Category Archives: personal retrospective

EuroSTAR 2019 – working well

It’s been a busy year preparing for and delivering the EuroSTAR 2019 conference; a year when I have learnt so much about myself, and about the team around me. A year when we have worked hard, and worked well, and so delivered a successful conference.

EuroSTAR Conference logo over an image of Charles Bridge, Prague

I set the theme for the year as “Working Well” and my first thoughts around that were about how the software, products and services that we test and deliver must work well for our customers – the people using or affected by the software. We need practices that work well for us, in order to test and deliver good software. How people work together, and the wellness of those people – that is also part of working well. And finally we have challenges – things that might stop us working well. In the call for papers, I asked people to submit ideas for sessions that expressed one or more of those different approaches to Working Well.

Conference theme - Working Well has four part: Purpose, Practices, People and Challenges.

Around me – planning and preparing for the conferences, and of course helping to deliver it, I have had a great team. Both the EuroSTAR team and the Programme Committee have been amazing all year, as were the volunteers, speakers, and exhibitors at the conference. I have had strong and positive lessons and reinforcements in being able to trust other people working as a team, in letting go control to other people to deliver a shared vision, and allowing myself to be surprised and delighted by what other people deliver when I step back.

Programme Committee: Isabel with Ioanna Chiorean, Gitte Ottosen, Jean-Paul Varwijk

Here are some things that we – the team -did together that were new for this year and which made me proud to be part of the team:

Our ability to work well is rooted in a foundation of being well ourselves, and we delivered a conference that in every way expressed the theme – we had wellness embedded, with yoga and a quiet room as well as the traditional morning run, as well as plenty of opportunities to re-hydrate, re-fuel, and relax.

EuroSTAR Wellness Logo

As part of that wellness, within the conference we thought about listening well, discussing kindly, listening to all viewpoints:

We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. Thich Nhat Hanh

Software and products that work well require – in my view – both diversity and inclusiveness in who we involve in the discussions, decisions and design. We expressed this in the conference by the range of ideas and speakers, by giving the Women in Test diversity session its own conference time on Thursday, and by having a new session – diversity strikes – where we asked the delegates at the conference to put themselves forward to speak for 4 minutes on the main stage – we had 5 wonderful speakers, with a diversity of messages about diversity, coming from the conference itself. Very proud of them, and of the session!

EuroSTAR Conference Diversity Strikes logo

There are many great speakers, and it is often a puzzle to know how you become a keynote – we introduced the New Generation Keynote mentoring scheme, mentored by Fiona Charles. The next generation keynotes were fabulous, and each delivered an important message – about customers, about aiding each other, about listening.

Photographs of the three next generation keynotes: Adonis Celestine, Shelley Lambert and Ryan Volker

The rest of the conference – the keynotes, the tutorials, the workshops, the tracks, the huddle, clinic and test lab, the expo, and the social events were all fabulous, I was so happy with the keynotes; they showed the theme as they took us through challenges that we and they face. They showed us that to tackle those challenges we need knowledge, ethics, empathy, questioning, critical thinking, problem solving, listening, involving customers – all helping us deliver our practices better – modes of testing at different stages through the life of a software product – from concept, to design, to build and into production. We face complex challenges, and we can overcome them.

Photographs of the four keynote speakers: Chris McKillop, Fiona Charles, Alex Bauduin, Dona Sarkar

Finally, the gala awards night was so special, and I am so pleased that Fiona Charles – that modest giant of our industry – received the Testing Excellence Award – I’m proud that happened on my watch!

At the end of conference, we had a moment of gratitude, remembered what we are capable of becoming, and set our intentions to take our learning back with us, and to work well for others and the world, while taking care of ourselves.

Close your eyes for a moment of gratitude. "In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher" HIs Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
A moment of preparation. "You are already what you want to become" Thich Nhat Hanh
Working well: A moment of intention. "Whenever we see something which could be done to bring benefit to others, no matter how small, we should do it"  Chamgon Khentin Tai Situ Rinpoche

Thank you to everyone who helped make EuroSTAR 2019 happen – you exemplify what working well means, by your dedication and your teamwork throughout the year, and throughout the conference! We rolled the credits at the end of the conference with about 1000 people to thank!! It was a wonderful year of teamwork to bring it all together, and I am so happy and honoured to have been the chair for 2019. Here are some links to photos that other people took:

  • The EuroSTAR team took these photos and published them via (to be added)

Good luck to Rik Marsalis, the EuroSTAR 2020 Programme Chair, and to all the team who will I know work well with him to deliver a great conference!

CHIIR 2019 – S3 follow up reminder notes for Isabel

More notes from CHIIR 2019 –
so here are some highlights of session 3 … The audience I anticipate for this blog is 1 – namely myself when I want to remember what happened… so if you are not me reading this, apologies for the quick notes nature of it…. and there is probably both more detail than you need and yet… not enough. Follow the links to the papers if you are interested…

Session 3 paper 1: Knowledge context in search systems: towards information-literate actions By Catherine L Smith and Soo Young Rieh, see for the paper. This really interested me – a perspectives paper about how we learn, and whether we learn, when using search engines. Main points:

  • “the knowledge content in SERPs has great potential for facilitating human learning, critical thinking and creativity by expanding searchers’ information-literate activities such as comparing, evaluating, and differentiating between information sources”
  • “we discuss design goals for search systems that support metacognitive skills required for long-term learning, creativity and critical thinking”
  • I made a note during the presentation – we don’t remember information stored on teh computer but we have a feeling that we do know it, and we do remember where we stored it (?) – it makes it harder to learn somethign new. Quoted Sparrow, Liv & Wegner 2011 – we remember where but we don’t remember what e.g. phone numbers. It strikes me that this is perhaps OK for phone numbers – we’ll find them on the phone or in an address phone (virtual or physical) – but for information generally on the web, it must be harder – the “where” is much more diffuse. Comment in the presentation that the feeling of knowing increases with searching on the web even if the search returns irrelevant information. Comment in the presentation that the accuracy of our judgement about whether we know something is reduced by using websearch.
  • the paper and presentation calls for the support of information literate searching. The design of search engines to support greater information literacy by conextualising search results, and actually slowing people down so they are supported in long term learning.
  • I compare this paper to the paper “Chooosing the right test automation tool: a grey literature review of practitioner sources” (2017) Raulamo-Jurvanen, Mantyla, Garousi
    • in the grey literature review, one of the findings was that when people look for information on the web about test tools, they pick off the most popular, most mentioned tools and resources. Therefore if those tools are popular / fashionable but not necessarily right for the searcher’s context, they may end up with the wrong tool for their purpose.
    • quotes from that grey literature review: once people had chosen a tool based on their web-search for information “trial use would often lead to wrong decisions” Question: the popular tools – are they popular because they are good, or popular because they are popular and therefore user groups, support, etc? Also note their point at the end of the paper on cognitive overload – so people choose what is obvious. “tendency for cognitive overload is likely to increase the prevalence of shortcut decision making proportionately” “social proof as a weapon of influence is claimed to be most influential under 2 conditions: uncertainty and similarity” the authors referring to Cialdini.
    • Taking the two papers together, does this indicate that testers (and other people invlved in test tool selection) need support for better decision making – better information literacy when looking for information about tools and automation?
      • do I know it?
      • can I find it?
      • having found it do I know how to judge it and whether to trust it?
  • The knowledge context for a tester is testing as a discipline, within IT the industry, to serve a particular domain. A tester requires knowledge and infomation literacy across all those knowledge contexts. Testers need to be critical thinkers – the points made in Smith & Rieh about the use of ILA “may be seen as an indicator that the system is not sufficiently optimised” – does that indicate that search engines as a source for information about tools reduces critical thinking? Key quote “In order to learn, understand, and gain confidence in their knowledge, information literate people ask and answer questions about the information they encounter” Critical thinking and making indeppendent judgements are key characteristics of good testers.
  • Also explore the points on transactive memory – where teams / pairs “split responsibility for remembering parts of the information required to complete a task” – how does that sit with the dev/test relationship? different track to purpue – not for research, just interesting
  • Summary findings are that when people believe information will be stored on a computer they are less likely to remember it, and more likely to remember where the informaiton is. … the use of web search leads people to overestimate how much they know.”
    • in testing we use the concept of the oracle for test results
    • which I have always found funny given that oracles (eg Delphi) tended to be ambiguous and easy to misinterpret
    • information literacy includes the use of multiple oracles, and comparing them – and indeed not treating them as oracles, but as information sources to be critically assessed and questioned.
    • The ways we understand whether to trust information includes the “bibliographic knowledge-context” (publisher, author, form, reading level scores) and the “inferential knowledge-context” (other works, comparisons, citations, history, versions, valence / biases) – can this be mapped to how we understand tools?
    • for testers, there is a tension between a need to get information quickly and the need to critically assess that information – especially when we are in a hurry. What can we trust?
      • testers use web sources to learn – need to critically assess those sources
      • testers provide information obtained from tools – need to critically assess that information
  • this reminds me of the point in the conversation with Dot Graham on the “illusion of usability”

CHIIR 2019 – papers S1/S2 – follow up reminder notes for Isabel

The whole conference was exciting, friendly, so packed with information that by the end of Wednesday I was unable ingest any further ideas!!! It was just great. I got something from each session and there were a couple I wanted to follow up on for specific reasons – so here are some highlights of session 1 and session 2 … The audience I anticipate for this blog is 1 – namely myself when I want to remember what happened… so if you are not me reading this, apologies for the quick notes nature of it…. and there is probably both more detail than you need and yet… not enough. Follow the links to the papers if you are interested…

  • Session1, Paper 1: Learning about work tasks to inform intelligent assistant design (presented by Johanne Trippas and with a huge list of co-authors – see for the paper)
  • Here are some notes I made during the talk… and at the conference after a brief chat with Johanne:
    • wanting to empower people in their work
    • need to understand how people complete tasks
    • looked at cyber, social and physical aspects
    • asked people what tasks they were doing at work, and how much time on each task…
    • what do we mean by “context” when the context is the workplace?
    • need to understand HOW people complete tasks – thinking about collaboration, how much movement/physical activity is involved, how people are using tools (and which tools), how people classify their tasks, how the tasks change over time (of day, of week?)
    • find out what people want from intelligent assistants
      • task management
      • task tracking
      • (Isabel thought – Hmmm – so a mix of a manager and a PA??? As we talk more about self-managed teams, agile methods, etc… as we remove those human interactions and support that we get from a good manager, or a good PA… are we leaving people a little lost? feeling a little abandoned…?)
    • from the findings make recommendations for improving intelligent assistants at work.
    • Information workers do multiple tasks, what is a meaningful breakdown of those tasks? Hierarchy of activity/purpose of tasks – getting people to categorise their tasks is difficult – (thought from Isabel – do people understand their tasks in terms of the reason they are employed, why their organisation needs them, their purpose… or do they see their tasks as a series of small busy things, that don’t particularly relate to a wider purpose?
  • And here are some notes I made when reading the paper post conference:
    • a note is made about several ways to understand tasks – and refs to ways to do this ***follow up*** This could be a way to look at how people relate testing tasks to tools and to automation???
      • diary studies
      • naturaliistid field studies
      • lifelog analysis
      • statistical time use surveys
      • sudies of information needs, communications, information seeking – these could be relevant for methods???
      • survey (method used in this paper)
      • (Isabel note: cyber, physical and social activities – that is an interesting split; being at work is not just about completing tasks, there is also an element of the team or department as a community, and the physical part – that’s interesting – the effect on one’s body of the way the tasks are done…)
      • (isabel note: the poitn about the lack of penetration of intelligent assisitants for more complex tasks… I need to look again at Paul Gerrard’s talk about “testing with my invisible friend” and talk with him about what progress he has made… (see and Marianne’s sketchnote is a nice summary:
      • a note in section 2.3 about KUshmerick and Lau using FSM’s to formalise e-commerce transactions… Hmmm – could that be a tool / technique to document interactions in a test team between test designers and automators…??? ***think about this***
      • I can see looking at section 2.3 that I am looking at a subset of a subset of tasks… Uness I get interested in what distracts people from their main/key task??? leave that one alone for now…
      • The categories used in this paper’s task taxonomy could be a useful starting point for a taxonomy of testing tasks – it would be interesting to see if testers divided up their time in a similar way, and what sub-categories there might be under each category in the taxonomy. I know how I would break it down for how I work – but would it be the same for other testers? It could be quite different…
        • for example “IT” is one category and “project” is another… so if you are in IT, then (I guess) IT activities you do in order to provide yourself with an infrastructure to do your own testing are in “IT” and activities you do in order to test software being delivered in a project to a customer are “project” activities, so is managing the test automation an “IT” task – because it supports the testing… and is not in itself the purpose of the project… It would interesting to see how testers categorise it…
      • I’m interested in the point in section 4.4 about how intelligent assistants could help with longer durations tasks – the idea of an assistant that keeps a note of incomplete tasks to be resumed for example. (Isabel note to self: Have a look at agile/lean/kanban task duration recomendations and see if that fits with the task times being reported in this paper – what is the longest task people can work with as a “long task”? Is the “length of meeting” rule I was brought up onstill valid? (no more than 2 hours, pref no more than an hour, break after an hour, attention into flow state after 15-20 mins, How does that fit with the “15 min standup meeting advice for Scrum?” )
      • section 4.5 lists some tools people use (digital and physical such as post it notes, paper calendar – make sure I have physical tools included in what I ask about.
      • Concluding note – there is a lot for me to follow up in this paper, and ideas to use as a model for surveys and analysis.
  • Session 2 paper 3: Take me out: space and place in library interactions George Buchanan, Dana McKay, Stephann Makri. The paper is here:
    • This presentation and paper interested me partly as a library user, partly because of some new-to-me concepts the authors discussed, and partly as some input into UX/devices&Desires/imagine-our-customers sessions that I have coming up soon.
    • I liked the idea of place and space – the physical location and layout, versus the semantic meaning. For example “a place with lots of bookshelves is not necessarily a library” so we look at what people do as well as opposed to what they ask for… or talk about
      • Isabel note: in the same way – when does a test lab become a test lab? When is it an “information place” and what else could it be? Is this s useful idea to explore?
    • They talked about “wizard of oz” methods – I had not heard of that before – need to look into it…
    • They talked about the movement between physical and digital media when looking for information in a library. Isabel note: that too could be analogius?
    • “people reconstruct the technology you give them” – interesting quote – technologists provide methods, approaches, devices, etc but how people react to that may be unexpected, and the devices might be used for different purposes, in different ways. (That came up in the Museums keynote too – that people don’t interact with technology in the way curators expect)
    • from the paper:
      • “information interactions are strongly affected by the place where they occur”
      • “There is considerable ignorance of and resistance to the use of digital resources … some of which is related to the physical realities of the library”
      • section 2.2. seems to indicate that digital resources in a library are behaving like “closed stack” systems – where you need to know what you want and order it by name – rather than open-stack systems where you browse the shelves and serendipity leads you to new books, authors, topics…
      • paper quotes Warwick “danger of technocratic arrogance if we assume everythign can be modelled digitaly and thus improved” [ref is #21 in this paper – Warwick, C., 2017 “Beauty is truth: Multisensory inputand the challenge of designign aesthetically pleasing digital resources”]
      • note from Isabel – I was reminded of my experiences when Worcester public library merged with the Worcester Uni library – so that instead fo finding say “gardening books” all together, they were split across agriculture, horticulture, design… so that the shelves were a mix of amateur / easy to read and academic / industrial / professional – my personal experience was that I know found it harder to find what I needed… or I caught myself up in looking at additional material that was not really relevant. There is tension between relevance and serendipity…
      • note from Isabel: the lesson for the TX research is maybe about making the tester’s workspace (physical and digital) work as one – and also for other stakeholders for testing – think about how the information reaches them, how the medium for that information fits with each person’s working preference? WIthout being “gimmicky” (see section 9 of the paper)
      • quote: “designers should consider space and place carefully when designing mobile experiences”

CHIIR conference report – keynote highlights

The conference opened on Monday with a keynote from Ranjitha Kumar, which I found eye-opening and inspiring. Her team are working on “Data Driven Design: beyond AB testing” She pointed out that money spent on design does not always repay in results, and that A/B testing can be usefully supplemented with oher methods. In particular her team is working on “design mining” (rather than data mining) to find out what designs are being used elsewhere – she said there is a rich seam of designs available which give inspiration and a test / review point. She talked about the need to connect design with KPI’s, and to understand the success of designs in terms of their effect on KPI’s.

The second keynote, on Tuesday was also fascinating. Daniela Petrelli showed three case studies of making visitor experiences during museum visits multisensory, more engaging and more memorable. By using IoT technology, objects can be used to engage visitors in specific stories. I particularly loved the votary lamp that allows visitors to an exhibit on Hadrian’s wall chose three items – each a different god – and receive a personalised postcard with oracle-like messages. This a study at Chesters Fort , specifically around the Visitor eXperience of the Clayton collection. The three case studies indicated that visitors are more engaged and remember more, because they slow down and take longer to examine objects, when they use a physical object to access information – rather than a digital screen/phone. The IoT technology allows small objects – facsimiles that can be held in one’s hand – to be used to interact with video, audio, etc related to exhibits, and allow visitors to choose the viewpoint they experience in their journey through the museum.

I loved these two keynotes, interesting in so many ways – for me as a comsumer of information on the web and in museums, but also as a test consultant. Possible analogies – these gave me some thoughts about the experience of testers in their projects.

  • For example, if it true that people are more engaged and remember more when interacting with physical objects, could we use this idea to change how people examine and interact with information generated by testing? This is NOT age related… What does it tell us about how we generate, use and display information?
  • for example, if design mining is a useful supplement to A/B testing, how could it be used to supplement how we test designs – could it be a source for heuristics to use when testing interface designs?
  • for example, what we as digital experts provide and are proud of, is not always what the consumers of our work want or expect, For example, the questions that a search engine or chat bot responds to are not always the questions consumers want to ask. How can testers find out and understand what consumers actually want? That includes the consumers of the information from testing.
  • From those questions, I wonder about our testing dashboards – not for the first time in my decades in industry – and why we don’t talk with our stakeholders, in their language. I’ve been talking about this for years, presenting on it, teaching about it… I’ll continue with that. Quote from K1 about fashion websites – customers ask for “hot pink” websites talk about “Fuchsia” or “magenta”
  • K2 provided a mini lifecycle for co-design and co-development where a technical person, a designer and a curator get together and split apart repeatedly to generate and test the ideas and design for artefacts. Is there an analogy to the developer, UXer and product Owner, and if so, where is the testing, and is there a need for a specific tester role?

CHIIR Conference Glasgow March 2019: Tutorial report

This was my first time at CHIIR, and it was a really enjoyable experience; lovely people, great community spirit and the sessions were full of information and discussion. I started with the Tutorial on Sunday 10th March “Coding qualitative data: you asked them, now what to do with what they said” led by Dr Rebekah Willson (University of Strathclyde). There is a pleasure in being taught by a good teacher who enjoys their subject, even if the subject is not one of direct interest. As it happens, the subject for this tutorial was right on topic for me, right now, so a double pleasure. A really good session, which Dr Willson described as a “whirlwind tour”, but in fact gave space for us to work in pairs on an exercise, discuss and feedback. I’ve come away from that tutorial feeling more confident that I can code up the qualitative data I have collected so far in my studies.

We covered a step by step approach to coding qualitative data, bearing in mind the “paradigm shift in thinking” as one moves from quantitative to qualitative methods: we’re dealing with the human and that is messy, challenging, based on experiences and beliefs, and allows a broader, holistic understanding, albeit one that is constructionist, with the researcher involved in the research, giving multiple meanings, multiple interpretations. We are there, we are part of the process, so we have to think about the role we have and what we are doing. The result of qualitative data collection is richer data that is more difficult to interpret. We are asking “Why did they do/say that?” There are several approaches to coding, and so it is important to choose one and stick with it. There are challenges of qualitative research being in itself a learning process – it is messy, it is fun, and doing it shows you how to do it. It is normal to be confused and overwhelmed. That’s a helpful thought. Dr Willson chose to show us one route through, with a series of iterating steps, providing a robust and rigorous approach to analysing qualitative data. She reminded us that a negative/opposing result can often be the most useful and interesting thing to explore – why is that case different? It is about following where the data leads, and moving from the concrete to the abstract. Looking for similarities, grouping and classifying. She talked about the process feeling uncomfortable, which I find to be true – like wandering in a fog and occasionally glimpsing the light!

When we gather data for a qualitative study, we usually have a vast volume of material – for a example, transcribing an interview can give you 1000’s of words of material. Furthermore, when you ask open questions, the answers are unpredictable and often richer than you’d anticipated. This fits with what’s happening for me. Instead of asking “what is your job title?” and “what is your education?” in a recent survey, because of a limit on the number of questions – I combined the two into “Tell me a bit about yourself” and received back long essays that told me such a variety of things, and sparked so many questions that I had not thought to ask, around ideas that I now see are interesting to explore… Dr Willson said we must pay attention to anything that is potentially interesting, code it up and then refine our ideas – grouping, splitting up, asking new questions of the data, all the time moving from a broad view of the data to a deeper focus. Also, be rigorous and trustworthy – sharing how we code the data, what steps we took, taking an iterative approach, triangulating across data sources, including negative examples, making our codebook available, making our inclusion/exclusions available. The researcher must be trustworthy, and if more than one persons is coding – this is a good thing to check for consistency of interpretation, provided that there is inter-coder reliability; we need clear codes, clear reasons for using the codes, clear inclusion and exclusion criteria. This means we’ve moved from the initial coding exercise to a focused coding stage, using a code book. The coders code separately and then compare results.

Dr Willson described several methodologies for qualitative analysis, and explained that the choice of methology is affected by the research questions. The methodology she showed us in detail, and which we practised in the exercises is Thematic Analysis. She talked about two levels of engaging with the data: the SEMANTIC level where we look for and code things that are expliciit in the data, and the LATENT level where we look ideas and assumptions implicit in the data. We need to decide ahead of time which we do. In thinking about these levels, we start to realsie that what people say and what they do can be different – so field notes about behaviour become part of the data. As well as text, we might collect and analyse video, audio, images and so on. The steps in thematic analysis are:

  1. familiarise – read the text several times and take notes. Do it line by line!
  2. generate initial codes, get to know the data – again line by line.
  3. start to look for patterns in the codes, perhaps ways they group
  4. make themes of one or more codes – overarching ideas that cut across the codes.
  5. review the themes against the data… do they make sense?
  6. and do it again…

Defining and naming the themes provides the analytic power – think about what the thme can contribute. Themes can have subthemes, so there can be a hierarchy of themes, subthemes, categories, and codes. The code book has the full description of these, and each code and theme has a single word or short phrase descriptive name. Relate the codes and themes back to the research questions. As this process is worked through, the research questions might change – because we realise the data is pointing us in a new direction. We need durign research to constantly revist our questions, out data, our themes and codes t ensure we are following the data, asking the right questions, revisiting, enlarging and clarifying, all the time. Whether we start from a deductive approach (where we predefine the codes to support our idea and the questions we want to explore) or an inductive approach (where we explore the data, come up with codes and build to themes and questions) or move between the two – always we need to keep revisiting the data. Follow up, change the questions, revisit ideas, identify what is different, look for variations…

Later in the week, the conference dinner was at the Science Museum, and while there I noticed a mural/display that said “We are all scientists; we all observe, find reasons, look for relationships, categorise and make models” Unfortunately my photo of it is too blurry to share… but it summarised the tutorial and the week for me. Thank you, Dr Willson for a brilliant tutorial!

EuroSTAR 2017 and 2018

I’m reflecting briefly on EuroSTAR 2017 and EuroSTAR 2018 together in this blog – because it is too late to publish what I had written about 2017 when I forgot to press the publish button….

EuroSTAR 2017 was very enjoyable. I presented a half-day tutorial which I felt went well, presented a track session, which I felt went well, and hosted a couch session where a group of us discussed leadership… Also had many discussions, metold friends, made new friends. So I arrived at the gala dinner, cheerful, hppy with what I had achieved, pleased to be with friends, out for a quiet evening of chat and catch up with Dot, Geoff, Sue and Graham…

Instead – and to my complete surprise – I was presented with the Testing Excellence Award!  

What an evening! As a result I also danced… and stayed up late, and celebrated!

I posted this on Linked In: 

The words still ring true! I am still pleased, honoured and delighted!

EuroSTAR 2018 was very enjoyable… I presented a full-day tutorial, I hosted a couch session, and I carried a secret all week! EuroSTAR had asked me to be the 2019 conference chair1 This put a whole new flavour on the week.. I was watching Rikard and how he ran the conference, I was sneaking off to be videoed and holding on to my secret… At the end of the conference – the reveal, the announcement of the theme and the call for papers… and now the work of putting together the 2019 conference begins… 

I’m honoured, delighted and pleased to be teh 2019 EuroSTAR programme chair… and I intend to live up to the theme of “Working Well”!

HUSTEF 2018 – a reflection

HUSTEF 2018 – to be the programme chair was the most wonderful experience. This is the first big conference for which I have been the programme chair, building on my previous experiences as a programme committee member for 3 conferences and as the programme secretary for a special interest group.

The first thing I want to say is – if you get the chance to be on a programme committee or to be a programme chair – go for it! It is a lot of work, and tremendously rewarding – I learnt so much, and met interesting new people – my life has been enriched as a result of this experience.

Choosing a theme, setting out the call for papers and inviting a programme committee – these first steps before the Call for Papers (CFP) opened required thoughtful reparation; the theme needed to express some ideas I consider important, and also be inclusive to allow many people to join in as speakers and as participants. It needed to be something that could be interpreted in a broad way, to allow many topics. I realised I wanted diversity – diverse speaker backgrounds, diverse topics, diverse industry domains. Why? So that people could share knowledge across that diversity. And that gave me the theme: Sharing + Diversity + Knowledge.

The call for papers went out, after review by the excellent programme committee, and submissions started to come in. The review process was really interesting, with the reviewers sharing comments, with each other, and eventually with the potential speakers. The eventual choice was difficult – a linited number of places and some really good submissions. Some of the “runners up” we asked to provide “posters” – that is exactly what it sounds like – a poster to “advertise” their idea and encourage discussion. Selecting the keynotes and tutorials was also fun – with the help of suggestions from the programme committee I reached out not just to people I already knew but also to people new to me.

The work between the announcement of the programme and the actual conference – for yself – was to help speakers produce their best possible abstract for the website, and theirbest possible slide packs. Such a rewarding expereince to review, feedback and talk with so many experienced and aspiring speakers!  

And so – to the conference – I was so proud of all the speakers – keynote, tutorial, workshop, discussion leads, tracks and posters – great work, so many good presentations . And, from the review scores – the best scores the conference has ever received – great work by everyone! The conference itself was beautifully organised and run by Csilla, Tibor and their team, and Attila did a cracking job of organising the track chairs. Great AV team, great video team, lovely expo, wonderful catering… all exvcellent. During the conference I was on the go all the time – visitng different sessions, interviewing people for the conference video, aking sure everyone was OK.  went well! Doing the interviewing was particularly nerve racking and fun – I have never done that before, so… a new experience.

I’m pleased with what we achieved, delighted to have been part of it, and reflecting on lessons learned will carry on for weeks! 

If you are interested in HUSTEF, their website is here: HUSTEF


Conferences 2018 – a reflection

It’s been a busy year for conferences and teaching – so here is a quick summary…


This was in London, UK, in March.

I enjoyed day 1, with excellent keynotes from Christina Ohanian, and Gustav Kuhn. Christina’s messages on building teams were full of insights. As well as Gustav’s keynote, I’d also enjoyed Gustav’s workshop with Alan Richardson. The application of magic to psychology and then to how we observe (or don’t observe) the phenomena about us was very revealing, and certainly applicable to testers. Do we see the things other people don’t see? Can we be tricked? Powerful stuff.

Day 2 of UKSTAR 2018 was a very – extreme – experience for me. I was booked to present the opening keynote and then a workshop, and just before I was due to go on stage I had a completely unexpected phone call to say my mother had died. I made the decision that I wanted to go ahead – she would have wanted and expected that – discussed it with the programme committee and the UKSTAR team, and with their full and immense support went ahead to give my keynote – on Leadership, Followership and Fellowship – which went well, on a surge of adrenlin that also carried me through my workshop where we shared information around the UX of testing tools for testers – contributing data to my research and allowing delegates to share experiences and learn some UX techniques to apply to their own test tool acquisitions.

I used the data I collected during the workshop as one of the inputs to the Webinar I did for EuroSTAR, which also allowed me to open an online survey, and collect more data. The webinar and survey are still available here:

Thank you so much EuroSTAR and UKSTAR teams for your support during UKSTAR and beyond!

Romanian Code Camp

This was in Iasi in March. I was so pleased (given my personal circumstances) to be there with my friend and colleague Sue Atkins. Again the conference organisers were so supportive! As well as a masterclass on quality in use and UX, and a masterclass on Leadership, Followership and Fellowship, I presented on Human Factors for Test Automation, Sue and I presented a joint session on State Transition Testing, and also we both gave lightning talks. I was delighted to meet Vijay Kiran, who gave an inspirational lightning key on the importance of ethics in development – that excellent software is not just well engineered, not just exhibiting excellent UX, but also is ethically sound – doing good. I’ve been quoting him all year since! It was enjoyable to be at a conference with a range of tracks as well as a testing track: architecture, design, frontend, web, IoT, engineering, leadership, agile, entrepreneurship, and – my favourote track title – “funa dn fearless”. This conference was also beautifully hosted, ending with a cocktail party for speakers, hand made, natural ingredients – and the most delicious non-alcoholic one featuring apples and peanuts! I wish I could remember the name of the people who produced them!


STAREAST is always good fun, and this year was no exception…  I presented two tutorials: “Influence Diagrams – a new way to understand testing” and “Transforming Testing: building your road map”. These were both half day workshops, although closely linked together. I also presented a track on “Devices and Desires” about our attitude to technology and how that matches against the needs and desires of people outside IT. An interesting couch discussion with a group of delegates about leadership completed my contributions to the conference. Photo:

While there, I enjoyed the Women Who Test day; each time I attend I learn something new about myself, and enjoy the perspectives of the other attendees (men and women are welcome, by the way).

HTB Workshop and HUSTEF preparation

During 2018, I was honoured to be the HUSTEF Programme Chair. More on the latter later! In June, while in Budapest for the programme planning meeting, I also presented a workshop for the HTB on Quality in Use, and at the Tezst and Tea meet up presented “No more shelfware!”

The programme planning went well, it was a real joy to work with the programme committee and the HUSTEF organising team!


This meeting took place in London in June. Stuart Reid and the committee had organised an “all keynotes” day, which was really good fun. I met up with old friends, and enjoyed their talks, as well as presenting “Devices and Desires” to an appreciative audience.


Off to Oslo in September for a delightful conference, I gave tutorials on UX, and on Human Factors for test automatio, as well as a keynote on Leadership. At ODIN I also met up with Lorraine and Siobhan of the EuroSTAR team, who took me aside for a coffee, a catch up… and an interesting request…


Straight from Oslo to Utrecht, where I presented at Capgemini’s Testjam, on Devices and Desires, and met up with old friends (Nathalie and Kimberley and Rik) from Capgemini… A lovely evening, ending with a dash to the airport as storms disrupted air travel… 


Before STARWEST, the various personal events of the year meant that I could get to conferences and deliver, but was unable to take in any information! By STARWEST and STARCANADA, I felt more settled, and enjoyed listening to the keynotes and tracks. STARWEST was busy busy busy and great fun!

Across the two conferences, I taught 5 tutorials (test design, requirements testing, UX, influence diagrams, automation: a human-centred approach) which all went well plus a lightning key, 2 track sessions, 2 couch sessions, and a talk on failure at Women Who Test.

I’d also been on the programme committee with Rob Sabourin (the chair) and Julie Gardiner. That had been a really interesting experience, and I was delighted to have the chance to contribute, and to help choose the speakers. My feel is that these were two great programmes – but that of course is author bias!

Great keynotes! Jennifer Bonine and Janna Loeffler on story telling – great production values, wonderful illustrations by a Disney illustrator, and a great message well delivered. Jon Bach’s courageous use of a live survey with the audience via an app was really enjoyable, as well as his thoughts on how one’s behaviour changes with one’s role. Dona Sarkar on “be the lord of your own rings” was a fireball of energy. Max Saperstone showed a brilliant use of mutation syntax testing. Fiona Charles discussed leadership and how it differs from Management. Alexandre Baudin showed us how to test flight simulators, and Sophie Benjamin eloquently told how to transform testing.

Among the tracks I enjoyed Jane Jeffers from Riot Games on asking Why, and Julene Johnson from Lucid Software on Anxiety. ALso Stefan Marceau and Keith Turpin on User Stories, Fiona Charles on Gaining Consciousness, 

Women Who Test maintained its celebratory nature, in particular from a rich day, I’ll pick out getting to see the first printing of Tania Katan’s book on creative trespassing…


My first big conference as programme chair! It’s been hard work, but what an experience! I am so pleased to have done this… In fact, I think it deserves a separate post…


The final conference of the year… and as always like coming home. Old friends abound, so many greetings, embraces, and conversations! Friends from all over the world! 

I think this one deserves its own post too – lots to say, and this post is already…. too long!

Improvement: My target may not be your target…

I was swimming slowly up and down the pool at the fitness centre this morning, and reflecting on how my attitude to swimming pools has changed over the last few years, and that to gyms has changed in the last month.

Life-long – since earliest school days – “swimming pools” and “gyms” have been a source of fear, shame and avoidance; the noise, the smells, the bullying – overt and implicit – all intimidating and preventing me even stepping inside.

In the last few years I have shed my fear of swimming pools to some extent, and although a poor and slow swimmer, I do go to swim fairly regularly. Still – if people are noisy, if they shout or splash, if the water is oozing chlorine, if the lanes are crowded with strong, intent, heads down swimmers, then it takes all my mental strength to stay in the water. But, in calm water, I enjoy myself.

In November I moved to a new house-sit, in a new town. Knowing that I was in a town for the winter, knowing that I would need exercise, I joined the fitness club that had a pool. So far, so good. Then – to my horror – they offered me a PT session. All my fears of gyms, changing rooms, and equipment resurged – gut wrenchingly. But, as part of my personal and professional development in the last year, I have adopted a spirit of “try it once” so I went. It was surprising good. The PT instructor was supportive, kind, and  encouraging.

One of the things we discussed was my fear of going into a gym, as I believed that other people would laugh at me, at my lack of expertise, my lack of fitness, my incompetence. The instructor helped me to see that no-one else in the gym was interested in what I was doing, and also that they fell into a number of categories none of which needed to alarm me.  These were:

  • the local professional rugby players. Huge, fit, and lifting/pushing/carrying huge weights – they are just in a different place to me, and focused on their specific training they won’t even see me as I slip past;
  • the body builders. Rippling muscles, serious demeanors, and lifting/pushing/carrying huge weights – they are just in a different place to me, and focused on their specific training they won’t even see me as I slip past;
  • the youngsters. Slim, beautiful, practised – cycling, running, on their phones, ears focused on their downloads – they are just in a different place to me, and focused on their specific training they won’t even see me as I slip past;
  • middle aged and elderly people trying to get fit – oh hang on…. even if they are fitter than me, now, they’ve come from somewhere…

Guess what – I can go in there, and do the things I want to do, at my own pace. And no-one is laughing at me. Even more – if I need help – for example to adjust a machine – everyone I have asked for help has been helpful.

The machines I am using now at the gym – they are mostly on the lowest settings, the smallest weights. And I realised this week – there is a reason for those smallest weights – it is because people like me have to start somewhere. And now I have started, I can continue along an improvement path as long as want, to the level I need, regardless of what anyone else is doing. My targets are not going to be the same as the body builders, or the rugby players, or the youngsters. My target is to move from 5kg to 7.5kg, not from 5kg to 25kg. That’s all I need to do for now.

Why is this post in my consultancy blog and not in my personal blog? Because my message is to those of you who are not quality and testing experts. You might be as worried about starting on a self-improvement path around your professional practice as I was about going to the gym for the first time. My message is: try it.

Maybe you want to improve your personal practice, but you are not sure how. Perhaps you want to learn techniques, tools, approaches but are frightened that you’ll be laughed at if you ask. Perhaps you want to speak at conferences but feel you are not good enough. My message is: give it a go. Ask for help. There are many of us in the industry who are more than happy to help if we are asked. Go to a conference, or a test bash,  or on a course. Talk to other people at the conference. Talk to the speakers. You’ll be surprised at how much you can already do know, and you’ll be surprised how much you can learn. Your target for self improvement need not be huge, just to make a small difference. Maybe to learn one technique, maybe to try one new approach.

Try these for starters:

UKSTAR, London: 

  • I’m speaking at this one so you can use a speakers discount


STAREast, Florida, USA:

  • This includes the free Women Who Test day on the Friday, so make sure to book for that as well.

On my personal list for 2018 is to get to Ministry of Testing event – I just need to get myself together and do it! Have a look at

And also look at the online resources those conferences support – there is a mass of useful information you can get access to.

I keep a list of conferences where I am speaking on my website: confer with Isabel

2017 – a year of challenges and change

I’ve spent a short time the last couple of days reflecting on my 2017, it has been a challenging year, full of change and disruption, but also progress and successes. This is true personally and professionally, and now as never before I find those merging, affecting each other, blending. I’ll talk more in my storytelling blog about those areas.

This is a brief summary, just of the professional areas:

Work projects: This year, I have been involved in 3 work projects, each quite different roles, and for 3 different client companies based in different countries: one in the UK, one elsewhere in the EU, and one in Asia. Each of these projects challenged me in a different way – challenges of culture, language as well as challenges to be creative and imaginative, to meet deadlines while ensuring quality standards were maintained for both the deliverables I was responsible for and the services I provided. A mix of consultancy, training, mentoring, coaching, writing, and diagramming.

Conferences: in 2017, I participated at 12 conferences – including keynotes, tutorials, panels, workshops, track sessions, one-to-ones, “on the couch” sessions, discussions, where I made new friends, met old friends, and topped off the year by the award of the EuroSTAR Testing Excellence Award. Thank you to everyone who contributed to making that happen – I am so proud and pleased!

Research: also this year, I applied to University of Malta, and have been accepted as a post graduate student, so finally after much dithering, discussion and worry, I have started my research. So far I have taken and passed modules on “how to” research – quantitative and qualitative methods. I’ve also started to read academic literature about the research topic (UX of testing tools) and to make a research design. That’s taken 6 months!

I’m learning how to do this, and as I allowed myself to reset to a “beginner” it opened my mind both to how much I know and how little I know – as thought I have been sitting in the centre of my own paradox. I’ve always done CPD (Continuous Professional Development) and I have always seen life-long learning as essential, but I’ve seen this in a new and refreshing way. Being more open to many new ideas (not just in the professional arena, but personally too) is feeding my ability to relinquish the burden of imposter syndrome and of inflated expectation. I am more balanced.

There are nuances in all this, detail that I don’t want to share online – yet – even though I am sure almost no-one reads these posts!

The award citation for EuroSTAR provided me with a career retrospective from the point of view of my colleagues in the industry. This is a wake up call to what I have achieved and am capable of. That, plus the process of doing a personal annual retrospective has been good, and has additionally made me realise that I have – somehow, at some point – let go of the weekly retrospective that was for so many decades the anchor for my professional self. Something to reinstate for 2018.

2017 – a year of change, challenge and success for my professional life. Now to planning 2018 – what do I want to achieve? What is possible? What do I dream of?