Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fear Not True Belivers! Testing Heroes Are Out There

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
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“A Hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
- Christopher Reeve

This year started off with some tremendous growth for me in my work-life. I have been learning how to consult with clients, getting the hang of new technologies like Docker and Rancher, and even learning more subtle uses of JavaScript for automation.

All the while, I've been working with wonderful writers through Ministry of Testing, watching each one of their articles come to life and represent them in the best possible way in the community. The writing community itself has taken on a life and I see all the people involved doing amazing things.

Another contributor to that community, Gem Hill, asked me to be on her podcast. That was a great experience. I realized how much I missed being on the radio and working on a podcast. I contend that I tend to write better than I speak on most occasions and Gem did wonderful editing magic and even managed to get three podcasts out of our conversation. If you are wondering where the third podcast is, it's on Patreon.

The community is doing so many wonderful things and there are so many of us interconnected that I feel I have more support than ever from these heroes of testing.

Maaret Pyhäjärvi and her group of dedicated organizers wrapped up another year of the European Testing Conference. Watching the tweets and information pour out of that conference was exciting. I missed being there this year and have set my sights on going next year when it's held in Amsterdam.

Ministry of Testing: Test Bash is still going strong and ever-widening it's locations. There are, at last count, six conferences happening. Five in Europe and One in the US. Rosie Sherry and Richard Bradshaw along with many other folks who volunteer their energy and time to organizing Test Bashes have my profound respect for all they do to make the community more visible.

Lisa Crispin and I were scheduled to do a workshop at Agile Testing Days in Boston this year. Because of the political climate in the US right now, it was cancelled. I can understand this decision. I even respect it on some level. For me, I feel it was a missed opportunity to show what diversity at a conference looks like. I saw more women slotted to speak or give workshops at the ATD US conference than other conferences of the same size and scope.

I know Angie Jones and Ash Colman were also planning to speak. Two women of color who represent the testing community with a fierce dedication to their skills and craft. My hope is that I'll be able to see them speak at Test Bash Philly again or another conference very soon. They are inspiring, thoughtful speakers and I hope if you have a chance to see either one of them speak, you take it.

It's easy to be negative right now. 2017 hasn't made it easy to be positive with the political climate in the states or around the world. Many of us have been affected in small ways where before we might never have been.

Our community is getting stronger and it's growing more diverse all the time. There are folks out there working to make it so. My hope is that I am one of them, and in continuing to contribute, I can help that diversity along and our community can be a supporting pillar of what tech communities should do towards reaching for diversity in their communities and their work environments.

My personal challenge to you reader, is to write about your testing hero. It could be someone you work with or someone you've listened to or read. It could be a group of people in your community or a mentor that led you into your career in the first place. Post it somewhere. Post it here in the comments if you like. Talk about your testing heroes. We need them now more than ever.

 “My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results... but it is the effort that's heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”  ― George R.R. Martin

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Spell Check - An Accessibility Story

“One piece of wisdom a writer quickly learns ~ typos keep you humble.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri

“Mr. Tulliver did not willingly write a letter, and found the relation between spoken and written language, briefly known as spelling, one of the most puzzling things in this puzzling world. Nevertheless, like all fervid writing, the task was done in less time than usual, and if the spelling differed from Mrs. Glegg's,- why, she belonged, like himself, to a generation with whom spelling was a matter of private judgment.”
― George Eliot

I'm sure the Spell Check tool was planned to be more of a convenience rather than an accessibility  tool, but for me, it was a life saver, a teacher, and the best reference tool ever created, besides Google.

I've always been a pretty rotten speller. I don't remember a time I've ever passed a spelling test with an A or didn't manage to flip letters around as I write. Typewriters were a little easier and a computer, oh boy, AMAZING! The Backspace was the first miracle of modern technology I worshiped, and I haven't stopped since it showed up in my life a very long time ago.

I've always liked reading. I've always liked writing too. But my brain does funny things to words sometimes. They can jump or move, make my eyes tired, and the more difficult the material I'm trying to learn or write, the harder it gets because I try to concentrate on it even more.

It's annoying having Dyslexia. I have a very mild form of it. Just enough to make things difficult, but not so hard that I couldn't train myself to write with the correct spelling for things over the years. It has absolutely taken years to learn some words.

I've managed to learn most of them via Spell Checker.

The first ones weren't as intuitive as the versions we have now. I can write phonetically and pretty much have the spell checker catch exactly the word I'm trying to get to.

Back in the day, the internet didn't guess at what you were trying to look for or type (type-a-head and autocomplete didn't exist), so I went with whatever the closest thing was I could generally figure out. In college, I walked around with a pocket dictionary, but I still sucked at spelling. If the word was something I knew, it was easy to look up and get it right. If the word wasn't anywhere near what the sound in my brain was, I became lost in a dictionary that couldn't help me. This was the same for computers and word processing software back then too.

My brain also has a funny habit of skipping words in a sentence because I see the word in the sentence already. Especially the small words like 'it', 'a', or 'I'. I had to learn over a lot of time to fix this problem. {You'll notice that I've highlighted the words in red. These were originally skipped and then caught on a read-through.}When I'm rushed or distracted, you can tell in my writing. I skip over these words sometimes and others like them.

Taking Latin in high school made this spelling problem worse, even in my typing. I would add 'ae' or 'e' to the end of many words that didn't need it. I also combined words like "withe" - that's 'with the' just in case you might be wondering. It took a few more years to break the habit of Latin additions in my writing.

If Spell Check had never been created, I don't think I would be writing now. I honestly don't think I could have been seen as an effective communicator and I probably never would have survived working in the communications field for as long as I did.

Spell Check has literally opened a whole world to me that might have not been possible if I had been born a few decades earlier. I probably would have still managed to figure out ways to deal with my mild affliction, but it certainly would have taken more time and a tedious amount of attention to accomplish the same thing Spell Check has done for me.

Here's Where It Ties Into Testing

If you are out there right now adding or testing accessibility features for an application, thank you. Maybe they didn't understand when they added Spell Check to Word Perfect that it would be a kind of accessibility tool for some of us, but that's what it became to me.

We need more moments in software that allow those epic leaps forward for everybody. The easier we make it for people to have access to technology in any way we can, the more minds and hearts we can foster and give some of the capability of truly being able to communicate regardless of any limitation.

So many things could have been so very different without computers, especially for me. I certainly credit my mother with having some amazing foresight to take her tax return and plunk it down on a Tandy SL 1000 and make sure there was a word processing program on it. Who knows where I would be and what I would be doing if it wasn't for her and that Radio Shack computer.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Domain Is The Thing!

 “Time is a game played beautifully by children.”
― Heraclitus, Fragments

I had an interesting experience this weekend. A friend of mine contacted me and asked for some ideas to help her daughter learn about testing video games.

Think about that for a minute. I've had a lot of kids, including my oldest nephew ask about game design and creating video games, but my friend mentioned testing. Testing as a career. Testing as something that happens with a technology genre most kids are introduced to first.

Games and tech have had a long marriage and they have shepherded many a child into the tech industry with ideas of creating or designing games for the next generation of kids.

This isn't a new thing either. A friend of mine from my second grade class showed me game designs he had created on paper after I had shown him some of the stuff I was writing. We were 9 years old. Personal computers were barely an idea then. I know he was talking about the Atari or arcade games, but still, he was really sure of what he was going to do. I think I wanted to be a nurse, much like my mother. I don't know what he grew up to be, but I ended up being more drawn to computers and technology that I ever dreamed of at that age.

Finding Your Domain

These are suggestions for any tester who is asked the question, how do I get into an industry or area of knowledge and how do I test it. (This could also help with a career day if you volunteer to present for your child's class.)

Here were some of my suggestions:

- Study things outside of computer science like art, anthropology, psychology, history, music or even politics. Games have such a wide range of topics and ideas these days anything could be applicable.

- Computer science is always a good sector, but in the world of games, understanding graphics, design and design elements are a huge help, even if you are only involved in the back-end code.

- Graphics engines, monitor/display types and resolutions, basically any hardware you can find out about and a game could be played on. The more you know about it, the more you understand.

- Read technical magazines about game styles, gaming tech, gaming computers, basically anything that would collect information about not only opinions on the game play, but opinions and information about the hardware the games are meant to be played on.

- Fastest way to learn code is to do it.

For kids, I generally suggest to parents the Kano. It's a great little computer module based on Raspberry Pi and includes a lot of great visual content that allows users to "code" in a more visual manner. Adults can use it too, but it's definitely a good place for kids to start.

For adults, I have been suggesting - you are walked through the basics of what you would have to do to be a full stack developer. When you have completed the challenges, you have about 400 hours of development time under your name, along with projects you create along the way.

Understanding Your Domain

While some of this is domain specific, you can certainly apply them to basically any software development job your child could ask about. Technology and science are so vast and specialized these days, most topics or domains have a lot of journals, articles, blogs and even TV shows dedicated to the topics. Encourage them to find their favorites and learn.

Half Way To Testing

After your youngling does all of the research and understanding they could possibly manage, they can research testing.

Testing to me is like the icing for the figurative cake of development. It covers the cake and depending on the cake, it's in-between the layers too. All the reading and research informs you how various things interact between each other.

From the processor to the graphics cards, knowing about what is interacting with the software at a given time, and when, can give you a lot of ideas to test a video game, and that's just the functional parts. Apply that to other domains and you can easily see how this knowledge can inform testing. 

This is the VALUE that testers bring to the table every time. When you know even a hint of something about the area you are working in and use that to inform your testing, you can be an extremely powerful member of the team testing the software or hardware. 

Even answering a question about game testing could lead them to do amazing things which their technical skills will have been honed for from an early age. The idea of this makes me excited for the future of testing and what the next generation of testers will be doing.