Schedule and Events

March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
July, 14-15, 2012 - Test Coach Camp, San Jose, California
July, 16-18, 2012 - Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2012), San Jose, California
August 2012+ - At Liberty; available. Contact me by email:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The limits of systems

Four years ago -- well before crisis of fall 2008 or the housing meltdown, I wrote a little piece called Against Systems that got a little bit of press attention.

The bottom line was that if you design a point-based system, it'll likely have flaws, and if you allow the system to enforce the rules (say, make it a computer program, or an algorithm) human beings will tend to exploit those flaws.

Wouldn't you know it but this month's Inc. Magazine has an article, "Rewriting the rules of credit", where Economis Amar Bhide answers the following question:

Lending used to be a subject matter: Why did we wind up with system of stringent rules?

With this answer:

First, there was an ethos that developed in academia that said that all risks can be quantified. What economists did was say the tuff that we cannot quantify is really on the margin. And what's essential to riks, we can present to reduce to one or two nubers. Once you do that, then you can create a machine. If you're required to think of risk in a broad, holistic kind of way, it's much more time-consuming.

Implicitly and explicitly, the government embraced this view of risk. Almost unwittingly [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] created the largest mechanist model of lending in the world simply by saying we will underwrite the risk of mortgages if they meet XYZ criteria. If you followed the model for a loan, the government would take it.

The interesting part is that not all lending can be equally mechanized and scaled up. And therin lies the rub. It means if I'm a bank, and I want to expand, I'm going to favor the activity where I can put the pedal to the metal fastest.


And small-business lending does not fit that model?

Correct. It was and remains an activity that requires a banker to go and talk to the borrower. Analysts can pretend that all housing loans are the same, but with small business, the pretending completely defies belief. So small business gets the short end of the stick.

Now think about that 'pretending' that all loans are the same: It meant not human being was looking at the whole balance sheet for holes. Often, it meant that no human was physically examining pay stubs.

We all know how that works out.

So what happens when we rely on an impersonal, mechanistic process to look at our risk - both for our process and for our product?

I hope you can see where I'm going with this.

It's a great interview, and should be up on Inc. com in a few days; I am a subscriber and get the "content" early.

I'll link to it when it becomes available.

In the mean time, I hope you'll join me in embracing that 'broad, holistic' view of risk that Amar is talking about.

Otherwise, we're not testers, but just check-ers. Ya know?

Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 Quality Goals

Things have been a little quiet at Creative Chaos lately -- most of my blogging has been over at the Software Test Professionals Community Blog. That said, every now and again I get inspired to do something more personal, outside of my STP work, and I am trying to keep up this blog.

One of those things is participating in the ASQ Influential voices program.

So check it out - this month, in a little 21-second video clip, the CEO of ASQ asked us what our Quality Goals are for 2011.

Which reminds me of an interesting question: Just what is a 'quality goal', anyway?

Are they personal goals? Career goals? Goals for my department, or company? Perhaps they are goals for the entire quality profession, or society?

Suddenly a simple question turns out to be not so simple to answer.

I do, however, have a few answers:

Personal Goals

I currently weigh two hundred and one pounds. That is about thirty pounds over a healthy weight, and fifty pounds over my ideal weight. At the same time, muscle weighs more than fat, so it is possible that I get skinnier but do not lose weight.

So here's my goal: I would like to exercise at least three times a week, eat smaller portions, drink water at restaurants, skip dessert, and go out to eat less often. My goal by the end of the year is less, to be at least fifteen pounds down, but more importantly, it's to be living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Also, as much as I enjoy software development and testing, I want to keep coaching soccer, teaching religious education, and maintain my relationship with my family. If I improve my career, publish three books, and make much more money, but hurt my relationship with my family, I have failed.

Career Goals

First and foremost, I want to keep my gig at Socialtext. If I have to abandon my professional development activities to keep that gig, I will and should. I do want to do professional development stuff, it just can't get in the way of my family, my health, or my gig at Socialtext. In other words, my professional development is subordinate to the other goals.

Now that i've got that out of the way: I have a fair bit going on. The first order of the day is maintaining the balls in the air: I'd like to continue blogging and podcasting for STP, I intend to finish up the year of "influential voices" with ASQ, continue my interview column in STQA Magazine, and yes, finish up the editing job for the How To Reduce The Cost Of Testing anthology. Oh, I'll be speaking at the Conference for the Association for the Software Testing as well.

Whew. That's a lot of running to stay in place.

Now think about these projects -- except for the conference and the book, the are generally recurring. That is, they generate drag on my life that never ends.

With the time left, I hope to start a second anthology project when the first finishes, speak at a second conference, and perhaps write a half-dozen additional articles or so in the year to come. (Time will tell. I'd like to do a dozen, but I fear that isn't realistic.)

Most important, I would like to grow and deepen some relationships -- and an exhaustive writing schedule tends to weaken relationships, not enhance them. hmm. Ok. So if I didn't end up writing anything outside my existing commitments in 2011, but got to know people in a real and meaningful way, that would be better. (Who do I want to get to know? Mostly folks in the Rebel Alliance, the Writing about Testing list, and the Miagi-Do school of software testing.)

Beyond these projects, I'm looking to improve my time management. At this point, a 5% improvement would probably be a win; I'm not sure how far I can continue to stretch things.

Company Goals

The company I work at for my day job, Socialtext has numerical targets for projects, sales, and staffing, that we discussed last week in Palo Alto at our company face-to-face. I may be able to share some of that here in the future, but I hope you understand if I'm a little reluctant to discuss that without checking up first.

Suffice to say, we have tough but realistic goals that are explicit.

Goals for the Quality Profession and Society

As I mentioned earlier, I think the "How to Reduce the Cost of Testing" book has potential, as would a follow-up collection of essays. My general goal here is to continue to champion a human-centered view of software testing as risk management.

What would would be some leading indicators that this is working?

First off, we could see an increase in membership on the rebel alliance list, and most jobs filled by those sort of informal methods. I would like to see more short-term contract engagements for Boutique Testing flying around, and, if possible, I get pleasure in connecting gigs to seekers. Likewise, I'd like to see Miagi-Do prosper, but I don't know how much time I will have to dedicate to it.

And, of course, I hope the attendance numbers for CAST and STPCon go up in the year to come. Personally, I would like to see 30% growth; I think 20% is reasonable.

Among those conferences, though, I would really like to see more people from Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google. At the same time, I'd like to see a growing realization among management that the solutions those big companies have don't always fit the problems that smaller companies have. So discernment within the quality professional is increasingly important to me.

How you measure that, I'm not sure. But I'll know it when I see it.

Whew. That's a fair bit of goals. Enough for now, I think.


Having gone through this exercise, which is a good one and I recommend, I can't help but notice a few things. First, that not all of my goals can be numerically quantified - for example, if I lost weight in an unsustainable way and bounce back, it would undo the reason I am trying to accomplish the goal. Second, these are prioritized. Family comes first; accomplishing all the others and failing at family is #fail.

Third, most of these are expressed as comittments, not goals. My actual, personal goals are much higher, and I am not expressing them in writing. Personally, I find that expressing goals in writing often generates the same sort of "brain candy" as actually accomplishing to goal - so I am holding back. A fair bit of behavioral science supports this premise.

Finally, notice what I am really doing here - a bunch of stuff that I find personally enjoyable and quick return, instead of "building" toward one specific thing.

My personal development turns out to be exploratory in nature, and it seems to be working for me.

Speaking of which, all of these goals are the best idea I have right now. If something does come along that is that much better, well, I feel comfortable failing to "accomplish" my goals in order to do something better.

Except for the stuff with the legal contract with my signature on it. That, I'm going to do, and do well, because inside of all of these goals is a hidden one: I want to be a certain kind of person -- and that includes keeping my promises.

Which reminds me -- I might have a 'nice to have' section of my goals that are things that I am not promising, but would like to do, like re-writing the Excelon Development website. hmm.

I have some thinking to do. More to come.