Paring is caring…

Recently I’ve been reading lots of great articles and blog posts about pair testing and paired working. This awesome post a couple of weeks ago by Katrina Clokie (@katrina_tester) was the latest one I read. This has a great “Experience Reports” section at the bottom of the page with extracts from other blogs on pair testing – Worth checking out!

I love doing paired work and I try to do it as much as I physically can while working on stories within my team. This is not the only time that I’ve adopted this paired approach – Over the last couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of some paired learning with Gemma Lewington (@GemmaLewington) one of the awesome testers at NewVoiceMedia, she is a serious ninja and someone I have learnt so much from during the last year and half. We both identified a desire to learn more MySQL so we thought it would be a great idea to try to learn this together.

We all have to start somewhere….

We needed to establish “where we were at” skill level wise – I can only speak for myself here but before i joined NVM I couldn’t even explain to you what a very basic SELECT statement did – why would i know?  It was never something that i had any exposure too in my former roles. Gemma had the great idea of creating a skills matrix:

MySQL_Skills_Matrix

We chose some of the popular statements and assigned a 1 to 5 score to these – 5 being “Very confident”. We had our starting point!

How did we progress our learning forward?

One of the first things we did was talked, that sounds like a stupid thing to mention because it’s so obvious but we work in different teams and on different pieces of work so our daily work patterns are slightly out of sync. I also tend to work from home a lot so we had the added pressure of finding a day that suits both of us, to set up a learning session. The best thing about this experience was that we were not being told to do this or to make time to learn something we didn’t want to – We were doing this off our own backs so if we did miss a meet up day or let it slip by a day, it was never a big deal.

One thing that I think helped us in the early weeks was that I suggested that we both pick something for the other person to teach, in the next session – So I would say to Gemma ” I’d like to know more about ALIAS” and she would in return say to me ” I’d like to know more about JOINs”.

For me there were 2 main reasons for doing this:

  1. It forces you to go and research the topic in greater detail and prepare to teach this back to the other person. Practicing the art of verbal explanation.
  2. It gives the next meeting more focus and structure, it sets out an agenda rather than turning up and spending 30/60 mins not really going through anything.

What made use of the W3Schools website to give us something to build from, the templates were kind of perfect for our needs.

We could take something like:

Extract from W3Schools

SELECT o.OrderID, o.OrderDate, c.CustomerName
FROM Customers AS c, Orders AS o
WHERE c.CustomerName=”Around the Home” AND c.CustomerID=o.CustomerID;

Then apply this to our context by using our databases and tables etc – It made them come to life and it made it easier to explain and visualize the end result in our minds.

Really picked up the basics in a very short time….

After a few weeks we were starting to get really confident and were using lots of things in the same queries like Multiple JOINS between Databases, ALIAS for every table, renaming columns,  INSERTS etc. We would send each other random queries that we knocked up while testing and kind of showing them off in a “Check this out!!” sort of way. It was great.

We added things that we found useful to a central “Useful SQL Queries” page so that other members of the team could reuse these, I’m not saying these were perfect (mine at least) but there was no point in just making throw away statements, when these could benefit others.

Not keeping it to ourselves… 

As this was a sharing experience, was chose to present this experience to the rest of the test team in our weekly meeting and explaining that having the confidence to get in to the database and not be scared about all the data in there can be a massive help to our daily testing. Being confident enough to give queries that I had written to a developer was a massive step forward for me and it proved how far I’d come. We will continue to practice these newly found skills and increase our knowledge and ninja MySQL skills.

I would encourage everyone to get some paired learning going, not only with people within your companies but with others in the community – only good can come out of this!!

How do i learn something new?

After reading this great post by Dan Ashby (@DanAshby04) about self learning it got me thinking about how I personally manage my time, in regards to doing extra learning. I feel it’s an absolutely vital part of being a tester – Everyday should be a learning day.

I don’t really have much experience of formal education, I left my senior school at 16 years old after taking my GCSEs, to join the British Army. A lot of children of that age in the UK would go on to College and then University, that wasn’t something that ever interested me. I gained nearly all of my experience in being taught a particular “thing” within the Army.

The main method of teaching within the Army is normally as follows:

  • Explain
  • Demonstrate
  • Imitate
  • Practice
  • Questions

I know that questions is at the end of this list – this is not entirely accurate, people always have questions when learning something new. It’s placed at the end of this teaching cycle to have a dedicated period of time to ask questions following a lesson (Kind of like having questions at the end of a talk or presentation). This method will be applied to almost all aspects of military teaching from learning how to take a rifle apart, how to read a map, how to shave (Yes this happens!) and so on. It’s a method that works in the Army and has been around for years. Since leaving the Forces nearly five years ago now, I find it hard to think of an occasion when I have been taught anything in this way.

How does this relate to the way in which I learn something new? It doesn’t. Just thought I’d tell you….

Self learning is a very personal and unique thing – Something that works for someone else might not work for you. Some people might have a set of topics they want to solely concentrate their efforts on or they have goals that they want to achieve by a certain time frame. In the early stages on my test learning, I wanted to read everything – so my approach was what I would call the “Shotgun” method. It wasn’t at all concentrated or focused, it was in fact all over the bloody shop!

Something had to change…

I now centralise the blog posts that catch my eye and would like to read using Pocket, if I’m flicking through Twitter and I see something of interest I send it to the application to work through later in my spare time throughout the day. I have also been more efficient in the way that I use my Evernote account, I spent the time to tidy it up and create notebooks for specific learning topics – Moving forward, by having recipes on IFTTT I’ve been able to cut the time it’s taking me to place things in the areas that I want them, this has given more time back to focus on the reason for having them there in the first place.

I have an agreed learning time in the evenings after I finish work, while my partner watches rubbish on TV. I have time to research topics, read blogs/books, look up a new word I’ve heard mentioned that day, practice techniques, basically whatever without feeling guilty about how much time I’m spending doing it. Having this time each day gives me focus and forces me not to waste a second of it.

So this is a small part of the way I learn, I’m in the very lucky position of working with folks that share the same passion for testing as me and there is always someone there to talk through a topic or technique that interests me or I can jump in on a lunchtime learning session.

I’m always interested in the way that testers manage their extra learning, what do they focus on? How do they capture this? Do they use certain applications to aid them?

Please share, I would love to hear from you!!

My chance to give something back…

2014 was epic for me in so many different ways, on the kick starting my testing career front – I joined Rob Lambert and his team at NewVoiceMedia, finally fulfilling my goal of being an actual software tester rather than some bloke with a massive obsession for the craft. I attended both TestBash and Agile Testing Days during the year and focused all my efforts in to providing valuable information to my new feature team and sharing whatever I could with our test team at NVM.

From a personal point of view I got engaged and started to plan a wedding for Feb 2015 (Arh crap, that’s this month!). In January 2014 I set myself, at the time, an achievable goal of writing about my military experiences and how I think these relate to software testing….basically I epically failed to meet that goal! I put all of my focus and attention on learning my new role and giving everything I could to support my team at NVM.

I feel much more settled now and I WILL pick these part finished posts up again and publish these this year!

So why am I writing this post?

TestBash 2015 is nearly upon us, this will be my third year in a row helping out Rosie, Simon and the team down in Brighton. Honestly, I bloody love it there, I’ve had some great laughs and awesome chats at the pre conference meet ups and at the conference itself. I’m in the very lucky position of getting a free place at TestBash for helping out, I kind of feel bad for the guys and girls that really want to attend but can’t get the funding, be it through self funding or through their companies. I was in that place in 2013 and it was horrible.

This year I wanted to change that for someone, as soon as I saw that you could sponsor a ticket for some lucky person to attend, I just knew I had to buy one. Last year Emma Keaveny (@EmJayKay80) was a breath of fresh enthusiastic air, it’s very hard not to like her, she’s awesome! I’d love to see someone with that visible passion for the craft win my sponsored ticket and get to be amongst, in my opinion, some of the best testers in the world.

The speaker line up this year is epic, I’m very much looking forward to hearing what they all have to say and also the great mini conversations that happen during the breaks and at the meet ups. I’m especially looking forward to meeting the person who has won the ticket and hearing their story and reasons for wanting to be there.

Also, I’ll be looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and meeting many more!

See you there!

If you don’t ask, you don’t get…

I’ve been suffering from a little bit of writers block of late (few months), I have loads of unfinished posts that NEED to be completed but i thought i would ease myself back in by writing a very short post first.

Over the last few days my twitter feed has been absolutely taken over by all the awesome testers that I follow talking about #CAST2014….to be honest, I’m completely jealous!! It looks and sounds like it’s going to be a hell of a conference and one that I’ll be following closely during next week.

It’s not all doom and gloom for me – I was always told that “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” and if you never ask, the answer will ALWAYS be no. So i thought i would take the chance at work to ask “Is there and chance that i could go to Agile Testing Days?”. I love attending and being a part of conferences and as it stands I’ve only been part of the awesome 1 Day event that is TestBash here in the UK. Obviously i was keen to attend an overseas event, the chance to see the talks and also to share experiences with other testers around the world is something I’ve really wanted to do for a while now.

So to cut a long story short – my amazing company newvoicemedia are footing the bill to send myself and two others to the event in Potsdam, Germany. As you can see from the ATD Program it’s going to be a very very very hard decision choosing which talks I want to see. One I’m looking forward to hearing is by Sami Soderblom (@pr0mille) “They made me a combat medic?!”  – coming from a military background this one jumped out at me straight away and I will be very interested to hear his take on things.

I’m looking to take as much away from these talks as I physically can and bring all this new information back to the office and share it with my awesome test team. Also it’s a chance to meet up with testers that i’ve already had the pleasure to meet and to meet some new ones.

What are the things that you want to do? Is there anything that someone can help you with? If so, ask – You never know, you might get those lovely Y E S letters back.

Relating military patrol planning and techniques to testing

I’m always looking for ways to relate the testing craft to certain things that I’ve done in the past, this is mainly due to basically stumbling into the testing world from somewhere completely random like the British Army Infantry. These two worlds are polar opposites and so different in so many ways….but are they?!

I’ve had a idea in my mind for a while now about writing a series of posts on how I think these two things relate – I did a little research into the topic to see if anyone else had attempted to make this connection and I came across this talk by Benjamin Yaroch. He gave an “Emerging Topics” talk at CAST back in 2011, entitled “Applying Military Concepts to Testing to Help Cope With Change and be a Better Leader” – It’s a great talk and well worth watching, if you have not done so already. His research was gained in part from his Brother, who was in the Air Force for a number of years and also from reading various Military documentation.

He started to look into patrols:

  • How they worked?
  • What they did when going into an area?
  • How they found information?
Ben found that patrols in general didn’t have as many touching points as the leadership aspects within the Military and favoured the latter as the theme of his talk.
 
I wanted to approach this topic from a slightly different angle, from someone who has been “on the ground” and been part of the planning phase of a patrol. I want to take you on a journey and let you view the surrounding world through my eyes, as me and my team patrol through an area of Afghanistan. I want to (hopefully) explain some of these points as we conduct our patrol and how they relate (in my opinion) to testing:
 
  • Pre planing
  • Equipment Preparation
  • Area brief
  • Threat Brief and Current Vulnerabilities
  • Initial Contact/Full Contact Report
  • Outside Resources Available 
  • Routes
  • Actions on
  • Withdrawal
  • Regular HQ Updates
  • Debrief
This is just a few from my ever growing list of Patrol considerations, I wanted to give you a taster of what I had in mind for the upcoming posts.
 
This is going to come together over the course of this year and I will have something new out at least every few weeks as well as other ideas for posts that come to my mind. I hope this will be of interest to at least one person, if not, it will be good writing practice for myself and give me a goal to achieve this year.
 
Look forward to the first of my many posts on this subject…

The week has flown by….

If you didn’t know already (may have mentioned it a few times….) I started a new job this week….I hate it when I say “job” to describe what I’m doing, that just sounds dull and boring – It’s so much more than that!! I’ve been very lucky to be given the opportunity to work with not only Rob Lambert but also his awesomely talented team at Newvoicemedia.

Starting at a new place can be a sometimes nerve-racking affair – the fear of the unknown I guess. From the first second I stepped foot in the office I knew this was where I wanted to be, I don’t mean the first day of work…I knew this from the tour of the offices that Rob gave me just before my initial interview. You know that feeling when it just feels right. My daily journey time is not great (just under 2 hrs each way in the car) but none of that even matters when you are driving to a place like NVM.

This week I’ve been introduced to so many new and wonderful things I’ll be working with and new faces and names to remember that it has been a little bit overwhelming at times but I’m never too far away from people who are willing to help me out and that’s what I love most about being here. I have a Test Buddy/Mentor…well two actually (greedy), they’re there to help me out whenever I need it which is awesome, I will look forward to our daily chats and weekly get together.

It’s going to be a HUGE learning curve, getting to grips with the products and the various different applications I’ll be using daily but I’m looking forward to each and every day being a learning day.

I’m going to get more in the habit of blogging about my experiences on a regular basis, that’s the reason why I started writing in the first place – I went through a dry spell for a while but one of my main goals is to change that this year.

This post would be epic if I wrote about every new thing I’ve seen and done this week so I’m going to spare you all this time and keep it short. I’ve already made a mental note of all the topics I’d like to cover so watch this space for future posts.

Test Retreat UK

Last Wednesday night I got my testing fix by attending the awesome Test Retreat UK  in Bournemouth hosted by Raji Bhamidipati (@peppytester).

I’ve been working very close to Bournemouth for several months and I attended a previous Test Retreat UK event in July. It was well worth traveling over after work to attend. Fantastic exploratory testing session and face to face chats/discussions with fellow testers….I loved it and wanted more!! When the opportunity to get together again came up, I was a dead cert to go!!

Slightly different location to the last event, this time it was in the very impressive Open Device Lab (@odlbmth). These fellas have a truly epic amount of devices and it’s a free to use resource.

The Open Device Lab is a free-to-use resource in the heart of Bournemouth for testing and developing on modern devices. It’s open to all: freelancers, students, in-house teams, and tech companies.

Whether you’re testing a native app or a responsive website, the wealth of devices in user’s hands means that getting hands-on with real devices is more important than ever.

With 252 devices across 51 manufacturers and growing, the lab is part of a grassroots movement to make better stuff – (Open Device Lab website)

It’s a place that is well worth checking out and thank you to them for the use of their office.

One talk I was looking forward to seeing/hearing was “All About Mobile Testing” by Stephen Janaway (@stephenjanaway) via Google Hangouts. After a few “technical difficulties” the talk commenced. I have had, at the time of writing this, zero mobile device testing exposure and this talk was a perfect taster in to this side of testing. Stephen has a great teaching style and makes the information come to life, keeping the listeners constantly engaged in the subject.

Test Retreat UK_01

During Stephens talk

He was also kind enough to publish the slides for this talk. Worth a look when you get some free time.

*Plug Alert* Stephen is also running a 1 day pre TestBash course on Mobile Testing which I’m very interested in attending (time permitted) and I’m sure many others will be registering for this one very soon, so don’t waste any more time and book your place…..hang on, maybe read this rest of this post first.

Next up was John Stevenson (@steveo1967) a guy that I like a lot, he has a wealth of knowledge and like many other great testers, wants to pass this forward to others in the community to constantly enhance the craft. Great to hear and see! He also has the wonderful ability to drop a bomb of a question in to a group of people and start some amazing discussions, returning once again with a few more wickedly perfect words that take the conversation to a whole new place – it’s awesome to be part of the group.

Test Retreat UK_02

John giving his talk

John gave a talk to the group on “Checking and Testing” he previously blogged about this topic in October entitled “Are you ‘Checking’ or ‘Testing’ (Exploratory) Today?” In the talk he gave to our group he touched on the key points from this post. It was a very insightful and thought provoking talk that constantly makes you question and re-evaluate the way that you are conducting your day to day testing. If you haven’t done so already, take a look at the post.

I once again massively enjoyed Test Retreat UK and I cannot wait for the next one and hopefully see some of you there, if you happen to be in the area.

Thank you to Raji for getting us all together again and a huge thank you to Open Device Lab for letting us hangout at their gaff.