Why I Spent A Day in Örebro (And What I Learned There)

Why spend my free time on preparing for a full day of lectures at some school in Sweden?

Why take a day off work to travel to that school right after an exciting but exhausting 3-day conference?

Because if at least one person in the audience feels inspired to do more, learn more, and become more, it has been worth it.

My friend Erik Brickarp asked me if I was willing to come and meet the students of testing he’s been teaching since last fall. He’s written about the education and the curriculum earlier. The goal of my visit was to share my experience and lessons learned to show what kind of things can happen in your professional career, and what kind of contexts and companies are out there.

Personally, inspiring someone or helping someone to realize they can do more they thought they could is a major source of satisfaction to me. I hold dear the moments when someone lets me know how I’ve helped them. For instance, someone from my team once told me that I’m one of the two women who changed their life (by hiring them, patiently training and coaching them about testing). Recently, another person told me that me joining the company has been one of the best things that has happened to them recently.

Maybe I shouldn’t be living for these moments but in some ways I do anyway. How wonderful is it that my presence and interactions can give a new course to or new perspective someone’s career (in testing)?

So my goal was to be present and share what I’ve learned. And hope something sticks and something wonderful will grow out of it (yes, I can get almost teary-eyed at this point…).

What did I share?

Part 1: I talked about my career and the twists and turns in it, why I took a chance that landed me in testing, and what I learned from it. I talked about what I learned about myself and what I learned about the world of software. I talked about what really made the difference and helped me progress, and that it wasn’t just about me but also the community.

Part 2: I talked about Raintree where I worked both as a technical writer and a team lead. I gave an overview of the product and technology mostly because it’s old, and a bit special. Hearing about such things might be a good thing that broadens the mind because even though it seems like nowadays it’s all about mobile apps and the web, you may end up in an interesting place with old and custom technology. I also talked about the testing challenges and a little bit about how we tried to tackle them.

Part 3: I talked about building a bridge between testers and developers based on my experiences at Raintree where a testing team was injected in the middle of developers, and noone knew how to work together. I gave a talk at Nordic Testing Days in 2013 about it, so I used some of the content. Of course, I looked at my slides and hurtfully facepalmed… What the hell was I talking about anyway…?! Anyway, I guess it was a good thing to realize that I now know better and that I’ve developed in the past two years 🙂 So in some ways preparing my talks for the testing students was useful for my own sake because I had to go over my lessons and experiences again.

Part 4: After lunch, it was time for something else. Erik and me had agreed that I will do an exercise on him using a small “device”. He knew what it looked like, so I invented another surprise for him during the exercise. The main point was that he had to test something, I needed the results quickly, and I ran away into meetings a couple of times which is a realistic thing (the meetings were the surprise moment which also gave Erik time to involve the students by asking them for suggestions to get out of the situation and satisfy the customer). I’m not the “bad cop” type of a person in such situations but can still push it (by saying things like “so are you a philosopher or a tester? Looks like most of what you do is talk and not test!!!”). I think I could’ve carried it out better, so I need to deconstruct what I was trying to do (something for me to learn) but it was quite fun. Students saw their teacher in a pickle – what could be better? 🙂

Part 5: a bit of a high-flying topic but it’s something I feel very strongly about, so I couldn’t leave it out. It’s about leadership and working with people. I titled the section “test leading” and claimed to talk about test management. I also claimed the picture of a big glass diamond with “This is what you made us” engraved in it was my credential from my team that I knew what I was talking about when it came to building teams and leading people. Yeah, Helena got ballsy.

My main point was that for me test management is mostly about managing humans who happen to do testing. Therefore, knowing yourself as a human being, self-reflection, and empathy towards other people come first. Yes, you need to learn about testing, too, but if you hurt people trying to “manage” them, your testing knowledge won’t take you very far (in my eyes). So I ended up talking about how I’ve approached my role as test lead, and what kind of other things people in this role have to deal with besides human beings.

At the end I asked for the one thing they remember or feel like can take away from the day. Someone said that they remembered hearing about how I struggled. It was an interesting comment because I did talk about my struggles a lot. I did struggle a lot but I start to forget the pain little by little.

Someone said they liked to hear that it’s possible to get somewhere and achieve something in IT even if you don’t have a technical background (my rough paraphrase as I don’t remember the exact quote). Someone said they liked the idea behind the Richard Branson quote I used (If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!). And so on. One of the students came to talk to me afterwards and I tipped him off about Weekend Testing. He asked for coaching over Skype. See? Things happen when people talk to each other.

Also, it was great to get feedback from Erik who said I’m much more confident as a speaker than before (he saw me give a lightning talk at Let’s Test 2014), and that the pace was good. Well, that’s great to know and I felt quite good about the overall presentation. It never hurts to get to practices public speaking for a few hours, especially since I’m interested in speaking at conferences.

A Public Speaking Heuristic Discovered

One of the most interesting things was that there was a deaf girl in the class, so what I said in English had to be translated into Swedish Sign Language. There were two interpreters taking turns translating me. So I ended up learning a valuable lesson: having two interpreters depending on me to produce clear and “translatable” sentences makes me a lot more conscious than usual of how I actually say something. I caught myself on the verge of “rambling to mumbling to fading off” more times than I care to remember now. It’s so easy to do. So I forced myself to take a couple of seconds and round up my sentences. I forced myself to adopt a slower pace than my “natural” talking speed. This was quite good for me as I sometimes run out of breath when I get excited and start talking faster and faster (and if I also engage my hands I almost have lift off…).

I mean I had two interpreters sitting within one meter from me and the deaf girl in the first row. There was no way I could ignore their presence and it was a constant reminder for me that kept me in check.

Another related idea: I haven’t really tested for accessibility before. Now it was as if I had to constantly keep tabs on the accessibility of my speech, and the presentation in general because the need was real.

So here’s a public speaking heuristic called “Help the Interpreter” I’ll be using from now on: while giving a talk imagine a sign language interpreter sitting next to you and think of helping him/her do his/her job well.

***

Last but not least, I had a very nice chat with Björn Kinell who drove me from Runö to Örebro. And I got to meet Torbjörn Ryber again and catch up a little bit. So despite being beyond tired afterwards, I still say it was worth it.

So maybe you know of a place where someone teaches software testing. Maybe you could contribute by meeting aspiring testers. If nothing happens, then nothing happens. Make things happen just by sharing your experience.

orebro

Proof that I was there (or in some room somewhere that looks like a classroom)

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Transpection Tuesdays Still Going Strong

Since September 2013 Erik Brickarp and me have spent a few hours on (most) Tuesdays to discuss testing or our lives and careers in relation to testing. What started as a spontaneous experiment has turned into a routine, a staple in our lives, a commitment. Erik spoke about Transpection Tuesday at #SWET peer conference (Swedish Workshop on Exploratory Testing), I gave a 99 second talk about it at TestBash last year and a lightning talk at work. We’ve both spoken about it to several people over time. We have tried to demystify Transpection Tuesday as well as we can because we do get questions about how it works and what we talk about, and, probably most of all, why we keep going.

So we ended up doing a kind of retrospective on Transpection Tuesdays a while ago. We attempted to answer questions such as “What kind of specific questions have we tried to answer?”, “Why has it been a good idea to keep going?”, “What formats have we used and how have the formats evolved?”. We also used some elements from the PROOF debriefing mnemonic.

At least one blog post has come out of this retrospection… Maybe there will be more. This one will offer answers for the question:

What are some good reason to keep Transpection Tuesdays going?

A Never-Ending Conference

We met in person  at Let’s Test 2013 and Transpection Tuesday has been a way to keep the conference going. It’s as if it never ended. Conferences provide social learning experiences that can be empowering, energizing and motivating. Discussing and exchanging experiences, letting down your guard and freely exploring ideas (or rather, conferring about ideas) help make sense of your own experience and thoughts, and help look at them from new and undiscovered perspectives. New ideas are necessary for solving problems you haven’t solved yet. The positive “slap on the back” you get after a good and open discussion is just what you may need to turn a new idea into action.

This is very much what Transpection Tuesday is about. Talking face-to-face over Skype is a personal and engaging way of socializing that doesn’t compare to Twitter chatter or emails. It’s a no pressure, no risk, relaxed environment that makes a great weekly conferring session.

A Supporting Structure

We are both driven to become better at testing. We’re passionate about testing. We both see many ways in which we could grow as testers. Having a fellow tester along on the journey has made us braver and more confident to face and take up challenges, and make changes in our professional lives. A lot of the time Transpection Tuesday is about giving and getting support in our ventures.

I feel that the sense of unconditional support that is readily available helps to overcome obstacles faster. There is hardly any need to keep circling a problem alone for a long time or think long and hard about who to talk to or ask advice from. I just have to wait until next Tuesday (or drop an emergency email) to get a problem thoroughly dissected, analyzed and discussed.

There is so much to learn about testing and sometimes it can feel a little intimidating to try to handle it all. Transpection Tuesdays sometimes are about overcoming the fear of complexity and failure in a low-pressure and safe environment. Having experienced dismantling some testing problems together has helped us realize that sometimes we know more than we first thought… or less, in which case we can consciously fix this problem.

A Habit of Keeping an Eye on The Ball

Transpection Tuesday is a way to keep ourselves focused on learning and development by discussing relevant topics regularly. Thinking about and discussing new concepts, revisiting known ideas to explore them further, or reflecting on and making sense of our daily happenings related to testing is a routine for us. It’s like our special tester’s mental floss. We want to floss regularly, don’t we?

We pick topics based on what interests us or what problems we need to solve at work. So one way of looking at it is that we sharpen our focus at work and think whether an idea or a problem would make a useful discussion and learning material. Chances are that we haven’t covered this particular topic or we think it’s worth revisiting to see if and how we’ve changed our thinking about it. This way we scout for interesting things we want to know more about (which keeps us looking) to take to Transpection Tuesdays (which makes us focused).

A Return on the Investment

It’s fair to ask whether one couldn’t just develop their skills and understanding about testing on their own. Why bother with such commitments to someone else but yourself? We find that the time we spend on Tuesdays is a return on our investment. We feel that we’d spend so much longer on our own getting to where we are now. A heuristic I use is that I’ve become more confident in my knowledge and skills thanks to Transpection Tuesdays. This is a major return on the investment for me.

Mentoring Is (Low-)key

We have different experiences, backgrounds (an electronics engineer meets an English major) and careers (a tester turned into a teacher of testing meets technical writer turned into a tester/test lead) which makes it all the more interesting. Mentoring each other isn’t something we try to do on purpose. We’ve just found that it’s something that happens when we discuss topics that one or the other has more experience with. So it’s low-key mentoring.

We nudge each other, give feedback and sometimes say “wow, that was brilliant because…” or “ok, this was a little bit stupid but let me help you…”. We know each other well enough to know when to keep pushing and asking questions and when to pull back or give time to breathe. This is one of the benefits of keeping at it for a year and a half: you know the other person well enough that even if you accidentally push too much they will forgive you.

We Don’t Know Why But We Just Do It

Eventually, when all of the above fails to explain why we keep doing Transpection Tuesday, it may well be because we haven’t fully understood it ourselves or aren’t yet able to express it eloquently enough. We feel like we’re just scraping the surface and that there is some underlying fundamental reason it works so well. Sorry, we’ll try again sometime.

Let’s Test 2014

Let’s Test 2013 changed my life as a tester. Literally, I have changed as a person and what I do as a tester since then thanks to the people I met and the inspiration I got. I’m yet to see what will happen after this year’s Let’s Test.

I quickly sketched the titles of the blog posts I want to write about different topics (re)inspired  by Let’s Test and I stopped at 13. Now, I’m determined to write them all, I just need to schedule time for them… 🙂

People

Last year I used some interesting and creepy (now slightly embarrassing) introductory phrases like “Hi, you don’t know who I am but I’m following you on Twitter”. This year I felt like I had returned for a family reunion, hence, such introductions weren’t necessary anymore.

I like that at Let’s Test people really are in the center of everything. I had a number of great conversations with people I had met before and with those I hadn’t. And then I discovered a number of people I met briefly but with whom I wish to have a longer conversation, so I had to make a list of them and hopefully, I’ll be able to run into them at a conference in the future.

It was awesome to meet my friend Erik Brickarp face-to-face again and we had a few lovely conversations about on different topics over the course of the conference. I feel like any words I choose would be fairly inadequate in expressing how important a peer and a friend he’s become for me. I know he’s helped me change my perspective on testing and myself in the testing context. I guess Erik’s own words sum it up best: “You’ve done some crazy shit since I met you, Helena!”

Kristoffer Nordström and Richard Bradshaw also joined me and Erik while we were discussing our #transpectiontuesday and I think we had a really nice chat around the topics of reaching out to people, how me and Erik have ended up where we have, and how other testers could connect to each other. I hope both Kristoffer and Richard will act on what we discussed… and another alliance will be formed 🙂

I can call out some more people but then I’m a bit afraid I may forget someone just because I’m not even sure on which days I had some of the conversations 😀 (yes, I made the conscious decision not to sleep very much). One thing is for sure, Meike’s hugs were an important and energizing part of the conference.

I was glad to meet David Högberg at last who was among the reviewers of my article for The Testing Planet.

I sat down with the Panda and got an insight to his wonderful integrity.

Me and Erik talked to Steve Smith about communities, a conversation where Jon Bach joined in to tell about his adventures in Europe.

Fiona Charles gave me a sleepmask which really helped because those damn white nights are too white for me.

Zeger van Hese patiently listened when I talked about my testing workshop for programmers (and then some more things), and at 3am I discovered he has a great sense of humor as well.

Huib Schoots sat down with me for a looooong time (I had a lot of content and slides) to discuss the testing workshop I created for programmers as I had used some of his materials for inspiration. I got many useful pointers out of this discussion, so I will go back to my slides and add some notes to them. I also gave a rundown of my workshop when I ran into Stephen Blower.

Bert Jagers introduced me to the book about storytelling: Stories that Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations which I now want to get my hands on.

And the list goes on… and on… and on…

Thank you everyone for spending some of their time with me!

Tutorial, Tracks&Workshops

Tutorial: James Bach and Pradeep Soundararajan –  “Review by Testing: Analyzing a Specification by Testing the Product”.

This one shall deserve a blog post on its own once I tidy up my notes. At my current job, we don’t have any written specs, so I was hoping to learn something useful about working with specs as I will be changing jobs soon and there shall be specs there. I believe I did get quite a few useful ideas out of it but time and practice will tell if it’s true.

Key takeaway: sometimes it may not be a good idea to ask a lot of questions about the spec. As testers, we’re aware that a spec can’t answer every question and a bad spec can make us generate very many questions. An alternative is to form possible answers to your questions as statements and ask if this is what someone meant. It’s easier for people to make a quick evaluation of such a statement instead of gathering your strength to start answering a question. Also, in my experience, asking questions can sometimes be seen as a personal attack or an attack against someone’s expertise but using the “statement method” can probably help reduce this risk.

Pradeep Soundararajan “Testers as Respected Business Problem Solvers – A True Story”

This was an awesome track where Pradeep got us and himself in the mood by chanting “PANDA! PANDA!”. I have a sketchnote from this session that I need to finish up, so this one will also be a separate blog post. My key takeaway was how Pradeep has expanded on what testing can do and how it can be useful. Trying to pay close attention to actually understanding the initial problem or a need behind a request from a customer instead of just “doing my bit of the work called testing” is something I try to do in my day-to-day role as a tester/test lead. Therefore, I could really relate to what Pradeep said about his journey. Of course, he’s on a whole other level as he’s built a business around testers providing “more than just testing” to businesses. He provides a way to not lose money and help a business grow with the help of testing.

I also attended the workshop on note taking techniques&practice by Louise Perold and the track talk by Martin Hynie and Christin Wiedemann about how playing games could be useful. I don’t have very many notes from the note taking workshops as I was taking notes about the game we were testing. The game kind of distracted me from note taking as I found it a bit hard to use in a productive way. I got more into the playing mode to advance in the game to even have notes to take but that reduced the number of notes I could take, so I ended up doing quite a bit of balancing between these activities.

For me, Martin’s and Christin’s talk about the science behind playing games mostly made the point that following your energy and curiosity can take you to really interesting place and that you may learn a lot on the way. Having a bit of an academic background myself, I’m very familiar with the problems of trying to find useful information from the research out there, carefully applying “hedging” to your language use, and ending up with somewhat inconclusive findings. Martin and Christin also ended up with something like “further research needed” after their experiments with the complex human brain. Regardless, I’m looking forward to hearing more about how to use games as a way for creating new avenues in our brain to use for other purposes.

Fiona Charles “We Can’t Know Evertything – Promoting Healthy Uncertainty on Software Projects”

Fiona’s workshop took the participants through considering and outlining the different aspects of uncertainty on a software project, and then figuring out ways how to tackle them. To me it seems that accepting uncertainty is largely influenced by the mindset you have built from your contexts. I have a few experiences related to people accepting or not accepting uncertainty and will write a blog post about them. I suspect it may have a lot to do with the kind of language we use…

My key takeaway was the image of how the path of a hurricane is predicted point by point. The whole path is given as a possibility but only the first few points on the path are given as fairly sure facts. Therefore, you can communicate the overall movement quite explicitly while leaving room for uncertainty which you can communicate clearly.

Anna Royzman’s talk on the quality leader definitely resonated with me. Understanding that a tester’s role can be broader than its typical definition can push us to learn more things and discover more stuff worth learning. What I took away from this talk in mind was that new practices of building software can and will ask new things from someone who calls him- or herself a tester. In itself this statement is nothing new… There has been a debate going on about the skills part (especially regarding programming) for some time. But I appreciate Anna pointing out that there are specific things that someone with testing expertise can help a team or organization with such as facilitating testing activities, doing the thinking about test strategy and helping others in thinking about quality, also helping them realize the subjectivity of quality.

Keynotes

Tim Lister’s keynote took us back in time, propelled us through 4 decades of lessons and insights (in history for the large majority of participants, I believe). I realized I could recognize some of his lessons as something I’ve learned as well but had forgotten… or they aren’t as eminent to me all the time. Importantly, I realized I haven’t really looked back, I haven’t looked into the history of the field I’m in which means I’m lacking some depth in understanding where the things I take as a given today have come from in the past.

Steve Smith’s keynote was a treat for me because I love discovering metaphors, observing something that is layered and that can have many meanings depending on the angle you take to look at it; that there is a central message that is being communicated but there is also a meta-level commentary on it that is weaved into the whole thing. Therefore, I will think about the keynote a bit more but don’t worry, there’s a blog post brewing about this one as well…

The final keynote was a unique one like Steve’s. A large part of the content for it came from the tutorial Jon Bach held at Let’s Test. I really liked the opening of the keynote where Jon was musing whether being on stage is a best practice for a keynote. I think the main takeaway for me was to not accept simple statements about a practice being always true (or for anything else): get creative and you WILL find that it depends on context.

Lightning talks

About 20 minutes before the lightning talks began, I signed up for giving one. Then I scrambled to take quick notes about what I wanted to talk about. Topic: “A model for assessing reliability of test reports”. I knew it was going to be a bit far-fetched as I tried to build something useful for test reporting pulling ideas from rhetorical narrative theory. I won’t know if I will end up with anything useful but I’d like to do some additional thinking, doodling and writing on this topic and then have my peers help and work with me on this.

There was plenty of interesting and intriguing content in the lightning talks. I witnessed quite a few conversations to be sparked by the questions or followup comments. Yay for more conferring!

I’m glad lightning talks were part of the conference as it makes the speaker experience accessible for people. Thanks, Erik, for taking the initiative and facilitating the talks!

Other stuff that happened

There was this extra intriguing puzzle with blinking red lights to solve (not sure if it was a tip of the hat to the dice game :)). I learned what broneys are. I played set with a bunch of people. I gave Michael Albrecht advice on what to do in Las Vegas. I got a bit of a “talking to” from James Bach (something along the lines of “You have to speak up! Why are you so humble?! If Erik says you’re smart, why are you hiding?” – needless to say I said something completely inadequate in return which is an obvious sign of my inability to accept good stuff even if my life depended on it… But I will work on this anyway). I stayed up late and witnessed an unexpected consequence when I uttered a couple of Estonian words after the Panda had asked me about the Estonian language. Ilari was promoting the barefoot movement by example. I laughed a lot but also cried once. I felt cold outside but my heart was warmed by the people around me. I talked to people new to Let’s Test about how it can take very little to get something personal and meaningful started at a conference using the story of how I ordered Erik Brickarp to sit down and have lunch with me as an example from last Let’s Test.

Eventually, I feel a bit “stolen away” (listen to the lyrics of the song below…) by Let’s Test – nostalgic, somewhat sad, bittersweet yet hopeful. There’s a lot to look forward to, a lot of thinking to do. Will I change my course? What is the course I should take? What else to learn? What not to learn?

I won’t really know. But I’m excited to find out.

This Year Shall Be Great

I have been pondering this for a while now. To be precise, since I learned about Erik Brickarp’s Skill Development List and since I reviewed his CAST 2013 talk about self-education, the idea of my own  list has been gnawing at me. So I got myself together January 1 and drafted it in my notebook. Then I forgot about it for a while… now I remembered it. And decided to publish it (you know, social accountability and all that).

There you go: Skill Development List 2014.

It is what it is. It’s not about checking all items off. It’s about me following my energy and making myself happy when learning about new things. I’m so done with feeling miserable that I can’t go back 🙂

 

The Roaring Success of the First Ever Transpection Tuesday

I just like hyperboles 🙂

It was the brain that was roaring afterwards unable to flip the “Sleep” switch on. It was a success because I felt it’s going to help solve problems or clarify thinking. It was the first ever for me and Erik to do together. It had elements of transpection in it but the session definitely took its own path(s) (we can always excuse ourselves by saying we’re “young and stupid”… oh wait! We are adenturous and curious instead!). And finally, I chose Tuesday because of alliteration. We can make it a thing like #transpectiontuesday

This blog post explains and reflects on what the hell happened during Transpection Tuesday.

***

The What and the Why

Since we chatted on Monday and I had to admit Erik’s insights helped big time to make sense of some stuff, I proposed this: let’s pick a topic and do a Skype session on it to dig deeper, question, learn from each other’s insights and see where we end up. Erik and me spent more than 3 hours discussing various threads that followed from Erik’s topic: why do we self-educate ourselves?

We didn’t set a time limit which is probably the main reason we clocked at 3 hours. The main reason we had to stop was because it was getting late not because we ran out of things to say and reflect on.

The collective notes are here: TTnotesSept102013.

Sure, there were plenty of things we didn’t come up with and the list of additional angles can grow long. But this is not the point… we weren’t trying to cover everything anyway.

As Erik pointed out, we could also try to stick to one topic better next time we do it. But it was fun to explore different threads that stemmed from previous threads that stemmed from preivous… and so on. We also ended up discussing a lot of things that didn’t make it to the notes but were relevant to us (personal experiences, some psychological stuff, giving feedback). So all those pages make up just the skeleton of the session. Since we didn’t record it, we don’t have more meat at this point. But I’m satisfied with the notes as they are.

What It Was Like

We took turns in presenting ideas and used short monologues where one was speaking and putting out ideas about our topic. The other one listened and took some notes, then responded by adding to points or throwing some more ideas on the field of discussion. We asked each other questions but it probably something to focus on more next time.

There were ideas we spent more time on than others and sometimes I felt like we’re moving pretty fast from topic to topic which, on some ways, is exactly the kind of conversation I enjoy. Such a discussion for me is about quickly mapping the terriory.

Erik kept saying” there’s something else”, so this was like a sign for moving on and finding new ideas.

There’s a lot I could say about the experience but I’d end up with a long rambling text. Therefore, I’m just putting down some key points only. I’ll probably have other thoughts on it later which may not make to a blog post so if the list isn’t profound, then let it be known that the cogwheels are still turning.

  • full acceptance of things said is key in order to avoid self-cencorship in discussion – “no bullshit” mode
  • be patient and have fun with jumping from topic to topic
  • somewhat outrageous connections may take place (randomly insert discussion of early Christianity)
  • good collaboration on listening and synthesizing
  • having fun, following the energy
  • quick summaries of “what we have so far”
  • having an “articulate mirror” provides surprising insights
  • ask “why”

Anything good?

Yes. I just feel like the good stuff happened in my head: some things clicked to places. I felt the thinking through of some concerns and problems helped me downsize them for myself. I feel like I have a better grip on the topic than before. Apparently, the results I can describe right now are more of a subtle kind than very concrete. However, in my personal reality, they’re completely relevant.

I’ll take a couple of more days but then take some action on my self-education plan as well.

One thing is certain – we’ll do this again. Excited to explore!

Experience Report on Presenting an Experience Report

Sunny morning. A cup of coffee. Kurt is singing. What else to do than reflect on my first conference talk!

So here goes… Hot off the press, uncut version of my experience.

How I Ended Up at Nordic Testing Days

At the last year’s Nordic Testing Days, I was nicknamed QA – Question Assurance. When I attended a track, everyone was assured that questions would be asked. Back then Raimond said to me that maybe I should present next year. I waived this aside as a joke… Me? Presenting at an international conference? Dude, stop it…

This really looked like a huge mountain to climb. The idea kind of stuck with me, though, and got the cogwheels turning (very slightly…). When it was time to submit a CFP, I had a bunch of loosely related ideas but a skype call with Raimond helped me to find better focus, so I was finally able to put it together. He’s the main reason I was able to present at Nordic Testing Days. so a big “thank you” goes out to Raimond Sinivee!

Getting the CFP together was a slow process because I was undermining every sentence. As always.

But then I got accepted and then… shit just got real!

The Topic

My extra special and awfully long title of the talk:

“Knocking on the Door with Kinder Surprise in Hand: Experience Report on Building and Maintaining Relationships between Testers and Programmers”

Why so long? Well, if you’re an English major, you have a knack for long and fancy titles in two parts.

I wanted to frame the talk as an experience report because I don’t feel like I am in a position to present the little I know as a bunch of universal truths. I also framed it like that for myself so that I wouldn’t go into the lecturing mode. I feel very strongly about bad leadership and lack of integrity (leadership and integrity are essential to building great teams, too) so I can get very agitated and go into lecturing mode. So reminding myself that it is my context and my context only helped me keep the focus where it should be.

I thought that probably I have ideas that I can talk about and explain how and what we have done with my team, and then people can figure themselves if they trust my presentation of those ideas to try some of them out. If there was at least one person who will try something I suggested, I think I have done well.

And what about the Kinder Surprises? This ended up being the twist I added to my talk. But it’s a true story: I have given Kinder Surprises to a couple of programmers who have helped with something. Essentially, in the context of the talk a Kinder Surprise is a symbol for the building blocks (attitude, leadership, humanity) that make up the bridge between testers and programmers.

Knocking on the door? This is a reference to trying to open the door between my team and the programmers to get the collaboration going.

Journey

After my CFP was accepted, I didn’t start working on the talk heavily right away. But what I did was that during my 20-minute walks to work and back home, I thought about the different components of my talk, how to tie them together, how to flesh out the key points in sufficient detail, how to support my points and stories with examples from my experience, and which examples to use. Looking back, I guess I did the majority of the work during those brief walks.

When I was little, I used to enjoy switching on the autopilot on my way from home to music school or volleyball practice. My feet knew where I was going but in my head I was narrating all kinds of stories. And then I was suddenly in front of the music school and had to wake up. So I did the same thing now: walking at a leisurely pace while my mind being focused on the talk. The 20 minutes was enough for getting something done in my head without being exhausted.

My main worry was that it’s clear in my head but not expressed clearly. So I tried to retell a piece of my presentation to myself and then see if the words and phrases I used made sense or if the example I used is properly linked to the point. On the one hand, I think it helped. On the other hand, it kind of hurt me too because I was very critical of most of my content… So it was somewhat painful at times…

The other big problem for me was the lack of belief that the talk would be successful. But let’s not revisit those dark depths of my mind… The short explanation is that getting crap about my background in the humanities has played a role.

Also, throughout April and May I had quite a bit of family drama going on. A couple of my closest family members were hospitalized one after another and I didn’t know how well things would turn out… The future looked very gloomy at times. So the time I had planned to spend on preparing had to spent on other things. In the end things got better but I admit I was drained… depleted.

That’s how I arrived at Let’s Test: in desperate need of something to kickstart me and kick me out of the gloom and doom. I still can’t believe my luck that it happened. The energy I sucked in at Let’s Test helped me over the finish line. Not to mention the people whom I have thanked profusely but whom I need to thank again.

I asked Jari Laakso for help and he engaged in a skype discussion with me. He asked a lot of insightful questions and took me on a rollercoaster ride: a tough question or challenging my points followed by cheering me on. This was a good experience for shaking me up.

My talk needed some polishing so my new friends Erik Brickarp and Huib Schoots  from Let’s Test delicately gave me constructive feedback about my talk. I think the most important thing they helped me with was that I saw my ideas meant something for them, so I truly started to believe that these ideas matter to other people as well. That gave me the confidence and I quit putting out the fire in my heart.

Last but not least – my wonderful team! I’m nothing without them and I’m thankful for their support!

The Conference

I arrived in Tallinn the day before and decided to relax and just hang out. I felt the nervousness build up but when I felt that, I just retold the beginning of my talk to myself. This is a great tip I got from Tobbe Ryber. I did that for a few weeks before the conference already and I found that it helped me deal with the adrenaline rush. I usually get this rush just before I have to speak in public and this is normal. But if it’s too much, the heart starts racing too fast, and then it’s difficult to breath normally, and then it’s difficult to think clearly.  And then I may fumble. And stumble. Forget an important thing to say. Et cetera.

But rehearsing the first minutes of my talk helped me to kind of “relive” the talk beforehand and I maybe signalled my body that there’s nothing to worry about.

Despite that I still jolted awake a few times the night before thinking “OMG! I HAVE TO GIVE THE TALK!” and then dropped back to sleep. So in the morning I slept in on purpose. I just wanted to take it slowly and not put any unnecessary pressure on myself or give rise to anxiety.

At breakfast I managed just a small bowl of cereal but I got to hang out and chat with Tobbe Ryber and Sami Söderblom. They also fulfilled the roles of “familiar faces to rely on in the front row” 🙂

So I got my props, put the mic on, and got on stage after Lloyd Roden’s talk on building great teams. What a coincidence… 😀

I had a bit of trouble with the remote/clicker for switching the slides. I don’t know if the transmitter wasn’t working very well or I didn’t press the button as the designer of the clicker had expected. So sometimes I had to press it several times. However, I didn’t let that disturb me.

The next day I saw how the pros do it: Tobbe had brought his own hardware for the presentation (a clicker with a timer…).

The nervousness had turned into some sort of excited, sparkly, and confident calmness. If this makes sense…

I felt good and remembered to enjoy myself.

I felt good on stage even though the room was fairly large and also full of people. As Sami and Tobbe later commented, this track was more like a keynote 😀

But I kind of felt how the people gave me the energy as I wanted to embrace the entire room.

I know I stumbled with my words sometimes. I don’t like to learn talks by heart, I want to be able to improvise. But this also means that a problem of mine becomes apparent: I start a sentence using one sentence construction but then somewhere in the middle I change my mind (because there are so many wonderful sentence constructions out there!) and I have to stop, and say it differently.

I know I spoke fairly fast (but later Tobbe said Julian Harty spoke even faster :D) but that was because I was worried about the time limit. I forgot to ask someone to let me know the time in 10 minute segments (there wasn’t a clock in sight anywhere…). That would’ve helped me to time the talk better. Or then the clicker with the timer…

I did look at my slides during my speech but hopefully not too much. I tried to face the people as much as I could (except when the clicker didn’t want to cooperate) and also move around the small stage. The stage was placed diagonally on one side of the room and slides were on the other side.

Here’s a very rough sketch of the setup:

confroom

I would have liked to use the full length of the room to walk back and forth but then I would’ve had to get off the stage and people at the back wouldn’t have been able to see me very well. And then I would’ve had to get back on the stage (anybody up for stumbling and falling over in the middle of their talk?).

I looked at some people specifically every now and then to see if their faces go totally “WTF IS that?!” or if they’re engaged. I could improve the eye contact I think.

But in general I remember feeling good about “transmitting” my message. When I used an example from my team then thinking about them made me feel good, too. They ARE my source of inspiration!

And before I knew it, it was over… Question time! I had extra incentives for people (tied to the theme of my talk) and this worked surprisingly well 😀 Namely, I had some Kinder Surprises with me and offered them for each question. All 6 of them were gone!

Sami also asked a question (that I couldn’t fully answer because he asked about what is going on behind the Closed Door) and he got a Star Wars character Count Dooku as the surprise. Well, good karma was instant: his talk was up next but in a different room and basically, he had to get by without slides because he could show us 2 of them before the loudspeakers started banging some techno and the system had to be turned off. So he had attached Count Dooku to his neckstrap and Sami looked for comfort by fiddling with it while giving his talk 😀

I think Sami did an absolutely awesome job! When the projector went crazy, he just picked up the marker and drew models on the flip-over chart. He totally kept his calm. All I could do was sit in the front row and cheer him on.

Of course it’s sad we couldn’t see his wonderful slides. But like Sami later said himself: his topic was exploring the unfamiliar and that he got to do himself during the presentation.

When I thought about this afterwards, I think Sami’s experience is something I will use the next time when preparing for a talk. I will try to do it without the slides entirely and have “back-up visuals” in my mind for when things should go badly.

But I am extremely grateful my slides worked for me 😀

And then I was really tired. So I went to my room for a while because I felt I could fall asleep on spot. But when I laid down, I couldn’t take a nap. So yeah, then it was time for some beer .

We had a great time with some Dutch folks (hello, Iris, Armando, and Bram!) discussing some “interesting Estonian words”. Sami turned out to be very funny as I was in stitches about some of his facial expressions. Too bad he doesn’t remember all those “context-specific” jokes… 🙂 But there’s the next time, and if anyone wants to know the dirty side of Estonian language, have a beer (or two) with me.

***

There you go…

I feel content as I got good feedback also from people I didn’t know and I guess I surprised others and also myself when I considered that this was my first talk given at such an event to such audience. Armando said something about me being famous now but we’ll have to see about that 😀

I also have ideas about how to evolve this talk because there were a bunch of ideas I had to drop (or else people would have to spend two hours with me :D).

I have some public speaking experience but nothing on this scale. Now that I’ve got this talk under my belt I feel like I’m in a different place now in terms of confidence and outlook on my work.

Needless to say, I’m hungry for more now…