Category Archives: Learning

Delegate report about CITCON 2017 Amsterdam

“We did it already 14 times.”
Jeff paused for a moment,  “and this one was amazing.”
He was quite modest.

Gotta attend this 1
A few months ago a speaker told about his experiences at a conference. He had difficulties to make contact. One of the responses intrigued me. Mohinder Khosla mentioned CITCON in Amsterdam.

For a Dutchman this was interesting. The price was also reasonable 0 Euro with a modest request to cover the costs. But how could I determine whether the price was right? Among the participants I noticed Gojko and Cirilo. Wow. Then I read a recommendation of @testobsessed and I was sold. I mean the ticket.

Not bad for a conference with a marketing budget of 0 Euro.

Evening 1
Before I want to describe, what happened, I have a small warning. This post will focus on the process and not on the content. The reason I chose to is simple: people came there to share information and difficult situations. So reader beware.
Now it is my task to draw you in the atmosphere of CITCON 2017 Amsterdam.

The first day I used public traffic to go to the venue. It was hosted by Xebia. This office had all the elements to affect people’s mood. There was a standard meeting room with glass walls, a comfy corner including sofas and game computer. Did I mention the TV? There were rooms where I could see concrete shining through.

Evening 1 started awkward. I only knew one participant and he was not present, so I talked with new people. The talks were friendly with a formal undertone. Really polite. Just probing around.

Jeff and P.J. started the conference in a room with more than 100 seated people. They casually introduced the format. Asked for feedback (“5 stars is good.”). And let all participants introduce themselves and telling about things they were excited about or personal struggles. Those small stories let me connect to the people telling them.

The subject proposal session was described. At the moment everyone felt at ease P.J. and Jeff told, that they would take a step back. They would only help in case of problems. It was “your conference”. This lead to an extension of the Q&A. After the last question the organizers withdrew from the flip boards. It was up to us, the delegates.

After the warming up the real stuff started people were requested to pick a subject and clarify it to the audience. A queue formed in the room. People with posts its interested in solutions or volunteering to share information.

I watched the process for a half hour and I noticed the time. Time to send text message to my family, that I would come home later.
I really liked the way, how the subjects were presented. The question part was really clarifying. Participants tried to understand the content. The atmosphere had changed: it was warm and people were supportive.

Let me give an example. I proposed a session to share information about blogging. For me it is a way to clarify my thoughts and reflect. I was questioned about it:
“Why do you call it ‘Blogging as a service’”?
“I needed a title … and it is a service to the Community and outside the Community.”
BTW there was also a session proposed “What’s in it for me?” It was listed In the final program.

After the subject proposals I voted and went home. Afterwards I heard from a fellow Dutchman, that he was requested to compose the program. He kindly declined. He had already arranged the venue. This was a reasonable excuse.

Morning 1
The next morning I entered the office, where I had a small chat with Pati about conferences and IT. I skipped my second breakfast and collected a good coffee. There was a friendly buzz in the air.

I went to the program and browsed through the stickies on the flip boards. My session about blogging was accepted. Yay. Then the bad news sank in: there were too many interesting sessions at the same time. That happened to me years ago.

I arrived early for the first session. I remembered that several stickies or subjects were combined. The room was quite big for the small group. I moved my chair to the middle of the room for better interaction.

The first session was about testing and I tried to participate as good as possible. I had to watch my politeness, but I had no time. The subject was too interesting. I bent slightly forward and started contributing. I was in business mode: polite and helpful.
The day before the code of conduct was explicitly mentioned. Proper use of language was also checked :
“Can I use the F word here?”

For the second session I had to find the stairs. Glass walls wrre exceptionally handy in this particular case.

The previous session was still in full swing. I put me in the background, while observing the room. Sofas. These are great: It is difficult to maintain a neutral position. So I had an extra indicator for inclusiveness.

So I was in my session about blogging. And someone else. Okay time to start the Q & A. There were good questions. I got other questions than expected. Those made me think and reflect on my actions.

After a while other people joined. They had used the Law of Two Feet. If delegates were not interested in their session, they were allowed and encouraged to change the session. For my session it was welcome.

Lunch 1
During the lunch people were still having sessions. One session was about strange effects of particular Unicode on programs. A bit too tech for me.

You might have noticed that I changed the category to ‘Techies conferring’. My first thought was, that CITCON was about testing, until I read the description. It was about integration and testing. Other technical people would also be present.

During the lunch I joined a conversation about 3,000 pipelines. This was another world for me. So I had to drop my idea of an extremely small set of pipelines. There can be more than 1.

In a later session “mister G” had a good suggestion to improve builds. Suppose you have suppliers who are only focused on their own software. “Just let them provide tests to each other they can use in their build. If the build breaks they have something to talk.”
G thanks.

Writing about the afternoon let’s switch sections.

Afternoon 1
After the section switch I try to stay of content, but that is difficult.
One participant told a story about switching lines in code in order to cause bad unit test results. If the unit test did give an OK, there was likely a bug in the unit test.

I also saw some really awful Gherkin to describe actions instead of abstractions. Gherkin is good for testing of flows. For tabular stuff FIT of Fitnesse are the tools to use. And Concordia is another good option for the remaining option. Thanks Gojko.

For one of the final parallel sessions people were requested to bring real life testing problems. I joined this session. The facilitator did a good job to clarify the problem. A lot of whys and whats. I thought I could handle a lot of testing problems, but these were really hard to solve.

O yeah. Back to the process. I went to a big meeting table and met someone else. After some small talk we decided to start. About …
I volunteered to take a picture of the stickies. My hand went to my pocket and stopped. The location had been changed. I had been warned. So I warned the other and up we joined the session in progress about Gherkin. You might have read about it. Some centimeters higher.

After the session everyone was gathered in a room to share their AHA moments. There were a lot. I saw people who showed emotions. I saw people ready to take action when they would be back in the office.

People referenced to the ‘Gentle punch in your face’ session with Jeff. Other people had some great conversations. Outside in the sun. Hopefully a dev snd a tester. The truce is out there.

Evening 2
With more than an hour travel time and past my dinner time I had to find some place to eat. “It always works out.” Jeff reassured the people. Indeed a big group assembled on a terrace enjoying snacks, French fries, and burgers. They even had veggie ones.

I talked with other testers, who knew about context driven testing and cynefin. I don’t meet these testers very often.

There was a friendly guy with a nice sweater with a known software supplier on it. That made me curious:
“How did you get that sweater?”
“I work there.”
“I use your software.”
“Me too.” another techie joined in.

I ended in a group of Finnish guys. Talking about things. Things different from IT and work.

Thanks P.J. and Jeff for the conferring.

A musing post

Some readers might wonder about the fact that I tweeted Lisa. Yes, the Lisa from the testing books. And yes, Janet was the other author.

Was this a typical case about courage? Nope.

If you would ask me, that I would use Twitter 5 years ago, then my answer would be: “No way”.

Today Twitter is my way to get updates from the testing community.

I want to stress that my tweet to Lisa is not about ‘Don’t fear your peer’.

I just grew.


Is it possible to find new ways of testing in a tester infected country like the Netherlands? Sure.
But there are already so many test methodologies and specialists.
So what?

Hark! The testing muses sing
[On the melody of ‘Hark! The Herald angels sing’ ]

An artist gets her or his inspiration from a muse. Some readers might think about a person, whose mere presence brings music or words in her or his mind.

For testing there are other muses. Do they sing Mozart? I do not know.

A muse like Lisa tweets. She writes.

Hark! The testing muses write
[On the melody of ‘Hark! The Herald angels sing’ ]

At this moment one muse Katrina is writing a book. The announcement led to great excitement in the testing community. And she blogs.

Read the stuff the muses wrote
[On the melody of ‘Hark! The Herald angels sing’ ]

I read posts from Maaret, a rather influential one. I read posts and books from Elisabeth, Alan, and Jerry.

I just grew.

An Appendix to Visual Testing
Last weeks I read some blogs, which I will incorporate in my workshop at TestBash NL. As you might have read, it is about visual testing.

I combined my thoughts and experiences with the ideas from blogs of my testing muses.

Now I am in the editing phase for my workshop: figuring out some logic in my slides, creating mind maps for structure, and using insights from sketchnotes.

It was and is a wonderful journey. (Hark! The muses co-create.)
Thanks for the invitation, Rosie and Huib. Other testing muses indeed.

I just grew.

Teaching = Learning

This week I sent 2 proposals for the Spring Event to TestNet, the Dutch Special Interest Group in Software Testing. One was for a presentation for 3 quarters of an hour, the other one for a workshop of 1 and a 1/2 hour. The process of writing proposals was time consuming and intense. My proposals will be rated and then ranked against the other proposals. Finally I will be notified, whether I have a speaker slot.

In 1992 I went to my first Dutch Juggling Convention. I was thrilled; I would be performing in the Public Show. It had taken me months to acquire the Blow Off Your Socks level of juggling. (I still dropped my juggling prop though.) The first part of the convention was a long warming up for my act.

On the first day I walked in the gym. I noticed a few people juggling, but a big white paper sheet drew my attention. It was a table. On one side time slots were mentioned, on the other workshop areas. 2 or 3 workshops had been filled in.  A marker was hanging on a string.

I am still amused, how simple it is to book a workshop for myself on a juggling convention. No rating, no ranking. Just write down my name, juggling prop, and level. Or one name and two nouns. (The only exception I experienced is an International Juggling Association convention, but that is another story.)

There are many possible reasons, why I signed up to give a workshop. I only wanted to share knowledge about juggling. My favourite juggling prop is the devilstick. Wouldn’t it be great, if there were more good jugglers with a devilstick? So this workshop was not planned. A coincidence to happen.

If there is a huge juggling convention which cannot be ignored by a mainstream juggler, then it is the European one. My first European Juggling Convention was in Leeds. This time I came fully prepared. I had rehearsed two workshops for devilsticking in English, which definitely differs from my native language Dutch. The schedule of each workshop I had written down and memorised. And the tricks and combinations were still evolving during my preparations. The most difficult part was to locate the workshop schedule. You still remember that big white thing on the wall attached to a marker. I had planned two workshops, but gave a total of 3 workshops. Good response can be a nudge in the right direction.

Looking back I notice exciting patterns:

  • Determine the biggest step people can take and still follow me.
    [Blank faces.]
  • Discover and share new tricks and combinations, because attendees love them.
    “Did you write a book?”

The most important thing I learned was to observe the attendees. A struggle with the devilstick triggered the reaction: I had either been unclear or combined too many movements. So their struggle became my struggle. By dissecting my juggling tricks for my workshop pupils I learned more than I imagined. I determined the elementary movements to make more combinations.

Once a young woman was impressed by my flurry of movements of the devilstick. Then a man remarked dryly: “He is just combining a few little tricks.”

Let’s go back to testing. It is my way to earn my living after all. In one consultancy company I had to earn my place as a teacher or workshop leader. I spoke with several colleagues about test courses. Yes, they were looking for new teachers. My pitch was: “I have more than 15 year of experience with giving workshops in juggling.”

In the meantime I started to teach mind mapping to my colleagues. The whole process of dissection repeated for me: why do you add branches clockwise? What is a fast way to make a mind map? A lot of questions, which bothered the attendees. I learned to mind map according to the rules, but also using mind map programs working around their restrictions.
BTW I wrote this post using a mind map program while commuting. I moved and added branches to make this a compelling story. Hopefully.

My pitch became: “I have experience with teaching mind maps to colleagues in our company. These are my scores from their feedback.”

Once I had a funny insight to illustrate testing Virtual Reality with juggling. I had one brilliant test idea to start with. My colleagues were supportive and a Bit sceptic (with a capital B). To everyone’s surprise my proposal was accepted in 2008. The preparation gave me lots of energy and inspiration. What is a good test idea and why? Let me break it down for you and show it to you with Real Life juggling.

Then I noticed that there were more people willing to speak than available speaker slots in a test conference. As you might have guessed: I did not speak at many test conferences.

I started to miss the thoughts in my head breaking down my testing examples and improving them. So I began to experiment on my work, but that was not enough.

Why not start a blog and write about mind mapping, SFDIPOT, and 2 screens?  Wouldn’t it be great, if there are more good testers? So this blog post was not planned. A coincidence to happen.


Losing gracefully

“Han Toan, something has to be tested.”
I got a short briefing, csv files and decent specifications. A senior tester and I had to test an interface. He started sprinting: opening a csv file and logging bugs. I froze. No time for writing test cases and reviewing them. I confessed to the tester, that I was uncomfortable with the situation. I tested a csv file, but I was losing gracefully.

Theory and practice revisited
The following text is translation of a text I found in a Dutch farm:

“Theory is: if one knows everything and nothing is right.

Practice is: if everything functions and nobody knows why.

In this company theory and practice are combined.

Nothing is right and nobody knows why.”

Learning to win
One evening I was playing Skip-Bo with my wife. My plan was to lose gracefully. So I forced myself to play the wrong cards. Her position in the game improved gradually. She was happy, so was I.

After a while I was holding too many good cards in my hand. There was no way, that I could hide them for long. I would either win or lose awkwardly. The last option was worse than the first one.

In the months after this clumsy situation I tried to repeat the steps during other games. What was the first wrong move I made? What were my following strange steps? Based on my observations I was able to extract a single rule to win or heuristic.

I think, that I might be able to find scientific evidence for my heuristic. But I chose not to, because it worked. That was my goal.

No log in required
During an afternoon session James Bach told about testing without scripts. He was in a hotel lobby and saw a computer. He described the techniques and heuristics he used to get access to this computer. At the end he succeeded.  

I was in the library. Killing my time with browsing newspaper articles. But that was not exciting after a while. I had an appointment within half an hour. In the meantime there should be something to be tested. I was still staring at the computer, when I remembered the story of James.

The computer environment had 2 access levels for normal users. A guest could use only basic functions, which were also limited. I did not have a library subscription, which would grant me a time slot to use standard office software and the browser. I could buy a time slot, but that would lower the challenge.

So I started testing the applications. There were many search engines for news and books. Then I noticed, that I could open the browser. It did not take me much time to go the download area. A document with Resume in the title drew my attention. I expected an error message, when I would attempt to open the file.

Then I actually opened the file. I had access to Word. And to personal data like name, address, birth day, …. I got more information than I had anticipated.

It was time to inform the information desk about this particular situation. One of the women acted adequately:
“Did you log in?”
“No. I did not log in.”
One brief look on the computer screen made her check the other computers in the library. She asked me the steps to reproduce the error. After my answer she continued with:
“After logging out the cache should be cleared. I’ll contact the system administrator about this situation. ”

I went back to the computer, which still showed the resume. I closed it. Then I noticed, that a pdf reader had been installed on the PC. One of the recently opened files contained passport in the name. One click gave me a high resolution full colour scan of a passport including social security number and picture of a fellow citizen.

I had made a little start. To explore in unknown environment. Without a script.