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A view from the Chair with Michael Bolton (Volume 5)

  • 05/06/2013
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m back home in Toronto for a little while, having returned from a week of testing Rapid Software Testing and Rapid Testing for Managers in Ballerup, near Copenhagen. After a couple of days of work with James Bach in Stockholm, I participated in the Let’s Test Conference in Åkersberga. Immediately after that, I visited Gothenburg, which gave me a chance to get acquainted with the site of EuroSTAR 2013, present a talk at a meeting of the Swedish Association for Software Testing in the morning, and visit an adult-education testing class in the afternoon. The trip was an inspiring reminder of how much is going on in the testing world especially in Sweden!-and of all of the different ways in which people are weaving networks and developing our craft.

If you ask me, one of the greatest programs ever televised was a series called Connections. The host, James Burke, presented his view of the history of science and technology-that the history of science is not about lonely geniuses sequestered in attics playing with instruments and occasionally shouting “Eureka!”. Instead, suggested Burke, change has happened far more because of loose, accidental, serendipitous connections between people, their ideas, and their communities. Burke’s approach was to start with some piece of technology with which we’re familiar today, jump to some point in the remote past, and trace forward along threads of ideas and events back to where he started. To Burke, history isn’t a line; it’s loops and spirals and knots and webs, and everything is connected.

That’s life in the testing world too. For example, let’s start at the end of my trip. It was Martin Jansson who invited me to talk with his adult education class, as I mentioned above. Martin is a member of the Swedish test blogging collective, The Test Eye. The others include Henrik Emilsson (who was one of the two people who ran EuroSTAR’s Test Lab in 2011), Rikard Edgren (a member of the programme committee this year and in 2010, and a regular EuroSTAR presenter), and Torbjorn Ryber (who will be delivering a tutorial on test strategy at this year’s conference).

Torbjorn was one of the organizers for the first Let’s Test, in 2012. I gave the opening keynote at that conference, but had to leave later that same day, so I didn’t get to participate to the fullest. This year I did. The second annual Let’s Test conference was a particular highlight and an inspiration. It felt like a kind of rehearsal for this year’s EuroSTAR. Around 200 passionate, committed testers were gathered together for three days of tutorials, workshops, presentations, and discussions-and actual testing, thanks to fact that there was a Test Lab.

The Test Lab is now an institution for many conferences, including the Conference for the Association for Software Testing, STAR East, STAR West, and Agile Testing Days. Of course, the Test Lab is already an institution at EuroSTAR, having been established at EuroSTAR 2009 by James Lyndsay and Bart Knaack. They held that at a testing conference, it would be a good idea-a really great idea-to have a place where people could sit in front of real systems, and talk about real testing while testing real software. Starting with laptops, servers, and open source products to test, the Test Lab has come to include real-world tool demonstrations, puzzles, reverse engineering, simulations, and Mindstorm robots.

The Let’s Test version of the Test Lab was impressive for several reasons. It was run by Martin Jansson and James Lynsday. Martin was Henrik Emilsson’s partner in running the 2011 Test Lab at EuroSTAR. This time, there was literal black box testing to be done-that is, there were hardware implementations of James’s black box testing machines. The physical black boxes had been designed and built by people from Altom, in Romania. Ru Cindrea works for Altom, and at 11:00pm she was present in the Test Lab. That’s not a complete surprise; what’s more surprising is that 40 and 50 other people were also in the lab, fully one-quarter of the people at the entire conference-awake, alert, learning, sharing, exploring, and completely engaged. Pradeep Soundararajan (who will be a tutorial and track session presenter at EuroSTAR 2013) went so far as to open one of the black boxes to reverse engineer it. Ru and Kristoffer Ankerberg were Apprentices in the Test Lab at EuroSTAR 2012, and they’ll be running the show this year. I urge you to pay a visit the Test Lab at EuroSTAR 2013.

The Test Lab was by no means the only evening’s entertainment at Let’s Test. There was a band one night, and a DJ the next. The organizers of Let’s Test chose a venue that provided lots of different places for people to gather and sit and chat, and chat they did well into the night. Musical instruments were available, and people played them. Paul Holland gathered a group of testers around him to play Set, a card game that exercises rapid pattern recognition. Later on, Paul and I collaborated on a party piece, a magic trick in which people indicate a specific card to me while Paul is not present, and Paul reads my mind and identifies the card. The games, the fun, the conversation, the discussions, and the laughter, continued into the wee hours, indeed to the point where the wee hours started getting significantly larger.

Let’s Test served as a proof of concept for what I believe could happen and will happen at EuroSTAR. Last year’s gala event was appropriately serious and formal for a 20th anniversary celebration. This year we’re going to relax, dress casually, and take it easy. As the first step towards that, this year’s party will happen in the Hotel Gothia/Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre complex, the same place as the rest of the conference. This means there will be no rushing to get on a bus after the conference sessions, and more importantly, there will be no bus-related curfews to interrupt the flow of conversation and fun.

In addition, we’re inviting all of the conference participants to join in designing the party. Many people in our community are fascinated by games and puzzles. No doubt Paul Holland (presenting a track session on organizing peer conferences) will bring his Set cards to EuroSTAR, James Bach (presenting a tutorial on the first day of the conference) will bring his collection of dice and other tester games, and Bart Broekman (on the programme committee) will bring some fascinating strategy game or another. Don’t like games? Graham Freeburn, a EuroSTAR stalwart and a presenter this year, has promised that he will lead people in a Scotch tasting lesson. As for magic tricks, Paul and I will doubtless defer to a real expert, Ian Rowland (presenting a half-day tutorial and a keynote). Do you have an interesting skill or something to offer the community? This year’s EuroSTAR party will be the place to show, tell, and teach; and to watch, learn, and try. Bring your party pieces, your games, your musical instruments, and your crafts. Got an idea for something that you would like to make happen? Tell us about it, and let us know how the Programme Committee and the Conference Organizers can help, and we’ll do our best to help bring it about.

There was one other surprising and impressive aspect of Let’s Test: Martin Pol, a three-time conference chair for EuroSTAR, was in attendance, participating in the conference and observing the scene, at least partly in preparation for his keynote talk this year, Questioning the Evolution of Testing. Martin, of course, also established TMap (for “Test Management APproach”), which has been influential in the European testing community over the years. The aforementioned Bart Broekman was a co-author of the second-generation book on TMap, TMap Next, which was completed while he was working at Sogeti in the Netherlands in 2006. Another Sogeti employee in those days was a fellow named Henrik Andersson, who is the CEO of Let’s Test.

The day before Let’s Test, James Bach and I were walking down a street in Stockholm after a late lunch. “Oy! Michael! James!” We were startled to be recognized. The speaker was Tony Bruce, who was also on his way to Akersberga. Tony will be leading a discussion at EuroSTAR this year. He’s also the organizer of the London Tester Gatherings. That’s where I met Hubert Matthews, who had just attended a conference in Oxford where James had presented a talk. Hubert had invited me to Oxford for a visit. I replied, “I’d love to… and while I’m there, I’d love to meet Simon Schaffer,” a historian of science who had been interviewed as part of series called How To Think About Science on CBC’s Ideas program. “Ah, he’s not at Oxford-he’s at Cambridge,” said Hubert. “But my brother took a class with him, so if you really want to contact him, I could probably help you to get his email address.” I took Hubert up on his offer, and contacted Professor Schaffer who very kindly agreed to chat with me the next time that I was in London. At our chat, Prof. Schaffer recommended a number of books, one of which was The Shape of Actions by a fellow named Harry Collins. I went to Foyle’s in London the next day, and couldn’t find that book, but I found another called Tacit and Explicit Knowledge. And that began a new thread of study and connections that led to Prof. Collins as a keynote speaker, and a tutorial presenter with James Bach this year.

The same year that I met Bart Broekman, James had hired me to go to Singapore to teach a Rapid Software Testing class. “Oh, and while you’re there,” he said, “there’s a fellow you should look up. He’s setting up a test team. His name is Jonas Ahnstedt.” I took James’ advice, and Jonas and I met, drank Guinness, played a testing game, and talked well into the night.

A couple of weeks ago, a short taxi ride from the site of EuroSTAR 2013, I gave a talk at the local chapter of Swedish Assocation for Software Testing. The fellow who introduced me to the audience was someone I hadn’t seen in eight years: Jonas Ahnstedt-and in the audience were Martin Jansson and several of his students. Everything’s connected.

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