Monday 23 June 2014

The Conference List

Conference List Notebook

I'm really pleased to be presenting a talk at EuroSTAR again this year. Having spoken before, I know this is a great opportunity and with Paul Gerrard as conference chair I'm sure it will be a fantastic event in Dublin.

There are many benefits to speaking at a conference, the most obvious being the opportunity attend a high profile testing events without having to pay for a ticket. There is also a lot to gain from discussing your work with your peers, as I discussed in my post sparing the time .

There are some less obvious benefits too. These are useful to be aware of, particularly for permanent employees such as myself who are not looking to achieve any marketing value for their product or service from attending. One particularly subtle positive for me results from the shift in perception that arises at the thought of presenting my work to others, and my response to looking at my work more critically.

Getting your house in order

One of the hidden benefits for me in speaking at a conference comes from the extra effort that I put in to completing my in-house background projects leading up to a speaking engagement. In order to attend and present to other testers I need to be coming from a position of confidence in the work that I'm doing. Whilst it should be the case that I have confidence in the testing that we do at all times, it is also the case that for inherently self critical individuals like me, things are rarely exactly as I want them. I always have projects in the pipeline that are aimed at improving the way that we work and filling the gaps that I see in our testing approach. Some of these may be background improvements to our processes and tools, some may be areas of testing areas that I think need attention. Whatever the situation, a speaking deadline provides an excellent incentive to get my house in order and progress those areas that I feel need improvement before I can discuss them with others.

What's on my Conference List?

Here are a few of the things that are on my list to try to do before EuroSTAR this November :

  • Team adoption of stochastic SQL generation

    Last year I set myself the task of creating a tool capable of 'randomly' generating SQL queries based on a data and syntax model designed by the tester. In order to do this I spent some time teaching myself Ruby, as I find including the learning of a new skill helps to maintain enthusiasm for any personal project. I'll save the details for another post, but just an at the stage now where I'd like to get more people involved and enthused about this, with the aim of making it part of our standard testing activities. I'm kicking this off this week with an introductory session with query team.

  • Customised Ganglia monitoring on all test machines

    [Ganglia] ( "ganglia") cluster monitoring has become a core element in our soak and scale testing activities. It supports both generic monitoring of operating system resources and also custom monitoring of metrics relevant to our software operation. In our case this includes, amongst other things, the memory of our processes; the disk space utilised in key areas; the numbers of tasks in our processing and pending work queues. Of course we need to be careful of the Observer Effect here. The collection of metrics on the behaviour and performance of processes and resources inevitably impacts that which it is monitoring. From discussions with our customers I know that the software can start to impact application performance as you increase metrics and machines,. Ganglia has proved very useful in pinpointing resource problems, and I intend to get it installed and running on all of our other test servers in the next few weeks.

  • Improved testability in background services.

    As I wrote about in my post Putting your Testability Socks On we did introduce some testability issues into parts of the system a while ago. Whilst many of these have since been tackled, there are some background processes which still exhibit issues with controllability and observability that I hope to resolve. Splitting a maintenance process down into a series of individually callable operations will allow us to explicitly trigger each of the operations managed by the process. This should provide more control for tests involving those operations, but also prevent the introduction of non-deterministic behaviour into other tests which are currently volatile. Needless to say we will also have the full process running for many other tests.

  • Replace our bug tracking system

    Our bug tracking system was adequate when we were a single team company with few customers. Now that we have a larger engineering department with multiple teams, many customers and, most importantly, multiple supported release branches, the system is struggling and I want to replace it with something more suitable. (Of course we could move towards not using a tracking system at all - Gojko Adzic's old post Bug Statistics are a Waste of Time is a good starting point for anyone wanting to go down that road).

What's your Conference List?

in my experience it is often the background projects that individuals work on that provide the greatest advances in the way we work. The user stories or developments that we are working rarely improve our work processes directly. It is the ideas that arise laterally out of my work that triggers the best ideas, yet these need cultivating by motivated individuals and can languish uncompleted without some targets to deliver.

Of course, does not have to be conferences that we might establish as arbitrary targets to deliver some longer term goals. Presenting on testing at internal company meetings, meeting other testers at testing meetups, recruiting new team members or even family personal milestones (My wife and I have baby number 4 due in July) can act as a target for completing long term tasks. Even in an open culture it is often hard to prioritise personal or background goals in the face of more immediate business needs. Establishing a personal deadline helps me in giving the incentive to deliver, particularly when that target involves presenting on your testing in front of a room full of testing experts. If you are struggling to deliver your background projects - try looking at your calendar and put some targets in place around events that you have coming up - it might just provide the push you need to turn that great idea into reality, and may even provide some material for your next talk.

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