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Weekend Testers Comes to the Americas
By Michael Larsen
Summary: Inspired by the success of India’s Weekend Testing movement, Michael Larsen saw a need for a group closer to home. The Weekend Testing Americas chapter invites testers from across the Western Hemisphere to join an informal, distributed group of their tester peers to learn and perfect their craft.
Over the past couple of years, a trend has developed. Some testers have decided that, rather than slog through books and work on their own to learn about and perfect their testing craft, they will band together and make the goal of learning and improving software testing a group effort. This is most visible with the Weekend Testing movement. Weekend Testing is a grassroots effort that began in Bangalore, India, and is a meeting ground for many testers with various levels of experience.
Chapters developed in other parts of India (Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai) and also spread to Europe and Australia/New Zealand. I’ve attended a number of these sessions, both for the Europe and the Australia/New Zealand chapters. Since I live in the San Francisco metropolitan area, the European Weekend Testing sessions happen at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings, and the Australian/New Zealand testing sessions take place at 10:30 p.m. Saturday evenings. India’s sessions take place at 3 a.m.! This makes attending their sessions challenging, but I often follow along with their experience reports and read the chat transcripts.
As I attended these sessions, I kept asking myself, “Why isn’t there a chapter of Weekend Testing in the US? There’s a lot of testing talent here; it should be easy to get one of these chapters up and running.” I voiced this frustration a couple of months ago on my blog, and I received a rather blunt but totally true response: Weekend Testing hadn’t started in the US because no one—including me—had decided it was worth the time to start and maintain it.
This was a painful realization. I was waiting for someone else to start Weekend Testing so I could join in. As a lone tester in a small company, I didn’t think I had the background necessary to start it. But, this reply shook me out of my complacency. Canadian test consultant Lynn McKee also was receiving encouragement to start a Weekend Testing chapter for Canada. I decided to see if there would be support for championing an Americas chapter—not just for the US and Canada but for all countries in Western Hemisphere.
As it turned out, there was a lot of support. People were just waiting for those testers willing to make the first move. Tester Joe Harter joined the initiative, and the three of us applied to sponsor the Weekend Testing Americas chapter. We were given the ability to edit pages on the main Weekend Testing site to publish announcements and post experience reports and session transcripts. We also were given access to the bug-reporting system. Some of the experienced Weekend Testing moderators would oversee our early sessions to make sure they ran smoothly and that we could effectively moderate the flow of the sessions (Markus Gaertner and Ajay Balamurugadas both lended support). After that, we were free to fly on our own.
How It Works
We follow the framework that the Bangalore Weekend Testers originally developed. We announce the sessions about a week in advance via Twitter, blogs, and interested mailing lists and post the details of the session on the main Weekend Testing site. We utilize the same infrastructure for reporting issues used by Bangalore Weekend Testers, and we also publish our experience reports and chat sessions on the Weekend Testing site. When a session begins, we introduce attendees, announce a testing charter and a target application, and give testers the remainder of the first hour to test and communicate with other testers. Often, testers join in pairing sessions with other testers. At the end of the first hour, we bring everyone together for an hour-long debrief, during which testers share their ideas, challenges, frustrations, etc.
There is a good mix of regulars—those who actively participate in multiple chapters of the Weekend Testing sessions week after week—and those who are new to the format (and some new to testing in general). When I facilitate a session, I look for the newcomers and often will invite them to be part of my breakout testing session, where I encourage them to participate and ask questions to help guide them into exploring different ideas.
Weekend Testing works because of Skype. While there may be other technologies we could use, Skype has the benefit of being globally available, no cost to install, and able to host large-group communication. Due to the varying levels of technology and network infrastructure, we limit the testing sessions to Skype chat, though when testers pair they can use any sharing method they like. We do not endorse specific tools, but we have seen some tools emerge as de facto standards and favorites. In addition to Skype, TypeWith.me has become a standard tool for testers to share notes and edit documents together in real time, and RapidReporter, developed by Weekend Testing regular Shmuel Gershon, has a lot of fans and its use is spreading. (We even used RapidReporter as one of our testing challenges for our third session.)
One of the most interesting aspects of putting together this chapter was the discovery of all the things that happen on the back end. When a tester joins up with a Weekend Testing event, he often participates in a chat session, joins a side testing session (usually in a paired arrangement), and then comes back to talk to the group. When you are facilitating sessions, you have to think about all of the participants and what they might be experiencing. Though we are an Americas chapter, we also get attendees from Europe, the Middle East, and India. We have to be aware that many individuals do not have the same network speeds that I have here in metropolitan San Francisco, as our first two sessions made clear. Many of our testers couldn’t even download the application we were testing during the two-hour session, while the download took me only twenty seconds.
Each week that we host a Weekend Testing session, we learn a little more about distributed teams, test management, paired testing, and the challenges we all face testing in a global environment. We also learn new skills, make new friends, and often forge relationships that extend beyond the Weekend Testing sessions. Some of the most interesting correspondence I’ve had in the past few months has been with Weekend Testing attendees. There is so much to learn, and there are so many willing to help us get better at our craft. So, the next time you see an announcement for Weekend Testing Americas, please make the time to drop in. The chances of learning and improving your testing craft are very high, and it’s likely you’ll make some great new friends as well.
About the Author
Michael Larsen is a software tester in San Francisco, California. Michael is a strong proponent for the continuing education and skills development for software testers. To this end, he is actively involved as an assistant instructor with the Association for Software Testing, podcast producer for Software Test Professionals' This Week in Software Testing podcast, and a brown belt in the Miagi-do School of Software Testing. Michael also blogs at TESTHEAD and can be reached on twitter at twitter.com/mkltesthead.
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StickyMinds.com Weekly Column From 1/24/2011