Let’s Test prequel with Ilari Henrik Aegerter

As a prequel to the Let’s Test conference in May, I interviewed some of the European context-driven testers. Today we have Ilari Henrik Aegerter, the first participant in this series. He’s a tester and coach that was highly recommended by James Bach in the past few months.

Markus Gärtner: Hi Ilari, could you please introduce yourself? Who are you? What do you
do for work?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: Hi Markus, my name is Ilari Henrik Aegerter and I am a tester. And there is certainly more to the question “Who are you?”. Some of the things I would list: I am a books and comics lover, interested in cognition and anything around the topic of observation. Furthermore, I am on very friendly terms with puzzles in general and I enjoy hard thinking. I am also happily married and the father of two wonderful boys.

I work with Phonak AG which is the world’s leading manufacturer of hearing aids. My role there is line manager of a testing team of 13 people. The applications we test are classified as medical software. That’s why there is probably more test documentation needed compared to a regular testing organization. But we try to keep it as lean as possible.

Testing software was not my career plan. I stumbled into it by chance in 2004 while I was studying general linguistics at the university and I just needed the money. And then I started to really like it. That’s why I am still doing it. It is the intellectual challenge that I really enjoy.

Markus Gärtner: “I stumbled into testing.” I heard this a lot during the past year. What conclusions do you take from my hypothesis that a lot of testers somehow fell into testing? What does this mean for our profession?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: Well, I would even suggest that most people somehow stumbled into their profession regardless of what it is. I think we overestimate the percentage of people who always wanted to become e.g. a pilot and then rigorously followed their life plan. Isn’t it an exciting thing that chance may be the guiding force in our life?

One other reason for testers to stumble into their profession: There is neither an apprenticeship model nor can you study software testing at universities. It is quite natural that the remaining path then is to “stumble into” it. The “stumblers” may or may not have developer background and the ones that got hooked with testing are probably motivated above average and want to advance in their profession.

And then of course there is the sad story of the non-performing programmer whose misguided manager thought: Let’s put him/her into testing.

To sum it up, I do think that “stumbling into” is generally a good thing for software testing. It means that you start to work as a tester and if you are really interested in it then you educate yourself. In other professions it is the other way round. You study for years to eventually become a medical doctor or a math teacher or an experimental physicist. If after all these years of study you do not like your job, what do you do then?

Markus Gärtner: How have you crossed the path of context-driven testing?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: It was back in 2007 when I attended James Bach’s tutorial “Exploratory Testing Explained” at StarEast in Florida. James has certainly had the most intensive influence on my testing. Now, for the past years I have been a line manager and I have done less and less testing myself. This really bothered me and at the StarWest conference last year I gave myself a push and started to re-educate myself. I did not want to become the zombie line manager who hasn’t got a clue. And I find the context-driven school to be the natural choice for people who want to be really good at testing.

Markus Gärtner: What specifically did you do to re-educate yourself? If I run into you today, which sources of information do you provide me?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: There are several specific actions:

About half a year ago I started to have regular Skype coaching sessions with James Bach and they are the most intensive learning experiences for me. Recently I started to do Skype coaching myself with testers who are interested. So far I have done about a dozen sessions with other testers. The good thing there is that I learn as much as the testing student.

I registered with uTest to test a wide variety of products albeit mostly web based. Then I started to discuss testing topics with a broader range of people in order to defend my own thinking and learn from others. There are many excellent blogs that I regularly read and I try to periodically write posts on my own blog, too.

In my company I have decided to start pairing up with some of my testers during exploratory testing. I have not done that yet but I have it on my schedule. Also my reading is more guided by topics that can be of use for software testing.

All May will be flavoured with the BBST course. I have registered for Let’s Test and I am also attending the Test Coach Camp, which precedes CAST. I expect all these events to be intensive learning experiences, too.

I asked you and Matt Heusser for a Miagi-Do Testing Challenge which Matt agreed to do with me in July. Then I just discovered codecademy.com and James occasionally challenges me with mathematical and lateral thinking puzzles.

Ok, that’s about it for the moment.

Markus Gärtner: “The context-driven school is the natural choice for people who want to be really good at testing.” How come this is natural?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: The principle number 6 of the context-driven school states: “Good software testing is a challenging intellectual process”. In order to meet this challenge you need to study your craft. I have no knowledge of other schools or circles that put that much emphasis on intensive practice and learning. That is why I see the context-driven school as the natural choice.

Markus Gärtner: How do you apply context-driven testing at your workplace?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: First of all I try to focus my team on testing itself and away from spending too much time on the creation of secondary work products like test plans and reports. As a medical device company our context demands some level of documentation, e.g. all requirements need to be linked to at least one test case. However, we heavily use exploratory testing and do experimentation with “real life” scenarios. As the line manager I give the people in my team a lot of freedom to experiment with different approaches to testing. Also, since our testing is a service we offer to the best of our abilities to our customer we have a peaceful relationship with the developers and product management who both value our efforts.

Markus Gärtner: I assume that creating fewer secondary work products, as you named them, in a medical environment sounds dangerous to some folks. How to you defend your position? Do you have any troubles defending your position against agencies?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: It is not fewer but leaner. We have automated as much as possible of the report and document creation. Not doing these documentations would violate IEC 62304, which is the medical norm for software development.

We do fulfill what is requested and I wouldn’t be nervous at all if an audit was announced. On the other hand, if we ONLY did what was written in the norm, we would have a lot of bugs in the product.

It is during exploratory testing sessions and other more creative forms of testing that we find the interesting bugs.

Markus Gärtner: Taking a closer look on the Let’s Test program, which talks do you look forward to attend at Let’s Test?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: Let’s Test has such an excellent line-up that it is really difficult to name one or two. Maybe “Testing Hypnotically” or “The Testing Dead”. The first because it explores an unusual analogy between two areas normally not mentioned together: testing and hypnosis. The second one, because it addresses a sad problem in our craft in a humorous fashion. But there is not even one session, which I do not find intriguing. It is going to be tough to choose among the concurrent tracks.

Of course I am especially looking forward to the conversations outside the sessions. It is great to meet all my Twitter, Skype and e-mail conversation friends in person and discuss testing.

Markus Gärtner: Imagine Let’s Test is over. What did happen there, that made it an awesome conference for you?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: If after the conference I come back to Switzerland and feel even prouder to be a tester,
if all the discussions with people have made the network of testers stronger,
if my tester’s gas tank is filled with energy and inspiration from the sessions and the discussions,
if I genuinely feel sad that the conference is over,
then I think the conference will have been awesome.

Now, the expectations towards Let’s Test are already very high among the participants. That is of course dangerous. But I think the conference cannot fail, because all the context-driven people will flock to Stockholm and just them being presences will generate a positive dynamic.

Markus Gärtner: European Testing in twenty years from now – how does it look like? What do you think?
Ilari-Henrik Aegerter: I haven’t got the slightest clue! Twenty years in a technology focused area is such a long time. In this dynamic and complex system where just a tiny invention can have effects beyond imagination, all prediction is just guessing. I have no idea how software testing is going to look like in 20 years. But I know a lot of us will be around and adapt to whatever situation there is.

I think this adaptation can be quite a challenge for some people who call themselves testers. No certificate can prepare you for the next 20 years.

There are certainly things I hope for the next 20 years. In a short sentence: Less ISTQB, quality police mentality and useless certifications, more context-driven.

Markus Gärtner: Thanks for your time. Looking forward to meet you at Let’s Test in May!

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