zondag 23 oktober 2011

Portland and Pacific NW Software Quality Conference (PNSQC) 2011

In the beginning of the year I got the news that my paper 'Unusual Testing; lessons learned from being a casualty simulation victim', was selected for the PNSQC programme.
I couldn't believe my luck, me - not being out of Europe ever before - got to go to India (April this year) AND to the United States in the same year, I was SO excited!

October 8th I board the plane to Portland (yes, in NL we're lucky to have a direct flight to PDX) and 10 hours later I set foot on US soil for the very first time.
I found my way rather quickly; I found the airport and US infrastructure all very organised and the MAX transportation system in the 'Rose city' which Portland also is called, is very efficient (not to mention affordable in comparison to Dutch public transport fares). So barely an hour later I could drop my stuff in my hotel room.

It was very nice weather in Portland and fall was just setting in, so the trees (the Portland area is very green) had just started to change hues from green to orange, red and browns. I just HAD to visit a US StarBucks. Everybody who knows me a little, knows I'm a SB addict. There were two in the vicinity of my hotel (one even with a drive-thru!) and I walked to the one that was furthest so I could check out the surroundings a bit. I ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte (alas not available in NL, but they should be!) and a piece of Portland Coffee Cake and sat down at one of the tables on the outside patio, catching some of the warm sun rays and observing the Portland ways-of-life.

After the vitamine-SUN injection I set out for a quick nap, I hadn't slept in the plane and in NL it was about night time by now, so I figured it would be a good idea. After the nap I ventured out to a place called 'Chipotle', a bit of organic-style Mexican fast-food place. I recommend small-portion eaters like me, to first check out what other people are ordering, the portion are HUGE! I decided to order a kids-meal (which seemed odd to the people behind the counter, since they tried to sell me an adult-meal twice and asked me whether I was sure I only wanted 1 taco). The meal was served with a child-size beverage, which is not 0,2ltr as in NL, but a 0.4ltr.

Sunday was a bit more rainy, but I set out to the Portland centre. The MAX transportation system is FREE within the centre zone (cool!), so you can get around without paying a cent. I figured I would check out where the conference was held first, which was at the World Trade Centre, but there was a Marathon and a demonstration so I had to walk all the way around to get there. I noticed how well the Marathon was organized and all contesters got a foil blanket on arrival, a rose and a medallion, the last mile 'victory style' music was played through speakers to encourage the walkers.
At around 11 a.m. the shops opened up and I took the oppurtunity to buy some souvenirs (way cool Oregon Beavers sweatshirts!) and some cheap jeans at Macy's which were on sale. I grabbed a late lunch, single SteakHouse burger (which was enormous) at a place called Carls'Jr. I visited another StarBucks on my way back to the hotel and worked a bit on some mails in my room and took another nap. In the evening I visited the hotel bar and checked out the sports, the chickenstrips and had some very cool conversations with some people there. It's great to find out that the people I met in the US are so nice and conversational. I found out that Oregon has some great red wines, especially the Pinot was way better (and a bit more full and heavy) than the European Pinot's. I got into bed early, since my internal clock was totally off now and I wanted to be somewhat fresh for my performance at the PNSQC conference.

I got into the US commuting life early in the morning. Starting off with another StarBucks visit (those Pumpkin Spice Latte's are really good :-) ) and walked to the MAX.
The World Trade Centre, and especially the registration desk of the PNSQC conference was already buzzing with people coming in. Starting time? 07.30.
I was greeted by the registration team and it was no trouble at all to find my badge, since it was - as usual- the badge that was printed to the edges, it was decorated with a huge ribbon stating 'SPEAKER', so it was hard to miss I guess.
In the reception hall (located on Mezzanine level) I was surprised to find that StarBucks coffee was served and how cosy the venue looked despite the size of the conference centre itself.

NB: I have only written down my perceptions of the tracks, if you want a comprehensive content of the tracks, please visit: www.pnsqc.org. As I understand the papers and abstracts will be published there.

Bill Gilmore opened the conference in the Auditorium (Bridge level) and I was surprised to suddenly find Julian Harty sitting next to me, but the pieces of the puzzle fell in place when I heard that Goranka Bjedov had fallen ill and Julian was back-up for the opening Keynote. Julian had both an entertaining and interesting talk about the Future of Quality. What is our perception on faults, bugs and errors when software is free of charge? There seems to be a correlation on tolerability and the price of the software that we pay was my thought on that. I was especially impressed by two mentioned bugs. One was of a cable bill of a 17-figure sum that totalled almost 2000 times the national debt (US-debt that is): 23 quadrillion, 148 trillion, 855 billion, 308 million, 184 thousand and 500 dollars. The other was a charge for a pack of cigarettes: 23 quadrillion!

After a half-hour break in the Mezzanine, I went to Julie Fleischer from Intel. Who had a track on 'Volunteer armies can deliver quality too: Achieving a successful result in OpenSource, Standards Organizations and other Volunteer projects'. I found her presentation interesting, although the motivational aspects she mentioned (acts of kindness, non-financial stuff) also very applicable for commercial organizations.

The presentation after that was of Alan Page; an introduction to Customer Focused Test Design. I was interested to hear this one, because I wanted to figure out if 'we' in NL have a different perception or maybe run behind on this subject. But as the track went on, I didn't hear anything revelationous. What I heard was that that one should commence with non-functional quality attribute testing (such as performance, reliability and security) that have an impact on the customer perception of quality as early as possible. Maybe I'm a - as he called it- tester with a generous toolbox, but for me, that's not an eye-opener. Although I found it nice that the focus on that was a bit refreshed.

During the lunch there were Deep Dive Birds of a feather sessions, but I just took my time to have a relaxing lunch. In the afternoon I would be speaking myself and I needed to sit down and take-five. Again I had eyes as big as a saucer when I saw the sandwiches. In NL we have a sandwich with one small layer of roastbeef, maybe a slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce, this is a sandwich with at least 3 cm thick roastbeef, mayonaisse, lettuce and tomato on it. The sandwich seems to be just to be there to hold the beef. And then there's also the bag of chips, a piece of fruit and a can beverage. I decided to cut my sandwich in two re-package the second half for later that day. I had some nice conversations with people about Agile/ SCRUM and how it was used within the organizations of my table-mates.

After lunch I visited the 'Lifecycles' track, which started with 'Increasing Software Quality with Agile Experiences in a non-technically-focussed organization' by Aaron Hockley from the Multnomah County, Oregon (of which Portland is part of btw). It was nice to hear about this case-study of Agile and how a relatively small IT department coops within a governmental user-organization.
After that it was my turn. I was nervous as hell. I just can't seem to shake those shivers no matter how many times I go before a group, and this time was extra special since I didn't have a clue on how a US crowd would react on my talk.

In NL for example it isn't customary to leave the room before the talk is over, but in US people walk in-and-out the track, for a NL speaker that might seem a signal that you're doing a bad job and you could freeze totally because of this, but that doesn't have to be the case at all in US, it's just the way of doing things here. I only had one 'leaver' at one time, and that was at the start of my 'delivery video' and he was male, so it was totally understandable :-) (I warned about the sometimes gruesome imagery ;-) ) The feedback was positive afterwards so I was pleased with the performance overall, despite the fact that there was no video sound and I had to improvise with holding my microphone close to my laptop's speakers.

After again a break. I visited 'Inspiring, Enabling and driving Quality Improvement' by Jim Sartain of McAfee and 'Audit Effectiveness - Assuring Customer Satisfaction' by Jeff Fiebrich from Freescale Semiconductor Inc. Both tracks had very interesting aspects, I liked the last one best, because it had the focus on audits which isn't a usual 'suspect' in most quality conferences. I recommend reading both the papers, because they both contain good stuff.

If you think that at 05.30 the conference is over, think again. Now the conference social kick-off with the poster-paper sessions begins till 08.00 PM. This part was also open to the public and several speakers, me included, and also non-speakers had an opportunity to present their post-papers. It's a sort of 'market' where you have your poster behind you on the wall or on a stand and where you get to talk about your subject with visitors to your paper. It gives a very intimate and free-format kind of happening. At 07.30 I had my eye-lids almost hanging on my toes though, and I decided to break things of and sneak-out to my hotel.

I'm getting the hang of this commuting with a StarBuck quick-stop stuff and arrived at the WTC early. That was also because I wanted to make a better poster. I had totally not thought of bringing a poster to a poster-paper session (dumb huh) and yesterday I improvised a very simple flip-over sheet with my laptop on a table, today I wanted to have a better more attractive poster during my sessions. So I got some markers, a clean flipover paper and found myself a quiet place to be a bit creative.
I was very curious about a pink box from a place called 'Voodoo Donuts' that passed in my eye-sight. And boy you WANT to see that. If you ever get to go to Portland you should certainly visit this Voodoo Donuts joint. I got hold of a 'fruitloop donut' (which was even too sweet for my sweettooth :-D) and it was an experience. They even got 'maple nut bars with chocolate and baked bacon!!

The first keynote was that of Rob Sabourin from Amibug.com. He had this great concept of stories and when he told a story he had an image of campfire on the screen. The keynote itself had the title Value Sync. And one thing that got anchored in my mind was that a practice in one context copied 1-on-1 to another context won't work.

After the break I visited 'Michael Bolton's ' standard and deviations. I have my own thoughts on the subject and they aren't that of Michael, to say at least. Some of you might have picked up on some Twitter (@FunTESTic) discussions on this during the conference. Although I don't disagree with the content of the presentation, I don't agree with it totally either. Michael stated that the standard was a 100-page document, I know it's only 26. And although it seems from the presentation the standard itself is a bad and evil thing, I keep with the fact that it's not the standard itself but how people and organizations USE it that's the problem. What I also find a 'thing' is that although it's intended to be a guideline, the standard is presented as a mandatory rulebook. I say: if you don't agree with it or can't use it, just don't and leave it be, pursue your own ideas instead of spending (wasting) so much effort on burning it down, but that's my opinion.

After the (double session) track there was a lunch break (again with a huge lunch 'wrap'). I grabbed the opportunity to participate in the 'lightning talks', which were held during the lunch and did a statement from my Ethics Debate. Although it was only one statement, the ten minutes seemed too short. The conference attendees made a great debater audience and the interaction was great.

I went to 'No Test Levels Needed in Agile Software Development' after lunch, I intended not to see the whole session in advance so I left half way. The one thing that I noticed that when Leo van Aalst asked the question on how many people did 'Agile' more then 80% raised hands. When he showed the Agile Manifesto and asked again how many used this 'purely' and thus did 'Agile', less than 10% raised hands... Saying Agile doesn't mean Doing Agile it seems.
Ian Dees had an interesting title 'Dirty Tricks in the name of Quality' so I went to that track after Leo's. I noticed what a pleasure it was to listen to this speaker. Fun and clear, entertaining. I had a good time. And although the title might looked provocative, it wasn't all that provocative in content but I found it very educational with loads of examples (certainly recommended to check the paper!)

The last break with a poster-paper session was very well visited. I had some great discussions and had a great time explaining how I got to software testing to casualty simulation and back again.
After that I went to 'Hard Lessons About Soft Skills - understanding the psyche of the software tester'. Marlena Compton from Mozilla had a bit of bad luck because her microphone ran out of batteries, but she did a good job on the presentation where I especially loved the way that she incorporated so much of her own and made it a personal story. 'If people say why are you angry, and you are not at all' you might start wondering...
The last normal track that I visited was that of BJ Rollison from MicroSoft on 'Paramerized Random Test Data Generation'. I had to make a switch from soft-skills and processes to this very hand-ons technical en practical track. I recommend reading the paper, it's very interesting and educational for those of you who are into testdata generation!

The last keynote was a very cool one. 'The science of being HAPPY and Productive at Work' by Scott Crabtree (Happy Brain). The talk was an award winning one and was co-sponsored with the ROSE CITY SPIN. I really loved the keynote - 'BE KIND'/ 'FORGIVE', 'Savore life's joys' and 'focus on the present moment' where some phrased, but I figure that it's a very expensive speaker to have. A very good one to close my PNSQC experience!
The conference - for me- was over at 07.30 PM

It's raining a lot when I leave the WTC. I saw a twitter message that there is a brewery-bar called RockBottom not far from the venue, where PNSQC peeps are at. I didn't get to find them there, but I had an excellent 'October Fest Brew' and a 'home special brew' (which had loads of HOPS in it and was kind of citrussy).

The next morning I still had some hours to visit Portland once again, before having to go to the airport. So I decided to visit the Pearl District. I checked out the WholeFood grocery store (I have this funny thing of visiting supermarkets in countries that I go to :-) ) and walked around the area. I found a coffee bar and had an autumn spice latte (Peet's coffee). This district is full of fun shops and has a cool vibe. I recommend it to everybody who visits Portland.
After that short visit I returned to my hotel where I had some packing-puzzeling to do and some troubles closing my suitcase and then I returned to my Oregon-point-of-origin PDX. I grabbed a single 1/4 pound cheeseburger at Wendy's (Burger King eat your hart out!), which has a square burger ! (can you imagine you can also get a triple half-pound cheeseburger??? how do you eat that???) and I waited in the area-with-a-view on the plane that would bring me back to Amsterdam, intensely happy with the hit-and-run visit to US and the PNSQC conference.