2014 Year in Review

I’d love to write a witty post recapping the last year, but right now I just don’t have the time. So a brief summary will have to do for now.

Job Change

In February, I decided to leave Brock Solutions and work for uTest as a full-time consultant. I spent the next 8 months working for SalonCentric (a L’Oréal devision) as a business/test manager as they built and launched their new eCommerce website. That was wonderful time. I make some fantastic friends and learned a lot about testing eCommerce, particularly on the Demandware platform.

I was promoted to an Enterprise Test Team Lead which is essentially a contracted Test Project Manager. I was assigned several customers and project all of which were delivered successfully and received praise and accolades.

uTest

University – I wrote or co-wrote several courses for the uTest University

Forums – I stayed quite active on the forums as usual. I’m almost at 2,000 posts.

  • I started a really fun series titled Analyze This where I posted a testing “truth” and we debated it. Although technically I started this in 2013, the majority of the posts happened in 2014. So far I’ve started 13 topics, all of which earned at least 2,000 views and several are approaching 10,000!
  • I also made a very controversial proposal to change the uTest rating system to eliminate rating hits. There’s a lot at stake so I understand uTest’s hesitance to move on it, but I still think this is the right thing to do.

Blog – I wrote a few posts for the uTest blog, two of which were selected for The Best of 2014: Top Posts from the uTest Blog. “Certified and Proud?” was one of uTest’s most popular posts of the year, earning the largest number of comments and social shares. Even a few A-list testers read and talked about it!

A.C.E – uTest started a new initiative to provide testers with organized, mentor-based training. I helped put together the pilot program and was one of the mentors for it. A large portion of the materials we used were things that I’ve written for uTest over the years. I’m now working on converting all of my previous articles and papers into more structured courses as the A.C.E. program continues to evolve and improve.

Awards – uTest created a Hall of Fame website and introduced quarterly awards based on votes from the community. In the two quarters that this as been going on, I’ve won 3 awards

  • Outstanding Forums Contributors
  • Outstanding Blogger
  • Outstanding uTest University Instructor

AST-BBST

In September, I successfully completed the Foundations Course. That was quite an experience. I hope to find some time to write about it one day.

In November, I passed the Instructors course and will be an assistant instructor for the first Foundations class of 2015.

uTest’s Testers of the Quarter (2014 Q4)

badgeTesterOfQuarteruTest recently announced the Testers of the Quarter winners for 2014 Q4.

This quarter I took home the hardware for:
Outstanding University Instructor because of the Exploratory Testing course I co-authored with Allyson Burk.

uTest University Webinar – Live Exploratory Testing

To go along with my course on Exploratory Testing, I had the opportunity to do a live webinar demonstrating how I do exploratory testing. The community management team did some great marketing and over 300 people signed up! Unfortunately, we found out at the start of the webinar that the uTest GoToMeeting license only supported 100 participants so a lot of folks were not able to attend. It was quite a humbling experience to have so many people interested in watching how I test.

As you can see from the video, the app I chose was quite buggy. That coupled with my poor internet connection presented some interesting challenges. It was difficult to maintain my train of thought and to investigate a single issue when other issues kept popping up, but I think it gave a good representation of what exploratory testing can be like sometimes.

Looking back at the video I need to improve in the following areas:

  • Speak slower and clearer – I was trying to articulate my every thought and this lead me to speak in quick, incomplete sentences. It might have been beneficial in showing how choppy my thought process can be, but I think it might also made it difficult to follow what I was thinking.
  • Repeat the question – During the Q&A portion, I didn’t do a good job of stating the question I was answering. I read the question and kinda mumbled it before jumping into the answer. I did OK on some questions, but I need to remember to do a better job of this next time.

http://university.utest.com/recorded-webinar-exploratory-testing-lucas-dargis/

My Testing bucket list

I realize this might appear to be a vain post, but the intent is to set some goals for myself and make them public in order to help me be more motivated to achieve them. I’ll probably be adding/removing items as my career progresses and my goals change.

  • Win a uTest tester of the year award
  • Mentor a new uTest TTL until they become an ETTL – Prashanti
  • Present at a testing conference
  • Have an A-list tester know who I am
  • Complete all the AST-BBST courses
    • Foundations course
    • Bug Advocacy
    • Test Design
    • Instructors
  • Instruct a AST-BBST course
    • Assistant instructor – Foundations 101-AC (January 2015)
    • Lead instructor
  • Publish an article in various testing publications/blogs
    • http://blog.utest.com/
    • http://www.testingcircus.com/
    • http://www.softwaretestpro.com/

 

 

uTest blog post – Certified and Proud?

I recently wrote a post for the uTest blog about my certification story. It was well received earning a good number of comments and social shares.

http://blog.utest.com/2014/08/04/certified-and-proud-a-testers-journey-part-i/
http://blog.utest.com/2014/08/05/certified-and-proud-a-testers-journey-part-ii/

 

A Gold-rated tester and Enterprise Test Team Lead (TTL) at uTest, Lucas Dargis has been an invaluable fixture in the uTest Community for 2 1/2 years, mentoring hundreds of testers and championing them to become better testers. As a software consultant, Lucas has also led the testing efforts of mission-critical and flagship projects for several global companies.

Here, 2013 uTester of the Year Lucas Dargis here shares his journey on becoming ISTQB-certified, and also tackles some of the controversy surrounding certifications.

In case you missed it, testing certification is somewhat of a polarizing topic. Sorry for stating the obvious, but I needed a good hook and that’s the best I could come up with. What follows is the story of my journey to ISTQB certification, and how and why I pursued it in the first place. My reasons and what I learned might surprise you, so read on and be amazed!

Certifications are evil

Early in my testing career, I was a sponge for information. I indiscriminately absorbed every piece of testing knowledge I could get my hands on. I guess that makes sense for a new tester — I didn’t know much, so I didn’t know what to believe and what to be suspicious of. I also didn’t have much foundational knowledge with which to form my own opinions.

As you might expect, one of the first things I did was look into training and certifications. I quickly found that the pervasive opinion towards certifications (at least the opinion of thought leaders I was learning from) was that they were at best a waste of time, and at worst, a dangerous detriment to the testing industry.

In typical ignoramus (It’s a word, I looked it up) fashion, I embraced the views of my industry leaders as my own, even though I didn’t really understand them. Anytime someone would have something positive to say about certification, I’d recite all the anti-certification talking points I’d learned as if I was an expert on the topic. “You’re an idiot” and “I’d never hire a certified tester” were phrases I uttered more than once.

A moment of clarity

Then one fine day, I was having a heated political debate with one of my friends (I should clarify…ex-friend). We had conflicting views on the topic of hula hoop subsidies. He could repeat the points the talking heads on TV made, but when I challenged him, asking prodding questions trying to get him to express his own unique ideas, he just went around in circles (see what I did there?).

Like so many other seemingly politically savvy people, his views and opinions were formed for him by his party leaders. He had no experience or expertise in the area we were debating, but he sure acted like the ultimate authority. Suddenly, it dawned on me that despite my obviously superior hip-swiveling knowledge, I wasn’t that much different from him. My views on certifications and the reasons behind those views came from someone else.

As a tester, I pride myself on my ability to question everything, and to look at situations objectively in order to come to a useful and informative conclusion. But when it came to certifications, I was adopting the opinions of others and acting like I was an expert in an area I knew nothing about. After that brief moment of clarity, I realized how foolish I’d been, and felt quite embarrassed. I needed to find the truth about certifications myself.

Now let me pause here for a second to clarify that I’m not saying everyone should go take a certification test so they can have first-hand experience. I think we all agree that it’s prudent to learn from the experience of others. For example, not all of us have put our hand in a fire, but we all know that if you do, it will get burned.

It’s perfectly fine to let other people influence your opinions as long as you are honest about the source of those opinions. For example, say:

Testers I respect have said that testing certificates are potentially dangerous and a waste of time. Their views make sense to me, so it’s my opinion that testers should look for other ways to improve and demonstrate their testing abilities.

However, if you’re going to act like an expert who has all the answers, you should probably be an expert who has all the answers.

Studying for the exam

I took my preparation pretty seriously. Most of my studying material came from this book which I read several times. I spent a lot of time reading the syllabus, taking practice exams and downloading a few study apps on my phone. I also looked through all the information on the ISTQB site, learning all I could about the organization and the exam.

Since I knew all the anti-certification rhetoric about how this test simply measures your ability to memorize, I memorized all the key points from the syllabus (such as the 7 testing principles). But I also took my studying further, making sure I understood the concepts so I could answer the K3 and K4 (apply and analyze) questions.

Headed into the test, I felt quite confident that I was going to ace it.

Be sure check out the second part of Lucas’ story at the uTest Blog.

————————————————————————————————-

his is the second part of tester and uTest Enterprise Test Team Lead Lucas Dargis’ journey on becoming ISTQB-certified. Be sure to check out Part One from
yesterday.

The test

After about 3 minutes, I realized just how ridiculous the test was. Some of the questions were so obvious it was insulting, some were so irrelevant they were infuriating, and others were so ambiguous all you could do was guess.

Interestingly, testers with experience in context-driven testing will actually be at a disadvantage on this test. When you understand that the context of a question influences the answer, you realize that many of the questions couldn’t possibly have only one correct answer, because no context was specified.

You are allotted 60 minutes to complete the test, but I was done and out of the building in 27 minutes. That I finished quickly wasn’t because I knew all the answers — it was rather the exact opposite. Most of the questions were so silly, that all I could do was select answers randomly. Here are two examples:

Who should lead a walkthrough review?” – Really? I was expected to memorize all the participants of all the different types of meetings, most of which I’ve never seen any team actually utilize?

Test cases are designed during which testing phase?” – Umm…new tests and test cases should be identified and designed at all phases of the project as things change and your understanding develops.

According to the syllabus, there are “right” answers to all the questions, but most thinking testers, those not bound by the rigidness of “best practices,” will struggle because you know there is no right answer.

Despite guessing on many questions, I ended up passing the exam, but that really wasn’t a surprise. The test only requires a 65% to pass, so  a person could probably pass with minimal preparation, simply making educated guesses. I left the test in a pretty grumpy mood.

 

The aftermath

For the next few days, I was annoyed. I felt like I had completely wasted my time. But then I started thinking about why I took the test in the first place, and what that certification really meant. As a tester striving to become an expert, I wanted to know for myself what certifications were about. Well — now I have first-hand experience with the process. I’m able to talk about certifications more intelligently because my opinions and views about them are my own, not borrowed from others.

Former tennis great Arthur Ashe once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” I think this sums up certifications well. For me, there was no value in the destination (passing the exam). I’m not proud of it, and I don’t think it adds to or detracts from my value as a tester. However, I felt there was value in the journey.

Through my studying, I actually did learn a thing our two about testing. I was able to build some structure around the basic testing concepts. I learned some new testing terms that I have used to help explain concepts such as tester independence. Studying gave me practice analyzing and questioning the “instructional” writing of others (some of which I found inaccurate, misleading or simply worthless). The whole process gave me insight into what is being taught, which helps me better understand why some testers and test managers believe and behave the way they do.

But more importantly, I became aware of the way I formulate opinions and of how susceptible I am to the teachings of confident and powerful people.

The lessons I learned from testing leaders early in my career freed me from the constraints of the traditional ways of thinking about testing, but in return, I took on the binds associated with more modern testing thinking. Ultimately, I came to a conclusion similar to that of many wise testers before me, but I did so on my terms, in a way that I’m satisfied with.

One day, I hope to have a conversation with some of the more boisterous certification opponents and say, “I decided to get certified, in part, because you were so adamantly against it. I don’t do it out of defiance, but rather out of a quest for deeper understanding.”

If you made it this far, I thank you for sharing this journey with me. Make a mention that you finished the story in the Comments below, and I’ll send you a pony.

Key Decision: Become a full-time uTester

Decision

So I’m about 7 months late in writing this, but the key decision I made back in January was to leave my job as the test lead for Brock Solutions and become a full-time uTester.

Working at Brock, I enjoyed the people I was working with and was reasonably content with the company. But he product was the most untestable and convoluted piece of software I’ve ever seen, which resulted in extremely challenging work. It was difficult to add value as most of the day was spent trying to get the system ready to test. The work wasn’t what I thought it was going to be when I signed up and at the end of the day I didn’t enjoy my job.

In early January, Steve Moses, a Sr. project manager at uTest contacted me. He said he had an exciting opportunity to be a dedicated test lead for one of uTest’s largest clients. It was a 6-month contract with the possibility of an extension. It really wasn’t much of a decision. How could I turn down representing my favorite company, the one I spend my free time working for anyway?

Expectations

  • Build my reputation as as a top uTester and leader in the community
  • Develop a better understanding of e-commerce
  • Gain experience working with people from industries
  • Influence the education and growth of others
  • Find more challenging and rewarding career options

Decision Review: Pursue my MBA

My first Key Decision was to Pursue my MBA. Let’s see how that decision worked out shall we?

After only one semester it became quite clear that pursing my MBA was a poor decision. Hmm… so far I’m 0 for 1. You might think I quit before I even gave it a chance, but I struggled just to finish out the semester. After a lot of reflection on what exactly went wrong, I was able to narrow it down to three things. The impact on my family, the educational aspect was disappointing, and the opportunity costs were too high.

Time with family

Going in, I knew that class time would reduce the amount of time with my family, but that didn’t fully sink in until it became real. A 3 hour class, sandwiched between a 45 minute commute meant that two days a week, I wouldn’t get to see my wife or kids. How could I possibly be so cruel as to deny my family the pleasure of my company? My absence did put a lot of additional burden on my wife and the kids missed wrestling with me, but mostly I’m just selfish; I missed them too much.

Disappointing

After my first class I was super excited. The instructor was fun and engaging. He asked open ended questions and joined myself and others in debate and discussion. Unfortunately that didn’t last long. As we approached our first exam it became clear that grad school is merely a continuation of undergrad. You’re still graded and evaluated on what you know, not on how you think, reason, or your ability to learn and execute. Multiple-choice Scantron tests…SERIOUSLY!? The entire dynamic of the class changed. Boring lectures attempting to “teach” the “right” answers to unimportant questions.

I was really looking forward to learning from my fellow students, from their experiences in industries and business areas new to me. Sadly, most only cared about their grade. “Is that going to be on the test” was the most common question asked. The lack of interest in true self-improvement and overall “quality” of the students admitted to the program was disheartening.

To be fair, I only took one class at one university, but as UNCG is a highly ranked university, I have to suspect that my experience isn’t all that unique.

Opportunity costs

Similar to how my time focusing on school reduced my family time, it also took the place of other career-related opportunities, specifically uTest. The additional 20 hours a week meant that I had to completely abandon uTest. My good friend Rex helped me realize what an expensive trade-off that really was. I had spent two years building my reputation as a tester and done so quite successfully. I was invited to best projects, I was able to participate in various company initiatives (like the TTL training and evaluation program) and I had a large, visible presence in the community. I was sacrificing a opportunity that provided me continuous growth opportunities, respect, and enjoyment for the chance to become one of the select 100,000 MBAs that graduate each year.

What I learned

Structured, standardized learning no longer appeals to me. I learn more from conversations over a few beers than I do listening to a lecture. The ability to execute is more important than the ability to memorize business trivia. Doing something just because it’s uncomfortable is not a good reason. I thought I was being courageous by stepping out of my comfort zone, but know I see I was just being an idiot.

In the end I realized that the expectations I listed in my decision post can be fulfilled by continuing to develop my testing career. I was already working towards all of them and making great progress. At this point in my life and career, the benefits of an MBA program didn’t outweigh the costs. Maybe someday I’ll regret not having those three letters after my name, but today is not that day.

Key Decision: Pursue my MBA

Decision

The key decision I made is to pursue my MBA degree. I’ve been wrestling with this decision for several years now. I’ve always enjoyed learning and studying but it just seems like there are so many reasons not to do this. I have two children and a wonderful wife that I want to spend time with, I just started a new job, I coach hockey, I’m heavily involved with uTest, etc.

There are also philosophical reasons pulling me away from the MBA. Is an MBA really the best way for me to learn? I’m mostly interested in testing so why not focus on testing courses from AST or personal mentoring and training from some of testings leaders. I should also quote Will Hunting :)

…you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f@#$% education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.

So why did I make this key decision? Well… because it wasn’t an easy, comfortable decision. Whenever I find an uncomfortable situation, I try to force myself through it. I don’t know if this is the right decision but I know I’m a bit scared so I know I will learn plenty whether my MBA related goals are met or not. Also, the financial risk is tolerable at UNCG.

Expectations

  • Develop a more complete understanding of business – I know plenty about IT and testing, but other aspects such as finance and marketing are mysteries to me
  • Gain experience working with people from different business areas and different cultural backgrounds
  • Influence the education and growth of others
  • Learn new ideas and new ways of thinking
  • More challenging and rewarding career options

Strength and weakness exercise

“What are your greatest strengths?” “What are your greatest weaknesses?” Two of the most common and dreaded interview questions. Most people think they know the answers to these questions, but I’m pretty sure most people are wrong; especially when it comes to their strengths. The things I’m not good at are fairly obvious, but discovering what I’m truly good has proven to be more difficult. I think this is because what I think are my strengths are what I want to be my strengths.

I’ve found that unbiased self-reflection is a difficult thing to do well, so in attempt to better identify my strengths and weaknesses, I’m going to try to document key decisions I make and what I want and expect to happen as a result of those decision. A year or so later the plan is to revisit these decisions and see if I was able to achieve the desired outcome.

I unknowingly started this exercise in March of 2012 when I decided to join uTest. I documented the reasons for making that decision as well as my goals and now, 18 months later what I expected to happen – develop a reputation as an expert tester – is starting to develop (at least within the uTest community).

I’m excited to see where this exercise takes me. To kick it off, my first key decision is to…. start keeping track of my key decisions :)

My First Testing Experience – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I can vividly remember lying on my couch in my living room staring at the ceiling, my stomach in knots. I felt this huge weight on top of me making it hard to breath. I was pretty close to panicking. “How can I possibly do this? I have no idea what I’m doing. Why did I agree to this project? Do they have any idea what they’re asking? This is so unfair. This is CRAZY!” These were the thoughts racing through my mind. Before I could think one through, another would jump on the pile. That feeling of hopelessness, of being completely overwhelmed was my first and worst moment as a software tester.

I’d like to think the PM understood the magnitude of the project, that somehow she saw this amazing potential inside me just waiting for an opportunity to prove itself. But I knew she didn’t really understand what she was asking. In her mind this was a small task that any mid-level developer should be able to do. After all, it’s just testing, how hard can that be? That just added to the pressure. I was dealing with unrealistic expectations about an undefined project that required an under-appreciated amount of skill and effort.

After breathing into a paper bag for 10 minutes or so, I calmed down. I reminded myself the best way to climb a mountain is one step at a time. I started by making a spreadsheet documenting all the different migration tools we had built. I identified the base data type, the destination data type and a description of the transformation needed. One by one I went down the list, talking to the developers, searching for any documentation, looking at the old system, learning about the new one, basically doing the work a BA would have done.

Once I had a solid understanding of the specifications I was working with, I started testing. I started with the simplest cases and the ones that I was most familiar with. You are probably thinking I should have done the opposite and started with the hardest, most complicated and risky transformations. If I was doing it over today, that is the approach I would take, but considering I was a complete rookie tester, I needed to start with a small, achievable task to build some confidence and establish my testing strategy.

My strategy was pretty simple. I gathered sample source data, ran it though the migration and verified the results on the other side. Then I started adjusting the source data, trying every scenario I could think of looking for ways to make the tools fail. As I worked through my list, reporting bug after bug, it became clearer to everyone just how large this task was. Expectations slowly became more aligned with reality and the measurement for success became more reasonable.

After a few months of work, we were ready to start migrating content. It wasn’t perfect and several bugs made it through, but they were minor and due to junk source data that we didn’t care about. The migration ran for months as different sites came online. The migration tools did their job and by all accounts, the testing aspect of the project was successful.

This experience gave me an unexpected appreciation for what testing is and how valuable it can be. It gave me confidence in myself that I could accomplish a task that I really had no business even attempting. It’s an experience that I can now look back on and be proud of.