Organizing meetups

Announcing Ministry of Test Atlanta

Last fall was the last of our Software Testing Atlanta Conference (STAC) events. An attendee at my Intentional Learning Workshop chatted with me afterward. I mentioned that I have been a local meetup organizer and have struggled with how much control to retain. My attendee urged me to give the meetup back to the community and I have been pondering that ever since.

I’ve been the primary organizer of the Software Testing Club Atlanta meetup since we began as an affiliate of the UK-based Software Testing Club in October 2013. My charter has always been to serve and develop the local testing community including connecting it with the global virtual community. Not everyone agreed about including digital attendees, but I am willing to experience the friction of a virtual meeting to help people to attend who otherwise would not have a chance. Inclusion matters to me.

I also prefer small groups and experiential events/activities that Justin talks about. I have never had a goal of increasing the size of our meetup beyond what a single facilitator could manage in a workshop.

STAC was just a bigger extension of the meetup for me. I always wanted to reach more people in the local community, so putting together a conference focused on my geographic region was a great chance to bring new local voices to the fore. I never wanted it to be a big formal event, so I’m working on an ATL software testing unconference for the fall: shortSTAC. More on that to come!

This has been an awesome ride over the last 3 years, but we’re re-branding and branching out into our very own Meetup now known as Ministry of Test Atlanta!

Please join us to keep up with our events!


As part of our reboot, I wanted to share some thoughts on what challenges a meetup organizer confronts every month and why monthly events are so difficult to sustain!

Meetups are tough for reasons


1. Location, location, location!

People interested in testing are spread out across ATL and traffic suuuuuucks. Plus, I have no budget, so someone has to be willing to host for free or sponsor the venue fee $$. I don’t want to hold the meetup only in one part of the city since that alienates interested test enthusiasts. Proximity to public transit is something I’m not sure matters, but it would make the meetup more accessible to more testers.

Over the past 3 years, we’ve had completely different crowds depending on which part of the city we chose. I preferred to rotate locations to give everyone some opportunity to attend, even though that introduced uncertainty that probably negatively affected attendance… It’s impossible to make the “right” choice for everyone who *might* attend…

Anyway, I work at VersionOne now and that means I can host, so that’s one variable taken care of!

2. Scheduling

We hold meetings on weeknights assuming that people are more likely to do work-related things on workdays – and would be more reluctant to give up their weekend fun time to work-ish things. Getting all of the stars aligned to schedule these meetups monthly *and* give enough time for people to RSVP and then work out the logistics of showing up… Timing is hard.

Since we tend to meet after work, providing food and drink encourages people to attend, but that’s not free… and I have no budget.

3. Funding

Food and drink cost $$ – someone has to be willing to sponsor the foodz, and drink

Possible sources of funding:

4. Content

Not everyone wants to present or run a workshop or host a round table or … yeah. People will show up but may not want to provide content. I have to find a willing volunteer to do it for free or someone to sponsor a fee $$.

We infrequently have presentations. Most of our events are workshops or rountables or some sort of interactive experience. My go-to is Lean Coffee since it lowers the barrier to getting groups together and provides value to attendees every time.

I’m definitely interested in scheduling joint events with other Atlanta meetups in the future.

5. Publicity

How do people find out about meetings? I do the social media management, but I have no budget so … mostly word of mouth otherwise? Maybe chat rooms?

6. Audience

I assume that most of the people who want to come to a testing meetup are testers, but not all test enthusiasts are testers. We’ve had development-types show up, so I want to keep it open and inclusive.

7. Viewpoint advocated

I refuse to insist people agree with me. I won’t call it a context-driven testing meetup or an agile testing [PDF] meetup because I want to welcome people who subscribe to other philosophies of testing. That said, I also don’t want vendor talks (and yes I work for a vendor now). This group is for engaging with ideas focusing on and around testing, not for mind-clubbing or selling or exchanging business cards. Active participation is expected and encouraged.

8. Volunteers

Organizing: While I have always had a core group of enthusiastic participants, I’ve never had a formal organizing committee. Being a one-woman-show most of the time is pretty exhausting, y’all. The meetup consumed lots of my free time. I made my professional hobby the primary thing I did for fun outside of the office for years. Um… not a sustainable model. I do not recommend it. At the same time, working with others means compromise, so consider carefully the tradeoffs and find allies who believe in your mission.

Presenting: Members of my core group have all helped out with content for the meetup – for which I am eternally grateful! I’ve also encouraged other local aspiring presenters to practice on us. Occasionally, someone I know from the wider testing community is in town and joins us to share their wit and wisdom. I resisted presenting at my own event for a long long time… until I needed content LOL

Out of Control

Live from Vancouver … It’s Saturday … Day?

The weather is lovely outside, similar to Fall in the Southern United States, but I spent yesterday inside with 22 other passionate testers at TestRetreatYVR. (Initial post found on the AST blog but I’ll into more depth here.)

As the resident TestRetreat social butterfly, I made sure to introduce myself to all the new faces, although some of us already knew each other from the internet. It’s always nice to put a face to all the Twitter handles in the tester world. After a leisurely breakfast, we began to settle into business mode, which is actually pretty casual for a group of this size.

As per the usual, I came with some ideas rolling around in my head, but I didn’t have a formal plan until I got up in front of the group to pitch them. I settled on a couple of topics: Doing What You’re Told and Building Community in Testing. After hearing the pitches of other attendees, we decided to combine our forces to address these topics along with 2 other ideas, What is limiting your agency? and Personal branding respectively.

Agency vs Doing What You’re Told

Jesse Alford mentioned that he has often heard people say they cannot follow up on a particular suggestion he made when discussing real world problems in testing on the job. He is interested in what limits people’s sense of agency, or being able to be the change they want to see in the world. I felt this related strongly to my interest in the balance between testing as you are requested to work and using our professional judgment to recommend or simply execute appropriate testing. We had several other collaborators join us to explore these topics.

Although I often prefer live-tweeting sessions, I wasn’t sure how we would structure this conversation. We all gathered around a table to discuss these ideas as peers, bringing our diverse experiences. When I lost wifi early in the conversation, I switched to drawing a mindmap on a large piece of easel paper. I find this technique very helpful for visualizing connections as well as helping me to focus on the conversation as it flows. While that may sound strange to some, my own research into teaching and facilitation approaches indicates that other learners find it helpful to keep their hands busy so their minds can be clear.

Hand-drawn mindmap for Agency vs Doing What You're Told

Hand-drawn mindmap for Agency vs Doing What You’re Told

First, Doing What You’re Told. If we view testing as a service provided to a business, then a business may request various types of testing, effectively buying a requested unit of testing work. The request will vary with contextual variables such as product scope, release cadence, and release purpose. A business wanting to release a minimum viable product (MVP) version of a feature or application has different concerns from a business that has built up an inventory of value ready to deliver that is not yet deployed. In the case of an MVP, the business is looking to explore the market for a particular solution in a problem space. When the concern is idle inventory, the long feedback loop may be related to cost of delay or lack of value realized in a system flow. These motivators are quite different although each has the same desired outcome: deploy a tested set of software features. These requests may address different risk profiles, including the need for both internal and external feedback on quality and value. (We could do a Mary Had a Little Lamb on MVP… but let’s stay focused on this session.)

What do you do when your professional judgment is that a business request doesn’t make sense? For example, some industries are regulated with standards and compliance concerns. While these definitions are often vague, the way a company chooses to satisfy them is very concrete. Auditors may have particular requirements or expectations that influence what testers do to provide early feedback about the viability of software implemmentations. However, I have heard from testers in the regulated space that an audit can be a negotiation about how to satisfy a regulation (problem) rather than a mandate of using a particular set of processes and metrics (solution). Sometimes the mandate comes from within a company. In that case, what can a tester do to provide valuable information? When the pressure is focused on counting some form of testing work, one option is to use session-based test management (SBTM) rather than manual step-by-step test cases.

What’s constrains your agency?

Jesse’s question about agency dovetailed nicely here. Many testers have reasons that a particular approach cannot work for them in their particular situation. Some broad categories of concerns include inexperience with the proposed way of working, organizational hierarchy control, and motivation.

Inexperience can affect perception of a situation in both the problem statement and in the proposed solution. Sometimes the way we frame a problem limits the solution options we can see, i.e. “Why don’t you just …” For example, if we frame a testing problem as visual validation of a feature and then insist that Behavior-Driven Development (BDD) automation is the way to go, we may box ourselves into the corner of heavily imperative Gherkin scenarios. Alternatively, if we stated the problem of visual validation as automation-tool-supported, we could consider approval testing as a way to quickly detect changes while preserving the element of human judgment that helps us to make progress toward quality without maintaining brittle automation scripts. This may satisfy an organizational constraint such as “100% automation” in a way that empowers people while automating the boring stuff (i.e. visual inspection of every screen component).

Some testers work in an environment of strong command and control from the organizational hierarchy. These testers may live with concerns of being fussed at, e.g. you signed off on this release yet we discovered bugs in production. People higher up the organizational ladder may use their power in negative ways (e.g. sociopathic games) or in positive ways (e.g. sponsoring junior team members to develop talent). An official “open door” policy may indicate that employees were told to trust one another rather than earning trust through their behavior. Let’s say you buy into the policy and speak to someone above your boss’ level. Although you may be simply sharing ideas or asking for information, this activity can be misconstrued as undermining your boss.

Dependency on others could take many forms. This may disproportionately affect the “frozen middle” levels of management who may not feel in control. These managers may have the ability to remove obstacles to providing testing value but not recognize the opportunities. When we form the problem statement in a way that doesn’t make us feel safe to act, we can lose motivation to solve it. Our emotions heavily influence our perception of what we can do. If we feel threatened or fearful, we may spend energy on resisting change. However, when we are willing to be self-questioning, we can recognize when we really can make a difference and choose how to act. Through reflection, we can act effectively with integrity.

One way we can try to reconcile what we’re told to do and what we may choose to do is pairing with our colleagues. This provides a dedicated period of time to ask about the intent of the request. In some contexts, no one tells you what to do, so you may pair with someone else motivated to solve this particular problem. When you choose to work this way all the time (i.e. 100% of your work hours), you can overcome physical separation, whether with colleagues in the same location or working remotely. Pairs can achieve a high level of flow though constant exchange of information and quick feedback on ideas as well as solutions. Some of these solutions may be non-testing mitigation of risks.

We only had an hour together to dig into this rich topic, but it definitely has me thinking. In the end, we should remember that software development is a relatively young industry. Sofware testing as a specialization is even younger. Making room for good testing work involves both hearing what you are told and using your judgment about what you can do in your context to accomplish the goal. We can try small experiments in how we work to see what improvements we can make without asking permission. #SorryNotSorry

Well this has turned out to be a longer and more serious post than usual… I’ll tackle community and personal branding in a follow-up post.

Coaching and Coffee

coffee-coachOne morning, my office had a fancy coffee machine delivered. The machine was fancy enough that we had training sessions to learn how to use it. The machine’s controls involved a few pre-programmed settings for common usage scenarios. Not being a coffee drinker, I didn’t appreciate the intricacies of preparing a morning cup, so while I was interested in the training it was not particularly relevant for me. I just wanted to know where to get the hot water to brew my tea.

Then, we had a local barista Joseph Yancey join us for a morning of coffee coaching. It was his day off, but he loves the artistic aspects of preparing coffee and wanted to share that with coffee lovers. The coffee machine was still somewhat intimidating to me since I didn’t know how to judge the results of the preparation process. Out of curiosity, I hung around to listen to what the barista had to say.

Co-workers arrived at the office and were ready to start their day. They joined us in the break room and gathered around our visitor. Instead of expounding about the principles of great coffee and the brews and mixtures he preferred, Joseph focused on helping individuals to achieve their goals.

As each person explained the kind of outcome they were looking for, he was very patient in coaching. He noticed the intimidation of trying something out of the ordinary and reinforced the idea that no one should be concerned about failing to produce exactly what they hoped for. Instead, he emphasized making better and better approximations of the desired result to accomplish incremental progress. This created a safe space for individuals to develop new skills.

Each person explained what they wanted and he told them how to refine their techniques. He showed them motions with his gestures and posture as a model but he didn’t take over. Each pair of hands became surer by trying for themselves the motions and mixing. He paired with each participant and brought attention to key moments and opportunities during the process without talking down to anyone. Rather than doing it for them, as he expertly would during his day job, he coached them into greater competence and self-reliance.

I noticed his consummate skill in interpersonal interactions and asked him about it. He said that his love for his craft motivated him to help others to greater mastery. When I mentioned that I wasn’t in his core demographic (as a tea drinker), he was willing to tackle that problem as well, teaching me how to judge the heat of the water produced by an electronic kettle so that I could pair it with the various mixtures with more demanding brewing precision. Even I, an edge case, benefited from Joseph’s enthusiasm and understanding.

Now that’s a coaching experience to start your day off right.

Baby Steps

Leo: Bob, there is a ground-breaking new book, that has just come out. Now, not everything in this book, of course, applies to you, but I’m sure that you can see when you see the title, exactly how it could help.
Bob: Baby Steps?
Leo: It means setting small reasonable goals for yourself one day at a time. One tiny step at a time.

What About Bob?

My friend is having her first babies. She shared her wonderful plans for the nursery with us and I saw an opportunity to create something special and new for the occasion.

I’ve blogged before about my crafting habits but not about my design process. Given the reference point of the nursery that inspired my mom-to-be friend, I immediately reached out to a more experienced collaborator, a friend who frequently scrapbooks with me.

We riffed on ideas until we landed on one that intrigued us, and we started to develop it more through discussion. However, given our short timeline, since we intended to have the gift ready for the baby shower, I started to create initial prototypes of the components we planned to combine for our project. Using scrap paper, I cut out the shape that had inspired us the most as a reference point. I made several variations that preserved the color palette we wanted to use, so that even those early attempts would provide better information about the final product.

I sent pictures of these prototypes to my friend so that we could evaluate them together before I moved on to the next small piece of work. She had great ideas for coordinating next steps, so I continued to design and construct independent components, evaluating each as I went.

Once I had gathered several together, I called my husband over to provide a second opinion since he is very familiar with the intended recipients of the gift. He liked what he saw and offered suggestions for additional enhancements that I loved – but I hesitated. While I was in love with my design, would our friends like it?

Having invested this much time and effort into the design, initial construction, and overall style, I was loathe to give up any part of my vision. Then, I reminded myself that while I was spending joyful hours creating this work of art, our friends would spend years in the nursery with their children. No matter what I thought of my design, I had to be ready to kill my darlings. I picked up the phone and made the call.

Our friends agreed to take a look at the in-progress photos, to confer privately, and then to get back in touch with us. To my delight, they loved what they saw! Their vision for the nursery matched our vision for the gift. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Armed with this early feedback, I felt more confident about moving on to additional design and implementation. However, an unexpected illness kept my friend from being able to collaborate, and our work fell behind schedule. Not wanting to show up empty-handed to the party, despite knowing how welcome and appreciated I would be, I put together a smaller sample of our project as well as the latest work-in-progress photos of the whole.

At the party, I revealed one of the most recent developments to the excited couple. Other guests brought lovely gifts, from necessary supplies to handmade blankets. We enjoyed the serendipity of another decor gift perfectly coordinating with our project! The nursery is coming together, one baby step at a time.

While we weren’t able to deliver everything we hoped at the time we intended, we delivered something valuable as early as possible with the knowledge that the mom’s “delivery date” milestone is a bit farther down the road – the only delivery in our project that won’t be early and often.

Perception and Certainty

A funny thing happened today at work. I found out that some of my colleagues literally see things differently. Many of us found ourselves surprised by what others perceived to be true about something as simple as an image. We were swept up in #dressgate: a raging internet controversy about a photo of a dress and its colors.

I’m on Team Blue and Black. However, I wanted to see how the other half lives. I tried various ways to see white and gold: viewing the image on different devices, changing screen brightness, angling the screen, walking around in different ambient light. The various experiments all produced the same results. Trusting my perceptions, I could not give any credence to the perspective that the dress was a different pair of colors, despite seeing many online posts to that effect.

I mentioned this to my team at work, only to discover that there were others who had no idea anyone disagreed with them. As a member of Team White and Gold, my team’s designer was surprised to hear there was a Team Blue and Black – as surprised as I was. 🙂 I couldn’t help wondering whether she was expecting a covert camera to emerge as part of some elaborate prank.

Fortunately, working with designers means having deeper organizational knowledge about colors. By the time lunch rolled around, another colleague had created an online tool for experimentation with the image to see for ourselves how image manipulation would change perception. Another designer mentioned that he had sampled the original image to identify the colors and then created swatches of the colors perceived by others to overlay the image in order to show both positions contrasted with each other, explaining about the impact of shadows and subtle colorblindness.

Designers FTW!

Designers FTW!

Then, he suggested another avenue of investigation: flash blindness. In flash blindness, a bright light bleaches (oversaturates) the retinal pigment resulting in sudden vision loss that doesn’t immediately return to normal, but it usually wears off gradually. So my team devised an experiment to expose our designer’s eyes to a bright white lightsource: a blank page on a screen. When she quickly switched from the bright white background to the original dress image, she was able to see blue and black coloration. However, after a few moments, when she glanced at the dress image again, her retinas had recovered and she saw the original white and gold pigments. This was consistent with reports from other online posters who mentioned scrolling down the page and then being able to see different colors. This transient state seemed to be a source of great consternation and some panic.

While this was a fun way to spend our lunch hour, it was also a great opportunity to practice some of the problem-solving skills I learned at last year’s Problem Solving Leadership workshop:

  • Experimenting to gather information – Although I was not able to see the white and gold version of the dress without manipulating the image, I learned new ways that didn’t work.
  • Perceptions, What’s true for you – I felt quite certain about the stability my own perceptions after looking at them from various angles
  • Watch how other people are behaving – While I thought it was quite surprising that many others had such completely different perceptions, I did not assume they were wrong just because I couldn’t observe the same things.
  • Be cautious about not noticing – I gave others the benefit of the doubt knowing that I can bias myself to ignore information sometimes.
  • How to take in info – I looked for a variety of sources of information about the disparate points of view to obtain a balanced set of data.
  • Resisting information – I paid attention to reports of heated arguments between people from the different viewpoints, noticing the emotion involved in what seemed like a purely factual question.
  • Motives (test interpretation, seek intent) – I asked two observers from Team White and Gold questions since they could see what I could not
  • Reading minds – I tired not to assume that anyone was punking me or simply being ornery but instead was open to the possibility of being wrong.
  • Style vs intent (make more congruent) – Rather than trying to convince anyone of my point of view, I listened to their experiences and observed their learning process.
  • Social structures – It was interesting to see that even within the design group there were opposing assessments of the information. I also saw how team members collaborated rather than confronted each other when trying to understand where each was coming from.
  • How do you get people to recognize what you saw? – I waited for an opportunity for them to experience it directly and shared the information that I had so the other team members could judge for themselves, now that they had more to work data
  • Show you care by speaking up – I could have ignored people who didn’t agree with me, dismissing their viewpoint as simply wrong. However, engaging in dialogue was a great team-building experience and helped to establish more common understanding.
  • Reactions – By giving myself a charter of observing others’ behavior, thought processes, and evidence, I was better able to empathize with what was a shocking experience from their point of view.
  • Eyes open! Use your senses – I took suggestions from the designers about resources for assessing color perception and did not assume that I could gather unbiased information. In the end, I know more about myself than I did when this silly discussion started.
  • Learn from others – I certainly know more about color, perception, troubleshooting, experimentation, and these particular colleagues than I did before I posted the question “What color is this dress?” so I call today a win. 🙂
  • Aaaaand I couldn’t help trolling just a little bit by “wearing the colors” today…
Blue-Black or White-Gold?

Blue-Black or White-Gold?


March 2014 Software Testing Club Atlanta meetup

RSVP for the March 2014 meetup of Software Testing Club Atlanta features our own Eric Jacobson’s “Maybe We Don’t Have to Test It” from STAREast 2013:

Testers are taught they are responsible for all testing. Some even say “It’s not tested until I run the product myself.” Eric Jacobson believes this old school way of thinking can hurt a tester’s reputation and — even worse — may threaten the team’s success. Learning to recognize opportunities where you may not have to test can eliminate bottlenecks and make you everyone’s favorite tester. Eric shares eight patterns from his personal experiences where not testing was the best approach. Examples include patches for critical production problems that can’t get worse, features that are too technical for the tester, cosmetic bug fixes with substantial test setup, and more. Challenge your natural testing assumptions. Become more comfortable with approaches that don’t require testing. Eliminate waste in your testing process by asking, “Does this need to be tested? By me?” Take back ideas to manage not testing including using lightweight documentation for justification. You may find that not testing may actually be a means to better testing.

As quality assurance manager for Turner Broadcasting System’s Audience & Multi-Platform Technologies (AMPT) group, Eric Jacobson manages the test team responsible for Turner’s sales and strategic planning data warehouse and its broadcast traffic system. Eric was previously a test lead at Turner Broadcasting, responsible for testing the traffic system that schedules all commercials and programming on Turner’s ten domestic cable networks, including CNN, TNT, TBS, and Cartoon Network. Prior to joining TBS, he was a tester at Lucent Technologies. Eric joined the tester blogosphere in 2007 and has been blogging about testing on every week since.

When is back up, I’ll link to the page so you can RSVP.

For now, plan to join us on the evening of Thursday March 20th.

Location TBD (Let me know if you want to host us!)

Potty training

STC ATL Dec 2013 MeetupMy first experience with testing games was back at my first testing conference when Michael Bolton gave me a testing challenge at lunch: a rubber ball. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew I loved games. And that is a key aspect of how games help us to learn: getting past our resistance by promising us fun. Since software testing is a complex mental activity, exercising our minds is an important part of improving our work.

After attending several testing conferences, I can safely say one of my favorite aspects of these gatherings is evenings filed with testing games. (That is, games for testers, not testing video games.) Whether you’re rolling the dice (more, spoilers), deducing when a pen is not a pen, building a tower of pyramids, or shouting out “Set!” as you casually wander past, testers love a challenge.

So it was no surprise that John had his game bag already on the table when I arrived for the STC ATL holiday meetup. What I didn’t expect was Disruptus, a new-to-me game. He explained for a few minutes and then we jumped right in to playing. Almost immediately, I flipped over a card with an image of a toilet and the improve card:

Add or change 1 or more elements depicted in the card to improve the object or idea.


Skip this TMI stuff!

Since we are currently potty training at our house, this was a particularly relevant subject for me. I started rattling off ideas as they came to mind. John stopped me and said that I wasn’t coming up with new ideas but instead listing things that had already been done. While I agreed, I found that saying each of the knowns out loud helped me to clear my head for the next idea to come along.

Ideas that sprang to mind:

You know, for kids

    • toilet seat lock for babies just learning to walk
    • toddler height toilet
    • step stool for standing toilet training (boys)
    • separate lightweight plastic toddler toilet – could be portable
    • folding travel toilet seat for toddler on-the-go
    • built-in potty seat for toddler years that is easily removed for cleaning
    • moveable toddler handled seat for better balance
    • splash guard for boys potty training
    • tiny plastic urinal – I’d seen one once at a kids consignment sale
    • toilet target for potty training boys
    • soft-close lid that doesn’t slam down on little fingers
    • tie-in to children’s book/video for better motivating child (i.e. matches picture) – with audio/musical accompaniment for better motivating child
    • toilet with book rack attachment – also good for adults!
    • tie-in to popular children’s character for better motivating child
    • And of course Pinterest is awash in toilet training ideas

Adult toilets

    • Dune’s Fremen stillsuit (okay, so that’s not real…)
    • water-conserving toilets – high efficiency, multi-flush options
    • recycling water from washing hands for next flush
    • elevated tank to use gravity for flushing
    • recently read an article about posture and advantage of raising feet using step-stool
    • bidet attachment that I saw at a co-working space
    • soft seat vs. hard seat
    • toilet scent spray that a friend mentioned to me & has ridiculous commercial
    • elongated seat
    • elevated seat for elderly with limited range of motion – vs. seat riser/handles
    • foot pedal to raise/lower the lid without using hands
    • putting the seat back down in the first place
    • self-cleaning – or at least those tablet attachments
    • germ resistant surface
    • I’d once seen a toilet with an automated toilet-seat-cover replacement system
    • I’d seen more exotic toilet options in a local farmer’s market store
    • a friend explained the composting toilet to me
    • chemical toilet/waterless toilet for big events like outdoor concerts
    • urinals – I’d seen a public outdoor urinal in Amsterdam that was just two large crosspieces for minimal privacy
    • device allowing women to stand for urination – thanks, Twitter!
    • chamberpots
    • outhouses
Things I’d never heard of
    • Glow-in-the-dark toilet seat – this would be a big hit with the kids!
    • Squat toilets
    • proximity sensor
    • toilet seat warmer – including power saving mode!
    • electric lifting seats for the elderly
    • female urinal
    • sound cloaking
    • toilet slippers
    • pretty much anything shown in Cars 2 when Mater visits the restroom


Of course, it wasn’t until much later (esprit d’escalier) that the thing I really wanted to improve came to mind: I hate toilet auto-flush algorithms. As a happy user of toilet seat covers in public restrooms, I always feel concern about whether I’ll have to contend with a particularly sensitive hands-free toilet. Despite my years of experience, I have not yet mastered the art of evading the motion sensor while placing the toilet seat cover.

I would love to rewrite the algorithm to some set pattern of motions that would distinguish between someone leaning toward the seat to place a liner – and so avoid germs – and someone leaving the stall having completed her errand. Even clap-on, clap-off would be preferable to spray in the face from an unexpected flush.

Protip : My husband takes a 2 foot length of toilet paper and blindfolds the sensor. Manual flush never felt so good.

Training through play

So now that you made it past TMI, let’s get back to the notion of testing games for training testers. Do testing games help testers learn how to test? Many testers are making an argument for this.

John Stevenson is one of them. He uses Disruptus to encourage disruptive thinking that leads to innovation – in testing. Create, Improve, Transform, Disrupt: these 4 approaches are important when designing and executing tests. Finding new ways to remix our tests helps us to focus on things that matter but to approach them in a new way, extending our coverage of various paths and potential usage patterns. My experience with only a few turns of this game left me invigorated and encouraged to try new things at work.

How have you used games to learn about testing?

Sketching for fun and profit

Have at you

As I recently wrote in Better Software magazine, I tend toward visualizing information. While this does not mean I skimp on words – as anyone who has been near me for 15 minutes can attest – it does mean that I think more clearly when I have a whiteboard in front of me and a chisel tip marker in my hand.

Ode to whiteboards


One Christmas gifts my husband installed a wall of whiteboards in our home for the children to draw and scribble. The children loved it and happily covered it with unintelligible childhood graffiti. As it turned out, this blank wall was a greater gift to me. When I was preparing to present at conferences in 2013, I was feeling quite blocked in writing proposals and producing presentation materials until I relaxed and just let myself have time with my home whiteboard.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed having a large expanse to fill with thoughts as they came spilling out. At my first testing job, my XP development team installed a wall of whiteboard for just this sort of thing, removing barriers to collaboration by having enough space for any conversation the team needed to have. Of course, some corners were dominated by persistent big visible charts but those lasted only as long as they were needed. Yes, I was spoiled.

I decided to keep my presentations simple and sketched the images I wanted to have in my slides on this wall. It turns out taking well lit pictures of whiteboards without glare is sufficiently difficult that there are apps for that. Go figure!


I also realized that I would be in a fix at the conference if I didn’t have a whiteboard handy, so I scoured the internet looking for portable options. It just so happened that one of my favorite nerdy websites was advertising a foldable pocket whiteboard. One look and I was in love. I was able to easily take notes in any way I saw fit and at a scale that pleased me, not being limited to eight and a half by eleven or whatever dimensions a digital application considered adequate.

In my day-long tutorial preceding CAST 2013, on a team with people I’d never met, I wasn’t sure how to begin solving the problem, but the casualness of a portable whiteboard that could be unfolded, scribbled on, wiped away, and stowed out of the way was definitely an asset to establishing good communication from the beginning.

It also came in handy when I was able to snag a table at one of the Agile2013 social events to catch up with a speaker whose talk I had missed. He liked it so much, he bought three. Subsequently, another friend from the conference asked whether that would be a good speaker gift and I heartily assented. Now I’m wondering whether this company pays for referrals. 🙂

Drawing pictures at work? Really!

At Agile2013, in his presentation Sketch you can!, Jeremy Kriegel explained using graphic facilitation to craft meetings that better involve attendees. People can focus on visuals easily and suggest improvements. This sketching is a combination of note taking and wire framing, which is something user experience (UX) folks do routinely as part of their work. He describes trading quality of the drawing for speed in order to keep the focus on communication, then enhancing the drawing later. The focus is on the need people are trying to satisfy and understanding the context of that need.

By sharing in a concrete way, you can validate precise language and discover where meeting participants are not agreeing. The result is a public record of the conversation that can be shared. (I’ve been known to take many many pictures of whiteboards in my day.) However, the communication is more important than the deliverable, which helped to free me of my concerns about how much artistic talent I have. I felt comfortable improvising and the sketching was a sort of performance, although in the class we were not standing up in front of a group.

Earlier today, I was having a conversation with a colleague at a whiteboard and sketching the interacting parts of the problem we are testing was very helpful for focusing the conversation and revealing areas that we needed to investigate. I’m definitely a fan of drawing pictures at work and I appreciate Jeremy’s encouragement.

Sketchy people

Periodically, I rediscover Gaping Void and wallow in the talent and inspiration of these images. My most recent visit followed a tweet to his blog on new year inspiration:

I guess my “mountain” was drawing cartoons (like the cartoon at the top rightfully indicates), although it took me DECADES to find that out. – Hugh MacLeod

However, I was so drawn to his live sketching videos that I decided to give it a whirl. Not sure where to begin, I snagged a photo of my 95-year-old grandmother off a family member’s Facebook and took a shot at digital sketching. I’m pretty pleased with the result. It’s not my best effort and I’m not worried about that because it was so much fun to try.


When I’m so busy that I don’t have time to blog or read a book or play a board game, I still have time to sketch something out, however crudely drawn the result might be. I know I won’t turn into an Andrea Zuill overnight, so I keep at it a little at a time.

I’m finding that sketching on digital photos or enhancing existing images (so far no original memes!) is much much easier than starting from nothing, so that’s kind of my thing at the moment, but I’m finding the courage to stretch a bit more into original composition. We’ll see if anything comes of it. For now, it gives me something creative to do that personalizes my slides a bit more.

How do you use sketching for fun or profit?

Guest Author in Better Software

Check out my recent article Feeling Lost in the Woods? Mind maps Can Help! [PDF] on page 26 of Better Software magazine.


Claire takes us on a nontraditional journey where designing and implementing testing approaches can be rapidly organized into a hierarchy of connected elements. Mind maps, used primarily for visual and conceptual thinking, may be just the answer for quality assurance professionals.



Recently, Testing Circus was asking about how testers are framing their new year. Many testers contributed their plans to form quite a list! Will sharing our plans with others help us to achieve what we set out to do? It seems worth a try. More to the point, will we actually execute all the plans we make? I think it will be much like exploratory testing in adjusting based on new information we learn, but at least I’m starting out with a plan.

Here are my charters:

  1. Read. Blogs, books. Or even watching videos and listening to podcasts. (I know not everyone is a visual learner.)
  2. Small groups for collaboration, especially local. This year, I’m focusing on our fledgling Software Testing Club Atlanta.
  3. Put yourself out there to get public feedback (blog, pitch to a conference, etc). I’m currently pitching to Agile2014 and trying to get back to blogging and writing articles after the holiday lull.
  4. Experiment (trying what you’ve read, discussed). This. Everyday.
  5. And, of course, connect through social media!

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