Wednesday, August 31, 2016

CAST 2016

“Your request for a grant from the AST has been approved!”, Speechless. Even now as I am writing this, I don’t quite know how to describe it. Happiness? No, it had to have been something far better than that. I’ll get back to you on that one. As an entry level software tester, CAST 2016 is the top of the line if you want to learn and connect with the leading minds in the industry. It’s like telling an aspiring singer that they are going to be given the opportunity to meet their favorite artists/composers. Fast forwarding 168 hours later and 2,988 miles away from home I found myself in Vancouver where the “Lollapalooza of Software Testing” was to take place. According to the schedule my day began with “Lean Coffee”. As a frequent customer at Starbucks I knew what a skinny mocha was but “Lean Coffee” was a new one for me and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I guess you can say that from the very moment I entered Simon Fraser University I was learning new things. So what did "Lean Coffee" turn out to be? Well it was a concept I was familiar with, however this would be the first time I would be putting this into practice as part of a team. Similar to agile testing, a group of a dozen or so people gathered around a collaborative chart that organized the topics they wanted to discuss. It resembled the average person’s to-do list. One of the topics that was brought up was how folks were going to communicate after the conference and someone said something which I totally agree with which was that communication is best when it’s in person. The very idea of going to the conference was out of my comfort zone; however, I don’t regret a minute of it. It was an amazing experience!

I’d say the overall theme amongst both tutorials that I attended was that one has options. In the first lecture, Mr. Bach started by explaining the core values and meaning of testing. He then went on to talk about what we considered to be difficult to test. I brought up the idea of color and how individual perception of color can impede testing as looking for identifying factors can differ from person to person. Is it a problem? The curveball question. A war of technicality. Yes, the purpose of testing is to find problems, however, the inability to identify colors is ironically in the "grey zone". It can be a problem but that depends on one's interpretation. In the second lecture, Ms. Charles shaped the discussion so that the attendees took control. People were given the opportunity to seek advice from fellow testers by speaking about situations where they've wanted to say no. One story in particular stuck out to me which was a case of skills becoming a burden. In this story the individual found that co workers relied too much on said person’s generosity and willingness to learn things outside of the job description. The advice for this situation in particular ranged from a “don't continue to do this” to a “speak with your superiors”.

Now let's talk about the keynotes that took place throughout the CAST conference. Day 2 was comprised of two conferences. The opening keynote speaker was Nicholas Carr. He raised the subject about how humans have become far too dependent on automation. A plane crash is how Mr. Carr chose to illustrate his view. One small error in the pilot software can cause a pilot to go into a frenzy because the individual may not be fully capable of controlling the plane under certain stressful conditions. Conversely, his next point was about human error, “When our brain is overtaxed we find distractions more distracting”. In essence, Mr. Carr proposed a wise new division of labor that does not seek replacement but a partnership between humans and computers. The following keynote on that Tuesday was conducted by Anne Marie Charrett who presented ways to change testing environments; not the software or hardware aspect, if not the setting in which testers work. An interesting diagram was displayed during this presentation which laid out the fundamentals of this unique test management approach. The diagram seemed to consist of personality and action guidelines. The next day featured a keynote by Sallyann Freudenberg which had quite the impact with the audience. It addressed a pressing issue, employment for those with special needs in the IT field. Ms. Freudenberg started off by sharing that she found herself to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Perhaps the most impactful part of this keynote was when the signs and symptoms of autism were shown because it made the audience wonder about the possibility of being somewhere on the spectrum as well. It was also quite intriguing to hear about the qualities of an autistic perspective in IT, some of which included keenness for detail, a more spacial take on tasks, and the ability to complete repetitive tasks.

Prior to the CAST conference, attendees were given the choice to create a schedule for the sessions they wanted to attend. As a novice conference-goer I decided upon an impromptu approach. Choosing between these sessions was rather difficult because it was as though I had been given a menu that only offered top-notch cuisine. “What developers taught me about testing” was the session that I thought was the most appealing out of the great lineup of sessions. Ms. Charrett spoke about how to open communication with developers in a seemingly hostile environment where everyone is obsessed with their work. She taught us how create a safety net by building up trust and relationships. This made me recall a quote by A. Den Heaver that she had referenced during her keynote which said, “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower”.

Remember that word I was looking for in the beginning? After giving it much thought, I decided that the most appropriate word was Ecstatic. What better word to describe how I felt after being given the opportunity to attend CAST 2016. Anyhow, time for overall impressions. Across the board I found that the conference's content was very diverse. Concepts were presented from different angles, that allowed speakers to be both broad and deep in their approaches. Some took the approach focusing on personality and individual initiative whereas others gave presentations that stressed a methodical progression. What I took from this conference was not only technical changes for software testing but also the importance of collaboration skills. As I told Mr. Davis at the conference, I look forward to using what I learned in my future endeavors.

Jonathan Guzman