STAREAST 2015 Interview with Bart Knaack and Paul Carvalho from the Test Lab


Bart Knaack and Paul Carvalho discuss the Test Lab at STAREAST. Look for more keynotes, sessions, and interviews at this year’s STARWEST conference in Anaheim.


In this interview, Bart Knaack and Paul Carvalho discuss the tester's sandbox known as the The Test Lab. They explain how and why they're doing real testing at a conference about testing, and share some of their results.

Jennifer Bonine: All right. We are back live with more of our tool interviews for those of you who are watching out there. I'm sure you're all interested in who these two gentlemen are who joined me. I've got Bart and I've got Paul, and they have these lab coats on. I'm told that they're from our Test Lab that's going on here at the conference. So, for those folks not here that are watching but aren't participating in that, can you tell me a little bit about what the Test Lab is?

Bart Knaack: The Test Lab, actually, is your tester sandbox. It's a place where people can come to learn about testing by doing it, not by hearing about it, but by actually doing it. We have systems here to test. We have our small, little robots which people can play around with. They can learn about ... Well, actually looking at requirements and seeing if the requirements fit the behavioral thought. We have some funny noises in there so people can draw attention. Actually, we had a number of people coming in. It's interesting to see what strategies people use to actually test.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. What are you guys seeing in terms of, how do you draw people in? Does everyone understand what is going on in the Test Lab? Do they kind of just walk by and look, or how do you actually get them in?

Paul Carvalho: That's usually one of the first questions, like, "What are you selling?" We're not a booth. Sometimes it's the noise-makers that attract them. "What's the chicken for?" "I don't know. What do you want it to be for?" Sometimes when people find a bug or something, they want to celebrate it, so we have various noise makers.

Jennifer Bonine: So they can celebrate.

Paul Carvalho: Yes. It's like Bart explained, it's a sandbox. It's a play space. We have a little something for a lot of different types. Some people go straight for the laptops, and they want to play with the software or the applications that are on there. Some people are attracted to the robots, like, "Ooh, a physical thing." Getting away from just software only. This is software and hardware. How does it interact with the environment and other conditions? We have some other tester games like puzzles and brain teasers. For people who are just walking by, there'll be a little something for everyone, kind of thing.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. To get them engaged and involved. There's something different this year, I thought, right? You guys have an organization that you're working with in terms of some of the testing?

Paul Carvalho: That was the theory.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. That was the theory, so, ideally, we want to do that.

Paul Carvalho: We adapt to change in plans. Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: You're agile.

Paul Carvalho: The Humanitarian Toolbox, the crisis-checking application, we had started to test it last year. We provided a lot of great feedback. Over the summer they updated the application, and we had 2.0 ready to go, and then Bart noticed it first on Tuesday and said, "Let's just log in and make sure that we can get it," and it crashes.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, no.

Paul Carvalho: The guys have been trying to fix the environment, but we haven't been able to get it running this time around, so it's unfortunate, but it's just the nature of software sometimes.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Exactly. It's what happens, right? That can happen. But in terms of folks that are out there that haven't been to the conferences, is the Test Lab part of the conferences all the time? If they were to say, "I want to come to STARWEST in the fall," will they see you guys?

Bart Knaack: We're not sure whether we are going to be the ones doing it because that's up to SQE to decide. There are numerous people that can do it. I'll be around as a speaker in STARWEST, so I might just as well bring the Test Lab.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, so the Test Lab will be there, though?

Bart Knaack: Yes. The Test Lab will be there.

Jennifer Bonine: Rest assured. If they're making decisions ...

Paul Carvalho: Look for the lab coats. That's pretty much our trademark.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Look for the lab coats, and you'll be able to find these guys. They'll be there with their toys and various things. We have beer?

Bart Knaack: We also have fun sessions sometimes, so that's when we bring the beer in.

Jennifer Bonine: You bring the beer in.

Bart Knaack: We had Werevolves last night, which is a game that you can play.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes! Yes! For those that didn't see that last night on the lightning keynote part you were talking about, what were you guys doing with werewolves, and kind of what happened with that last night?

Bart Knaack: Werewolves is a game. It's like a social game, so you have people that have to find out via social engineering what the role of the other people is, and then have to shoot off the werewolves, but not shoot off the villagers.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. No villagers, just werewolves.

Bart Knaack: Only werewolves, and last night they really managed to shoot off eight villagers and no werewolves.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, no! They socially didn't do well.

Bart Knaack: Oh, no, no, no.

Jennifer Bonine: They were not socialized at all.

Bart Knaack: Right. Right, but that's a fun game. We also try to participate in that. We organize that together with Matt Heusser, who's been here as one of the speakers. Then we had Beer-In, so, yes, we also have beer in the Test Lab, but mostly during evening hours, not during the day.

Jennifer Bonine: Got you. Okay, at least separate that part, but fun things. As part of the conference, again, the folks watching don't get to see all of this going on, but there's social interaction, there's ways to actually get involved besides the learning, and the theory, and the sessions. There's interaction through the Test Lab. You guys, obviously, are doing the social games, getting people involved in practicing and using the things that they're learning, and trying it out. There's other ways to do that.

Paul Carvalho: I was just going to add to that, saying games are an important part of learning. I have some colleagues who teach agile and technical approaches using Lego.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Paul Carvalho: It's called Lego Serious Play. This morning we were playing a game, a requirements game, and the learning part at the end really opens them up to now talking about the state of the team, and the dynamics. It sparked some really good, an opportune sort of coaching moment where we were talking about, "Well, here's maybe some tools you might consider," or some ways to try working with your team a little bit differently. Games really are a good opener to get to the underlying issues inside a team.

Jennifer Bonine: How, on average, about how many people do you guys see in the Test Lab that can get engaged or come through?

Paul Carvalho: We need a little counter thing.

Jennifer Bonine: I know. You know what, like Disney World in Orlando. You can get one of those, "We scanned you in."

Bart Knaack: I think yesterday we had about twenty to thirty people? But the thing is that ...

Paul Carvalho: Probably over the day, we had more.

Bart Knaack: All right. Numbers like that, but the cool thing is we also get speakers to come in because they also want to see how we do it, and what we do in the Test Lab.

Jennifer Bonine: Very interested.

Bart Knaack: Right, so we get speakers. We get delegates. At the end we also give away prizes to the delegates, of course ...

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. We forgot to mention that. Yeah.

Bart Knaack: Not to the speakers. We give them away to the delegates.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bart Knaack: It's interesting to see how people get engaged. Sometimes you get a group in and sometimes there's no one there, but that's the Test Lab. That's no problem.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. It's no problem. You guys are always there and available. Now, you talked about the prizes, so there's a contest? Is there a contest usually with it or prizes at the end?

Bart Knaack: Normally we would have a contest using software that was under test, but since this year we don't have a system under test, it's just going to be the judges ourselves. We've seen some people coming by, doing cool stuff, and then we say, "Oh, that's a candidate for a prize."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Bart Knaack: We are judges, and we are not bribeable, so that's a good thing.

Jennifer Bonine: Non-bribeable judges here. You can't bribe them, so if you come, no bribing, but they are the judges. Is the idea for future Test Labs, using this humanitarian software or others, are you guys open to companies that may be out there saying, "Hey, we'd love to put our software in the Test Lab"? How does that work?

Bart Knaack: Yeah. That could be done. It should go via SQE since they're helping us to set up ...

Jennifer Bonine: So, maybe go to SQE ...

Bart Knaack: Yeah. Go to SQE if you want something like that. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: And let them know you're interested.

Bart Knaack: Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: And wanting to be a part of that?

Paul Carvalho: We have had vendors come by and say, "Can we put our software on there?" I'm like, "You will be installing it and supporting it."

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Paul Carvalho: Then we've had vendors try to install it on some of these systems and say, "Oh, the hardware requirements aren't there." I'm like, "Okay. Well, this is a Test Lab."

Jennifer Bonine: Exactly. "This is how it works."

Paul Carvalho: So if you're willing to install it and support it, fair game. Anything that requires more effort from us, really, needs to be planned into the event itself.

Jennifer Bonine: Yup. Exactly. Obviously, you guys all have day jobs, so we want to talk about kind of your backgrounds and how you got involved in this. Maybe we should talk about that a little bit more, Bart and Paul.

Bart Knaack: It's an interesting story because, actually, the Test Lab started at a conference drink.

Jennifer Bonine: Really?

Bart Knaack: I was talking to another guy, James Lindsey. He's another cofounder of the Test Lab. We were just standing there, "Wouldn't it be cool if you could do testing at the real testing conference?" He said "Yeah. That would be cool."

Paul Carvalho: That's crazy.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, my gosh. Here's what we're talking about!

Bart Knaack: I said, "Why don't we just do it?" We only knew each other for five minutes at that moment, and we said, "Okay, next year we're going to have a Test Lab." We put it to the program committee, and then they liked it. We did it. After that, we've been all over the world. Paul, I think you joined in two years ago, or something, like three years ago?

Paul Carvalho: Yes. My third year doing it.

Jennifer Bonine: Third year?

Paul Carvalho: Yup.

Jennifer Bonine: How old is the Test Lab, just so we know?

Bart Knaack: It started in 2009. That was the first Test Lab we had.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow. You're getting to be a mature group here. Almost six years. That's forever, right? That's amazing, though, how ideas can spur things that then become very big ideas that people love working with. Then for yourself, Paul, you've got two to three years, but how did you come to get involved in this, and ...

Paul Carvalho: Oh, wow. I've been involved in the testing community for a long time now, well over fifteen years. I'd known James Lindsey for a while. I think he was getting tired of the flying back and forth because he's based in the UK. He's like, "If I could find someone ..." you know, he trusted to carry it on in North America. He was expecting a child at the time. He's like, "I'd really like to spend more time at home." He invited myself and Wade Wox. Hey, Wade.

Jennifer Bonine: If you're watching ...

Bart Knaack: If you're watching ...

Paul Carvalho: To help sort of carry on the mantle over here when he or Bart wasn't available. We've been doing that for the last few years. At STARWEST I don't think Wade was allowed ... Allowed? Available. Sorry. I had asked my friend, Nick Norbuck to join me, and he, also, was just right into the whole flow, and atmosphere, and spirit of it. My day job is, right now, sort of testing consultant and agile coach, depending on the needs of the teams that I work with, but the thing with agile is, everyone tests, right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yup. Absolutely.

Paul Carvalho: You take testing to this point, and then on an agile team, it's like ... And then it just goes out that far. It's fantastic. I'm still doing an awful lot in testing, maybe not so much always speaking at a testing conference.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. It's great to have you both here. It goes so fast. We're almost out of time, but if either ... If folks out there want to learn more about the Test Lab, want to talk to you guys, really quickly, for both of you, best ways to reach out and contact you guys if they want to hear more?

Bart Knaack: You can follow me on Twitter.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect.

Bart Knaack: That's one of the things. I'm @Btkaack, or you can just email me at [email protected], but you can find me on the Internet.

Jennifer Bonine: Find Bart. Okay.

Bart Knaack: Yeah. Find Bart.

Jennifer Bonine: And then, Paul?

Paul Carvalho: Mine is easy. I'm on Twitter, @can_test, can, underscore, test, for Canadian.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, cool.

Paul Carvalho: Send a message to @thetestlab.

Jennifer Bonine: @thetestlab. Perfect.

Paul Carvalho: That's the common way to get all of us. Yeah.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Well, thanks both of you for being here. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm sure they did, as well.

Paul Carvalho: Okay.

Bart Knaack: Thank you for having us.

Jennifer Bonine: Thank you.

Bart KnaackTest advisor at Professional Testing, Bart Knaack has more than twenty years of experience in testing and test management. Bart has contributed to testing projects and processes in roles of test manager, test data management team lead, and process improvement agent. He has coached testers, built up test teams, and developed processes in test, test support, and overall quality management and improvement. Bart is a frequent speaker at conferences, universities, and colleges. In 2009 Bart and James Lyndsay co-founded the TestLab, an exciting part of today’s STAR conferences.





Paul CarvalhoA software test consultant and trainer, quality architect, and agile coach, Paul Carvalho helps his clients build test-infected development teams with a holistic and congruent approach to quality. With twenty-five years of building software in many different industries, Paul is considered an expert in software testing and is part of the context-driven software testing community. A regular speaker at conferences, networking groups, and practitioner workshops, Paul tests, tweets, blogs, loves scripting with Ruby, and has published articles in Better Software magazine and Agile Journal. Paul helps software companies overcome development inertia to become world-class leaders in delivering quality and value. Learn more about Paul at

About the author

Upcoming Events

Jun 02
Sep 22
Oct 13