Testing Leadership Down Under

Well hello, Hello Test World.

Firstly, it’s an honour to be included as part of the team here.  What a great bunch of thinking testers to blog with!  Since KWST #2 in 2012 (where we met) I have formed a wonderful friendship with these Kiwi dudes, and have learned a great deal in the process.  Their passion for our craft is infectious, and for that I thank them.

The below article was originally put together by myself and Brian Osman for submission in The Testing Planet.  Unfortunately deadlines got the better of us and we didn’t polish it in time.  I thought it might be a good idea to share this with you all for my first ‘official’ post on HTW.  Being a joint piece helps with my HTW beginners nerves.  ;0)

First we discuss our thoughts on leadership, then what we’re trying to do for our little pieces of the world.  Oh, it’s long… but stick with it.

Brian’s Thoughts:

General McArthur

General McArthur

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.  They do not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” – Gen McArthur

When I came across this quote, I liked the point that leaders sometimes dare to stand alone.  It may not always be obvious but sometimes a stand is what is required and there are many examples of that (we see them daily, just look around you).  Standing alone takes courage.  Doing what is right takes courage.  Helping fill a vacuum takes courage.  A case in point is OZWST – the first Australian Workshop on Software Testing.  David Greenlees, as the founder of this conference, saw a gap in Australia for thinking testers, and lead these testers to come together to DISCUSS and CONFER in a meaningful way.  I don’t think there is another conference in Australia that does just that for software testers.  I suspect the same is true for New Zealand and most countries (except where similar conferences to OZWST modelled on LAWST are held).  And as such David became a more prominent leader in the software testing space in Australia.  This in turn helps to increase influence and allows more people to connect to the leaders as the messages they convey align with their beliefs.  David is now recognised as a Peer Conference and software testing leader in Australia and as such his sphere of influence grows.

But what is leadership?

Leadership is an interesting topic. Are leaders made? Are they born? Is it combination of these or other elements?  Why do some leaders appear more successful than others?

I think leaders evolve.  Some leaders may have more charisma, skill, or talent than others but each of us have the capacity to become better leaders and magnify the talents and skills that we posses.  I also believe that a difference between a good leader and a poor one is the ability of a good leader to allow those of whom they lead to grow without fear.  A poor leader tends to stifle growth and creativity and may lead through fear, not encouragement and understanding.

So in saying that, there have been some notable testing leaders that have influenced my career:

  • James Bach – He has challenged me; he has taken me to task and yet, without the world watching he has also corrected, taught, encouraged.  I’m glad to have met James, talked to him, and that he has taken time out to help increase real test leadership down under.
  • Michael Bolton – Michael is cool, in the jazz musician type of cool, and his writings are thought provoking.  If anything, I usually tell my students that his blog is one of the top blogs to read on the internet.  Even better to meet him in person.
  • Scott Barber – Scott has gotten me involved in a wider community (Software Test Professionals for example). He has encouraged and led from the front.  He’s the type of leader that people will follow.

And of course there are others who have influenced me greatly in different ways (down under would include Oliver Erlewein, Richard Robinson, Aaron Hodder, Andrew Robins, Katrina Edgar, David Greenlees and Anne Marie Charrett to name a few, though there are a lot more.)  When I reflect on these leaders I usually find that I’m drawn to their view of the world (testing wise) and whilst I may not always agree with them, I respect them.  The reason why is mostly because I have liked them as a person and they have influenced my thinking in someway that roughly aligned to my viewpoint; with the first part that equation being the most important.  Without the respect for the person, their influence becomes greatly diminished. It reminds me of something that James Bach said to me…

 “People need to see you as an expert otherwise they will yatter idiotic things at you.”

Which was in response to a prospective employer saying that exploratory testing and risk based testing are mutually exclusive.  James highlights his leadership (to me) by suggesting counsel and at a wider level it shows that the bigger a leader’s sphere of influence, the greater the opportunity to suggest, counsel, correct, and if need be, defend.

David’s Thoughts:

The topic of leadership is certainly a fascinating one.  Actually, I find all subjective topics fascinating.  Oh yes, this is very subjective.  Like art, leadership is in the eye of the beholder.  There are literally thousands of definitions of leadership spread throughout the internet, in books and articles, etc, etc.  Not one of them would be incorrect.  According to the author, that’s what leadership means to them, and being open to those individual definitions allows me, and many others I’m sure, to learn more about the topic.  If a topic is black and white, generally you learn about it once and you’re done.  With subjective topics, just ask someone new for there opinion and you’ll likely learn something new too.  Perhaps another reason why ‘one size fits all’ testing is not for me either!

“Leadership is taking someone to a place they wouldn’t have gone to without you.” – Unknown

That is one of my favourite leadership quotes/definitions.  When I first heard it I thought to myself, “Surely they mean a ‘positive’ place, not just any place.”  However, after more thought I came to the conclusion that it’s not necessarily the case.  I’m sure you can think of a few leaders in our time that have taken people to very dark places indeed.

laotzuAnother…

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

I think combining those two quotes, in that order, gives you my ultimate synopsis of leadership.  The best leaders I have had throughout my career and personal life were not obvious to me at the time.  Only on reflection do I view these people as wonderful leaders.  The work they did for me was ‘behind the scenes’ was truly unselfish.  To this day I couldn’t tell you exactly what steps they took, but I could guess that there was many times where these leaders put me in a position for the sole purpose of my betterment.  It saddens me somewhat, as I’ve lost touch with many of them and therefore can’t go back and thank them as I would like to.  One day perhaps.

An example of some of my leaders specifically in testing includes, but is not limited to:

  • Matt Heusser – Matt is my unofficial/informal mentor.  I only say that as we’ve never had the ‘you are my mentor’ conversation, and I don’t believe we need to.  Matt has been key to my learning over the past 12-24 months, and also a big inspiration for my writing.  Matt leads (for lack of a better term) the Miagi-Do School of Software Testing which has taken my learning forward in bounds.  His passion for the betterment of our craft is unquestionable.
  • James Bach – James has challenged me on several occasions, and continues to do so regularly.  I won’t deny that he makes me nervous with every encounter.  I have the feeling that no matter what I say it will be challenged, and despite how negative that may sound, I thoroughly enjoy it (after the event).  He reminds me of my Grandmaster in the martial arts (one of the leaders in my personal life).  Sparring with him is painful, extremely painful, but what a feeling it is to come through the other side knowing how much I’ve learned.  Each encounter with James is like that sparring session.  You will have to live with some bruises, but his mission is clear; to make you stronger; to make you better.
  • Brian Osman – As you’ve read above, and will do again below, Brian has lead me to start my very own Peer Conference.  He is also relentless in pushing me to begin speaking at conferences.  Watching him do it himself is all the leadership I need.  His courage is also a very noteworthy point.  Brian will stand up for what he believes in no matter what, even if it means leaving a job behind.
  • Anne-Marie Charrett – Anne-Marie is a true leader in our craft, to many people, not just me.  Her willingness to develop individuals in her own time simply blows me away.  Her dedication to testing is second to none, and she naturally takes many people on the journey with her, including me.

Brian and David’s Test Leadership Down Under:

They’ve been busy in recent times.  Well, they’ve been busy for longer than that I’m sure, but only recently have they taken a larger and more public step.  Brian and David share a passion for taking the craft of software testing to the next level in New Zealand and Australia (down under as they commonly refer to it), and they’ve started to spread the good word amongst their peers.

Brian and David had both been blogging for some time and had become active members of their local testing communities, and globally online, via forums (how they met), special interest groups, and meet ups.  These were all important avenues for them in achieving their goal, but more was needed.

The Kiwi Workshop on Software Testing (KWST – Brian’s baby) was the first major step.  KWST was born through Brian asking James Bach on Skype one question – “How do we build a community?” James came back and suggested a LAWST style conference that allows test leaders to come together in a way that really allows for discussion, debate, and critical questioning.  This idea intrigued Brian and with quite a bit of effort (and persuasion), KWST was born.  So why KWST?

The reason KWST was created was so:

  • Test leadership could come together to discuss meaningful topics
  • A community could be created that is open to challenging the craft
  • That community could begin to influence the wider community
  • That community of critical thinkers would challenge the factory school thinking that seems to permeate middle management

KWST #1 and #2 had completely different dynamics and as such produced different outputs.  The first KWST conference brought people together, enabled a community, coined terminology and generated momentum.  KWST #2 was more about extending the reach of the community, unearthing new leaders, and to be challenged.  Either way, the thoughts, ideas, and building of the community are currently the most important drivers.  Without strong leadership in testing to challenge the status quo there is a possibility that New Zealand could have become a rather large body shop with pockets of resistance.  As it stands now, test leadership is thriving and growing, and no longer accepting the myths perpetrated by factory school thought.

Approximately 6 months after KWST #2 the Australian Workshop on Software Testing (OZWST – David’s baby) was born.  David was inspired by the magic of Peer Conferences and that his mate from across the Tasman Sea was able to lead the way in making it happen.  Brian, with the help of James Bach, had managed to take David to a place he wouldn’t have gone without him.  Brian had lead David via inspiration.  That inspiration was enough to spark David into forming OZWST and running the first successful Australian Peer Conference on software testing.

These Peer Conferences are a form of test leadership.  They take the participants to levels of thought that they would not have gone to otherwise; at least not at that point in time.  A melting pot of subjective topics and themes that encourage and provoke discussion and debate; and learning by default.

Brian and David will continue this journey, with KWST #3 and OZWST #2 already in planning for 2013.  They hope that attendees can take away something from their leadership, and that the software testing community of down under progresses at lightening speed.

Life is learning, and leaders allow you to do just that.

Author: David Greenlees, Brian Osman

About David

http://www.dmg.name/

One thought on “Testing Leadership Down Under

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 31 May 2013 | 5blogs

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