From One Expert to Another: Dawn and Shannon Code


Did you know that former Dawn Cannan, lover of all things testing, and her husband legally changed their names to Dawn Test Code and Shannon Null Code? In this interview, they discuss the reason for their name changes and what it means to have and show enthusiasm for what is important to you.

Joey McAllister: Let’s just get it out of the way. You two changed your names to reflect your occupational interests. Why?

Dawn Test Code: Ha! I love this story, partly because it evolved and wasn't originally about choosing names that are part of our occupations. We had a tough time finding a last name that we felt would really be appropriate. Of course, we wanted to have a little fun with it, but we didn't want to go overboard.

I have to say, I was particularly inspired by others who have chosen their own last names, especially James Shore. You may not know that James and his wife chose “Shore” as their last name when they got married. They chose it because it was related to something they were both passionate about when they met: kayaking. I loved that story and began searching for something similar, related to something that was a big part of both of our lives or related to how we met.

I was also looking for some other qualities. I wanted something short, simple, and easy to remember. I spent my entire life spelling my last name for everyone I ever had to say it to. “Code” also has a meaning outside of the software development world, so I could use that as an excuse for why it wasn't totally nerdy.

Since we had to go through the court process to change our legal last names, we then decided to have a little fun with our middle names. That was much more of a "Why not?"

Shannon Null Code: I have wanted to change my name for a long time, which I think stems from my love for spy thrillers. The occupational interests part of our name change evolved. Neither Dawn nor I felt tied to our current last names and thought it would be both fun and fitting of our personalities to pick a name together that we would like as our family name. We started with a few names that either tended to be geeky or related to subjects centering around how we met. “Hadron” was in the running (due to one of our first conversations being about the super collider). We settled on “Code” after trying it on for a while and decided it fit our criteria perfectly. Dawn was a tester and I was a developer when we met, and many of our early discussions with each other centered on these topics.

Joey McAllister: What was the moment like when that idea officially went from, “Wouldn’t it be funny …” to “Let’s do this!”? What sorts of reactions did you get?

Dawn Test Code: We put a bunch of possible last names on a whiteboard, and then we would just kind of let them hang there. Once in a while, we would say to each other, “I’m really liking this name.” I think at some point, we both just settled on the fact that we like “Code.”

The reactions vary. In the tech world, most of them are some variation of “That’s awesome!” I remember one person at the Better Software conference who said, "Why would you want a name that's tied to your job right now? What if you change jobs?" (Honestly, I have considered myself a “tester” (of life) for my entire life! I can’t see a time when I won’t associate that with myself, regardless of my job.)

Our families were a bit incredulous. I remember a lot of "Are you serious?" My brother claimed not to know me by my new name. I think Shannon's family was a little more offended that he changed away from names associated with his family. I guess it's because men changing their names is less traditional.

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