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Alan Barr
Alan Barr

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Agile Testing Days Conference

Originally posted on my blog

Attending the Conference

One of the benefits of working for my employer Veterans United is the ability to attend conferences each year and bring back to my team new information on testing strategies. I attended Agile Testing Days USA for the first time and could not be more impressed by all the passionate people I met interested in testing software. I arrived with my colleague Joel the tester in Boston, MA and on Monday we both attended different workshops. Joel attended Lean Software Testing: Explained and I attended Storytelling for agile (test) professionals.

The Workshop

Over the past few months I read many books related to communication and influencing and storytelling kept appearing as one of the top skills to use to convey a message. I found examples of this workshop online and knew that I wanted to participate. I went so far as to reach out the Huib Schoots on skype and talk with him and get his expert opinion. The class was excellent and what made it amazing was the excellent group of people that attended the workshop and shared their personal stories. A couple stories resonated with me in particular one person sharing their fish out of water experience of being lost in Stockholm after leaving Kenya and bringing way too much baggage. Another story told by a veteran software developer and now tester about a network component that did not exist and his team crunching for two weeks to complete the task successfully before the company ultimately went bankrupt. Overall the message from this workshop became clear that through testing software we want to tell the story of a product and where it exists and if it needs to improve to guide our audience to those areas. Expressing solely metrics without context does not do enough for our efforts if we can share a story we can make a bigger impact.

Conference Keynote

The opening keynote of the conference was excellent and I was honored to be one of a small group of people to work in an environment where I am listened to. I'm personally over agile and processes but a lot of other workplaces have not found their bearings yet in how to get work done and build feedback loops that are effective. Evoke the Soul of Agile felt like a reaffirming of the meaning of agile and that it is about relationships between people.

While attending the other talks throughout the two days two threads emerged for me. One is that testing is a whole team effort and not just a single role responsibility. Another is that moving towards a devops culture entails making testing core to deliverying more software.

The Whole Tester

The two talks I thoroughly enjoyed and took many new ideas from were "Testing as Team Culture" by Claudia Badell and "Automation for the People" by Dr. Christin Wiedemann. I am personally used to working as a testing expert and evangelist for testing but this talk provided many excellent ideas and perspective on working with a different type of team. Claudia explained that we should share testing ideas between our team potentially using tools like checklists and mindmaps and we should make them easy to share/update. There needs to be a testing guardian and for any new initiative a testing kickoff and retrospective should occur. Finding the process that works for you and your team is best and all role should share the role of testing and nourish their testing culture.

Automation for the People was a relief from the perspective that any and all automation all the time is great and that any sort of manual testing should be maligned. Manual and automated are part of testing and there's no difference. Ultimately we should be leveraging our team's strengths as much as possible. Different team members may be better at different types of testing. People that test likely have a distribution of skills in planning, preparation, creation, execution, analysis, and reporting. I have made my own efforts to create a skills rubric for my coworkers so we can expose this transparently to team members.

Testing is Core

The next two sets of talks stuck out to me because of the emphasis they placed on testing in their own workflows. "DevOps Challenge: Why and How to Test 100 Builds per Day" by Andreas Grabner and "Continuous Testing for DevOps" by Larry Johnsen. Both talks did a great job tying the concept of devops to some other type of metaphor. In the case of the challenge it was linked to the process of developing photo film in the past and publishing our photos to social media today. In the past it was in bulk, feedback was slow and it was expensive to correct. Today it is one photo at a time, corrections can be instantaneous and feedback is fast after posting to social media. In the case of Continuous Testing for Devops it was linked to the movie City Slickers and the "one thing" that is needed. That one thing is test traceability/visibility.

There were many great ideas that came out of these talks that I would love to implement with my organization. I am starting to see that when you have a small organization trying out any of these steps is simple but at the size of the software group I work with now any changes requires a lot of discussion. There is a lot of opportunity and improvement in our journey but once we been to build unified platforms we can better enable better and quicker testing and give our users an even better experience.


I met a lot of great passionate people at this conference and I am excited for its return next year in Chicago, IL. I am looking forward to sharing more ideas and learning about how others are working to better support their organizations and balance quality and speed.

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