Journey Towards Test Leadership and the Role of Conferences

Test Leadership and the Role of Conferences

Anand : First of all, I would like to thank Anna for taking the time out from her schedule to share her journey, views on test leadership and the importance of conferences. Anna has helped many people, directly or indirectly, with her contributions in the software testing field.

We are honoured to have her with us today.

Anand: Anna, thank you for speaking with us today. Please, tell me something about yourself.

Anna: My name is Anna Royzman. I have been a tester / test manager for 15+ years; worked in the financial sector, e-commerce, and a few other sectors. I started speaking at conferences in 2011. Later on, I helped to organize several testing conferences myself. And then in 2016, I began organizing my own conferences. I do two conferences a year: for software testers (in the Fall) and test leaders (in the Spring), because I believe in developing test leadership.

My organization is a nonprofit; it’s called Global Quality Leadership Institute. Its mission is to become the leader for quality advocacy in technology. My programs are developed in accordance to that mission. Software testing education and leadership education is something that I believe is very valuable in this world.

Anand: When did you start this Global Quality Leadership Institute?

Anna: I founded the Institute in 2015. My focus is on test and quality education. Besides conferences, I co-organize NYC Testers Meetup and other testing events such as peer conferences and workshops (WITS, WOTBLACK). Peer Conferences have a different format: it’s the experience reports from testing shared with participants. It is a format with lots of conversations intended to discuss and compare experiences. I believe that sharing experiences between software test professionals is something that our industry can benefit from more than, say, listening to a lecture.

Our profession is different because lots of what we do depends on the context; our strategy depends on the context. It is not easy to teach testing outside of context because a lot of things would differ depending on the context. Peer workshop allows for the knowledge sharing between test professionals. People’s experiences are very unique and sharing them within a peer group, discussing it and deriving some essence of testing expertise is very valuable in this format. That is why; I am a huge proponent of peer workshops, whenever possible.

Anand: Organizing these conferences is a hard work. How do you take help from the software testing community in this humungous effort?

Anna: I am well known in the software testing community, and that helps. People who know what I am standing for — the development of the professionalism and expertise in software testing — provide a lot of support. Many people across the globe spread the news about the conferences I run. When I invite them to speak, they gladly come — because they trust in what I do.

Anand: How would you encourage people to contribute more in the testing community? How would you tell them that it is important to attend the conferences and help people like yourself in organizing the conferences?

Anna:I think you have to have a passion for your profession and a drive for becoming an expert in your field. If you do not have an urge to become better, you probably do not belong here anyway. Software Testing as a distinct profession is relatively young. While developers and software engineers did a lot of testing as they produced their code in the past, there was a separation of task, but not the title.

Software Testing became a career choice quite recently, and so there is not much what we know about the craft. People come up with theories about software testing, they conduct experiments to prove or disprove those theories, share collected data and evaluate experience reports. Methodologies around testing are evolving. If you are passionate about testing, do contribute to the development of the craft. Conferences are the place where such knowledge and research is shared, and community understanding of the craft is enhanced by participants involvement. I invite you to join us!

Anand: You must have had an interesting journey, could you share some key milestones with us to give a glimpse of your career?

Anna: Most of the people I know fell into testing accidentally. I am one of them. It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. It is good because something was driving you to become a tester: maybe an intrinsic curiosity, a drive to excellence, a compassion and so on. Since software testing is rarely taught in the schools or universities, people bring in a lot of experience and various domains expertise from outside to the testing field. Such outsider views and practices are integrated into testing and create more enhanced collective body of knowledge for our field of practice.

What’s bad about the diversity of newcomers to the field is the little knowledge and, as a result, absence of standards that benefit the practice instead of adding impediments to it. Many years ago, there were many rules around how testing should be done, how heavily should it be documented, and I kind of suffered through that too. Heavy documentation and reporting can suck the life out of your job. However, what really pushed me forward was the realization that I could generate interesting ideas about testing: what else can be tried, what permutations and paths I can run the software through, which scenarios could I come up with, etc. It was rather an intellectual challenge, and it kept my passion strong.

Over the time I learned that not all test ideas generated in my head can be executed — because of the lack of time. So I started developing the strategy approach – what can be done better, what can be done fast, how can I streamline those ideas into something tangible that I can do. It’s when I started thinking about the usage of tools – different automation tools, various helpers. You can explore the application manually and start testing it, but if you are a professional, you will start using appropriate tools to help you. I wasn’t a developer, but I wasn’t afraid of the tools. I started using them whenever they could save me some time. When I became a Manager, I combined test automation and the exploratory testing methods to address the challenges of the task at hand.

What is unique about testing is that your context and priorities change every day. It saddens me how many people do not get it, management included. If you put your plan on paper, you really want to follow it; however, you cannot follow the plan due to many reasons. Something is not ready, something has changed, priorities shifted. As a strategist, you need to ensure that you are ready for the change – your tools are ready, your approaches are ready, your resources are in hand. In my journey to become an expert I became good at adjusting to the changes rapidly.

I eventually started sharing my experience with other experts and that’s when my own expertise began to shape up. So that is sort of next step, how you expose yourself to the wisdom of your community. At some point you grow, you mastered all the tools and the methodology that is applicable in your context and then you have to expose yourself to the wisdom of others. When you learn from others and compare your experiences, you realise that the strategies you have worked with would not work in other contexts.

You have all the tools at your disposals, you have all the resources and you know how to motivate others to do testing because you can not do all the testing yourself. And at this point, leadership qualities would start to develop. So even though I was a Manager before, the leadership qualities start to develop the more I understand what’s going out in the world of our profession. Then you want to encourage people, you want to motivate people, you want to encourage investigation of our profession and you want to encourage the community.

At this stage, you are a leader. You are no longer a participant, but you are driving the changes. You are inviting people to go with you. And that’s where I think I am right now.

There are different challenges at that stage of your journey. You have so much knowledge that you need to share. At this stage, you want to teach people what you know and I want more people to get excited about the possibilities of the craft.

Anand: Completely agree. Sharing, in my opinion, is great because it is always good to have a validation or know about the criticism or opportunities to improve from others. When someone shares their journey on things like test automation, how do you give them the feedback?

Anna: I have experience with a lot of tools as a test lead and test manager, and I have a lot of experience in different ways of automation. As a Test Manager, test automation tools are my tools that can help me gather the information I need to give to my stakeholders. I have tried many different things in my automation journey – I have used pairwise tools, test generation tools, direct assert verification, model based AT, UI automation, web testing and so on. Automation is a code. Automation can be outdated. There could be defects in the automation tool itself. As a Manager, I know how many resources could be wasted in maintaining the automation project. If the tools are not ready when you need them, the efforts are wasted.

All of that had a lot of value to me, and so whenever I talk to someone I can often say: here are the benefits of whatever you are doing and here are the issues that you can encounter, and that’s how you can potentially address them.

Anand: Testing as a profession has changed. How the perception of the management has changed about testing and the role of a tester? What skills are required in the testers these days?

Anna: I believe that the introduction of Agile in the mainstream software development has opened up the opportunities for testers to participate more in every stage of the software creation process. A tester brings an interesting set of skills to every stage – for example, questioning the assumptions, not taking anything “for granted”. Since you are part of the team from the inception, you question the assumptions. Normally testers are good at that because they have to develop those skills anyway. Agile makes it possible for testers to validate those assumptions at the “product shaping” stage, not in production. Tester introduces that skillset to the process.

Usually, the perception is: we test the software and nobody is there to wait for your voice at this inception stage. So when you say something at this stage, they can tell that you to come later. But you need to persuade them and tell them that you are good at this.

Another place where you can use this skill is when you develop acceptance criteria. It allows people to consider important questions earlier – not when the functionality is done.

Another great skill is analytical skill. People around testers needs to accept it. Testers sometime can not express their value or explain what useful skills they can offer to the team.

A word of caution. Sometimes, when you develop a feature, you don’t want a lot of negativity. People are thinking about positive things and when a tester asks all those questions, they are not ready to answer. It happened to me. I went to my very first Agile planning meeting with a list of questions and people in the meeting said: Anna, we are not ready to talk about that. I am like, well I can’t work without the requirements. It took me a while to change my mindset. Sometimes it could be unintuitive how testers fit into this new process. But once you internalize this process, it becomes much more rewarding.

Another skill testers can bring is pair testing. Testers can work with the developers to discuss those test ideas during the active code development stage and help devs to test these ideas. It’s great for the team building as well. As a Test Manager, I had to train my teams on these skills. Some of the testers were shying away from the communication. They were like, give me this application and we will find all the defects. It is useful, but testers can add a lot more value then that.

Anand: Thanks Anna. To our readers, hope you found Anna’s views on software testing, test leadership, and conferences interesting. We hope that her contribution in the software testing field will help the budding testers to advance their career in the right direction.

We have shared some of the conversations we had with her in this blog post. We will cover remaining conversation in another blog post next week.

Please, do stay in touch and share this conversation with the relevant people in your network or organization.

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