TestAway Shimla- From Attendee Perspective
“This is an amazing, amazing, amazing experience!”, exclaimed Subham as Mahesh trained the camera at him. Mahesh was live streaming the experiences of the participant testers of TestAway Shimla on Facebook as the fifteen of us strolled from the playground, back to The White Haven in Shimla.
Although poor Subham was targeted for his antics on live camera and earned himself the nickname “Amazing Subham”, what he said reflected the thoughts of everyone at the end of the event.
I recently moved back to India from Australia, where I learned the value addition that networking, and community activities provide to professionals and how it helps them get better in their job and in life. I was on the lookout for opportunities to meet with the Software Testing community in India. I found The Test Tribe and took a look at their website. It was just what I was looking for. I visited their Upcoming Events page and saw that they had a workshop on Usability Testing and TestAway.
I got curious and explored further. A cursory glance was enough for me to decide that I need to be part of this. Gamifying Testing, Workshops, Unlearn to Learn, Reset – all the right words to tick off my interest. Long story short, I applied, Mahesh called to interview, and after a short while, said I was in. I managed to put all logistics together and was soon on a flight to get to the event!
I have attempted to pen down the proceedings of the event by retrieving whatever my memory could store, adding my personal takeaway and experience. I tried to group experiences to the best of my creative ability with no one sub-topic having more importance than the others. They can be read in any order. If this attempt doesn’t appeal to you, it is because of my inability to tell a story effectively and you shouldn’t undermine the effort gone into setting up the various aspects of the event, the contributions of the participants, and the impact the event had on all of us.
The White Haven, the chefs and the food
A little away from the city, in a quaint neighbourhood of Shimla, stood The White Haven. Typical of many Hill Station properties, you climb down the stairs to get to the different parts of the property.
Our hosts were wonderful. I remember the name of one person I met – Ajay Thakur. The chef and his assistants who helped us were down to earth and agile. Without their support, active participation throughout three days by all participants would have been a challenge. It’s rude on my part to not mention their names here, but I have forgotten them. I could ask someone and write but I won’t, so that I remember names in future. A big Shukriya to them!
The chefs dished out rotis, sabjis made from a range of greens, selection of meats, and dal, parathas, omelette, and toast. To complement all this was a yummy pickle, dahi, salads and fruits! We loved the food so much that a majority of us didn’t want to experiment eating anywhere else on the last day when there was an opportunity to do so.
The Tribe Leaders, Introductions and the Welcome Kit
When I first spoke to Mahesh, I got the impression that this guy is doing something meaningful. In his WhatsApp DP, where he holds a mike and is talking, I could see a spark in his eyes. However, until after dinner on the first day at Shimla, I didn’t understand the full extent of this man’s passion to help testers in whatever possible way he can. Throughout the event, if there was one person keeping an eye on the clock and the schedule and keeping us on our toes, it was him. In every game and activity he orchestrated, I could see the love he has for testing and testers.
There is a saying in Kannada – Thumbida Koda Thulukola (very loosely translated, it means pots which are full don’t wobble or jump about). This is every bit true about Niraj Yadav and I didn’t realize this until we spoke, when we sat next to each other on our way back to Delhi. The number of topics about which this man could converse with ease amazed me. During the event, he went about his job of ensuring that all the logistics for each activity were in place so quietly, that you almost wouldn’t take notice of him.
Add to this, these two guys went a day ahead to setup and gave us a warm welcome! They handed us a Welcome Kit (co-sponsored by Moolya), that comprised of a surprise t-shirt and a water sipper among other things. The sipper idea was come up with, based on feedback from TestAway Goa to reduce the use of bottled water.
I had been following Ajay and his work for a while now. I met him at one of his workshops just a week before the event. He commands a focused attention in his blogs and when talking testing, but is a very humorous person. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of his jokes, puns and comments!
One of the participants – Jitendra, has accurately described each participant in his article here, and that makes my job easy. He has modestly excluded himself from the list. He is an enterprising professional who understood the value he adds to organisations early in his career and has broken away from the shackles of the corporate structure.
In my opinion, the group was as diverse as it could get. The testers were of different levels of experience, from very different domains, and organisations of different sizes catering to different segments of the market. Most importantly, the group was fun!
After the first few hours on Day 1, most of us felt we knew each other well, although, by then most of us had bonded in groups of twos and threes. The rest was History!
Each of the games that the team had designed helped drive home a point for testers. From observing an image (a web page in reality) for three seconds, and attempting to reproduce it, to guessing a mobile app’s name by asking five questions to using the Ministry of Testing’s TestSphere card deck, to diffusing time bomb emulators, to understanding Visual Auditory Kinesthetics (VAK) learning styles by putting first thoughts about a word down as a drawing, each game helped testers understand that observation, questioning, note taking, collaboration, modeling, strategising etc. are some vital skills they need to learn and improve upon continuously.
Ultimate Tic Tac Toe and Mafia during after hours helped us to connect and have fun.
Ajay’s advice to Testers – Online Portfolio 101
How many testers do you know? How many testers know you? How many testers do you know outside of work and outside of your social circle (predominantly engineering friends)? How many testers do you know in your city, country and in the World? How many testers do you know, with who you can randomly strike a conversation about Testing? How many people will reach out to you when they want answers to questions in Software Testing? Are you reputed enough to be head-hunted? What reputation and credibility have you built? What does a search engine return when you are looked up?
These are few of the questions that Ajay asked the group at the beginning of the session. He went on to explain the need for individuals to have a portfolio of their work. For Testers, use of mediums like a blog, videos, GitHub, etc. can be used to publish learnings and ideas. A Github account with sample of work for various aspects of Testing can be setup so that interested people can understand the work of publisher better. I knew I had to let people know that I exist, but the question “How many testers do you know, with whom you can randomly start a conversation about Testing?”, has hit me hard!
Getting people to work well together is one of the biggest challenges today, across the world. Organisations of all sizes and shapes consider this as one of their top challenges. To foster a culture of inclusion and engagement, to motivate teams to work together and to generate ideas from unexpected sources, organisations need to demonstrate to their employees that this is possible (rephrased from the liberating structures website). Liberating Structures is one way to do this.
Ajay used 3 of the 33 structures to demonstrate how ideas get generated quickly for any problem statement. The problem statements were interesting enough to keep the participants involved. ‘How would you increase your company’s revenue by 15%?’ ‘If you had unlimited resources, what would you do to improve your testing skills?’
The Liberating Structures we used were 1-2-4-All and 15% Solutions. With the 1-2-4-All microstructure, individuals first come up with a set of ideas, and then group themselves into twos and compare and improve the ideas. Two groups of twos then come together to further improvise. This way at each step two sets of ideas are studied and improved. Eventually this will lead to a possible solution that has the ideas of the entire group. Although, it is easier said than done, it is possible to generate quite a few ideas within a short time. This is exactly what happened.
The 15% Solutions is structured very similarly to 1-2-4-All. However, here at each step the group votes to identify 15% of all the ideas that they generated as the best ones. Again, within a short time a lot of people’s thoughts are collected and the group decides which of them would work.
There is a lot to know about Liberating Structures. For the purpose of this event, the idea was to get people familiar with the concept.
The Testing Lab
3 Teams of 4 Testers, 3 advisors – 1 for each team, Slack’s Notification feature, 3 charts and sketch pens to write a test report, 3 hours to Test with deadlines for interacting and getting information from Stakeholders, brainstorming test ideas and getting feedback, testing and documenting, and finally writing a report.
How did the teams fare? Below average. Not enough questions were asked to the stakeholder, which means the mission of the project was not understood. Not enough time was spent to make the test report meaningful. The teams didn’t think of who their customers’ customers were, thereby not understanding the context of where, when, why and how the testing needs to be structured.
Jitendra’s story to freedom
Like I said earlier, Jitendra understood the value he was adding to organizations early in his career, and in turn what he was losing by continuing to work for them. He decided to do something about it. It was not easy, and it usually never is, but it takes a lot of grit to experiment and make this decision. He still has challenges, but is taking them one at a time, head-on.
Ulhas’ free money advice
Ulhas is Jitendra’s partner in crime and between them, they had exciting stories to tell which stem from the bond that has nurtured their relationship. Ulhas’ USP is his way of managing his personal finances and how that has helped him partner with Jitendra to help solve interesting testing problems. Of course, here too there are challenges which the two of them are solving very wisely.
Lightning Talks – Ashwin and Pranav
Ashwin briefly spoke about using matrices to map automated checks to tests and features. He went on to explain how this helped him deal with Root Cause Analysis and communicate effectively to his management when a bug escaped to production.
Pranav is a young, energetic and an eager tester. He was intimidated by the the experience around him and the rest of us by his questions. He courageously spoke when asked to, about Message Queues, their uses in a Microservices architecture and how they are effective in propagating changes between the client and the server in an asynchronous manner.
Pranav is learning to play the flute and is discovering his learning styles and the challenges of learning to play a musical instrument. With a little prodding from Ajay, he was able to quickly try a few tunes and I realized that while practice is important, it is also important to try different things while practicing.
Ashutosh, NPV and Automation
The value of Rs. 100/- today is a certain amount lesser one year from now and we all know it. What I didn’t know is that a variant of this is used in project management during feasibility study to decide if a project makes sense or not. i.e., if we start a project based on current costs, will it have provided the ROI, by the time it matures?
Ashutosh told us that a mind boggling number of factors go into trying to make these projections. Now, Ashutosh has cleverly attempted to use this to project the value of investing in Automation projects. This is a work in progress and he has attempted to create a basic framework to establish the $ value of writing an Automated (or a Computer-assisted) Test.
As an extension, this can be applied to everything we do in life.
Group Discussions – As One big group
Staying relevant as a tester
If you don’t adapt, you become irrelevant. However, in India, the problem is still a few steps behind. People don’t realize that they need to adapt, at least a portion of the techies. So, when Mahesh asked the group as to what he could do to help Testers in India adapt with changing times, there were a few ideas – which I can’t recollect much of. However, a few of us were of the opinion that even though there were several people extending their hand out to help, there are very few takers (including me, until a year ago). The good news is, this is changing. However, there is a lot of work to do and The Test Tribe is saying and doing the right things to take this forward. I am sure there are many smaller groups who are attempting something similar. These ideas will gain momentum and soon there will be several initiatives like The Test Tribe!
Ganesh helped the team get their brains around what exactly RPA is. Robotic Process Automation is being used to automate several business processes. There was a little bit of a debate that ensued. Is it like Selenium? Is it going to automate what a “Manual” Tester does? Is it building Computer-assisted tests without writing code! We concluded that no matter what the capabilities of this technology is, it won’t make the Human Tester extinct.
If there is one concept used popularly by several testers today that seems very simple to understand, it is Heuristics. Simply put,
Heuristic is a fallible way of learning something about an application. – as defined by renowned testers. Very simple, isn’t it? Now take a look at this.
Ajay did a wonderful job of explaining what it is in the thirty minutes that we spoke about it. In my opinion, it will take several months of testing, reading, writing, listening to and speaking with multiple renowned testers to get a good grasp of what Heuristics in Software Testing is and how to effectively use it.
Amazing Subham set the tone for the evening by singing. Ajay followed it up with a spoof version of a popular Bollywood song. Ajay then put a question “Who is <person’s name>?”
As the group sat in a circle and started answering the question, I asked myself the same question. I kept floating between thinking about what my answer should be and listening to other’s answers. The answers were fun, intense, revealed stories of courage and determination and of happiness and sorrow. Most of us are constantly looking for an answer to this question. I have realized that the answers keep changing as we grow and mature and yet can never be complete. As we learn, explore and interact with more and more people over the years, the answers will change rapidly and probably will settle down at some point.
Jugal then entertained us by reading a Marathi poem he had written. He also shared how The Test Tribe helped him find a new job, not directly, but as a result of being an active part of the community.
Playground and Yoga
Niraj had us stretch our legs a little bit by taking the team to a playground in the morning on two days. I made it just on the 2nd day. To avoid the risk of injuring myself, which I am prone to, I stat in a corner while the guys threw a tennis ball around and even played lagori. On the 3rd day, I believe Niraj introduced people to the basics of pranayama, asana and meditation.
Group Discussions – Two’s, Three’s etc.
Ajay, Geosley and I traveled together from Chandigarh to Shimla. Geosley and Ajay reminicised the events of TestAway Goa. I got a little more insight into what the event is about. We also shared each others’ stories.
Subham, Shubham and I had interesting discussions after sessions and exchanged thoughts and ideas. We spoke about automation, challenges of testers in terms of stakeholder communication, companies’ belief that 100% automation is achievable, that a Green looking automation dashboard doesn’t prove that there are no bugs etc.
Pranav and I had an intense discussion around Testing, Data Science, going back to college for a masters degree, getting an MBA, music and learning to learn.
Ulhas and I spoke about AppAchhi and the kind of performance metrics it captures for mobile applications.
Ajay and I discussed about Python and the challenges of breaking away from being a “student” programmer.
Mahesh and I discussed how to get better at Testing and ways in which I could give back to the Tribe.
Niraj and I spoke about work, interests, running, yoga, religion, politics, ancient systems, climate change, economics and a few more. I am still amazed at how Niraj spoke with ease about each of these topics.
My memory can recall just these conversations, but I do remember conversing with each of the rest about their skills, experience and of course Testing!
The Mall Road, Apples and Chaat
After all the learning (which in itself was a lot of fun), it was time to have some fun and explore Shimla. The Mall Road houses several heritage sites that offered a rustic backdrop for group pictures. With night falling by the time we got there, the photos came out to be mystic.
Chaat and Rasmalai at a 120 year old halwai were delicious and so were the Apples. There was plenty of shopping opportunities as well!
Key Takeaways, Commitments, Testimonials, and Celebration
In my opinion, the best thing about TestAway is the format. With most day workshops and corporate trainings, the format is usually 9 AM to 5 PM. Since humans are very fallible, by the time everyone is involved in the event, significant time is lost. Further, as the end nears, people start getting restless, as they need to think about their families, dinner plans etc. Even though a lot of smart people take away a lot from these workshops, at an event like TestAway where people are closeted in one place for three full days, the scope for learning increases. We didn’t spend more time than in a day workshop, but the fact that we didn’t have anywhere else to get to allowed us to be relaxed and involve ourselves entirely in the events of the day.
My key takeaway from the event was a lot of inspiration and motivation to experiment with all aspects of life. I am committed to bringing about changes in the way I look at everything about Testing.
At the end of the event Mahesh requested us to write our testimonials. We attempted to explore our creative side for doing this and a glimpse of it can been seen in the photo.
We also celebrated the end of an awesome three days!
I want to thank Mahesh, Niraj, Ajay and the team behind TestAway Shimla for orchestrating this event in such a fluid manner. I want to thank each participant of TestAway Shimla for their time, sharing their thoughts, knowledge and experience. I want to thank Pradeep, Dhanasekar and Chandini from Moolya for allowing me to take leave soon after I joined them, to be part of this event.
To sum up the experience of TestAway Shimla, I would shout “High!” in response to someone asking me “How’s the josh?”. TestAway stood true to the Tag Line coLive. coLearn. coGrow. 🙂
Regards from Author,
Proud TestAway Tribal