2010: A year in reflection

2010 was a massive year for me in my career as a Software Tester.  A lot of things happened which benefited myself, friends, colleagues & my company.  In fact prior to 2010 I had paid no attention what so ever to this massive online testing community we have.  My knowledge, experiences, thoughts & ideas were done so in isolation from the wonders of the fantastic testing community we have online.

So here is as brief a recap as possible, on what I think was a success for my year that was 2010:

The internet does testing?

So I guess we should start of with this wonderful thing called the internet which I hadn’t considered looking at for inspiration & ideas for my day to day job as a tester.  My boss Michael Johnston started looking at a few testing blogs & began emailing some out that he’d found interesting.  Curiosity got the better of me & I began seeking out other testing blogs, articles, webinars & podcasts about our craft.

I was loving this new source of information & hating it just as much.  You see I like to soak up knowledge quickly & threads pop off in every direction around what I want to do & learn.  For me, I found the testing community to be split between people who love to talk a good talk & people who want to teach.  The later I found to be an inspiration & certainly provided or influenced me with new ideas which I could use in my team or schedule in at some point to be done or looked at.  The other people who talked the good talk I found extremely frustrating, as I’d felt I was wasting time reading their articles & not learning anything.

Now days I’m no longer in such a rush for ideas & knowledge like an excited teenager wanting to buy the latest black ops game.  I’ve now got time to appreciate those kinds of posts, but will just as easily skim read them if I don’t have the time.  I’m still a strong believer in sharing knowledge & that’s why you’ll never find me writing an article just for the sake of it.  Everything I write here must provide something that others could learn from; otherwise what’s the point?

Better Testing was born

I’d considered the fact that my personality often mirrors that of an excited teenager when I think about testing!  It’s true I love it!  It’s not only my job but also a hobby for me.  I’d had good ideas & experiences to share & was strongly considering writing about them.  The community had some scary characters around though, most notably a Mr James Bach with his sometimes sharp comments & challenges :-)   I was kind of apprehensive about expressing my thoughts and ideas for fear of getting slammed down by the community in that sense.

My boss Michael mentioned to me one day that I should consider writing a blog, I’d told him I was already giving it some serious thought.  Around this time I’d already been chatting with other testers on Twitter & had begun discussing ideas with them.  I’d chatted with Rob Lambert about writing a blog & he kindly gave me some tips & encouragement.  I no longer felt as apprehensive about it now.  So I went for it, and so far it’s been an incredible experience for me.  I’ve learned lots more about myself through writing about my experiences, whilst learning lots of interesting idea’s from others via the comments they’ve provided, or communications they’ve later had with me on Skype, Twitter & email.

I’ve also had the privilege of getting a couple of people trying to recruit me off the back of my writings about my experiences in testing.  That I found very humbling & thank you very much for those enquiries, although I’m happy in my role just now should the right offer come in front of me, then you never know.

For me starting a blog and trying to share my experiences in a manner that others can hopefully pick up some tips and ideas from these has opened a whole new world of opportunities.  It’s exciting & I’d highly recommend others jump into the blogsphere & begin sharing their experiences & ideas with the community.

Testing Communities

Twitter; wow if you aren’t already on this, then join now!  Seriously, it has a fantastic testing community who actively exchange knowledge, debate testing & collaborate on ideas on a daily basis.  Look me up & let’s start chatting about testing.  If you need a resource to find other testers then Rosie Sherry started an excellent thread called “Testers On Twitter” on the Software Testing Club.  You could also check out the people I follow & the ones they follow.  If I’m not following you already let me know!

The Software Testing Club is another fantastic testing community, who provide excellent resources for information.  Their forum is an excellent place to discuss ideas & share your problems with others.  They also have excellent feeds for testing events & jobs among many other things.  I’d say they are probably the most exciting testing resource around at the moment.  I’ve had a problem or two solved there already.


One person I’d been chatting to and exchanging ideas with for a while was Stephen Hill.  Luckily I got the chance to meet him in person back in November.  Why is that a success?  Well quite simply Stephen for me has been a great help whenever I’ve been looking for advice or needed to discuss ideas with someone.  Putting a face to that persona & realising we actually got on really well was fantastic for me as it firmed up an already blossoming friendship.

Anders Dinsen is another great guy I had the chance to meet.  In fact he’s probably one of the nicest & most intelligent people you’ll ever meet.  He’s now also a fellow blogger who no doubt will be posting some very interesting articles over the years.  If you ever get the chance to meet Anders you’ll see what I mean instantly.

I met a whole bunch of people this year through the London Tester Gather & the Rapid Software Testing (blog entry coming soon) course I attended in London, too many to name.  I’ve had a lot of interesting face to face chats between those two events.  Some of those people I’m actively still in contact with in the sense of sharing ideas & learning from are Tony Bruce, Mike Scott, Michael Bolton & Del Dewar.  Tony & Mike through Weeknight Testing sessions, tweets & so on.  Michael & Del through emails & tweets.  The later Del is doing some cool things with his team & has told me he’ll also be setting up his own blog to talk about this & other things, so stay tuned for that :-)

Ideas from the community

A few things in the community have helped me along the way in 2010.  One was solving a real pain point for our team in providing a suitable means to address our task management issues.  I talked about that here & how the Software Testing Clubs forum provided a means for Rob Lambert to suggest a solution for us, which we’re still using to this day successfully.  So thanks again Rob for that great suggestion that was Pivotal Tracker.

Another good idea which we’ll be actively looking at with a slight twist to it in 2011 is Test Proposal’s, which Martin Jansson discussed on his collaboration blog The Test Eye.  This was an excellent concept which lead me to sit our team down in a room to discuss further.  The challenge now for me is to adopt this idea into something which works well for us.

Simon Morley talked about his usage of “System Play” as a proactive technique in a comment on my post around Proactive Testing.  Michael Bolton pushed the idea of “Rapid Reporting” when I chatted about proactive testing with him in London.  Both of these will be looked at to tie in with Martin’s Test Proposal idea, to develop a working lean process from taking requirements to proposals in a model which benefits idea generation as much as it does reporting.  I’m hoping to develop the concept in collaboration with Mr Morley & my team next year, stay tuned to see how that pans out.


Obviously two great successes for me in 2010 came from London in November, when I had the chance to meet the great Michael Bolton & attend his Rapid Software Testing class.  Inspiring to say the least I came back with a spring in my step.  My thoughts on the course itself are probably worth another post on its own so let’s leave that for another day.

The London Tester Gathering was another fantastic opportunity, to meet other testers; discuss & debate thoughts & ideas.  There were also a few lessons learned from that :-)

Mike Scott’s idea he talked about back in a pub in London to start Weeknight Testing also gave me an excellent opportunity to learn & work with other testers in the community.  Only two sessions have been done so far; the first I talked about here, the second really got me excited!


I remember back in 2009 I was a kung foo tester raising havoc!  I’d only been in the company a little over two years and had already raised close to three thousand defects.  A bottleneck I’d become.   Although new feature teams wanted me to be in their team, I’d realised my method for reactively testing software wasn’t providing the best benefit to the team.  I was tasked with turning this around.

Proactive Testing

Proactive Testing was introduced & throughout the following year I introduced two simple techniques combined with an awareness metric.  I provided a method for generating lean test cases to aid one of these techniques.  What would happened next was like magic :-)

The techniques & the metric themselves didn’t just help reduce potential defects going into our code; awareness of the push to be more proactive really enlightened our whole team.  From being more aware as a team we produced much higher quality code.  I got the chance to get feedback last month from some people who’ve worked with me over the past six months & was delighted to hear that they also found it to be a great success.

For me there is a whole other post in here around how well this went & what we do next with Proactive Testing, so stay tuned for that one :-)


Testability was also a problem for us; something which we got together early on in the project & collaborated on as a group.  We came up with some excellent ideas which went on to become reality, again another post for another time :-)


Consideration for good UX design was pushed more & I learned ways to communicate these easier, allowing the implementation of usability changes I’d asked for to be successful more easily.  Remember changes cost money & for myself & others in our company it’s a difficult task to push through the changes that you really care about.  I had some successes one which I’ll talk about at another time allowing me to bypass our lengthy change request process altogether & just have it done there & then.

Usability got a lot of consideration early on in project when we had scoped our initial requirements, designed & estimated tasks.  We’d get some feedback from myself & other developers & testers during the development of the features; not a lot though.  As such I took the first steps in addressing this & came up with scenarios for a usability evaluation to occur.  The evaluation will be happening in a couple of weeks & the good thing is I’ve got the buy in for development time to implement some good suggestions that will come off that back of this.

In fact I even got the chance to express some of those scenarios myself a couple of weeks back, working with four other testers in my team.  I was looking to investigate possible bandwidth limitations & I’d asked them to assist me acting in the role of customers using the public facing side of the application & myself as a user of the non public side of the application.  Obviously this doubled as a quick usability evaluation & allowed us to feedback some issues which might not have been considered previously.


I realised for some time that I’d become the Accessibility go to guy.  However I wasn’t particularly happy with this responsibility as I wasn’t convinced I had all the knowledge required here, specifically in screen reading UX design.

A month or so back I got the chance to spend the day working with a blind JAWS (screen reader) consultant.  We spent the day reviewing a new feature my team had been building & I got the chance to run over the accessible UX designs with him that I’d played a prominent role in designing.  He loved them & floating other ideas I’d had (implemented or not) past him & seeing his responses to these, I’d realised perhaps I had been doing the right things after all & that’s the reason I’d became that go to guy.


I’ve a whole post in the pipeline around communications & the importance of good communication & collaboration.  However here are some things I did this year to try and improve it some more.  Some you might find useful for your own teams.

Support feedback process

Our product support team deal with problems raised by customers using our application after each version of it has been released.  Obviously some of these issues highlight flaws in our team, gaps in testing or things we just didn’t think about or anticipate.  A problem here for us was that we didn’t have any direct feedback coming from the support team around these issues, other than manually looking at bug reports customers had raised ourselves.

I had a chat with the support manager & my boss around setting up a weekly meeting to discuss the new issues coming in to their team each week.  From this we could gather if we had gaps in testing that needed to be filled urgently.  Over time we began to see patterns & could quickly see where our problems were.  It helped us a lot & later lead to the support team adding a new status to each issue they’d investigated or not to see if the problem was with the product or not.  We later went on to have another meeting to look at these further to help identify more potential problems.

Weekly conference calls with offshore teams

Our test team includes people from Scotland & Indonesia so obviously working with offshore teams can have initial teething problems.  I’ve done a bunch of things here in the past to iron these out, one of these this year was very simple & very beneficial for us.

I’d talked with our Indonesian team over our internal chat client & suggested the idea of having a weekly meeting every Friday morning or afternoon in their time-zone.

Now we’d already had a weekly chat client meeting but it was hard to discuss ideas & plans over this, as it was a very time consuming slow process.  Instead we used it in the same manner as development teams would use a their scrum meetings; a catch up & chance to air problems.  The idea was simply to chat over the telephone on a conference call for one hour each week, essentially allowing us to put a voice initially to the people we’d been chatting with for years.

Over time we’ve used this for many things; planning, brainstorming, challenges, problem solving & discussing new ideas & techniques.  It’s such a simple idea & I felt a little sad really that I’d never thought of it long before, especially now having seen the benefit of using it.

Business unit test group mailing lists

Our company got bought over a few years back by a larger company called Sword Group.  They have many companies like ours developing software in the group; each communicating at the highest levels only.  Around this time I was pushing to see if I could go to another company in Glasgow or in the group locally on a work exchange programme e.g. one of their testers for ours for a week or so.  I was hoping I’d be able to pick up knowledge and ideas that I could bring back to our team.  Then I’d thought about it & realised we had another seven companies in our group which should all have their own test teams right?

I spent the next week passing emails back and forth to these companies trying to find out if they had test teams & if they’d be interested in joining a mailing list for the group as a whole.  We could discuss problems here, talk about tools & methods that worked and so on.  A bunch of emails & a few telephone calls later everyone appeared to be interested in the idea.  So I setup the mailing list & it was a reasonable success to start with.  Things of late have been pretty quite; however don’t let that put you off trying something like this if you have a similar setup.  It’ll still prove a useful means of communication for us as & when we need it.

Management Experience

2010 was also a good year, in that I got the chance to get more management responsibilities.  Apart from the usual management stuff like planning, feedback & solving higher level problems that’d I’d already been doing & improving upon, I’d also gotten the opportunity to sit at the other end of the interview table.  In fact the two people we went on to hire managed to survive my probing questioning :-)

I also got the chance to sit at the other side of the table for an appraisal.  Providing feedback & ideas for what they could do next & how to improve upon their weaknesses.  Both of these were great fun & an excellent experience for me.

Working with other teams

One of our other business units got the chance to develop a key piece of software for us.  Essentially, they were viewed as an offshore team in that respect being located in Wales & us in Scotland.  One of my strong points has always been providing feedback on initial requirements which can identify gaps, issues & lead to changes in design.  I got the chance to do this with this project despite not being a member of their team.  Being very excited by what they were developing I loved the opportunity & my feedback helped identify many issues, gaps & changed some of their designs through later meetings to discuss my feedback.

Do you do test cases?

Yup we here at Ciboodle as you know we use test cases.  Not in your traditional sense of course, we use them in a proactive way.  One of our problems was that we’d all had our own ideas of a standard test case.  We’d all write and develop them in our own ways.  Some would write one test case for another’s ten.  Some were very structured and boring & not very efficient in my honest opinion.

I discussed my concerns with the team & expressed my idea of what a standard test case should look like.  What lead was a few meetings & everyone provided suggested templates that we could use.  From discussing the pro’s and cons of each we were able to come up with a suitable format which we could all use.  We now have two main types of test cases.  Lean test cases & use cases.  The later was used more so for quick requirements coverage and feedback & as an aid to regression testing & exploratory testing.

More Lean

As you’ll probably gather I’m a big believer in ditching waste & making things more efficient.  I got to try out a lean approach to our test phase planning recently, one which I’ll share with you all very soon in a separate blog post.  It was very well perceived by it’s audience & quickly adopted by other in our team, stay tuned.

Other fun

A bunch of other fun stuff I got to do in 2010 included scripting for our new Integration Servers which is always enjoyable & a break from the norm.  Getting us swapped over to a new document management server (Alfresco) when I realised since we don’t do any document management then we probably should :-) (There is a free version of Alfresco available if you’re interested in checking it out.)  I nearly jumped out the window doing data mining of just over one thousand bug reports.  The report I wrote was worth it though in the end :-)   My product manager loved my “can I discuss this with you, it’ll only take two minutes” catchphrase so much that he started stopwatch timing me when ever I said it (he loves me really) :-)

After I began reading Alan Page’s very excellent “How we test software at Microsoft” book I took note of a thing they do there called an Innovation Week.  Obviously dedicating a whole week to this would be costly for a business and quite difficult to push through.  So I tried out the idea of an Idea’s leader board to try and encourage the rest of our team to come up with idea’s to improve our process.  You’d get one point for an idea & five for an implemented one.  That was only a few weeks back but we’ve already had some excellent ideas put forward.  Obviously I’ll need to follow up on it with everyone to see if it’s beneficial & not having any negative side effects.


I didn’t intentionally set out to start challenging my team mates; in fact it had all started out very innocently with a silly holiday request form that had really annoyed me.  This then spiralled into a whole bunch of other challenges each month.  My colleague Stuart MacDonald even volunteered himself forward for one of these & blogged about it here.  Some of the challenges were really fun; some looked like they were near on impossible?

One challenge resulted in ninety three tweets on twitter & won me an award at my companies Christmas lunch!

In all seriousness though, these challenges were fantastic for us as a team.  We’d bonded a lot more through them, inspired one another & most importantly we’ve learned from each others approaches to them.

A fun year

Despite all the new fun stuff I got to try out this year, I still managed to keep up with everything I did already in my day to day role as a tester.  In fact our latest release is looking to be our most successful so far.  However the proof of that will come once its released, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we’ve done a good enough job.

I’d have to say though, Proactive Testing this year has for me has been the one thing above all others that’s stood out.  I’m now very keen to see what else can be done in this area to reduce potential defects further.

Better yourself

Remember you too can make a noticeable difference in your company.  Testers are not just here to test!  We can inspire & promote change.  We can become domain experts; we can influence designs if our ideas are good enough.  We need not be constrained or limited by traditional views of a tester’s role.  Modern day testers inspire others; we are individuals with a vast array of skills & experience to share.

Please don’t wait for opportunities to come by, take them yourself!  Don’t wait for someone to suggest a training course or conference to you, prove why you should be allowed to attend it & ask for it!

Remember most importantly, keep ahead of the game.  Seek out new ideas and knowledge from the testing community.  Don’t just suggest things, make them happen!  If you’ve had a thought about something but didn’t feel it was your place or right to express it, by all means do so!

I can’t express this one highly enough!  Keep communicating!  Through good communication & collaboration in all aspects you’ll open up so many new opportunities for yourself.


Next year I hope to learn a whole lot more as a tester.  Join in more week night testing sessions with Mike Scott & co.

I’m looking forward to collaborating on ideas with Simon Morley.  In fact my to-do list is spiralling out of control with ideas I’d like to try out at some point.  That little thing called time just keeps getting in the way though :-)

I want to try & make it to EuroSTAR after all it’s in Manchester this year, so it’ll save on some money on the flight costs.  In fact I was very humbled when a few people had asked me if I’d be attending the 2010 EuroSTAR conference in Copenhagen.  To think that people are genuinely interested in talking with me about our field makes me very happy & honoured.  It also makes me even more determined to make it this year.  Hopefully this year I’ll also be able to look at submitting an article for the following year’s conference & who knows I might just be lucky enough to get chosen as a speaker.

I’ve no idea though what will really happen in 2011.  All I know is that 2010 has been a great year for me & without the support of my other half Karen who for some reason puts up with me still to this day, then none of it would have been possible :-)  So thanks Karen for your support & for giving me a beautiful daughter.

Thanks for reading & all the best for 2011 ;-)

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