This is going to be a little different compared to the last three days, in the sense that I’m moderating/facilitating a Workshop/Tutorial, and I have a long standing tradition of not broadcasting details of workshops because conference attendees pay to attend these. Therefore they deserve to have the opportunity to absorb and apply the materials first. Plus, it makes many of the exercises less useful if they are freely disseminated, so I’m not going to talk about any of the exercises directly… but I will talk about why I’m here and what I’ve witnessed while I’ve been here :).

So often, we go to conferences, we listen to people talk, we watch PowerPoint fly by… and in none of these sessions do any of us touch a keyboard, grab a device, and actually DO something. Well, today is all about doing something, and more to the point, my doing something is to work in support of Matt Heusser and Pete Walen’s “Software Testing: Reloaded“.

This is a day of testing exercises, games, questions, theories, conundrums, challenges, and things that should make you go “hmmm…” and so far, that last one has proven to be very successful. While I won’t talk about the actual exercises and solutions, I will talk about one observation from this morning that I thought was somewhat fun. We (meaning Pete, Matt and Ben Simo) came into the room where we were holding the workshop, and proceeded to throw everything into chaos. The nice, neat, well ordered room was made to have tables spread all over, in random fashion, with too little and to many chairs, chairs up ended and placed on top of tables. We watched as people filtered into the room, looked a little perplexed and bewildered, and then sat down. Wherever they could find. Few participants said anything. They just sat and waited for us to talk. There was definite muttering, and definite confusion, but only two people asked what was going on, and when they asked if they could move the tables and we said “just have a seat”, there were no more questions and they sat down.

As we started in, we asked if everyone was comfortable. Some said yes, some fidgeted a bit, but no one came out and said “uh, what’s with the ridiculous layout of the room?” We thought for sure a set of testers would say something! At the end of our introductions of ourselves, we then asked everyone if they thought the room layout was ridiculous. Then they responded that the room layout seemed weird, and that they would like to change it. From there, we told everyone that their first priority was to set up the room in a way that they wanted, in a format that would work for them. The participants grouped into a number of teams, put their tables together and we went from there.

So why am I mentioning this one incident in particular? It struck me that as testers, we seem to intensely feel that we are not the ones in power, that we inherit the environment we work in, and that because of that, we often take what we are given without making much of a fuss. We may write down notes, we may observe what’s going on, but do we often come out and say “whoa, what’s going on here?!” While that may be a gross generalization, today’s experiment seemed to show that to be the case. Even with a completely ridiculous room layout, few spoke up about it. If they did say anything, even vaguely, about it, our answer of “just sit down” stopped the conversation. None of the testers in the room further challenged it, none of the testers asked why we were doing this, or what our reasoning for this setup was.

I considered it a bit odd at first, but then, I knew the outcome. I knew what the goal was, so a part of me wanted to see if anyone would step up to the plate and really challenge what we were doing. I think too often, we just blend in, cause we know we are already the bearer of bad news most of the time, so being loud and up front may be a bit uncomfortable. How often do we put up with things because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable, even if our silence leaves us uncomfortable? I know for me, it happens fairly often. Perhaps one lesson from this is that we should be willing to challenge conventional wisdom just a little more often, and not accept the first answer we get. If we are willing to do that, perhaps we can have a little more influence than we might otherwise have (end gross generalization).

So, how has your Wednesday been thus far :)?