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… 🙂


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.


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.

t+3: Three Months after Let’s Test

Let’s Test 2013 was a groundbreaking  event for me. When it was over, I realized it was going to change something for me. Therefore, I figured it’s a suitable time now to take a look back to the last 3 months and see what has actually changed.


I made my conference debut after Let’s Test but I know it wouldn’t have gone so well if I hadn’t made friends at Let’s Test who helped, pushed and supported me. What makes me even happier is that I can return the favor now and help review a kick-ass presentation.


I got over myself and signed up for BBST. Getting excited!


I started using unscheduling as suggested by Zeger at Let’s Test. I haven’t been very consistent about it but it DOES help. I am less inclined to think “oh, I’ll read/write/watch that when I get home” and then forget myself in the office. If I know I decided to work on something and unschedule it, chances are much better than before that I will do that. Sure, there are unexpeced events like going to the movies at the last minute or ending up coming home at 5am if you only went out to have dinner with colleagues but hey… that’s life.


I submitted another CFP to TestBash.


I started reporting risks to decision makers based on test results. Now THIS has been a very rewarding experience.


I have been a much happier tester and team lead. Seriously. It has been a complete turnaround from my gloomy spring. I’ve been better at choosing what I want to do or don’t want to do.


I have started planning on doing an in-house workshop on testing for our developers.


There are days now when I tell myself, “Shit, I’m only getting started!”


I’ve expanded my horizon in a new direction: lean. Inspired by Tobbe I also started reading “The Toyota Way”. I’m about one third through it and it’s been a VERY interesting read. I recognized a lot of problems that we’re having with our software development process.


I also learned that it’s difficult to actually FINISH a book if you have EIGHT going at the same time. Thankfully, GoodReads helped me realized this, so I need to cut back on books that I start reading. Though I do like to have a couple of books going at the same time, so I can switch.


I started practicing sketchnoting. I’ll do a post on that one day. Maybe even show my sketches. Because it’s a lot of fun!


I picked up SBTM again and we’re working on it with my team to find how we can implement it in a useful way. We’ve been creeping towards it for a while and in some form we’ve been practicing it all along. But I felt I have enough energy now to jump into it again and also experiment myself. It will be a team learning exercise and a team effort. Sure, I can read the articles and blog posts but I think we need to figure it out as a team, make mistakes together, discuss solutions.


My mentor said he’s proud of me and that he didn’t think I’d make it that far in three years. Well… neither did I 😀


There maybe things I’ve already forgotten…. Therefore, I should make it a goal that I’m going to keep a better log of the events. Writing something every day or taking notes more is something I’ve been thinking of: I realize how much I can forget and so I can’t recall all interesting cases and examples if I don’t have notes.


Anyway, this was more of a personal ramble. But those of you who attended Let’s Test – what has changed for you?

The GNIKCUF Awesome conference – Let’s Test 2013

I have studied languages most of my life, yet I’m lost for words.

During the hours between now and the time Let’s Test conference ended (or did it?!), I feel like I am “growing into a very special family”. The reason why Let’s Test feels like an explosion in my mind and soul is that it conflated awesome ideas and passionate testers, and all of it happened in limited space and time. There was a lot of energy in the air (and Huib the Wise said that energy should be followed) that people brought together. And this is how I will remember the conference – not just the tracks and keynotes but the magic that happened at dinner table, sometime between sessions, late at night.


Here are my rough (and condensed) notes hot off my red notebook (in the order I took them):

Keynote – James Bach “How Do I Know I am Context-Driven?”

  • Dangers of shallow agreement: it’s important to know WHEN we don’t agree as we need to trust the agreement; debate should be allowed to avoid shallow agreement
  • Aspects of context-driven: community (people, mutual influences), approach (heuristics applied), paradigm (the model for understanding the world)
  • Rephrasing “context-driven” – a humanistic problem-solver is aware of their surroundings

Ilari Henrik Aegerter: The Challenges of Brilliant Observations and the Fallacies of Convincing Descriptions

  • DON’T TRUST YOUR BRAIN (yes, this is exaggerated)
  • Being aware of the “filtering power” of our brain: a number of things can go unnoticed while a lot of things are “helpfully” (re)constructed.
  • Power of priming: it makes it easier for us to retrieve information associated with the “primed” piece of info (priming is a familiar concept to me from psycholinguistics and it got me thinking about priming my brain to find certain kind of issues/info while testing…)
  • Putting the “(re)constructive” power of the brain to a good use: too detailed instructions/descriptions (difficult to follow, probably too much to process) versus too general (too open to interpretation) versus sufficient (enough info so that the rest can be filled in)
  • Tools (eyes) can be poor but the engine (brain) is great

Johanna Rothman: Kick-Ass Manager

  • It was a kick-ass keynote! I would’ve liked to stand up and say “AMEN” a lot (*hears the choir in her head*). I found that I’ve done or tried to do several things that Johanna was talking about.
  • Rejecting victimhood and taking the responsibility were thoughts that resonated with me. It’s easy to become a victim if the going gets rough but trying to keep what I call “productive attitude” is what’s going to get you out of there.
  • Ask questions about the career: what do your team mates want?
  • The importance of one-on-ones: creating a space of trust and openness helps people share their troubles and celebrate their greatness together. I also believe this makes the teams stronger in the end (and I have experienced that myself, too). The most important condition here is that you deeply care about the people you work with.
  • Understand what is important to the business!
  • The chasm between visionaries and pragmatists: what does quality mean to the product?
  • Foster learning: this is how you can grow the people you need.

I am also grateful for Johanna for this piece of advice I got at the breakfast table: “live your values because you have to live them; but see how you could serve your company using those values.” I have been circling around this idea myself trying to meet certain challenges and this provides a great perspective for me.

Maria Kedemo: Hiring to Solve the Puzzle

  • Random thought #42: shirts with studded skulls rock!
  • RISCx3 matrix: a model that helps you remember the important pieces of information/activities (my random thought: helps with “coverage” of the hiring process; helps with comparing applicants across the matrix); the matrix actually needs a longer discussion…

Leo Hepis: Linguistics – On How to Keep Dialogue Constructive

  • I guess I must have pleasantly surprised Leo over lunch when he briefly summarized his talk and I asked “oh, you mean the Grice’s maxims?” 🙂 I am always glad to meet people who pull stuff from “my field”.
  • Since I participated in preparing for the exercise, I don’t know what was the discussion of the maxims like (but since I know what they are anyway, then I guess it doesn’t matter).
  • I liked the idea of setting up a dialogue so that participants could observe the exchange and detect the potential violations of the maxims.

Fiona Charles: Leadership Heuristics

  • Fiona set up a short but productive workshop where the heuristics for leadership were brainstormed. Our group had a great discussion about them and we came up with these: find time to talk/travel to people (the importance of casual conversation); giving trust; short feedback loop (honest, quick, and open communication between a leader and their people). For the heuristics, we also had to think of three conditions/context when they worked and three for when they wouldn’t work. I just hope the photos of the posters will become available…

Tobias Fors: Systems Thinking for the Rest of Us

  • ORG DOODLING! Components: me&the problem; other people; resources, platforms, tools; relations, interactions; problems/pains; joys/strengths; what else is missing. I already showed my doodle to my boss today 😀 See, I already got to use it. I really want to do more doodling to model the issues I am trying to solve.
  • MESS is a system of problems (I love this phrase!).
  • Org doodling is good for finding a different perspective on the problem.
  • Assume that people are rational: if you explore why something is true for other people, you may reveal the unseen structures that previously made their behavior seem strange; but if the structures are visible, the behavior is understood better.
  • Performance is the product of interaction between the different parts of the system. So to “fix” something, don’t focus on the quality of one particular part but focus on the interactions of the parts.

[notes and drawings about some stuff I explained to Erik (@brickuz) – thanks again for listening to the rant! 😀 I guess I’ll write a short blog post on one of those things as it could be useful to other awesome testers, too]

John Stevenson: Information Overload

  • Information overload: available information exceeds the user’s ability to process it (the same thing was happening to me at the time of the presentation… hence my crappy notes)
  • Be aware of being anchored in a particular context or being primed. What to try to shake them off? Try Weinberg’s rule of three and slowing down.
  • Plan making mistakes (maybe this would help to  be less afraid of them as well?)
  • Pro-tip: send your testing notes to yourself at the end of the day and read them next morning (see if you understand them and SPOT MISTAKES).

Steve M. Smith, Debugging Human Interactions

  • To put it shortly, this was an awesome workshop where the participants formed two live super-organisms that interacted with each other.
  • The breakdown of communication helped to see how much actually gets lost (yay for bugs!). Knowing that, you can go back and ask to repeat something.
  • Connection between low self-esteem and defense; the importance of feelings about my feelings.
  • Try to think of more meanings: this means feelings will be activated less.
  • Survival skills: rules about life + metarules trigger certain behavior

Zeger van Hese, Testing in the Age of Distraction

  • Zeger talked extensively about (de)focusing and the presentation was packed with information! What’s not to love!
  • http://coffitivity.com/ – I already found it useful today
  • Procrastination and how to deal with it: I liked the idea of first scheduling things I wanted to do, then things I have to do.
  • Reflect and defocus without guilt – your best ideas won’t come to you when you focus hard.
  • And a lot of other useful stuff.

Scott Barber, Business Value of Testing

  • Man, I was sitting in the first row but was about to be blown off against the back wall by Scott’s energy 😀
  • I learned I’m like coffee in value 🙂 But I can be VERY good coffee (and who wouldn’t hate BAD coffee, eh?)
  • Understand the business and learn to speak business.
  • Understand your primary business mission and forget about being the white knight on a white horse who salvages the world.
  • Goal: become invaluable to the business.

I want to thank everyone that I had the chance to spend time with and talk to. I am very sure I am going to miss somebody because the whole experience is a bit of blur right now (and it’s 2:30am right now, too). But I can’t wrap up without mentioning Huib, Erik, Aleksis, Johanna, Carsten, Ilari, Paul, Simon, Martin (ha, you guess WHICH ones! :D), Leo, Kristoffer… and so on.

Thank you everyone and see you next year!