Let’s Test prequel with Zeger van Hese

As a prequel to the Let’s Test conference in May, I interviewed some of the European context-driven testers. Today we have Zeger van Hese who is – besides many other things – the program chair for this year’s EuroSTAR conference in Amsterdam.

Markus Gärtner: Hi Zeger, could you please introduce yourself? Who are you? What do you do for work?
Zeger van Hese: Well, I’m a Belgian tester who rolled into IT after a short stint at the movies distribution business. I work for CTG, an IT service provider and Belgian market leader in testing. I started out as a developer, but was once asked to help out at a testing assignment. I said yes, and I’ve been testing ever since. The last years I’ve been a test manager at client sites, mostly in agile development environments. This year I’m also quite busy with my programme chair tasks for EuroSTAR.

Markus Gärtner: The theme you picked for the EuroSTAR conference – Innovate & Renovate: Evolving Testing – has a pick of solution-focused coaching in it. What influenced you to pick this theme?
Zeger van Hese: From my first moments as a programme chair I knew I wanted to have a theme related to learning and creativity in testing. But at the same time it had to reflect the need to evolve as well. Innovation and renovation embodies creativity and learning, it’s about looking forward and looking back.

Markus Gärtner: How have you crossed the path of context-driven testing?
Zeger van Hese: I realized early on that what I liked in testing was not necessarily what other people liked in it. I grew fond of exploratory testing because that seemed to fit my natural testing style. But it wasn’t until 2007, when I participated in a Rapid Testing tutorial by Michael Bolton, that all pieces fell into place. That was an important moment for me; I hadn’t heard of the context-driven school before, but what I learned about its principles fit me like a glove. Later on, I discovered that apart from the CDT-paradigm, there is also a vibrant community, a group of people passionate about testing and advancing the craft. They are all about sharing, coaching, learning, challenging each other. My kind of thing.

Markus Gärtner: Speaking about advancing the craft of software testing, which major
contributions to the craft do you see in Europe?
Zeger van Hese: I’m seeing peer workshops emerge and doing interesting stuff: The UK one is a pioneer (LEWT) in Europe; in Sweden there’s SWET, in Denmark DWET, in Germany GATE and in The Netherlands there is DEWT, which I’m involved in. These meet-ups really invigorate me and spawn some great discussions and insights. What helps us, of course, is that people like Michael Bolton and James Bach are really supportive and help where they can. I’m seeing Skype coaching taking off, and testers working their skills through the European Weekend Testing chapters (although things have been a bit slow there, lately). A lot of people from the community are avid bloggers and put out some really innovative stuff. Conferences are getting more practical and hands-on as well, with test labs, dojos, roundtables, rebel or other alliances.

Markus Gärtner: Where do you see the biggest struggles for the context-driven testing community in Europe? How can we overcome them?
Zeger van Hese: I feel that the context-driven principles are still relatively unknown outside the community, so I could argue that there is still some evangelizing and awareness-creation to be done. On the other hand, I think the principles and the set of ethics that comes with them are pretty personal – either they resonate with someone or they don’t, so we should be careful not to be too pushy. Another challenge I see is how we can educate recruiters away from using certifications as their main means of filtering CVs, which I think causes them to miss valuable and experienced candidates. This means influencing and changing the selection process and coming up with good alternatives, a daunting task.

Markus Gärtner: How do you apply context-driven testing at your workplace?
Zeger van Hese: I apply the principles in the sense that I am a strong advocate for testing as an intellectual process wherever I go, and I try to constantly be aware of the context I find myself in, and let that drive my actions. That can be quite challenging, e.g. in environments where there are a lot of templates to be used and processes to be followed, but even there you can try your best to appropriately inform those who are “driving your context” that there are other options that may be of more value to the project.

Markus Gärtner: What will be your biggest take-away from Let’s Test?
Zeger van Hese: My biggest take-aways? Or my audience’s biggest take-aways? Mine will hopefully be meeting new people, re-connecting with old ones and getting loads of new insights from people that are way brighter than me. My audience’s take-aways would be 1) that thoughtfully looking at a piece of software (testing, anyone?) has lots in common with thoughtfully looking at art 2) that software can learn from the tools art critics use, to become software critics 3) Artists can inspire us in coming up with fresh ways of looking at the world.

Markus Gärtner: Besides programme chairing for EuroSTAR 2012, which plans do you have for testing after Let’s Test?
Zeger van Hese: It promises to be a pretty busy year all throughout. In March I’ll be presenting at the Belgium Testing Days, in April at STAREast and in May at Let’s Test. In between those gigs, there is indeed a EuroSTAR Programme to be assembled, which will take some time away as well. And all that jazz has to be combined with my regular day-job of course, which makes for long days. I didn’t plan too many things in the second half of the year, yet. Of course there will still be some room for the occasional peer workshop or meet-up or something unplanned – it’s always good to leave some room for some serendipity in the schedule.

Markus Gärtner: In the past you worked a lot on the connection between art and testing. Unsurprisingly your talk at Let’s Test will also be on this topic. Without spoiling participants too much, why is Software Testing an art, and not – say – an engineering discipline?
Zeger van Hese: As you know, I like metaphors and analogies and test side stories. I think they are a great way to link the new to the old, they have the potential of generating innovative ideas as well. Art and testing – and more specifically the ways in which testers can benefit and learn from art – are keeping me quite busy and intrigued. Now, I am not going as far as stating that software testing is an art form – like the tenth art or so – but it is a craft in its own right, and I do think it is creative work more than it is engineering work.

Markus Gärtner: Consider time traveling being possible now. You travel into the year 2030. How has the world of software testing changed?
Zeger van Hese: That’s a hard one – my crystal ball has been letting me down lately. It would be nice if there wouldn’t be any different testing schools anymore: everyone talking the same testing language, honoring the same values and with a shared vision on how to perform good testing. I’m being overly optimistic here, I guess.

Software development-wise: I think the development process will move further away from the classical approaches and towards a more collaborative way of developing, Of course, that trend has been going on for a while already and will continue in the future, I think. Even in 2030, sapient manual testing will still be a necessity, I’m not a very firm believer that automation is the answer to everything. But hopefully, by that time, our manual testing toolkit will see some very nifty tools that broaden our reach and effectiveness as a manual tester.

Markus Gärtner: Thanks for your time. I look forward meeting with you at Let’s Test.

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