BREWT 2: The peer conference

This year we organised the second edition of the BREWT peer conference and it was as interesting and valuable as the first. We were honored with the presence of twenty (inter)national attendees, all with completely different backgrounds and skill sets. In short: we were set for a great day full of testing stories and discussions!
After a brief welcome and an introduction round the facilitation rules were explained and AST was thanked for so generously supporting us (the second year in a row!) with their grant program. With the program and the participation rules laid out, we were set to go.


The peer conference was kicked off by Vera Gehlen-Baum. She is a CEO at QualityMinds and enlightened us with how her company approaches learning. She explained how they use bootcamps to start off new testers in order to get them ready for their first assignment at a client. There is a strong focus on learning at a personal level without neglecting the team and even organisational level learning. Every starter/student is matched with a “Fairy godperson”; different godpeople excel in different areas, so students are matched to make sure that all learning possibilities are provided. Continuous learning is at the center of their approach: learning goals are added to a sprint, and coaches are assigned for longer periods of time. Not only experienced people are involved, but also people who recently acquired new information are enabled to transfer that knowledge. For some new learners it might even be easier to learn from another, slightly more experienced, ‘newbie’ instead of from someone more advanced or an expert.
This first talk sparked many interesting discussions (apparently learning is something testers are quite fond of, who would have guessed?) but after about 90 minutes we decided to move onto the next topic. If it were up to Vera she would have talked about this all day, but there were still other experience reports to be heard!

The second experience report of the day was delivered by Aleksandra Kornecka, better known as Ola. She touched upon many barrier-breaking experiences that she lived through in the past year. The first one was about crossing her own mental border of not yet being in a senior position. She made the conscious decision to stop doubting her expertise and to start sharing her thoughts and knowledge she was confident about. Once she started doing that great things started happening quickly. Bottom line: be brave and speak up when you know the answers.
Her experience told of a deep dive in breaking the testers’ glass ceiling in a company she worked for. By mentoring, empowering and working for positive visibility Ola helped the testing team to become equal partners in the software development process. Lessons learned: advocate for others and for quality, build the team and be the QA coach when needed.
Ola also talked about pushing her limits of multitasking. Never before she experienced such a huge amount of it like last year. She found that she started to feel frustrated and unhappy although all circumstances were alright and supportive. Ola learned to accept that she could not be everywhere and control all the quality factors. She needed more focus for a stronger impact.
Finally she mentioned unconstraining her technical intuition. She found that being open to careful observations, you do not need to code in PHP to be able to read PHP and to provide accurate and helpful conclusions in code reviews. She started attending cloud infrastructure workshops, learned about Amazon Web Services and automated monitoring and dashboards. By following her technical intuition she was able to effectively serve her team with experiences and insights.

Shentil Subburam, a tester at a Healthcare company, started the third session. He described the context he is currently working in: there is a high emphasis on the process instead of on the team. This often sends the team and the product in a negative spiral. The monolith of a process came to be because many people added their own small part to it (mostly because of regulations and controlling).
Zeger Van Hese noted that ‘Things are the way they are because they became that way.’, a quote he attributed to the late Jerry Weinberg. As a tester this forces you into a role where documentation is more important than actually improving quality. Others mentioned that quality is built and not tested, but it is not easy when the process is controlled by other forces and deemed more important.

Marcel Gehlen was the next one to present his case. He is no longer a tester but is currently serving as the manager of a DevOps team. While leading this new team he noticed how the operations people perceived quality and how they valued it:
if shit hits the fan, it hits their fan first.
To build their system and process to deal with this requires a motivated, well-guided team. This is not an easy task: it requires guidance without collapsing into micromanagement. It requires freedom, while watching out for chaos.
While his role might no longer be that of a tester, his mindset didn’t change completely. The testing he does now is that of the team and the process they are running. Ruud Cox added the insight that ‘Anything that can be observed can be tested’. Next to leading his team, Marcel also noticed that his influence had shifted. For all projects he was involved in, not only was he able to give direction to the devops strategy but also the testing strategy. This was an unforeseen but not unwelcome power that came with the shift in his role.

The last topic of the evening was brought to us by Elizabeth Zagroba. She told us a story of how she ended up with a different role in the project: the team she was in had a Project Manager that wasn’t involved in the team. This was especially problematic since her team was supposed to be connecting two other teams (they were literally building an interface between two systems, each built/maintained by a different team). She gradually started squeezing the PM out of the process, to improve the efficacy of the team and fulfill their mission. After a while she took over the role of the PM on top of her testing role.
This sparked a great discussion about the role of managers in projects. What should they do and how do they contribute to end result. Everyone concluded that Elizabeth secretly had managerial potential even though this is not her ambition (for now).

This concluded the official portion of the BREWT peer conference. We wrapped up with some complimentary Belgian drinks and delicacies and then moved to a nice restaurant in the historical city center of Ghent to discuss some more. The theme ‘breaking the barrier’ was widely covered and gave all of us new insights to think about in the coming weeks and months. We can’t wait until next year for a third edition!

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