Romanian Testing Conference 2017

I’d heard good things about the Romanian Testing Conference from previous years, so I was excited and honored to speak at this year’s event. I was happy to catch up with people I knew, put a face to people I’d only seen on the internet, and meet the testers who worked on software I’ve both valued and loathed.

View from my hotel room in Cluj.

Goranka Bjedov spoke about scaling up the hardware in Facebook’s data centers. Her childhood in a power-rationed Yugoslavia makes her an ideal candidate to consider the balance between power and performance and reign in the Silicon Valley dream of just adding another server. (In California and around the world, resources are finite!) On the infrastructure side, Goranka knows she has to plan for features to be massively popular, even when they don’t seem like they’ll take off. Photo tagging and slideshow retrospective videos surpassed her expectations.

The things she was able to tell about were as interesting as the things she wasn’t. She could tell us the measurements Facebook took on IBM machines a few years ago, but not more recently. IBM was using the data to price the machines! She could tell us how many machines could fit on a rack before the spinning shook it too hard, but she couldn’t tell us how many racks there were in each data center. The data centers use evaporative cooling, literally pools of water on top of the racks, rather than air conditioning to save money. I left thinking “that was all interesting, but when am I going to have input on a data center?” It wasn’t until I got back to the office that I remembered we also host our own data centers. It might be sooner than I thought.

Adam Knight directed his testing at a new company after giving the business side a risk questionnaire, inspired by one a financial advisor gave him. Adam considered examples where humans didn’t accurately evaluate risk. This one stood out to me: Grouping several problems together into one problem underestimates risk.

Integrity is the most important quality we can demonstrate as testers.

While it was hard to write unbiased questions, Adam found some interesting results from the questionnaire. Everyone agreed they needed specialist testers, but they didn’t have any on staff at the time! They’re hiring. So is Medidata. We build software for clinical trials at Medidata. I think we have a very low tolerance for bugs in production, but more flexibility around scope and deadlines. Adam got me curious about whether our business leaders would agree.

Someone described me as looking “relaxed” here.

I spoke next! Sanda and Raluca kept me calm before I went on. Stefan managed to capture photographic evidence of my face looking normal. I’m grateful for everyone who came and sat scattered among the rows by themselves, or was eager to engage with me afterwards. Here’s a previous but similar performance if you’re curious. I appreciated all the follow-up questions in front of the group and individually afterwards. In future performances, I need to do a better job of noting that no one’s an introvert all the time, and the extrovert/introvert distinction isn’t going to be useful for everyone.

I tried to hide for a few minutes because facing the hundreds of people in the lunchroom was too overwhelming after just coming off stage. Unfortunately the interview crew found me! Note for next year: hide in my room and not in the lobby. (Also: find out why people were taking so many desserts.) I missed the beginning of Keith Klain’s talk because I eat a lot. (Get over it.) Apparently, it began with a joke about him being a money launderer that I both originated and plan to perpetuate. The hundreds of Romanians did not appear to be amused. According to sources familiar with the matter, they rarely do.

Keith noted that testers who can’t connect a bug to the business impact in production are doing it wrong. Publicly traded American companies have series 10 forms outlining their business risks. Both Adam and Keith wanted testers to ask the business what quality meant to them. You can become more efficient by doing less testing if you are transparent with what you’re testing and avoid repeating tests.

Testing that adds a lot of value is hard. Good testing raises more questions than it answers.

Carmen Sighiartau spoke about testing from a developer’s perspective. Until she worked with a tester that caught things she didn’t, she saw testing as a crappy job anyone could do. Like Keith, she saw a lot of redundant testing that didn’t provide value. Now, she wants to work with testers because she sees the unique perspective they can bring to the table. Her growth as a developer reminded me to care about my craft and think about my work without running on auto-pilot.

Nothing in life is mandatory.

Carmen encouraged us to interview candidates for how they work on a team. It’s easier to educate technical skills than social skills. Huib Schoots expanded on how to recognize professional testers in his blog. When I’m interviewing testers to join one of the teams I’m on, I try to ask one question with a straightforward answer I can verify (“What did you talk about with the previous interviewers?”) so I can make sure they describe a situation clearly. I also ask about teamwork or empathy (“Tell me about a time you had to deliver bad news.”)

Nicola Owen’s talk posed the question:

If you were leaving your job soon, would you test differently?

If you’re staying in your job, it can be acceptable for a bug report to need more clarification, or for a colleague to ask you where a document is. Once you’re gone, your abandoned colleagues can’t rely on those valuable conversations. Write things down and put them in an obvious place. Like Carmen, Nicola spoke of developers who’d only had negative experiences with testers. You can show your value by passing on your knowledge before you leave.

Harry Girlea spoke last to the entire crowd and really put us all to shame. I can’t imagine telling a bunch of adults about my favorite hobby when I was 12 years old. He handled the Q&A like a pro. When someone asked him how he balanced gaming with school, he said he would probably play too much, but his mom keeps him in check.

The organizers and volunteers at the conference made the logistics a breeze, which left lots of time for conferring. Thanks in particular to Rob Lambert, Ard Kramer, and Beren Van Daele for lending me their ears. I appreciate all the ideas and I hope I have the opportunity to join this wonderful group again in the future!