Conferences are for Conferring

I’ve been home from the 3rd annual Conference of the Association of Software Testing in Toronto for three weeks now, and am still thinking about all I’ve learned.

This was my 3rd time attending CAST. As always, the keynotes, tutorials and track sessions were excellent…and as always, even better than that was the conferring. You see, CAST knows that it attracts testers with an impressive array of experience, and that making time for them to riff off of each other is very valuable. Toward that end, every single track session and keynote included substantial time devoted to discussion, with an explicit welcome to challenge the presenter or to otherwise test their assertions. Inevitably, the I found the lively conversation spilling over into dinner, or following us to the pub.

While I’ve been testing for eight years now, and have worked on a range of web and client-server applications, all of my work so far is limited to the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a tremendous pleasure discussing testing with folks from vastly different industries, and from around the world.

One story of many: Over dinner I mentioned a problem that I thought was best solved by starting a conversation with the programmer. Scott Barber responded with something like “Providing the tester doesn’t get in trouble for talking to her.” I was surprised, and asked if that’s really something that happens much in 2008…and was informed by folks at the table from more regulated industries or on government projects that that’s not uncommon. Partly this made me very happy to be a tester for in very human culture we have at Freebase, but it also served to reinforce how easy it is to overgeneralize about the field of testing, when I’m really thinking about testing in a particular context or contexts.

Discussing our particular challenges, sharing stories, and questioning testers with very different perspectives really made CAST 2008 a joy for me…and I’m looking forward to 2009 in Colorado Springs!

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3 Responses to “Conferences are for Conferring”

  1. Anon Says:

    > “Providing the tester doesn’t get in trouble for talking to her.”

    In 11 years as a tester and programmer, I have never seen this.

  2. testingjeff Says:

    @Anon – I’m happy you haven’t! I certainly haven’t either, and doubt I ever will…but one thing I realized at CAST was that development cultures vary much more widely than I’d realized – across industries, company sizes, and geographies.

    I heard this referenced several times by folks in highly regulated companies where testing is seen as a way to audit the software, and where testers getting to know programmers is seen as biasing the tester. The idea seemed to be that by isolating testers from programmers they can get more objective and rigorous results.

    Another example was a very senior performance tester on a large government project. The programming went to a different bidder from the testing, and there was a highly contentious, legalistic relation between the two parties. The test team had been explicitly told never to describe a bug to the programmers – that only the managers of the respective teams can talk, because for legal reasons they didn’t want the programmers to be able to say they’d gotten conflicting instructions.

    A third actually does come from Silicon Valley, in the games testing industry, where a friend who has tested at several major video game producers describes the attitude toward testers there as expendable, and that for them to talk to programmers wastes valuable programmer time, so they were basically instructed to only speak to programmers when spoken to.

    I’m not trying to make any assertion of how much of the testing industry is like this – I hope it’s a tiny percentage – but it was eye-opening to me to learn more of the variation that exists in different testing contexts.

  3. Jaanvi Says:

    I am not really shocked at what Scott barber said. It happens but not always although this kind of attitude has to vanish not only from the minds of people but also organizations.

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