What makes a good software QA person?

We have a few quirks, a hint of obsessive compulsive disorder, and we’re brutally honest. We never lie to our developers. We don’t sugar-coat, soft-shoe, back-peddle, exaggerate, or outright lie. We can’t. Our job requires us to be utterly truthful. We’ll tell it to you straight, we’re paid to be honest.

We think this stuff is funny. And it is! You have to appreciate the bug found in the wild, the “disastrous misconfiguration” error message on Chrome when it finds a “weak ephemeral Diffie-Hellman public key” (it has to do with TLS encryption), or the mall TV screen showing a Blue Screen Of Death. It’s free entertainment, but it also makes you think: what got missed that this bug escaped into the real world? How do I find a bug like that? How would I reproduce this bug? We know other people don’t always appreciate the humor in a good bug find, but a QA always will.

We’re in the details. There’s a slight correlation between being a good Dot Net developer and having blue eyes, based on two companies I've worked at. I notice colours, including eye colours, and I’m always looking for patterns. I spot when someone has matched their glasses, fingernails, shoes, toenails, and purse. If a line on a user interface is bumped down by a pixel partway along, I’ll see it. The fact that there are different numbers of steps between floors in my office building is a source of amusement, and some floors are a prime number of steps apart. When you use the back staircase, you get different numbers of stairs between floors. In the main stairwell, the door out isn’t on a consistent side as you go up the stairs, sometimes it’s on the south side, sometimes on the west. We live for details and patterns, sequences and clean lines.

We need more input, more tools, more tricks, more ways to play. More languages, more front-end and more back-end knowledge, and the stuff in between. Once we know about injection attacks, we'll test that everywhere we can. We're the reason you have client-side and server-side validation. "Why" and "how" are the most used words we know, followed by "what if". We're not trying to take your job, we want to know enough that we can see the weak spots in the armour, right where you think we could never shove a buffer overrun but we do it anyway. We have an insatiable need to learn and we're not afraid to be the least-informed person in the room while we pick up something new.

We ask a lot of questions. Some of them we already know the answer to, we're trying to show you something in a gentle and non-confrontational way. Some of them we have no idea what the answer is, and it may be an obvious or dumb question to a developer, but we need to know. Asking questions is one way to find out. Breaking stuff is another, and scenario questions ("what if the user does X or Y") are a third. We have an idea of how you're feeling from how you talk and type and move, we pay attention to that.

Muffin test kitchen

I've been testing out muffin recipes, especially Paleo and gluten-free ones. These are the successes, I've only had one really bad fail. The biggest lesson I've learned is that manually grating a carrot is a lot of work.

Paleo Morning Glory muffins
I used buckwheat honey, and added a half cup of five grain cereal because my mix looked very wet. It bumped up the cooking time by five minutes and gave me 16 muffins, not 12. Instead of 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, I used one each of cinnamon and nutmeg. They taste fabulous! Dense, moist, great flavour. I ran the nutrition info for these through SparkPeople since it's not on the recipe page.
Nutritional info: Calories: 255.6, Fat: 15.3g, Carbs: 27g, Fibre: 3.3g Protein: 3.6g, Cholesterol: 46.5mg

Carrot Walnut muffins
These are tasty and very light and fluffy, I've made two batches so far. In the Yoga Journal magazine for August 2015, it gives nutrition info, the website doesn't give you that. This was my first time using coconut flour.
Nutritional info: Calories: 134, Fat: 9g, Carbs: 11g, Protein: 4g, Cholesterol: 70mg, Sodium: 178mg.

Applesauce Oatmeal muffins
I take issue with the directions saying prep time is 5 minutes when the first line says to soak the oats in milk for an hour, but these are tasty and filling muffins. I used nutmeg instead of cinnamon for these, plus some leftover flax seed and millet. Might add flax meal next time to bump up the protein, and switch out the whole wheat flour for almond flour. I like that they use egg white and not whole eggs.
Nutritional info: Calories: 92.3, Fat: 0.5g, Carbs: 23.6g, Fiber: 1.7g, Protein: 3g, Cholesterol: 0.4mg, Sodium: 203.7mg

I love muffins and I'm also trying to eat less carbs and more protein, definitely less sugar.

Résumé do’s and don’ts

(Written for a friend who was teaching a class of young people.)

Do be selective. You don't have to list every job you've ever had. Highlight the relevant ones, and highlight specific things you learned or did at those jobs.

The purpose of a résumé is to get you an interview, not tell me your life story.

Never send a ten page résumé, or a seven page one, or even a five page one. If you can't prioritise what to put on a résumé, you're showing that you don't have that skill, which is really useful in many jobs.

No-one should need any more than three pages at the very longest for someone with decades of experience. Don't make your résumé a wall of text, give me enough to get my attention and move on. Hit the highlights and the most relevant experience.

If you're applying to be an X, make sure your resume mentions being an X, or training as an X, or research into being an X. Never apply for a job as an X and send a résumé telling me you're a Y.

Read the résumé out loud before you send it. When you read it aloud, odd sentence structure or awkward wording is a lot more obvious. Have someone else read it to you.

Don't refer to yourself in the third person, it's weird ("Mary is a creative and visionary professional"). It looks weird, it sounds weird, you wouldn't speak like that.

Never put it on your résumé if you're not prepared to talk about it in detail. I leave JavaScript off mine, because I can hack my way through with Google and Stack Overflow, but I'm no expert and I don't want to get grilled on it. If it is on the résumé, it's fair game for me asking you questions about it.

Don't inflate your skills. If you say you're an expert at X but you can't answer basic questions about X, then that makes me wonder what else is untrue on your résumé. Don't lie, exaggerate, or make stuff up.

There should not be ANY typos, spelling errors, or grammatical errors in your résumé. Print it out and red pen it. Then get someone else to red pen it.

Stick with basic fonts: Times, Georgia, Ariel, Helvetica. Stay away from Comic Sans and Papyrus. Don't use clip art, or colours. If your résumé gets printed, it'll almost always be on a black and white laser printer, colours make it pale and harder to read.

Make sure your contact details on the résumé are correct, it's the only way to get hold of you. If you set up a separate email address for the résumé, check it multiple times a day.

Don't belittle your past employers on your résumé. We know you want to leave, but bad-mouthing them on paper makes me wonder what you'll say about my company later.

If you have gaps in your employment history, be prepared to explain why.

If you're applying for an entry level job, research what the skills are for someone in that job, and showcase those in your résumé. Even if you don't have the experience, it shows you did the research and know what you're looking for.

Nonfiction reading

Starting November 2013, I've been reading more books from the business, management, leadership, and creativity sections of the book store. By a wild coincidence, I took on more leadership-ish things at work around then. These are ones I've finished so far:

Jurgen Appelo "Management 3.0"
Laurie Helgoe "Introvert Power"
Sheryl Sandberg "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead"
Robert Sutton "The No Asshole Rule"
Robert Sutton "Good Boss, Bad Boss"
Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons "The Invisible Gorilla"
Steven Pressfield "The War of Art"
George J Thompson and Jerry B Jenkins "Verbal Judo: the gentle art of persuasion"
Jim Collins "Good to Great"
Sunni Brown "The Doodle Revolution"
Patrick Lencioni "The Advantage"

Currently in progress are "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" by Travis Bradberry, Jean Greaves, and Patrick M. Lencioni, and "The Speed of Trust" by Stephen M. R. Covey. Next up are "The Art Of War For Women" by Chin-Ning Chu and "Scaling Up Excellence" by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. Some are recommendations, some are my own finds. Most have been useful, some more than others. I didn't like "Lean In" one bit.

I'm trying to alternate business books with fiction. Too much nonfiction makes me cranky, the last time I surfaced from a nonfiction binge I tore through a bunch of Dresden Files books and didn't touch nonfiction for a while. Having ten years of book reading history is fascinating.

Goodbye FitBit, Hello Garmin

I've had a FitBit tracker on my wrist for about two years, first the Flex, then the Charge, which was a Christmas gift from Husband last Christmas. Less than seven months ago I had a brand new Charge, what I currently have is a Charge where the adhesive has failed and the tracker is pulling away from the band. FitBit customer service is sending a new one, after I sent them a picture of the damage.

The FitBit Flex was bought for me by my employer. The band broke twice, with the plastic pulling away from the clear window, FitBit replaced the first band, the other got replaced when the Flex stopped charging and they sent me a whole new Flex. Kudos to their customer service for putting things right, but the build quality of their products just isn't good enough for me. Every FitBit product I've used has broken in less than a year of use.

Enter the Garmin vivofit 2. Battery powered, so no charging, and the batteries should last a year. Waterproof to more depth that I'd get to, so I don't have to take it off to shower. Tough clasp that locks in place. I've lost the tracking on floors climbed, but that wasn't important to me, and I never knew if I'd log 9 or 11 floors on the way in to work. I still have step tracking and sleep tracking, the two features that were most important to me.

Now I have an always-on digital watch, and it's pretty nifty. Weighing in at 25g, it weighs a whole gram less than the Charge did. I gained the Move Bar, a red line that comes on when I've spent too long sitting. It's fun to get up and walk until it goes away. So long, FitBit, and thanks for all the fish.

What’s in a title?

Riffing off the sci-fi novel "Bowl of Heaven" with Husband, I was sad to find out the second book in the series was not "Spoon of Heaven," or "Weetabix of Heaven," because it would fit perfectly. We came up with some other novel titles that could be tweaked:

  • Rendezvous with Breakfast
  • Bun Diver
  • Revelation Spork

George R. R. Martin gets his own section:

  • The Song of Fire and Ice Cream
  • A Game of Toasts
  • A Clash of Crumpets
  • A Storm of Soup
  • A Feast for Croissants
  • A Dance with Donuts
  • The Winds of Wintergreen (forthcoming)
  • A Dream of Spring Rolls (forthcoming)

Then there's the Jim Butcher section (I skipped some titles):

  • Storm Fridge
  • Full Moon Pie
  • Blood Pudding Rites
  • White Chocolate Night
  • Turnover Coat

Travel lessons

Airplane travel
Some day, you and your checked luggage will be parted. Maybe for a day, maybe forever. Have enough in carry-on that you can survive a day while you get replacements for the essentials.
Medications go in carry-on bags.
If you fly more than twice a year, do the TSA Pre-Check and get a Known Traveller Number. You can keep your liquids in your bag and use the short line for screening, and it lasts for five years.

Driving for business
Classical music is not your friend. Find something with a beat that you can sing along to, especially if you're driving multiple hours.
Drink lots of water and take stops every hour. The one may facilitate the other.
Don’t be the fastest thing on the road.
Chocolate left in your car all day will probably melt, especially in summer.
Bring one book, not three.

General travel
When you’re in a new city, ask people for recommendations of places to go and places to eat. Then take the recommendations. This got me to Askinosie a fantastic chocolate factory in Springfield MO, and Farmer’s Gastropub, which is the closest thing to a British pub I’ve found in America.
Explore on your own.
Take the time to introvert and be alone.
Back to back travel is best avoided. You need a break in between trips.
Coming home is the best part of travelling.

What NOT to say to your QA

It's a feature, not a bug.
But why would you even do that?
QAs are just failed developers.
My code is perfect, I don't write bugs.
You're not supposed to do that in the app.
It's a design error, not a bug.
I'm not fixing that.
Why are you worried about that? No one ever does THAT...
QAs aren't technical, they don't need to attend to that meeting.
You're testing it wrong.
This doesn't concern QA.
Get me on %MANAGER%'s calendar for tomorrow afternoon.
It works on MY machine, so it's fine.
Load testing is for developers to do, not QAs.
We turned off all the tests.
The user will never be able to do that, so it's an invalid test.
It'll be fine in production.
You're using invalid data, that's why you think it's a bug.
This way is better.
You need to take notes in the meeting for everyone.
QA can do that admin task, they're not doing anything worthwhile.
Where are the batteries kept?
Can you hurry up? We have a deadline.
I thought you were a nice person.
So when will you be DONE?

(Some mine, others collected from Asynchrony QAs Slack channel.)

First speaking event complete

Last night I spoke at LaunchCoderGirl, an all-women group learning how to code. I spoke about what QA does in an Agile software development environment. People laughed at most of the places I wanted them to laugh, and when I was done there were several questions, then people wanted to talk to me.

This was my first ever public speaking gig. I almost ran out of business cards, and I have no idea how long I talked. My slides had a Dilbert cartoon, an xkcd cartoon, and the D&D alignment chart, plus some screenshots and links to QA resources.

Public speaking has always terrified me. I've taken baby steps with helping to facilitate our Agile QA class, and speaking at the new hire orientation session twice. Last night was not terrifying, and it was fun. And I used the green laser pointer I've wanted to get for years.

Edited to add:
I put my slides and transcript on Slide Share. I'm told I talked for about half an hour.

How to have a meeting that doesn’t suck

Have a defined end-point for the meeting, and get there as soon as you can.

Take your own notes, by hand, on paper. You'll notice what's relevant to you and the act of writing helps you recall it.

Allow audience participation, it's not a lecture or a class, it's about collaboration. Someone else knows information that's relevant and they can't speak if you never leave space for other people's words.

Count at least seven seconds of silence when you ask a question. People start squirming at that much dead air and someone will fill it. Some people can tolerate more silence than others, watch for them and ask them questions directly.

If your meeting room is a fridge, people are too busy being cold to pay attention to what you say, and they probably hate you for keeping on talking.

Multiple-hour info-dump meetings will be forgotten by morning. Multiple-hour meetings that are also cold will be remembered only as cold and too long.

Humans need regular bio breaks. Having to ask to be taken to the rest room as an adult, because you require a security badge to get back in and you're not handing those out to visitors, is humiliating. Don't be that company. If you can't get around the badge issue, schedule a break every couple of hours and get people up and moving.

If it's a meeting where people can phone in, make sure they can hear you over the phone. Repeat questions before answering them, and speak clearly and more loudly than usual.

For a video conference, have a dry run of the technology the day before to make sure everything is working OK. Do not make your meeting the first time you turn the video camera on.

If there's any way possible you can get everyone in the same room, do that.