ETC 2016 seen by Altoms: Notes on talks and workshops

We participated in the first edition of the European Testing Conference and returned with many notes, ideas and impressions which we would like to share with you.

This is the first post in an ETC 2016 series, dedicated to the talks and workshops that we attended. We have no time-turner, or its creator’s ease with writing, so there are a number of sessions that this post does not cover. In round parantheses next to the title of each of the sessions tackled you will find the name of the Altom sharing their thoughts.

Feel free to add comments and/ or share your notes from the conference!


Fixed versus Agile slide from Linda Rising's presentation

Linda Rising: The Power of an Agile Mindset (Oana)

Linda Rising had the opening keynote and I think that was a very good idea. I’m curious if somebody, after hearing her talk – The Power of an Agile Mindset – was still afraid of asking a “stupid” question during the conference. She talked about 2 mindsets: “fixed” and “growth”, that were described in the Mindset book by Carol Dweck. I’ll definitely get the book and read it!

In short, she talked about some experiments where kids were given an easy test. Then they were praised differently, one group for being smart, and the other for working hard. These praises shaped different behaviours in the 2 groups, which I found very interesting. The “fixed mindset” group prefered easier tests, lied about results to maintain the good image, and their results at tests got worse. The “growth mindset” group had a preference for more challenging tests, had an inclination to learn and had better results at subsequent tests.

You can read more about the experiments in the slides Linda made available. Now, what my takeaways are:

  1. The things we say may trigger mindsets and unwanted behaviors. I will have to watch out not to fall into the trap of putting labels on the people around me, like “smart”, “great” and so on. I want to praise the behavior and not the person, when at work and in my personal life.
  2. I want to help people around me become aware of the ways of thinking that are  “fixed”: “This is how I am”, “I’m like this or like that” and so on. If I don’t notice when people use them, I may also end up thinking the same about me.
  3. I should not give up the idea that attitude is crucial and learning is the key element, especially when it comes to testers. When looking for new colleagues, learning should continue to be the top skill that we’re taking into consideration. I definitely wish to avoid the “rank and yank” strategy.


Linda Rising: The Power of an Agile Mindset (Dolly)

My takeaways: This session made me think about how people are influenced by the context they live in. Although I had read about the experiment before, it was surprising for me that people thought that they wouldn’t look ‘good’ if willing to try new things. Accepting and facing challenges, learning from new experiences is what helps us improve ourselves constantly. In fact, this is what could make us look ‘good’ even if we failed in what we are facing.

But then I realised that the ‘fixed’ mindset group had this context. They were all thinking alike. Everyone from that group knew that if they failed they would be seen as the most weak or stupid in that group. They could not take risks because then they wouldn’t fit in anymore. Also, there were no other people in their group who would have appreciated them for taking risks.

So my main takeaway is that if your context is not helping you learn, improve and grow then leave it and find a new ‘group’!



Christina Ohanian: Unleash your creativity and become a better tester (Dolly)

Christina’s story was about how her sketches helped the entire team make decisions. She had joinined the planning meetings and the meetings about new features with the designers and the BA and PM and, while they were discussing, she started sketching to visualise what they were talking about. In the end, all the participants in the meetings were discussing based on her sketches because all of them had found help in visualising the issues that were discussed.

My takeaways: Be part of the team! Join every meeting you feel you can bring value to. Bring your set of skills to the table. Gain the trust of your team.



Emma presenting during the talk

Emma Keaveny: Dark Patterns – A Tester’s Quandary (Simina)

The first things that struck me at Emma were her unselfconscious appearance and friendliness. She put the first on the fact that she is Irish. For me they made her and her presentation more genuine.

The subject was not a state-of-the-art topic: we all have been fooled by applications, haven’t we? I’ve been. But I never thought thoroughly on it. Emma did. She didn’t discover them at her job, but at a Weekend Testing session when she lost some money due to a dark pattern in a LinkedIn app. What I liked was that she researched it, brought both tester and user perspective on it and put it into a presentation. It’s nice to see fellow testers in constant learning mode, getting outside the comfortable 9-to-5 schedule, asking help when faced with a problem or trouble and returning to the community to share their lessons learned.  

Some new things that I found: a dark pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills. Emma mentioned some types and examples, that are available on the slides and on the dedicated site of the guru of dark patterns – yes, there is one!

What could testers do when they discover dark patterns in their application under test? Emma asked around and gathered some heuristics. Talking about it with stakeholders may get bring some light upon the dark pattern. Also, a tester in doubt could use Jakob Nielsen’s Usability Heuristics for UI Design or Michael Bolton’s FEW HICCUPPS heuristics to determine if the suspicious behaviour is indeed a dark pattern. Nonetheless, personal integrity, codes of ethics and … feelings are also heuristics in such situations.

Surprisingly, there was a case in which a dark pattern led to something good – although I believe that some people may still argue about it. I will let you think about what that case could be. And then I recommend you watch this Ted talk for insightful extensions of the concept of dark patterns.  


Chris Matts: We don’t need testers! What we really need is testers! (Simina)

Wait, what?! What don’t we need? OK, read the title again… The antithesis still doesn’t make sense?

I’ll give it to Chris Matts, the pun in the title of his talk was puzzling, yet catchy. Especially when preceded by the Keynote tag; and at a testers conference!

Being myself a tester and big fan of wordplays, I initially made an analogy with “The King is dead, long live The King!”. What a (professional) self-centered idea! It turned out that I wasn’t that wrong.

In his talk Chris stressed the idea that we, testers, should redefine our role and the scope of our actions and influence. I could easily understand where this comes from, as he presents himself as an “Agile Practitioner who does whatever is needed. As a result he takes on the role of project manager, business analyst, tester and even developer”. Testers could do the same.

In order to illustrate this idea, Chris used an intricate metaphor that will probably stick as an icon of his presentation: he compared software with jelly, as they are both difficult to measure. The tester should be a jelly mold maker, not a jelly measurer. This means that as testers we are product builders, not product measurers. Our role should be bigger than it is usually perceived, more valuable and with a higher status.

How should we get there? One idea Chris mentioned would be to facilitate communication within the team. We may be part of an extended Three Amigos formula: project manager, developer and tester; UX researcher, UX designer, data analyst, architect and security specialist. Each of them are stakeholders from whom we should gather information and to whom we should provide information. This approach should redefine our role as both testers and product quality designers, it should put us both in the team that builds the product right and in the one the builds the right product. This is why Chris said that we don’t need testers, what we really need is teSters.

I enjoyed the way Chris delivered this content. It was an example of great presentation skills. I found it engaging as well: for starters, I was looking forward to solve the riddle from the title. Moreover, we were involved in short games and we answered key questions by show of cards. Yes, cards. Chris used a gimmick: he gave green and red business cards that we later used to answer his questions, like “Who thinks this is a tester’s role? Use green card!”. Funny references on slides, role playing, hiding behind a sponsor’s rollup to impersonate one of the “amigos”, all these made the talk quite entertaining.

I’m glad that Chris, in his versatile role, promoted this sound mindset on testing. It matches my vision, as a context-driven tester, that testing is an empirical, technical investigation conducted with the aim to provide stakeholders with information about the quality of the product. I know that there are still testers that limit their work to comparing a product to some specifications or executing meaningless test cases. And it’s good that people like Chris, who is not necessarily a fully dedicated tester, contribute to the efforts on changing testing mindsets.

Overall, it was an inspiring, engaging talk that I believe will do us good.


Maaret Pyhäjärvi: Learning in layers (Levi)

Considering that this talk was replacing the one the organizers had planned, I think it was quite successful. It was very different than any of the others I went to, in the sense that Maaret proposed to show us how she actually tests. She did this by asking a volunteer (Amit) and guiding him using the strong style pairing method (more on this here). The software she chose to test was called darkFunction and it’s used by game developers to create animations.

While doing this, she also guided us (the listeners) through her thought processes. This was very interesting for me, to see how others work and think, and I was amused to see that Maaret and I do quite a few things in a similar fashion while exploring software (similarities include: the way we look for information about things we don’t understand, the way we restructure our map of what we explored all the time).

Another aspect I liked was seeing the strong style pairing in action (I had heard it explained earlier at the conference and was curious of how it would actually work). I already proposed to try it out on the project I am working on!

My tl;dr takeaways:

  • learn more about strong style pairing and try it out
  • it’s OK to wander


Maaret Pyhäjärvi & Dan Billing: Mob security testing workshop (Levi)

The workshop’s aim was to practice mob testing by taking a site and trying to discover specific security vulnerabilities in it. Each member of the mob would take turns at the keyboard while another member gave instructions on how to proceed (keeping the current goal in mind). I chose to talk about this workshop because it contrasts well with my observations on Maaret’s talk (and it was facilitated by Maaret and Dan).

While the goal of the workshop was to show mob testing in action, I paid more attention to how it was facilitated, and how each member ‘navigated’ and ‘drove’ (which were the 2 active roles the participants took turns filling in alternately).

While earlier I had seen how the strong style method could be used to bring value to pairing (all participants remain engaged, stuff sound different when you put them into words), during the mob security testing workshop I recognized some things that I needed to refrain myself from doing in order to apply the method well; like doing the thing myself if I had failed to explain it clearly, instead of trying other ways of explaining – Dan did this quite a few times while trying to help.

Another thing I found useful was that during the breaks Maaret asked the listeners (the rest of us in the room) to give feedback on post-it notes on what was going on with the mob, and after reading them, they tried to adjust to it on the go… and it actually worked! (the mob kept their focus, the rate of interruptions lessened).

My tl;dr takeaways:

  • try to stick to the strong style pairing method so you get better at explaining your thoughts
  • it could be useful to ask for feedback while I work, so I can adjust and improve my work on the fly


Maaret Pyhäjärvi & Dan Billing: Mob security testing workshop (Dolly)

I enjoyed the idea of mob testing. The way I see it, it is a great opportunity to work with people you wouldn’t have had the chance to, to observe their way of thinking, their way of approaching testing, and to ‘steal’ ideas from them. I think this is a great exercise in which you can learn from other testers while working with them.


Our notes on the talks and workshops run at ETC 2016 end here. The next post in the series will tackle the lean coffee and open space sessions!



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