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I love this song by the Afro-Cuban All Stars, and not just because it has a great beat. (lyrics)

Yo le puse el corazón // también le puse la mente //
y el producto resulto // bien distinto y diferente.
I put my heart into it // and also my mind;
the product that results // is very unique and different.

A lot of the value I bring to a test team (or indeed any team) comes by virtue of being different -- of bringing a different life experience, different perspective, and different set of skills to the table.

To take one example, I interact with the Internet through a medium that's very different from that of most people. I use Linux and other open-source software well-nigh exclusively, often via a textual interface. I read mail with mutt, chat with people using irssi, and tweet using ttytter. For many years I browsed the web using lynx simply because my outdated pittance of a computer couldn't handle anything more demanding. Even now, my default view of the web doesn't include javascript, java applets, or flash. A lot of things fall apart when the assumptions that they're developed under crumble.

To take another angle, I've worked as a programmer, sysadmin, and a tester in recent memory. While I'd likely lose out on a kernel hacker job to someone who's spent the last 20 years coding in C, small shops (like the one I'm in now) really appreciate having someone around who can kick servers together, debug CMS modules, and come up with testing tools for the open source project we're hacking on. So it goes with other aspects of my background -- knowing i18n and a few snippets of Japanese because of my time as an exchange student; being sensitive to the ethical ramifications of a piece of software on account of my background in Philosophy; thinking things out in terms of concepts, theories, principles, and strategies, because that's simply how my mind works.

It may be presumptuous to think that you can be the best programmer in the entire world, or the best tester, or what have you. But you can be the best you in the world; the best at at offering the unique set of skills and perspectives that only you have. Though I endeavour to give my best, I'm not so presumptuous to think that I am the best. But I hope you will always find my work distinto; diferente.

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Do we have enough hackathons in the testing world?

So over on the open source dev side of the planet, we have these things called hackathons. The archetype for this kind of event goes something like this:

  • Declare a rough topic: "Apache bug bash", "Perl-related projects".
  • Procure an inexpensive conference room.
  • Add a couple dozen highly motivated open source hackers.
  • Throw in snacks, wifi, collab tools, and a lot of caffeine.
  • Shake vigorously and observe the reaction.

Sometimes these are done before or after another major conference; sometimes they're scheduled on their own. They are more or less round-the-clock affairs where a heck of a lot gets done:

  • tens or hundreds of bugs get closed;
  • new releases of major software projects get done;
  • sweeping new features are designed or implemented;
  • entirely new projects get cooked up and launched.

As much as I love remote collaboration, people in the same physical space have much higher communication bandwidth; you can communicate with more nuance and turn around replies much more quickly. They're also much less subject to the interruptions of daily life: fire drill because a server crashed, the garden needs to be fed, the cat needs watering, etc. The cross-talk that does happen tends to be germane to what's happening in the moment. This all means that:

  • many coordinated tasks get done in a relatively short time;
  • discussions can move forward a great distance in a relatively short time; and
  • a lot of cross-pollination happens -- people riff off of each other's ideas and come up with amazing new things.

Despite how productive hackathons can be, they cost very little. All that needs to be paid for is travel, space, and accomodation, and the hackathon location can be selected so as to keep these low.

I think that the writing-about-testing conference engendered many of the points listed above. I'd like to see these kind of affairs happen more often.

The testing world has a number of great 'pro' conferences: StarEast/West, STPCon, CAST, and so forth. But do we have enough hackathons?

rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)

Last weekend, a conversation about diversity took place on twitter between several prominent folks in the Agile and Testing communities. There's a transcript archived here, and if you're not familiar with the gist of what transpired, this reply may make more sense if you read the transcript first.

First, I need to make clear that I'm not involved with the Diversity in Agile project in any way. What I'm about to say is based on having observed other initiatives of this same sort, and on seeing a pattern of discussion that's been repeated in workplaces, in the open source community, and now, to my dismay, in the Agile testing community.

Why give out awards for being a female in the technology field?

jbtestpilot: Request: can a "woman-in-test" explain to me how it feels to be honored & rewarded because of their gender?
Sat Jun 05 05:10:01 +0000 2010

As several people involved in the project have since pointed out, the project isn't giving out "awards". Moreover, the point of initiatives like this isn't to give out some kind of condescending "You're pretty good, for a girl!" award. It's to increase the visibility of women who are successful in the Agile community -- to adjust people's mindsets so that their idea of a successful Agile professional includes someone who happens to be female.

This has -- one hopes -- these benefits:

  • People in the Agile community become less likely to make negative assumptions about women in the community. Life for women in Agile gets better, in that they're less likely to be subject to sexist behaviour, like someone questioning their competence because they are female.
  • The Agile community is seen as a group that welcomes diversity. Women or other minorities who are considering taking part in the Agile community feel as though they are welcome to do so -- that they won't be singled out because of their gender, race, orientation, and so forth.

This isn't about trying to enforce some kind of "diversity quota". It's about making our community more aware of diversity issues, more welcoming for folks of diverse backgrounds, and a better place for everyone who's part of the community, regardless of their background.

What's this about "empowering women"? Is this all about women gaining power?

Protestations to the contrary aside, the phrase "empowering women" isn't about placing women above men. The starting point for this discussion is that women are disempowered, and so "empowering women" means to bring them to a place of equality. It's a level playing field that's being aimed for, not some kind of reverse sexism.

Gender & Biology 101

jamesmarcusbach: @lanettecream I guarantee you every normal male who works with you is actively suppressing certain thoughts. That's just biology.
Sat Jun 05 08:40:56 +0000 2010

I take exception to the insinuation that because I am male, there is some part of my mind that is perpetually thinking about sleeping with my female peers. This might be James' experience. It's not mine, and it's presumptuous and insulting to claim that it is.

Telling someone that she is constantly being viewed as a sexual object by all of her male peers, and further that this is the incontrovertible natural order of things, is not helpful. It's fucking creepy.

Gender & Biology 102

On the topic of biology: while it's been shown that men & women have neurological differences, it's a gross mistake to overgeneralize this and assume that all women tend to think in one way and all men in another. The differences between individuals are much greater than any biological difference between sexes. To use a coarse example: there are both women and men who are fantastic chefs. Even supposing that one sex has more inherent culinary ability than the other, that difference is completely eclipsed by the chasm in ability between individuals who are spectacularly talented cooks and those who are abysmal ones.

We have a whole bunch of different straight white guys on the team. Isn't that diversity?

There are two "diversities" that are being conflated in this discussion. I'll arbitrarily dub them "thought diversity" and "personal diversity".

Personal diversity has to do with each team member's background and who they are. Do they hail from Argentina, Australia, or Angola? Do they have a degree in computer science, philosophy, or none at all? What's their gender identity, their race, their class background? This is personal diversity -- the differences between the team members as individuals.

Thought diversity refers to the diversity of ideas that people come up with as a result of their different ways of thinking. Thought diversity is informed by each person's life experience, and thus by "personal diversity". Say two testers are trying to reproduce an elusive bug. Perhaps one will start by trying actions that have caused similar bugs in the past. The other might start by looking through log files to see if anything relevant turns up. These two different approaches represent thought diversity.

An Agile team needs to cultivate thought diversity because it needs different perspectives on problems to succeed. It needs welcome and support personal diversity not just as a means to engender thought diversity, but because it is the right thing to do. Treating someone inequitably is wrong. It's as plain as that.

Diversity's Not My Problem

Screw that, it's everybody's problem.

If we have an imbalance in who can take part in the Agile community, or in our industry -- if people are leaving the profession because they're being singled out for unfair treatment, or not joining it because they don't feel like dealing with the environment they'll find there -- that's a problem for all of us. By turning people away, we are missing out on talent and ideas that can help us propel our craft forwards.

If you care about the future of our industry, you should care about diversity. Think about it.

rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)

Last weekend, a conversation about diversity took place on twitter between several prominent folks in the Agile and Testing communities. I think what was said needs to be archived for posterity, so I made a tool that helps do just that.

This is a straight-up transcript with no commentary. My response to some of the points that were raised is here.

Transcript of the conversation... )
rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)

Due to a recent fortituous change in my personal circumstances, I'm suddenly able to attend the Writing About Testing Conference if I'm selected for it. Here's the brief that I submitted.

I didn't set out to become a tester. I just wanted to make better software.

As a developer, I realized that there was only so much I could improve the end product by honing my individual skills. Being human, sooner or later I was going to make a mistake, and that'd yield a bug. Obviously something different needed to be done if I ever hoped to produce software with fewer defects than I (or any individual developer) create. That train of thought doesn't go very far before it pulls into QA station.

Landing a testing role with Ken Pier, Chris McMahon, and Matt Heusser at Socialtext was an incredible stroke of fortune. I got to jump in with both feet and learn from an amazing group of people; in fact, I sometimes feel as though I've somehow landed in the master class without having graduated from kindergarten yet. I've heard of enough different paths to becoming a tester that I don't feel exceptional in this regard.

I'm curious about how people end up getting into test, and what we do when we're new to the field (often transitioning from somewhere else). I'm interested in bringing my unique set of talents to bear in this field while avoiding yesterday's pitfalls. I want to write about my experience simply in the hopes that it'll be useful to others -- so they can see what I've tried, try it themselves if it seems to have gone well, or avoid repeating my mistakes if it didn't.

In testing, the notion of diversity (of approaches, of the team) is a powerful one. I hope I can stumble across and write about experiences that other people might not chance across, and that they'll do the same for me. Harnessing our collective diversity and learning from each other is how we advance the state of our craft. I'd like to take part.

rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)

I created this space because I need to write more about the technical stuff I get up to, and because I need to write more, period. Some really amazing people whom I greatly respect have encouraged me to get going on this, especially when it comes to writing about testing.

There are a lot of different technical areas I'm interested in, and I'm not going to restrict topics here to just one. However, it seems to me that there's a ton of writing "out there" about programming, systems admin, even UI design, but a dearth of writing about testing. I'm the furthest thing from a Great Ghod of Testing, but I *can* share what I've done, what's worked and what hasn't, and people will find some value in that.

So, I had best get writing.


rickscott: Bemused-looking picture of Rick (Default)
Rick Scott


Canadian philosopher-geek who's profoundly interested in how we can collaborate to make technology work better for everyone. He's an incorrigible idealist, an open source contributor, and a staunch believer in testing, universal access, and the hacker ethic.


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