Sunday, 20 July 2014

Introvertic ramble on the trap of openspaces and office spaces in general

Hi, my name is Viktoriia, and I’m an introvert.

The weekend before last I spent two awesome days socializing with some of the best testers in New Zealand. After that I spent another three days trying to recover from all the joy. I was exhausted emotionally and physically, and had to spend full Sunday being sick and miserable because that’s how my body reacts to over-socialization - it goes to hibernate. Humans are not built to spend time in hibernate. That got me thinking…

Every day working in the office I get a bit more socialization that I would voluntarily choose to. And then when I get one little spike (like a testing conference), it becomes a butterfly that broke the cammel’s back.

Don’t get me wrong, co-location is awesome and critical for agile teams and all that. But there are also problems that come from the way we implement it (by placing everyone into these huge openspaces), and not only problems relevant to introverts exclusively:
  • The constant humming noise. Even if we forget about people who talk loud because that’s how they talk - the typing, and moving, and clicking, and talking, and whatelse is always there. Noise is stress. We even had it as a topic in school and university in Russia: even though human brain is pretty good with filtering out non-changing signals, human-produced complicated noise still makes it to do a lot of work to maintain those filters. Nervous system is always working extra hard just to save you the ability to concentrate. 
  • The cold going round. When someone is sick, everyone is sick. Someone is always sick. Sneezing and coughing never really stops. It’s like a kindergarden for IT - if you don’t have iron-made immune system, you are bound to go in and out of colds non-stop. Nothing serious, but pretty annoying. 
  • The temperature. Since we are all sharing the same space, we cannot possibly set temperature so that it’s good for everyone. For me it’s always freezing in the office. Judging from the number of people in jackets around, I guess I’m not the only one. 
  • The socialization itself. For introverts like me it’s additional stress just to be around this many people all the time. It makes it harder to concentrate, and it means that I’m always under just a little extra bit of stress. Immune system works badly when you are under stress, so that feeds into constantly being in and out of sickbay, which feeds into concentration problems again.
  • Commuting. This one applies to working from office in general, not just to openspaces. Every day so much time is being lost on getting from home to office and back. This makes roads overloaded, makes air worse, makes us all spend our precious time doing what really isn't necessary. Would be cool to free up roads for people who actually do have a good reason for being there. In IT in many cases it can be avoided - we have enough collaboration tools to go from 5 days a week working side by side to 1 day when everyone's physically in the office to align their actions and adjust plans as necessary and 4 days when everyone is where they choose to be, being online and connected via internet.
  • Multitasking. There have actually been research done* about the efficiency of office workers in different settings. It was shown that even extraverts work more efficiently and more creatively when they have a little bit of privacy (even if that’s a cubicle or a smaller room with just your team - but not the openspace). We also all know that exploratory testing recommends uninterrupted test sessions. The thing is, humans suck in multitasking. We can only really do one thing at a time. We can switch between tasks fast, that’s true, but imagine the overhead! When part of your resources is spent on ignoring the noise (I guess, headphones somewhat help, but in my experience you just get touched a lot when people want to talk to you), part on fighting the cold and part on switching between different tasks (passersby wanting to chat, for example) - you cannot possibly work at your fullest.
While having separate rooms for each team instead of openspace would make things much better, I personally would still prefer to have a choice to work from home. I found that few days when I was sick and worked from home turned out to be no less productive than an average day in the office, and most times even more productive. Always more comfortable.

It would be awesome to have an oportunity to work from home and be judged by results, not by hours in the chair. Especially since many IT companies seem to be already evaluating performance by results. Company I currently work for has a thorough system of logging and evaluating successes and results, and no one really sticks for hours as far as I know. Yet it is not a common practice to allow employees to work from home, aside from emergencies and special cases. I wish it was. One of the reasons I want to go to contracting in few years is to have an opportunity to live out of Auckland in a nice house with good internet and do all the work from there. In my book it beats both living in the center of Auckland to be near office and living outside of Auckland and spending few hours every work day on commuting. I'd rather work 9 hours from home than work 8 hours in the office and spend another hour on getting there and back.

*about research and more, there is an awesome book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain. It quotes and references quite a lot of scientific research in the area. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in how people work.

Monday, 14 July 2014

#KWST4, day two

It just so happened, that I was presenting the first ER of the day. Now let me explain: when I'm on any kind of stage, I go autopilot. Very realistic and well-behaved autopilot, but autopilot nonetheless. So I kinda panicked through the presentation and the discussion, and because I wasn't able to take notes, I don't remember much. On the other hand, it was my ER, so I'm gonna write about it in details.

I talked about my experience of dealing with emergencies on my last job in Russia, where I was testing mobile applications for android - think "google maps" but better. I won't mention the name of the company not to attract searching bots and unnecessary attention to this blog post, but if you're interested, it's on my LinkedIn account. Now, this company is amazing in many ways, and it's got huge user auditory and a reputation to maintain. From time to time due to different circumstances I was in a situation when I get a new build, it goes into production in few hours, and full proper retest takes about a week. Bear in mind, I still had enough time to do the testing between the craziness, but the craziness still happend from time to time.

The way I dealt with it was using these three tools:

  • Cluster (environments, contexts, test cases).
  • Prioritize.
  • Parallelize.
The secret is that you cannot possible use these tools if you are not ready. So the solution really is "Be prepared". This is what you need to be able to use those tools:
  • Know your environments (what are they, how are they different, which differences matter and why, are there any special reasons to be doing testing on a particular environment).
  • Know how your application is being used and how is it likely to be used after the release (popular workflows, past statistics, core users, geek users, marketing effort).
  • Know high risk areas (bug-rich areas, understanding of the codebase, functions that make application useless or annoying to use when broken, what changed since last release and since last build)
  • Easy to read documented coverage blocks - you should be able to give a coworker who doesn't know your application well a peace of paper and ask to test areas mentioned there. I like to use coverage matrix in a spreadsheet where each row is a short test idea e.g. "make sure the field doesn't let through special characters" or "try two users doing this concurrently".
  • Know on a deep level how your application works (architecture in diagrams and mindmaps, dependencies between different parts, server-client protocols).
Few tips on how do you get there:
  • Ask questions early - make sure you understand whats, hows and whys about every feature. Or at least whats and whys.
  • Document knowledge in diagrams and bullet-point lists: structure!
  • Do risks analysis with the team, and use results both in development and in testing.
  • Keep up to date with sales/marketing. If they spent a month advertising some shiny new feature you wanna make sure that feature is spotless.
  • Gather and analyze usage statistics - there are plenty of the libraries nowadays (google analytics and the likes) that allow you to do it. You wanna know how users are actually using your application, not just how you think they are using it.
  • Work close with development - they are irreplaceable source of information. They can also back you up when you are explaining to higher powers why you absolutely need to test this feature, but can release without testing that one.
  • Learn differences between environments.
I talked more, of course, but hopefully these lists make sense on their own. To give you an example of how this worked in real life, this is how it usually went. Instead of testing the full scope of the functionality on all representative devices in different contexts and conditions (on the move, in building, in different map setups, with network fluctuations, etc.) I would choose 3-5 devices that are most suitable for the final round (hardware differences, OS versions, popularity, known problems), I would choose a subset of tests, I would cluster my tests by the context. I would e.g. go and take one ride on a bus to the subway and back, carrying three devices with me and switching between them to do all the testing that needs to be done on the move. I would ask a coworker to do the easier part of the testing to increase the scope. I would only test functionality that had a chance to be affected by the new build (because I tested everything else in the previous build), and also core functionality. I would do part of the testing with stubs - e.g. on a test environment or using server simulators like Fiddler - because I understood the impact of that and how to emulate the server properly. I would make sure severe bugs that were fixed and tested few builds back did not come back (happens sometimes when the code is merged from one branch to another in Git).
And after I am done, I would write a letter to a PM (CCed to certain team members) where I would specify which areas are left untested, what are the risks involved, what is my recommendation (safe to release/need more time to test/need to fix known bugs) and why.

There was certainly an interesting discussion after I was done with my ER, but as I said, I don't remember it very well. This is what I do remember.
  • Few people were worried that after seeing a project successfully going into production without going through full testing, PM would decide that full testing isn't actually necessary. We did not have this problem in my company, but I think it's a valid point. I can only suggest to educate your managers each release on what are the risks, and why they matter (e.g. what would be the consequences of the failure).
  • I think it was Adam Howard who asked whether I used any of the crisis techniques in normally paced testing. I totally did, especially the clustering: I mean, once you figure out a way to do something efficiently, you can't really go back. Well, I am personally too lazy to go back from being efficient. :-) And also, once you went through the emergency, you learn to be ready to the next one, so it's a self-feeding circle, really.
  • We talked a bit about how important is co-location, in particular for developers, testers and product owners. I also mentioned, and I think few people agreed, that it's also important to have the right to not be disturbed when you choose to. Sean also mentioned that in their company they dealt with teams being geographically distributed by setting up a constant video thread between locations through huge TVs on the wall.
Next ER was presented by Rachel Carson. She talked about speeding up testing (and the whole project) by switching from Waterfall to "Jet Waterfall" - kind of a Waterfall-Agile hybrid if I understood that correctly: cross-functional teams, co-location, more communication within the team. According to Rachel, testing activities didn't change much, they were pretty good to begin with. But the mindset of testers shifted to the more realistic side: now instead of reporting all the bugs, they started to think whether it's useful to report the bug. Sometimes it was better to talk to development and either get it fixed right away or learn that it will never be fixed with a reasonable explanation. They also started to use the Definition of Done rather than pure guts to drive the testing.

These are some of my notes from that ER and discussion afterwards:
  • Important developer's skill - to be able to share information with non-technical people (Rachel).
  • When you are forced into defending design decisions, be sure to stay critical about them (Rachel).
  • When there are many existing bugs on a project, you can use them as a set of data rather than one-by-one, to extract useful info. E.g. areas where bugs are clustering might need more attention and/or redesign. (Adam and Chris).
The last ER on the KWST was done by Adam Howard. He talked about speeding up the whole process of development on a very challenging bound-to-fail project. Which thanks to Adam and his team did not fail in the end. :-)
This is what I got from it:
  • They used visual models (mostly mindmaps) to see/show the big picture - that allowed the team to make a decision to rewrite some functionality rather than to try and fix numerous existing bugs there.
  • Fixing all the bugs didn't work because the results of those fixes did't play well together - another reason to use visual models.
  • Adam tried to switch testing team to the ways of exploratory testing. To make it easier on them, Adam didn't require them to switch - he just showed the way. Some teams accepted new way, some didn't.
  • It's very challenging to change when you have to do it fast. As a result, after the project was out of the door, and Adam and his team went back to Assurity (it was a contract project), remaining testers went back to the old ways. It's not easy to make even good practices stick if they are new.
  • Adam and his team partially took BA role on themselves in order to create the big picture view of the project. Some (e.g. Oliver and Katrina) argued that instead of doing it we should rather push BAs to do their job better.
And I believe that's about it. We discussed the exercises from the day before, played some games, said goodbyes and went our ways. It was a lot of fun, and I've learned from every single person who was there. Not everyone is quoted in my two posts (I think I might have missed Ben here, but mentioned him on twitter. Or vice versa), but everyone was brilliant.

I'd like to finish this with mentioning mazing people who made it happen. Thanks to Oliver, Rich, Janice, Nikki (I hope I spelled their names right) and to our sponsors:  and !

Saturday, 12 July 2014

#KWST4 day one

I just got back from the awesome two-days long testing workshop KWST4. It was a bit overwhelming for me, with the amount of intense thinking activity and socialization, and I'm still a bit out of it, but nonetheless I'll try to write down all the highlights while I still remember them.

There were at most 17 people in the room, KWST is a pretty small workshop, but that's likely what made it so good. Everyone was participating in discussions, and everyone got to share their experiences and pains. :-) We had four ERs (ER = experience report) on the first day, and three more ERs on the second day. There were also exercise, testing games and a lot of socialization on coffee/lunch breaks. The way ERs worked was someone presented their experience, and then we all had a facilitated discussion around that experience. Main topic of the workshop was "How to speed up testing, and why we shouldn't".

First ER was presented by Sean Cresswell, a test manager from Trademe. Sean shared his experience on how changing the way Risks based testing was perceived in the team allowed to speed up testing. Business unit was already doing what they called Risks analysis, but somehow in the end tests were still prioritized with specification coming first. That led to most important bugs being found closer to the end. Changing the way BU did Risks analysis and reordering tests allowed to change the perception of the testing. It might have taken about the same time as before, but now most critical bugs were found in the beginning of the testing, which gave the impression the testing itself sped up. And come on, we all know that finding serious bugs early is good for so many reasons besides the perception of testing. :-)

Some ideas that came out of this discussion, were:
  • Risks analysis should affect priorities in development as well as in testing (I think that was by Rachel Carson, but not sure).
  • Plan the work so that everyone (devs, BAs, testers) are busy all the time - as a planning strategy (Oliver Erlewein).
  • Instead of step by step howto guides it's sometimes useful to write down lists of questions, answers to which will lead a person through the howto (Andrew Robins).

There were also some pretty heated up discussions around definition of "risk" and such. I personally can recommend Rex Black's book on Risks based testing. Funny enough, when I twitted about the book and jokingly mentioned that it's good despite Rex's evilness (of being involved with ISTQB. ISTQB is evil), I found myself in a twitter argument around Rex's evilness. Huh. Sometimes life is weird.

Moving on, second ER was from Chris Rolls, and he talked about examples of successful and unsuccessful usage of test automation. One of the examples I found interesting was using automation to quickly do regression testing of a web app, after security patch was applied.
Chris also formulated a pretty cool (if you ask me) approach to test automation: when automating existing tests, first transfer test objective. He talked about the common perception of automated tests as step by step repetition of existing manual tests. It's easy to lose the "why" when thinking like this: why are we automating this test, and why do we test it this way. It might very well be that after transferring test objective first, you'll find you can reach that test objective in a different, more efficient way in automation.

Discussion went mostly about automation in general, and testing roles. I liked this idea from Oliver: he said he uses roles to protect people from being pulled away from their main tasks. Example he gave was one of his testers was responsible for developing a testing framework, and Oliver had to protect him from being used as a manual tester when there were lack of those. Apparently, naming the guy "test automation architect" or something like that makes a huge difference to the management. :-)

After the lunch break Thomas Recker presented his ER on coming to do the test automation late in the project. He talked about his experience of being called to "come and automate" when it was too late to influence test design or decisions around testability of the application. He was also asked both to do the testing and to fit some existing list of functionality coverage which didn't play well with how the tests worked. In the end he had to balance actual testing with the bureaucratic part and with the "make it stick together" parts of the job. I think we could all agree that coming into project early and having the opportunity to do test design and such with automation in mind helps with implementing test automation.

There were an interesting discussion around test automation strategies: when does it make sense to automate, and how do you choose what to automate. Few interesting for me things came out of that:
  • Andrew suggested to try and see the existing test as a measurement: if it can be seen as such, it's a good candidate to automate.
  • Till Neunast mentioned it makes sense to automate testing around business logic when it's implemented in files/modules that change often. No sense in having automated test that always succeeds because part of the application it checks never changes.
  • Aaron Hodder insists that you cannot automate testing, because "once it's automated, it's a different 'thing'".
  • Oliver described the system they have in his workplace: an internal twitter-like tool that is connected with the test automation framework. It works both ways: you can twit to the system to make it start some tests, and system constantly twits about what it's doing, and what are the results of the testing. Pretty cool!
  • Joshua Raine raised a question about differentiating between test automation that helps you here and now and test automation that requires investment now with a potential pay off in future, and about maybe finding some other types of test automation in the same classification.
In the end of the day Andrew Robins presented the ER number four. His topic was "Enabling the team as a technique to speed up testing". Andrew worked in a challenging environment where the company produced not just software, but hardware as well. That meant that test environment would consist of specially made prototypes, and would be extremely expensive. Previously (before Andrew did his magic) that led to a huge bottleneck where testers only had one environment, and it had to be reconfigured for different tests. Reconfiguration took three days. You can see how it's not good to make 40 people wait while the only existing test environment is being unreachable.
The way Andrew solved that and sped up testing significantly was to plan for testing in advance. Months before the testing was to begin, he started on the task to get more environments. Because there was enough time, the company was able to budget and plan for two test environment, which meant far less reconfiguration bottlenecks as well as opportunity to run different tests in parallel.

Important lesson here for me was to plan for testing as well as plan testing. To be fair we are doing it in OrionHealth, but to have it as a consciously formulated strategy is so much better than just do it intuitively!

One interesting part of the discussion that I managed to note down was about other ways of handling limited environment when there is no way to get a new one. The consensus was that one great technique is to stub/emulate parts of the environment you need. I might also add that it might be a good idea to challenge the "we cannot get another environment" notion and go into the cloud. Clouds allow to spin up additional environments pretty fast, secure and really cheap, so unless some specialized hardware is needed, no reason not to use it.

There was also plenty of stuff tracked on twitter, I do recommend to go through #KWST4 hashtag there. And of course discussions were pretty intense, so I didn't have a chance to note down/twit most of it, and probably left out a lot. It would be interesting to compare with other blog posts on the event. :-)

In the end of the day one we also did a group exercise: we had 10-15 minutes to come up with a common answer for each of the given 4 questions. I teamed up with Adam Howard and Nigel Charman. I like the answers our team gave, and I would totally hire anyone who demonstrates kind of thinking we demonstrated. But funny enough it turned out that part of anonymous test managers who assessed our answers called asking reasonable questions "being evasive" and were more concerned about the formatting and punctuation than about the actual content and what skills it showed. Well, what can I say... I wouldn't hire those test managers and wouldn't go work for them either. It also interestingly shows that hiring process in the testing industry is not at its top game in many companies.

Unrelated to the exercise, sadly enough some are still looking for drones instead of testers and wouldn't even consider a really good tester if he doesn't have ISTQB certification, or N years of experience with some tool. Luckily for us, there are also plenty of smart IT companies on the market who hire people to do the job, not to fit in a cell. :-)

Day 2 to follow.