Insights Podcasts The Testing Show: Live from QASummit: Post Game Wrap Up

The Testing Show: Live from QASummit: Post Game Wrap Up

October 13, 2021

This week’s show comes live from the QA Summit, held in South Jordan, Utah on July 28, 2021. Matthew Heusser and Michael Larsen welcome back Rachel Kibler and Gwen Iarussi, as well as Pax Noyes to discuss takeaways from the QA Summit talks and to also highlight QA at the Point, Women Who Test, and other initiatives happening around the Salt Lake valley to inspire and help develop current and future software testers.














Michael Larsen (INTRO):

Hello and welcome top The Testing Show.
Episode 106.
Live from the QA Summit: Post Game Wrap Up

This week’s show comes live from the QA Summit, held in South Jordan, Utah July 28, 2021. This time around, we recorded live at the end of the event, Rachel Kibler and Gwen Iarussi joining us again, and we welcome Pax Noyes from QA at the Point and Women Who Test to discuss takeaways from the QA Summit talks and find out more about QA at the Point, Women Who Test, and other initiatives happening around the Salt Lake valley to inspire and help develop current and future software testers. And with that, on with the show.

Michael Larsen (00:00):
Hey everybody, how are you doing? Welcome back. We are at the closing of the formal QASummit. And so what you are hearing in the background is everybody chatting around while we are waiting for the actual networking event to happen. So we figured why not capture some of that live vibe, do the podcast right here, right now, while everything is fresh in our brain. But yes, if you hear background noise, yeah. You hear background noise,

Matthew Heusser (00:24):
we’re at a live, in-person event, where there are actual people who are alive… for the first time.

Michael Larsen (00:30):
we would hope so

Matthew Heusser (00:31):
In a very long time, we’ve got Rachel Kibler and Gwen Dobson (Iarussi) again, and also.

Pax Noyes (00:38):
Pax Noyes.

Matthew Heusser (00:39):
Pax Is a member of the local QA community here. There’s a QA group called “The Point”?

Pax Noyes (00:45):
QA at The Point.

Matthew Heusser (00:46):
QA at The Point. Which she is heavily involved in. I think Gwen and Rachel have been to a little bit.

Rachel Kibler (00:49):
Pax is one of the organizers of QA at the Point, and also the Women Who Test in Utah County, and she started an inclusion program with Gwen… Pax is a legend here in Utah.

Matthew Heusser (01:00):
Well, we’re glad to have you on.

Michael Larsen (01:03):
Thanks for joining us. All right. So what we wanted to do here is we wanted to have kind of an afterwards debriefing. Yesterday, we discussed what we were going to talk about (the four of us that were here) and now of course we are five. And we’re talking about what we actually learned. Now, for those who are curious on my take on this, I “live blog” these events and so, when I go to them, I actively write up my reactions right in time. Sometimes those can be very freeform and out-of-pocket and genuinely weird to read kind of flow of consciousness kind of thing. So I will have fun going back and editing to see what came of that. One of the talks I’ve found most interesting, and that I was surprised that I would find it to be the most interesting was on handling the nightmare of test data and the idea being much of what we think of test data, we’re just thinking about the raw stuff we might run in to test with, or the flat files we might use to seed something. But it’s all sorts of other stuff that we don’t really think about. Like the browser version that we’re using or the number that’s going to be generated by the program or by the after states of the program, all of that is test data. And all of that has to be managed. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s kind of something I picked up from it. And I realized that my view of test data was fairly small and that there’s a lot more that I should be considering and looking at. So there’s an example of one of the talks that I thought was cool. I wish I could have attended more, but I ended up giving my talk twice, so…

Matthew Heusser (02:33):
Can we talk about that talk for a minute? Cause I have mixed feelings.

Michael Larsen (02:37):

Matthew Heusser (02:38):
The positive side, he defined a way of thinking about testing that was very rigorous, that sliced and diced it into different pieces. Particularly a style of test tooling. BDD was this example, this is the test data. This is the test setup. This is a test import blobs. On the other hand, here’s a bunch of definitions. So it was hard to connect to emotionally. And as we learned in the opening keynote people resonate, connect with, and make decisions based on their emotions. Am I wrong?

Michael Larsen (03:09):
No, that’s true.

Gwen Iarussi (03:10):
No, I agree. I will say my favorite part was the question and answer section on that, where I learned a really cool… I mean, after asking about complex data scenarios where you have data states are edge cases and sometimes incredibly complex to get, even to that point and get that set up and do that in a repeatable way. One of the answers that came from a member of the audience was actually around creating just the data creation factories that would set up those scenarios for you. Brilliant solution, awesome way to look at it, definitely something off the table.

Rachel Kibler (03:42):
I also really enjoyed the two keynotes. I thought, Dr. Andy Brown this morning, I liked the anthropological, the evolutionary biology approach to why we have so many issues getting stuff out well and on time. That was an interesting take that touched on cognitive biases, which I love to talk about. And then Janet Gregory’s talk this afternoon was also just fantastic. I think she really hits home with that DevOps, the Dan Ashby initial diagram that she’s revised over the years. I thought Janet’s keynote was fantastic.

Michael Larsen (04:19):
Same. I also was impressed with one of the things that she said instead of being involved in thinking about shift left or shift, right, The takeaway I got from it is that she’s just aghast that, “why are we not testing all the time? period.” And why are we not just thinking about, “We are testing all the time?”

Gwen Iarussi (04:37):
I loved the distinction between continuous testing and holistic testing. It is such an important thing. And if we don’t talk about it enough.

Matthew Heusser (04:45):
Andrew Brown’s keynote, my quick summary of that, which is going to be lossy and incorrect, but it makes sense to me is that, like… I’ve often wondered, why do we have this fake it till you make it stuff? We express this confidence. It is unwarranted. Talk about how awesome we are when we’re not. Pushing each other around. And basically he said, “it’s because if you have that confidence, there’s a high chance the other monkey is going to back down. Even though you don’t have it, that behavior is rewarded and has other evolutionary advantages”. I think that happens in software way too much.

Michael Larsen (05:23):
Well, certainly. It happens in any social group. And the simple fact is we don’t have antlers. (laughter)

Matthew Heusser (05:29):
I think I’ve participated in some social groups where there are norming, reinforcing behaviors, which limit that. I can think of some clubs and groups of teams that I’ve been in, where that’s been tamped down and in software for the most part, you know, it’s the kids on the island.

Michael Larsen (05:46):
Much depends on who you work with. Much depends on what is valued. And if what is valued is the aggressive, take no prisoners, beading of the chest exactly. And displaying to show your dominance. And if that’s, what’s going to get you across the line, if that’s what raises money…

Matthew Heusser (06:03):
Socialtext wasn’t like that when I was there.

Michael Larsen (06:05):
No, Socialtext wasn’t like that. But again… we frequently bring up Socialtext and Socialtext is an anomaly in this industry. And one may even argue if Socialtext as a concept still exists. But the neat thing is, is that it’s DNA has managed to infect two very large companies, whether they know it or not. And I think that’s kind of cool. And if anybody’s listening to this show and wonders what “The Socialtext Effect” is, at some point, I think we genuinely should do a show discussing it. We’ve talked little bits and pieces about what we’ve learned from it, how it all comes together, but there are some things that I think a number of organizations can learn from it. And the sad part is, is that it’s disappearing because as time goes, that original core philosophy is being diluted. But how do we keep it going?

Matthew Heusser (06:52):
It was a company that worked well when Michael and I were in more formative years, we both worked there at different times. We bring it up on the show a lot. Thank you for tolerating us. (laughter)

Michael Larsen (07:02):
Technically speaking, I still work there, if only in name (laughter). So Pax, welcome to the show. Thank you for being here. If you don’t mind us putting you on the spot, was there a particular presentation that you either enjoyed or that you found enlightening? Or infuriated you? I mean, that also works.

Rachel Kibler (07:23):
Pax saw three of our talks today at this table. So pick one (laughter).

Michael Larsen (07:28):
Or you don’t have to talk about us.

Pax Noyes (07:32):
No pressure at all. Well, I love the talks, but I also really loved the discussion panel we had to hear everyone’s different perspectives. I mean, a lot of people I unfortunately haven’t heard of up there. Hopefully they’re not listening to this… I loved the open approach for the discussion panel, and different points of views from anywhere from like AI to “should everyone automate”. Also Matt’s presentation. I loved everyone’s presentation and role was great, but Matt’s was one that talked about the basics of testing, which it’s always iffy on if that’ll be good and popular at a conference. He had to do an activity where he also pretended to be a really…

Matthew Heusser (08:14):
Challenging? We could say challenging (laughter).

Pax Noyes (08:16):
We could, but like, why do we sugar coat it? (laughter) Five-year-olds will listen to this? Fine. So he pretended to be a “complicated boss” that was very opinionated in his own right, not open to discussion.

Matthew Heusser (08:31):
We put people in very challenging conditions and then we challenge them aggressively and sometimes unfairly intentionally.

Pax Noyes (08:37):
And that’s a lot of what happens in your first QA jobs too, where you’re kind of set up to fail. So it was, it was good to show you what that would be like as well as good ways to test. I think it was actually really valuable.

Matthew Heusser (08:47):
And I wonder out of all the sessions here today on how to do testing and how many sessions actually got their hands on a keyboard and actually did any testing at all,

Pax Noyes (08:55):
I mean, like, technically none of us, cause we were all on phones (laughter), but we weren’t on a keyboard.

Rachel Kibler (08:59):

Speaker 2 (09:00):
That’s Michael’s job! (laughter)

Rachel Kibler (09:05):
Way to pedantize!

Pax Noyes (09:07):
But helping to generate.

Gwen Iarussi (09:09):
So to give people realism around what testing is actually like. And is that… the question for you, Matt, is that contributing to the fact that people are only staying as testers for two years? That’s a scary thing.

Matthew Heusser (09:23):
I don’t think so. I will tell you. So the idea was to put testers under conditions of ambiguity and uncertainty and time pressure and see if they could find ways to contribute. And I think that that’s great. That’s a skill set. If you could airdrop into a project.., I don’t know anything about the software. The specs are mess on the floor. No one has any idea what’s going on. If you’re really lucky, maybe we can get you a build at some point… And you can add value in that chaotic, hectic environment that smoke jumper like everybody wants this platonic ideal. It’s perfect. Where we have all of our requirements emerge from grooming sessions, fully bloomed with executable specifications and tasty fruity pebbles. But that’s actually relatively easy to be successful in. If you can have the tough conversations you can survive. By example, we learned about those interactions. There were great examples, modeled of what I call “wiggling on the hook”, which is where you’re struggling with someone who’s putting you under challenging situations, but you’re still having those difficult conversations. What is the best we can possibly do? How could we present the information? I do say at the beginning, there’s a PTSD disclaimer, because I’ve done this. We did it at Test Retreat one year and people were like, “Aaaaahhhh!”, and Test Retreat’s relatively senior high level people that had a very difficult reactions. And I put the PTSD warning in there. Then I did it at CAST and the warning was, “this is going to put you under conditions. And I like, I’m going to turn away for 60 seconds and you can leave. Like it’s okay. And if you ever needed me to call time out, I will”. I still had four people come up to me afterwards. The room at 60 people, four people came up to me afterwards and said, “Reminded me of a bad boss!” And I said, “Remember the first slide? Look at the first… you want to read the first slide?” and then say, “Oh yeah, right. You did. Yeah. Yeah, you did”. And that would have been two or three times as many people if I hadn’t had that. So, and again, I never want to work in a place like that. Fine. I’m not suggesting you do…

Pax Noyes (11:13):
but you might.

Matthew Heusser (11:14):
but it’s a good simulation.

Gwen Iarussi (11:16):
It does help develop grit. And I think it is our requirement for this role. If you’re going to be good at it.

Matthew Heusser (11:21):
I would love to do a three business day simulation of actual good testing and a good environment. We really build stuff with highly collaborative multi-disciplinary. We actually pitched that and worked with the Agile Testing Days folks and tried to do that as an event in the Netherlands. It didn’t come together, but if you’ve got 30 minutes to an hour, we can do something.

Pax Noyes (11:39):
One thing that was good about yours is that not only did they get to see a bad work environment or whatever, but at the end you showed them how they could still succeed in what they brought to the table and kind of reframed it for them. So it wasn’t just, oh, this was a hard experience, but there’s a lot of stuff you have to offer you probably wouldn’t realize.

Matthew Heusser (11:56):
We demonstrated quick attacks. We taught quick attacks. So people actually can do that exercise and do better or worse based on their testing skills. You can give that exercise to someone who doesn’t know testing. And they’ll say, “This was easy. I’m done in 10 minutes”. “Oh really? These are the bugs you missed”. “Oh, maybe there’s a skill involved in this thing”.

Gwen Iarussi (12:16):
Maybe a little. I will say that is one of the highlights that I took away from the panel. Talking about how quality tends to be something that people kind of fall into. I think that is a trend that is unfortunate. I know that in hiring, I certainly look for certain personality traits that will lead a person to be successful and kind of grow into the role. But you’re right. I think not having a CS degree, not that that’s a requirement for being good, but I see it ties back to some of these very root skill levels that you don’t see. The lacking in competency that is creating some of the problems that we’re seeing today in the quality realm and how we address that. And a lot of that is going to be pushing ourselves to be more technical. That’s one of the things I mentioned in my talk, we need to understand the technology. We need to kind of delve in and play around with the systems that we’re playing with and understand those dependencies and use that data, learn how to analyze that data.

Michael Larsen (13:12):
So one of the things that I actually liked, it was a quick throw in into the question and answer period. And I think it’s something that would make for a very good talk all on its own. It was mainly focused on the, “what is the return on investment for QA and how do you quantify that?” And I love the answer of, “just tell them about the risks that they’re facing.” The best advice I got from this, and I always love bringing this up, and I want to say that it was Elizabeth Hendrickson who did this first. It’s who I typically associate this comment for. She said, “I want you to imagine that you are the CEO of a fortune 500 company, take your pick, which one you want it to be. Now tomorrow morning, I want you to walk out on your front step and I want you to pick up the newspaper and I want you to open it up. And the front story on the front page of that news is the most devastating scandal that you can imagine your product and your company being involved in. Can you identify that? If the answer is yes, then once you have identified that, that is your number one priority for where you should be putting your testing resources”. I thought that was very cool. And it’s kind of reminded me of that. So it’s neat to see that that message is continuing to be shared.

Matthew Heusser (14:30):
One thing I’ll add to talking about risk is examples help. So when I was at the insurance company, I remember a senior manager said, “We’re prepared to take some risks on this release. Don’t worry about it, MAtt. We’re going to take some risks”. And I said, “Okay, what we’re talking about is insurance packets. We have these kind of standard plans and we go to the database and we pull out people’s information. We put it on there and it’s like a search and replace: first name, last name, date of birth. What we’re talking about, if we have bugs is that someone’s healthcare information with all of their personal information is mailed to the wrong address and goes to the wrong person. Is that okay? Is that a risk you’re willing to put up with?” And he found me more time to do testing. Shocking!.

Michael Larsen (15:22):
I’ll Bet.

Rachel Kibler (15:23):
That’s actually one technique that I try to get my team thinking about. As we plan a new feature, let’s come up with the worst headline possible and make sure that that doesn’t happen. I call it the nightmare headline technique. But yes. (laughter)

Michael Larsen (15:41):
Since what we usually like to do is we’ve already been talking about our takeaways. We’ve already talked about the elevator pitches of what we’ve learned from this. So I think that since we are in a new location and a very good chance that some people may be curious about what you all are involved in. Tell me a little bit about QA At the Point.

Matthew Heusser (16:00):
What’s the Point?

Rachel Kibler (16:04):
No, this is your baby, Pax.

Pax Noyes (16:04):
It’s the point that’s, like, between Utah county and Salt Lake county. At least it used to be, now it’s held somewhere else. But QA at the Point is, I think, the largest QA meetup in Utah. It’s once a month, we have different speakers. We also have weekly “Autobots” trainings. So that’s teaching different ways of automation. We have one for Cypress and one for Python right now. One of the instructors worked for STG and you get a certificate when you complete it helps you get employed there if you’d like. So it’s it’s just a big QA community that’s trying to give back and help and mentor, and also just be present to be there if you need.

Matthew Heusser (16:38):
And You’re meeting in person.

Pax Noyes (16:40):
Not yet. I think it’s next… yeah it’s been Zoom because of because of COVID before that it was in person.

Matthew Heusser (16:46):
If you kept that at zoom, then anybody could come from all over the world.

Pax Noyes (16:49):
They continue to stream it even when it’s in person, so there’s always that option.

Matthew Heusser (16:51):
Oh, sweet. Is it on Meetup?

Pax Noyes (16:54):

Matthew Heusser (16:54):
We’ll put a link in the show notes.

Michael Larsen (16:56):
As always.

Rachel Kibler (16:57):
Yeah. There’s also a really active slack community for QA at the Point with daily questions sometimes about automation, sometimes about soft skills or manual testing skills. It’s just really great.

Pax Noyes (17:10):
And a whole jobs channel as well.

Rachel Kibler (17:11):
There is a jobs channel and it attracts people from all over the world.

Unidentified Participant (17:17):
[During the conversation a participant walked up to say] Thank you for all your presentations. They were fantastic.

Matthew Heusser (17:20):
Thank you.

Michael Larsen (17:21):
Thank you very much.

Matthew Heusser (17:22):
Say that into the microphone (laughter).

Michael Larsen (17:27):
I’m keeping that in, by the way.

Gwen Iarussi (17:31):
I will say that QA at the Point is one of the local Meetups, but Pax is also responsible for Utah chapter of Women Who Test, which is a testing community that is… it’s up and coming. Cause I think it’s…

Pax Noyes (17:42):
It did really well before COVID but then COVID hit… but we’re getting it back.

Gwen Iarussi (17:48):
but it’s obviously geared more towards kind of getting more women in test, we need more women who tests. And that’s an issue here in Salt Lake. So…

Pax Noyes (17:57):
But not just QA. Developers should test, too. So it’s trying to empower everyone to see what skills they have. And I think even like a cashier at Walmart, you’re testing every day. So if you have a dream to make it in engineering, why can’t you do it?

Gwen Iarussi (18:08):
The last one we had, we had someone who was a tester for Nestle show up on the call and it was fantastic.

Pax Noyes (18:13):
She did and our presenter was actually someone that worked for JB Hunt with transportation and worked her way up and then branched out. And now she’s a professional photographer and she spoke to us and she’s fantastic. And like building your brand, like your personal brand, which is also relevant at work.

Matthew Heusser (18:28):
Yeah. I will say that Qualitest is hiring. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s always, you can look at the page… continually hiring and there’s a little bit different working for a testing services company because the promotions are for software testers. we had the VP of strategy on last time he came up through the ranks for software testing. Don’t hear that every day.

Michael Larsen (18:50):
Definitely not. One of the things that I’ll add on this is just sort of my little closing comment. And I remembered this… again, I want to make sure that I’m giving credit correctly, but I might not be giving credit correctly. Forgive me if I get this wrong, but I’m pretty sure that Marlena Compton was the one who said this. And it was something to the effect of, “Very often, those people that are able to stay and thrive in the testing industry are often those who have found a way to make the industry genuinely work for them”. It may not be that you have to be an expert at automation, or you may not be that you are the DevOps person, or it may not be that you are in some other capacity, but if you can find a way that adds value to your organization, using the brain that you have, that will allow you to be effective and useful, you are never going to have to worry about not being employable.

Matthew Heusser (19:53):
So I think I, I think I heard you wrong. That makes, that was where I was going. Is that if you could stick around and add value, I think what I heard at first, when you say that made it work for them would be more of a selfish find way to extract value, but instead it’s you contribute. So I don’t know if I said this recently on the show, but early in my career, there was a manager who used to write on walls with his marker. Know your role, be your role. If everyone would just do their role. And I saw all of these cracks between the roles continually happen and different skillsets, especially on the analysts and the test side. So people would have to sort of learn their niche, where they could add value and those people forget lay off time. They’re the people you pay attention to come promotion time. So pay attention for what’s needed. Look at your skillset, flow toward how you could contribute. You’re probably going to be fine. A focus on this weird contract negotiation about my job versus your job. You could do that if you want. I don’t recommend it.

Michael Larsen (20:54):
I always feel like I need to bring up Seth Godin’s comments from “Linchpin” and the whole idea that too often, we tend to focus our efforts on scarcity. And because we’re focusing our efforts on scarcity, we have to be the best at whatever it is that we do. And that’s where everybody emphasizes their efforts. And the fact of the matter is is that if you do that, and if you focus on a race to the bottom mentality, the biggest challenge you’re going to face is that you will always find somebody who can out better you in whatever it is you do. But there are other ways that you can compete. You may not be able to be the best coder on your team, or you may not even be able to be the best bug finder on your team. But if you can actually do adequate code and adequate bug finding with excellent customer service skills, and if you’re able to get on the telephone and talk your customer off of a wall and get them to calm down and face what’s going on with a little bit more rationality and be less freaked out. Believe me, you’re going to be valuable and people will respect the work that you do. It’s not going to be perfect in any means, but you can package your own perfection.

Matthew Heusser (22:09):

Michael Larsen (22:09):
And with that, it sounds like the cheering next door is getting good and loud. I think we want to go enjoy some of that. So thank you for joining us for this very impromptu live version of The Testing Show. We will see you in a few weeks and Hey, thanks for joining us. Say bye, everybody.

Gwen Iarussi (22:23):

Rachel Kibler (22:23):

Pax Noyes (22:23):

Matthew Heusser (22:23):
Bye, everybody!

Michael Larsen (OUTRO):
That concludes this episode of The Testing Show.

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