.

When I arrived at the conference, I was warmly greeted by all of my Twitter friends! I went alone, but it didn’t feel that way. I loved the community vibe of this conference.

There were multiple tracks so I needed to choose which talks I would attend, which was extremely difficult given that all of them looked great but here’s what I came up with:

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the sessions and observed that a common thread between them was The ‘Tester’ Role.

I often hear agilists dismiss the notion of roles within a team, advocating for anyone being able to do anything. This thought has always made me uncomfortable. While I am all for being a team player and pitching in in other areas when necessary, I do believe that teams are more effective when its members play to their strengths. I often think of this in terms of a sports team analogy. Everyone has a position. The team counts on them to play that position and fulfill the duties of that position so that we win as a team. If a player can play their position and also help a team member in need, that’s wonderful. But no clear distinction between roles can lead to overlap or worse, a lack of coverage. I view building software much like this.

Throughout the conference, many of the speakers spoke of their world view and the role that testers play in it.

In “Life of a Craftsman”, Richard Bradshaw spoke of his special skillset as a tester and how he uses his skills as tools to advance the team in areas where you wouldn’t typically see a tester leading, such as running product meetings, writing stories, and reviewing customer analytics. Richard also does automation, so he spoke about using his programming skills to do things like fix production bugs and create cool tools for testers. I was wowed by this one. Tanya Kravtsov and Joe Lopez also talked about key ways testers can contribute their skills to DevOps.

In using my sports analogy, I viewed this as a player still playing their position, but not necessarily standing in one spot on the field/court. Players are expected to move around and find areas where their specialized skills would be helpful. This was definitely an aha moment for me.

In Maaret Pyhäjärvi‘s opening keynote “We’re Work in Progress”, she discussed how she, as a tester, facilitates collaboration with other members of her team through pair development and mob programming/testing. She spoke of how no tester is just a tester, and how collaborating with others in different roles can help a tester evolve to more of a software professional with a testing emphasis (which is what Maaret identifies as). Her belief is that we can raise our collective competence and still contribute our specialized skills. Again turning to my sports analogy, for me this keynote emphasized the importance of teamwork, but not necessarily with an end-goal of turning everyone into generalists. But more from a standpoint of “walk a day in someone else’s shoes” to gain insight and understanding. Not only will we learn more in doing this, but we’ll also idenitify more opportunities where we can contribute our specialized skills to help other teams members be more effective, thus making the entire team more effective. Another great and inspiring moment!

Other talks that focused on collaboration were Jessica Ingrasselino‘s “Play Your Way to Better Testing”, which I enjoyed way too much

And in a round-about-way Ash Coleman and James Bach’s debate on “What Qualifications Does a New Tester Need” (which had a fascinating interactive format) which concluded with a realization that there’s a place for both experienced and new testers and with a bit of collaboration between the two, they’d have a lot to offer. Shout out to Ash – she did an amazing job in her debut talk!

In James Bach‘s closing keynote “The Future of the Testing Role”, he had a different viewpoint than some of the other speakers. While he appreciated that the testing skill can be utilized in other areas on the team, he cautioned us not to spread ourselves too thin across these different roles, as this becomes a distraction away from testing. He believes that as a tester, our primary obligation is to test and that no one should expect us to go outside of this role. He clarified that the invitation can be extended to us, and we may even accept that invitation sometimes, but that the burden of this being a part of our normal duties threatens our ability to be a specialist. James’ view aligns with my original one. Back to the sports analogy…if I’m playing a specific position on a team, let’s say running back (American football), then I consider it my primary duty to become the very best running back I can be. I would go about that by studying this position and working on areas that will strengthen me in this position. If I do any more than that, there’s an opportunity cost. If I’m busy studying everyone else’s position too, then that’s less time and focus I have to put into the position that I’ve been contracted to play. When it’s game time, expect me to play my position. While I can definitely help out another player if needed, it would almost be absurd to expect me to play any other position other than the running back. This was definitely a head-nodding moment for me.

Ironically, I agree with each of these presenters, even if they don’t realize that they agree with each other. I’m an automation engineer. This is my specialty. In fact, I worked for several years in an automation silo. That was cool and all, but I do believe that I’m a much stronger automation engineer now that I collaborate with other team members. This is because I now have more context and more understanding of the overall team strategy to win, and can lend my specialized skills to areas within the team where no one may have even considered. So my biggest takeaway was this: as testing specialists, in order to grow and evolve and secure our rightful places, we must look for opportunities to distribute our specialized skills in other areas of our projects.

Thank you so much to Anna Royzman, the #TMAcad staff, and the speakers for an amazing conference! I have a wealth of knowledge and experiences to bring back to my workplace! 🙂

Oh, and for what it’s worth…I hate sports 😉

Angie Jones
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