Into the Blue Again… (TESTHEAD)

On December 22, 2011, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing

It’s amazing to think that 2011 is almost over, and yes, while last year I lamented writing the obligatory “year that was” letters and somewhat lampooned them with my post last year titled “Well, How Did I Get Here?”, that post resonated with many people. It is to date my most read and my most commented on article here on TESTHEAD, depending on which metrics you believe.  Based on the response to that post, I decided this year to just let it be known, this is a recap of the World of TESTHEAD, and the world of “Michael Larsen, Tester” for the year of 2011. The title this year is indeed, again, in homage to the seminal 1980 Talking Heads classic “Once in a Lifetime”.

2011 was a year of transition for me personally. I took many leaps of faith this year, and as the title says, I willingly jumped into new areas and new responsibilities. Early in the year, I ended my employment with Tracker Corp, bringing to an end six years of learning, camaraderie and a focus on the .NET world of software development and testing. In exchange, I came to Sidereel, and a world of learning, camaraderie and Rails software development. This is telling, because I’d never worked with Rails before, and my involvement with Ruby prior had been from recommendations from co-workers that it would be fun to learn. Well, now it was more than “fun to learn”, it was an occupational hazard (and necessity 🙂 ).

With that, I started mapping out and learning a new site, a new programming language, a new model, a new way of storing data, and very different approach to developing software. I was no longer just a tester, I was to integrate with a fully Agile development team and work with and alongside of them. Oh, and I traded in a daily diet of Windows and PC’s for a daily diet of Mac OS X and Darwin UNIX all sleekly wrapped in a Macbook Pro. Oh UNIX, how I have missed you!!! There  was just something comforting about leaving behind the world of MSI and EXE files and embracing tools such as ruby gems, homebrew and other options for installing software. Scriptable, customizable, and where Test Driven Development and Continuous Integration were not obscure buzzwords but actual practices that were, well, practiced! It’s also been telling, humbling, and intriguing to learn about and use tools like Ruby, RSpec, Cucumber, Capybara, Selenium Web Driver and other areas of automating testing. I can safely say I have written more code this year than I have in the past 17 years prior!

2011 also saw the process of Weekend Testers Americas come into its own. What could have been a few experimental and jerky first few sessions got smoother, cleaner, and better understood, and we had some great successes during the year. While I’m not sure how much others have learned, I know that I learned a great deal from this process. What was great to see was that this initiative was embraced by people all over the world, and our participants reflected this fact, including testers who would come into our sessions at 12:30 AM (yes, after midnight) from India to participate. First off, that’s dedication, and my hats off to everyone who did that, but more to the point, it spoke volumes about the service we were offering and the fact that people wanted to come in and participate, even at those insane hours. We had some help from some heavy hitters, too. Michael Bolton and James Bach both came in to guest host some of our sessions (“Domain Testing” and “Creating Testing Charters”), and Jonathan Bach helped me craft one of my breakaway favorite test ideas of this year, that of “Testing Vacations”. In all, it was a banner year for Weekend Testing Americas, and I am so thankful for all of the participants that helped make it possible. I’m especially thankful for Albert Gareev, who in addition to being a regular participant, stepped up to become my partner in crime for this enterprise, and frequently helping me develop new ideas or take the process in different directions than I probably would have had I been left to my own devices.

2011 was a year of meeting and developing relationships with other testers. In January, I met Matt Heusser in person for the first time. As many of you know, one of my most involved and enduring professional relationships was with (and continues to be with) Matt. I produce the “This Week in Software Testing” podcast with him. I helped write a chapter for a book he was the principal editor for (more on that in a bit). I also was a sounding board for other ideas and offered several of my own in return. I had a chance to meet my fellow Weekend Testing Compatriots Marlena Compton, Markus Gaertner, and Ajay Balamurugadas in various places. Marlena and I had the pleasure of live blogging the entirety of the Selenium Conference from San Francisco, with our comments getting us branded as the “Table of Trouble” from the other participants. That was a fun memory, and it helped to set the stage for liveblogging other events throughout the year. Geting the chance to meet so many testers during this year in various capacities was a real highlight and much enjoyed aspect.

2011 also saw my commitment to being published. I made a decision that I wanted to write beyond the scope of TESTHEAD. As will probably come as no surprise, my first few articles were Weekend Testing based. However, I had the opportunity to venture into other topics as well, including two cover stories for ST& QA magazine; one being my article about “Being the Lone Tester” and another an excerpt of my chapter from “How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing”.  Speaking of that, 2011 saw me and 20 other authors get our names in print and become book authors. It was a pleasure to have the chance to write a chapter for “how to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing”. A later development, one in which I, literally, just got word about and accepted, was a potential new book that discusses “The Best Writing in Software Testing”. I have agreed to be a junior editor for this project, and we are aiming for a 2012 release of this title. In addition, I also published articles with sites like Techwell, the Testing Planet and Tea Time With Testers. As of now, I have eleven articles that have been published external to TESTHEAD, and it is my hope that I’ll be able to write more in the coming years.

2010 was a first in that I attended my first testing conference. I made the commitment then that 2011 would be the year I would present at a testing conference. I received my opportunity to do exactly that. My first ever conference presentation was just 20 minutes, and it was at CAST 2011. I presented in the “Emerging Topics” track and discussed Stages of Team Development lessons I had learned from Scouting, and how they could apply to Testers. All in all, it went well, and even today, I still hear from people who said they appreciated the topic and liked my presentation. In addition, I also gave another full track session at CAST called Weekend Testing 3-D, where not only did i discuss how to facilitate Weekend Testing style sessions, we actually held a live session with participants from all over the world, and processed it in real time (this was the earlier mentioned “Testing Vacations” session that Jonathan Bach helped me develop. In addition, I proposed a track talk and paper for the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference titled “Delivering Quality One Weekend at a Time: Lessons Learned in Weekend Testing” and after writing the paper and  having it reviewed several times, received the nod to present it. However, fate struck, and I broke both bones in my lower leg (tibia and fibula), thus preventing me from delivering the talk (the organizers of PNSQC, however, still included my paper with the proceedings). Additionally, a friend who felt bad that I couldn’t present at PNSQC forwarded my paper to Lee Copeland, the organizer of the STAR conferences. Lee liked the paper and asked if I’d be willing to present it at STAREast in April, 2012. I of course said YES! So I will get my chance to present this paper yet :)!

There is  no question that I learned a great deal from the TWiST podcast, both as a producer and as an active listener, but 2011 will be even more memorable in that I graduated from editing the show and as an occasional guest to being one of a handful of rotating regular contributors on the mic. It’s been interesting to have people email me and say “hey, I heard your interview last week, that was a great show and a great topic, thanks for your comments and explanations”. I thought it was especially cool when I had someone say that they felt that I’d make a great game show host (LOL!).

2011 saw my continued focus on working with the Miagi-do School of Software Testing. At CAST 2011, a number of us Miagi-do Ka, including Markus Gaertner, Ajay Balamurugadas, and Elena Hauser worked along with Matt Heusser at the CAST testing challenge. During that competition, I had the chance to show Matt and the other testers there what I was able to do, and due to that experience, Ajay, Elena and I were awarded our Black Belts. While the experience itself was great, it also came with the expectation that I be willing to mentor and teach other testers, an opportunity that I have gladly taken on and look forward to doing more of in 2012.

One of my most active projects for the year of 2011 was helping to teach the Black Box Software Testing courses for the Association for Software Testing. I had the opportunity this year to instruct, as either an Assistant or as a Lead Instructor, all three courses offered in the BBST series (Foundation, Bug Advocacy and we just completed the pilot program for Test Design on December 10th). I was in this capacity that I was also nominated to run for the Board of Directors for the Association For Software Testing. I never envisioned myself being a Director of anything, much less an international software testing organization! Still, someone in the organization felt I deserved a shot, and nominated me. What’s more, someone else seconded it. Even more amazingly, a lot of people (perhaps many of you readers) thought I’d be a good fit for the position as well, since I was indeed elected to serve on the board. My two year term began in October. While daunting, it is also exciting to think that I may actually help shape the future of this organization in the coming years, and to help represent my fellow testers. Believe me, it’s not something I take lightly.

Quite possibly the biggest “Into the Blue Again” moment of the year, though, happened at our first AST board meeting in October. It was at that meeting that Cem Kaner and Becky Fiedler announced their desire to have someone take over as the Chairman of Education Special Interest Group. While a part of me felt I was wholly inadequate for the task, another part of me felt that this was something essential and that it needed someone to spearhead it so that the education opportunities within the organization could be championed and further developed, while allowing Cem and Becky the opportunity to do what they really wanted to do, which was develop more and better testing courses. With that, I offered to chair the Education Special Interest Group. I’m not sure what was more surprising, the fact that I offered, or that the rest of the board took me up on it! Two years ago, Cem Kaner was a man whose books I had read and whose presence loomed large as a “testing guru” on high. The thought I would ever meet him seemed remote. The thought I’d actually take over for him and spearhead an initiative he championed never even crossed my mind!!! Still, that’s what has happened, and I guess 2012 and beyond will tell us what I actually did with it. I’m hoping, and working towards doing, all I can to prove worthy and up to the task.

2011 was, really, a year where I took leaps of faith, lots of them, and discovered that I could do even more than I ever imagined I could. I’ve shared may of those journeys in TESTHEAD posts, and I thank each and every one of you who are actively reading this blog for your help in motivating me to take these leaps of faith. It’s been another banner year for me, both in learning and opportunities. Overall, the experiences of the past year have given me confirmation that, if I were to jump “Into the Bue Again”, that it would be a great chance to learn and grow, regardless of whether or not the outcome were necessarily successful, lucrative or advantageous. Granted, most of them have been, and those that haven’t been, well, I’d like to think I failed quickly and early enough to learn from those experiences and correct my trajectory. Time will tell if that’s true, of course. As in all things, there were many people that helped make 2011 a banner year for me.

Thanking a bunch of people is always fraught with danger, because invariably someone gets left out, and there have been hundreds of people who have been instrumental in making this a banner year for me. Still, there are many that stand out, so to that, my heartfelt thanks to Adam Yuret, Ajay Balamurugadas, Albert Gareev, Alex Forbes, Anne-Marie Charrett, Ashley Wilson, Becky Fiedler, Benjamin Yaroch, Bill Gilmore, Cem Kaner, James Bach, Janette Rovansek, Jason Huggins, Jon Bach, Lalitkumar Bhamare, Lee Copeland, Lynn McKee, Markus Gaertner, Marlena Compton,  Matt Heusser, Orian Auld, Rick Baucom, Selena Delesie, Shmuel Gershon,  Terri Moore,  Thomas Ponnet, Timothy Coulter, Will Usher and Zach Larson. Thank you all for helping me make those leaps of faith. More to the point, thank you for having the faith in me that I’d be able to actually do what you believed I could do! Thank you for what has honestly been, at least as far as software testing is concerned, my greatest year (and remember, last year was pretty awesome, too. I didn’t think I’d be able to top that!).

Here’s to an every bit as exciting and fun-filled 2012. I’m looking forward to seeing where I might leap next :).


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