Welcome to the second edition of our fast five series. This time we delve into ‘the community’. What’s that? It’s what we (the community) call ourselves. A group of testing junkies who are dead keen on the betterment of our craft. We all know that bringing like minded folk together can only mean good things. The sharing of knowledge, experiences, opinions, and even the occasional debate does wonders for moving our craft forward.
One of the biggest forums for the community would no doubt be the Software Testing Club (STC). A very cool site with loads of information and banter between testers from all across the globe. Looks simple enough after a quick visit right? Well it ain’t. I’ve been lucky enough to get involved with some of the behind the scenes work that needs to be done in order to keep the site so awesome! That’s how I got to know Phil Kirkham a little better. I asked Phil at one stage whether he has an area of expertise in software testing… “I’m an all-rounder rather than a specialist – though maybe Terminating and community might actually be my specialty.”
So, what better person to answer a fast five on the community!
Working in IT for longer than he likes to admit (one of his first jobs was debugging a printer driver written in Z80 Assembler) Phil spent most of his career as a developer before finding his true calling and moving over to testing. Having worked as a test consultant for a few years and growing tired of the commute, Phil is about to move across the Atlantic to Michiganto work for Atomic Object where finding bugs in the developers code is a real challenge. As well as being The Terminator for the STC, Phil is a member of the Miagi-Do School of Software Testing, a member of the writing about testing mail group, and tries to go to as many Tester Gatherings as he can.
1. A lot of people would be familiar in general with the great work you do for the STC, and I was wondering how that came about? Also, what would you consider to be your main role in the STC?
When I first started getting interested in testing and wanting to know more about it I lurked on SQA Forums and Testing Reflections. After lurking for a while I started to join in – first with general chat then asking questions and then starting to answer them.
I was learning a lot and everyone was really helpful. Then Rosie Sherry started the STC, it seemed like a great site, I was member #8 and was visiting every day. It started to gain traction and Rosie was getting snowed under so she put out a request for help. Seemed like a good way to give something back
There’s basically 3 main things that I do for the STC:
1) Approve members – all members are manually approved to try and stop the spammers. So if you claim to be a female from NY that likes fun, fun, fun and your name doesn’t match your email address and all your other answers are fghf fhgf then you won’t get through. STC seems to average around 10 new members a day.
2) Keep the site clean – so no spam from marketing companies, no one line questions of ‘pls tell me diff between smoke and sanity’. Terminating persistent spammers.
3) Keep the site lively – if there’s been no new discussions for a while I’ll post one, maybe post a lighter one near the weekend (e.g. Movie Quotes for Testers) or if there’s any really good blog posts I’ve read I’ll see if the STC membership have any input.
2. Being the Terminator, could you give us a couple of the craziest items you’ve had to terminate over the years? Details would be great, but just remember this Blog is G rated. ;0)
No real crazy content actually – the main termination is of the aforementioned nice young girls from NY wanting to date a tester. They get terminated before they have a chance to post anything crazy.
Weirdest thing was maybe when a firm dealing in copyright got all indignant with me after I removed their marketing blurb. Apparently I did not realise that copyright was the biggest thing that was going to happen to the test industry and testers HAD to be aware of it (and subscribing to the company newsletter was apparently the best way to do that). The emails between me and them were being circulated company wide and the president of the company was joining in.
3. I’ve been getting more involved in the testing community over the past 12 months and I’ve written a little about this, but I’m wondering if you have a ‘top five benefits’ that the community provides and why you think they are in fact benefits? They could be to individual testers, or to testing in general.
1) You get opportunities that you otherwise might not have known about. I got my current job opportunity because I was on the s/w testing mailing list and noticed when Matt Heusser posted that Atomic Object were looking for an exploratory tester. How else would a tester inEngland get to know about a testing opportunity at a small (but great) company in Grand Rapids, USA? The job spec also stated that the applicant was expected to “be (or become) an active member of the testing community.” I also got to seeGibraltar and get some winter sunshine when evaluating another opportunity that came about because of a community connection.
2) Exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking. If you’re only mixing with testers from the same consultancy/company then you’re likely to think along the same lines. Being part of the community exposes you to a lot more ideas. Not all of them good ones – but even having to think about why you don’t agree with them is a good way of learning. I’ve got books that I would never have thought of buying because I’ve seen them in a Blog or a Tweet
3) Practicing your thinking. Answering a discussion on the STC, answering a question on QA Stackexchange, leaving a comment on a Blog – all good ways to get you thinking. Can you answer the question – or reading someone else’s answer, do you agree with it? Can you give the Blog author some useful feedback?
4) A good way to make friends. When I went over to Grand Rapids for an interview I knew a couple of testers there so instead of being on my own in a strange city I was taken out to an Italian restaurant by someone I knew online and had a great discussion on testing (kudos to Pete Walen for this). Or go to a tester gathering and some of the strangers there won’t be that strange as you know a lot about them from chatting to them online.
5) A sense of belonging. There’s many lone gun testers out there, or contractors hopping between clients. Having people to chat with about problems and experiences and knowing you are not alone is valuable. A great way to get exposure to other peoples problems, ideas and experiences.
4. For those new to testing, or even those new to the community, could you offer some advice on how they can get involved and get their opinions heard by a wider audience?
Ask questions on STC or QA Stackexchange (or SQA Forums – they were helpful to me when starting out so I shouldn’t be totally STC biased!) and try and answer or join in with the discussions. Maybe start off with the chat forum or the humorous discussions first. If you’re asking a question then make sure it contains full details of the problem and what you’ve done to try and solve it yourself. Quite a few posts to the STC don’t follow these guidelines and get Terminated – I try and teach the person posting the question how to frame their question so they stand a chance of getting a useful reply.
Start a Blog – this post explains why it’s good to do so. Posting your first question – or answer – or hitting Publish for the first time on your Blog can seem daunting (it did to me), but realise that people out there are interested in your experiences and ideas. Once you’ve received your first comment – or got a ‘thanks, that helped’ reply to an answer you’ve given then you get the confidence boost to do more.
5. Lastly I’ll go for a two part question (need to get my sponge filled). Do you have a view on what’s next for the testing community? Following on from that, do you think technology has a large or small part to play in that future?
I’m better at drinking tea than looking into tea leaves to guess a future!
It seems that gatherings are increasing in popularity – and size – so maybe there’ll be more of these informal meetings than the large conferences which take up a lot of time and money. The STC is also organising its first Test Bash on March 23* – again another example of smaller gatherings than the traditional conference circuit.
Technology plays a great part – every day testers are connecting through Twitter, most weekends a bunch of testers are getting together through Skype for a Weekend Testing session, listening to podcasts on their way to work, having their blood pressure raised when they read a LinkedIn discussion… and of course here I am answering questions asked by someone on the other side of the globe.
Self publishing also seems to be increasing – ranging from The Testing Planet newspaper (as well as other self published test magazines) to more books on LeanPub.
However, a recent Blog that I read about growing user communities said this,
“What will determine your community success in the end is the people part of it. How you manage people, how you cultivate their community, and all those things that are actually going into managing actual people, that are irregardless of software.”
The STC would be nothing without all the people behind the scenes – and all the people visiting and using the site.
*The first Test Bash has since taken place and the reports/reviews are all in favour of the event. Well done STC and Ministry of Testing!
A HUGE thank you to Phil for taking the time to answer my questions. Also another HUGE thank you to him for all the great work he does for the community. We need to remember that the majority of that work is done in his own time. That shows a level of commitment and passion that should be the envy of any tester!
I hope you enjoyed. Now go! Get involved!