Wednesday, 9 March 2011

STC Meetup in Nottingham

How did I find the event?

The Nottingham Meetup was sponsored by STC and organised jointly by Andy Glover and Adam Brown.  This was one of the first events to be arranged through the auspices of STC to promote collaboration at grass root level.  More events such as these are planned in coming months in other parts of the country and internationally so if you are interested in attending such events then register here to get alerts. The event was very well planned and the atmosphere was electrifying with people mingling and chatting away. Due to the nature of the venue, it was rather a tight squeeze but not too intrusive. The evening passed away very quickly with welcome interruptions from lightning talk speakers and James. You can say Nottingham Meetup was a great success where everyone enjoyed and made new friends. You can find Adam’s write up for the event here.

Lightning talks

The lightning talks kicked off in high spirit with few technical glitches. I disagree with Adam assessment that the talks were not technical enough, I know they were short on content but they had some technical content worth noticing.

Selenium - Gemma Cameron

Gemma kicked off with her theme on Selenium IDE that she has been using for UI testing of web applications that she thinks complement her skills in manual testing. She did a short demo on how to use IDE to capture script which kind of worked but she made her point about the value of Selenium in building tests. She briefly covered Selenium RC and showed how a captured IDE script can be exported in other programming languages and changed into methods for running tests using Selenium RC. I think it was a well chosen topic and good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Selenium. I noticed she writes about Selenium on her blog as well.
If you want to learn more about Selenium then visit the official website and get hold of two books published recently that covers the topic very well. They are:
Selenium Simplified by Alan Richardson

Micro learning - Adam Brown

This is one of the topics that have been bandied about recently. According to Wikipedia
Micro learning deals with relatively small learning units and short-term learning activities. Generally, the term "micro learning" refers to micro-perspectives in the context of learning, education and training. More frequently, the term is used in the domain of e-learning and related fields in the sense of a new paradigmatic perspective on learning processes in mediated environments on micro levels.”
One excellent use of micro-learning is to learn something daily - or at least very regular - bites of "learning" content. This kind of drip-feed learning is very useful for gradually building a body of knowledge.

 Adam spoke about Micro learning technique that helped him learn in small chunks for better results. He admitted that he has a very short attention span and this method is ideal is suited in his particular case. He believes if he is not learning then he feels trapped in a rut like everybody else in his situation. He is of the opinion that education should be something that is left to individuals and not imposed by the corporations. He listed a number of ways of one can learn but they don’t seem to work for him because of his short attention span. James picked this point about Adam’s admission in his presentation and explained that Adam is actually learning all the time because ideas constantly popping in his head. He may not be consciously thinking that way but his mind is constantly churning ideas which he can capitalise. Adam believes that if he picks a topic and spends even 15 minutes a day that adds up to a substantial amount time for learning a week. More here

Do Personas Play Part in Testing?Mohinder Khosla

You can find YouTube video here and the write up here.

Software Testing Alone Paul Berry

You can find YouTube video of his presentation here. He has also done a write up which is available here.

James Bach Presentation

You can watch full length video of James presentation below; make your own assessment and what message James is sending to testers about self learning and critical thinking. I am sorry to point out that last 3 minutes of James’s presentation is missing from the video due because I run out of space on the tape. I could not change the cassette quickly enough but at least there is enough for you to get the message. Here are some of my thoughts from his presentation that I find useful.

Self Learning

In his presentation he emphasised the importance of learning and made reference to his book on The Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar: How Self-education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success. For him learning is a life style, he constantly thrives on learning and does not set a time slot when he should be learning new stuff. His advice to others is don’t limit yourself but constantly keep learning new stuff, carry a notebook all the time and jot down ideas that pop in your head and that’s what he does.

Practice memory

He spoke about how to practice memory and how to practice what he learnt. He took an example that hit him from the book he picked up from the Museum of Natural History called The Playful Brain. A sample chapter is available here if you like a preview. He believes he has to read scientific theories to defend himself from people who question the approach of exploratory testing saying there is no scientific proof it works. He stresses that you can learn from such research and apply that to testing.

Learning Through Play

He gave the example of a study on rats and their playful behaviour where rats trying out different things to find out what works. He advises that we should learn our art in a playful manner. We should try various things, challenge each other with silly games so we can work with the stress and learn to process it so we can deal with real situation more effectively.
He gave another example of Gerald International Airport parking calculator where someone spotted a bug in the system. So he threw a challenge to everyone to report the highest amount of money they will be charged and post the results on twitter. This allowed people to share their best tests; it was like playing a game and sharing information which is very important in our environment. The model of working as a team works better if you work as a team part of the time and rest alone.

“Message from these types of study is game play helps you deal with stress in real situations.”

Learning Through Challenge

He spoke about his method of teaching by putting people under stress and challenging them. He described his dice game as a good way of learning about test design. He says he observes what you do and what you don’t so that he can find out how best to coach you.
James gave a challenge to all of us to test a calculator which he claimed he dropped and gave a hint that perhaps it may have been damaged. James picked someone from the room and told him how would he test it. James questioned his ability to come up with a solution so he constantly poked him to think about possible scenarios and its context. He opened up the debate and we all spent good deal of time on the challenge. James pushed us to think through the context and get clarification before diving into testing. One of the things he pointed out about making assumptions, which to him is opposite to testing, is where to draw the line when an assumption is reasonable and when it is critical. We spent good 20 minutes learning about his teaching technique that he practices when training testers on his Rapid Software testing course.

Critical Thinking

He also spoke about critical thinking heuristic and asked us the question how do we approach critical thinking but got a muted response. He introduced three words that he uses when he teaches critical thinking and they are: Huh? Really? And So? Each one of these boost you in different directions and according to him indexing

Huh?  Part tells you do you understand what’s been asked.  I would call it an element of surprise. This is a starting point for you to question the assertion what you have been asked that means do you understand the situation. To me this is the What state.

Really? – This is where you start questioning the facts given to you and think about the reality of the situation. I call it Clarifying stage and to me this is the Why state.

So? - Here you try assessing the assertion whether may be it does not matter. This is where you start to think who matters and who you are solving the problem for. I call it How state.

James thinks this is a simplistic approach to teaching critical thinking that works for him. He suggests if you start following it then after a while it gets easier.

Wrapping Up

He spoke about TDD and advantages of pair programming from his own experiences with the techniues. After making in roads through assumptions, critical thinking and fighting rats, he concluded with a nice little story which is an extract from the book called Steps to Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology by Gregory Bateson. James says he uses this all the time.

Video: James Bach Presentation at STC Nottingham Meetup

His message to testers is success will follow if you work hard, learn well and create your portfolio. If you find something you are passionate to do try very hard to do it and do it.

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