Nurture the Bright Spots: Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing 2018

A peer conference is different from a regular conference. If you’re one of the lucky few to get invited, you find yourself in an environment surrounded by the best and the brightest. There will be presentations to spark a discussion, but the facilitated discussion is where the real learning occurs. It certainly puts the “confer” back in conference.

The Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing (or DEWT for short, rhymes with newt) in the fall of 2018 was the first one of these I attended outside of work. The theme was “Developing expertise in software testing.” The format of the gathering itself paired nicely with one of the main conclusions I took away from the weekend: choose the best people, foster an environment where they have the energy to learn and inspire others, and set aside time to reflect.

Gorgeous sunrise on our morning run

Here are some of the things I think about at least once a week back at work:

“You let people annoy you by not pushing back.”

People cannot read your mind. If something is bothering you and you never bring it up, how are they supposed to figure it out? Try to find something small to be firm about, and build from there.

“People relax when you say it’s time-boxed.”

Sometimes I’d rather stop fighting than win. I think it’s clear that a bug should be investigated, but someone else believes it’s not worth any time. Instead of deciding yes or no based on insufficient information, I’ve found “let’s look at this for two hours and decide if we should keep going” gets more people on board and allows the conversation to move on.

“When you ask a difficult question, sometimes people ask a simpler question in their head and answer that.”

One of the questions I was trying to help answer this week was “should we release next week?” The team and I found it easier to answer adjacent questions instead of the big one we needed. We could find answers to “are there pieces of work we need to complete before the release?”, “are those pieces of work estimated?”, “could the tests that aren’t passing expose risk to our company’s bottom line?”. I can see how some of the answers to these smaller questions can support an answer to the larger one. My worry is that getting “yes, this is fine” to something small will accidentally result in a “yes, this is fine” to the overall question.

I don’t have more to add or break down regarding these thoughts, but I can tell you that I nodded knowingly when they were said.

  • “Regression sprint.”
  • “I can’t change other people for them.”
  • “If it’s overwhelming, take a smaller step.”
  • “An expert is someone who learns the fastest.”
  • “My standards are not necessarily ‘the’ standard.”
  • “Internal conferences help people see good work.”
  • “As knowledge workers, we are the means of production!”
  • “Sometimes you’re only doing enough work not to get fired.”
  • “How do I tell you I disagree with you without ending the conversation?”

These are the books that were both (a) mentioned explicitly enough for me to find them and (b) worthy of adding to my exponentially-growing Goodreads backlog.

(If you’re looking for books you can’t miss about sociology and psychology, follow Maaike Brinkhof on Goodreads.)

The retrospective asked us a big question that I wasn’t prepared to answer in the waning hours of the conference: What were we going to change in our jobs, in our lives, in our coaching of our colleagues when we got back to work on Monday? I only realized later that someone proclaimed a mission statement that I’d like to adopt:

I will bring you discomfort. I will stay critical when everyone else thinks we’re done.

I’ll start there. But I’ll also make time. I’ll step back. I’ll think about what you’ve done. Only then can I grow.

Thanks to Jean-Paul Varwijk and Joris Meerts for organizing DEWT 2018, and Klaartje van Zwoll, Claire Goss, and Maaike Brinkhof for reminding me how refreshing peers can be. If you don’t have an entire weekend to discover deep truths with your peers, try watching Vera Gehlen-Baum’s A Software Tester’s Guide to Expertise instead.

Originally published on Medium.