Eric is a candidate in the board elections for 2019.
Q1: Why are you an AST Member?
I believe that AST best represents my point of view in how I think about testing. AST performs a critical function by representing our craft for its own sake, without a financial interest in framing the conversation.
AST helped me awaken as a thinking tester. My thinking, understanding, and career all grew because of my exposure to and association with AST. AST was critical for supporting the ideas and the people that helped create modern testing, and launched my generation of thinking testers. I owe a great debt to AST, and a responsibility to testing to make sure it is available to touch others as it touched me.
Q2: How do you intend to promote diversity within the AST? How could AST promote diversity, of all kinds, within our own organization and within the wider testing and technology communities?
I have promoted diversity as a board member of AST by attempting to recruit diverse board members, influencing thoughtfully diverse conference programming, and helping ensure our events are safe, respectful, and welcoming to all. AST can continue to promote diversity in being deliberate about who it provides a platform for, and what the environments of our events are like.
Q3: What do you think the AST board has historically done well, and what do you think needs to change?
Many AST board members have been steadfast in preserving our traditions, and focusing on continuity in BBST, CAST, and other programs. We continue to operate these programs in 2019 and for many years to come – these are essential to the identity of AST.
Things have changed a great deal since AST was formed in 2004, CAST began in 2006, and BBST was first offered somewhere around there. Since then, modern testing techniques have become widely accepted. The number of testing conferences has exploded, particularly ones that feature practitioners. There are now many more options for learning about testing, both commercial and free.
We need some new models for engaging with what testing is in 2019, and courageous leaders with vision who are willing to try new things. It’s a valuable thing to maintain some institutions, but these institutions must be vital, dynamic, and relevant to the community, not just enduring for the sake of enduring.
Q4: If you are elected to serve on the board, what is your vision for the future of AST and what do you hope to accomplish as part of the board?
Over the last four years serving on the board, we’ve looked at both radical and incremental changes to how AST works, We have generally been conservative, which concerns me. For AST to remain impactful for another 15 years, it will need to adjust to the different world that exists for testers today and the even more different world that will exist tomorrow.
One thing for AST to consider is how to best participate in “co-opetition” with entries like Ministry of Test, TechWell, Agile Testing Days, and others so that we can all exist together and thrive. We have had some discussions along these lines, but we are still looking for the right engagement models. Ministry of Test has been especially collaborative and supportive.
As a volunteer-run organization, it is very difficult to out-hustle these organizations to capture some of the community’s energy for participation and engagement. As a non-profit, we have different constraints, motivations, and goals for our work. What does AST mean to a person who has entered testing in the last three years? Does our status and mission as a non-profit connect with them? What would make people five to ten years into their career as testers want to continue to invest their time and energy in AST? There is enough energy and funding in total for everyone to succeed, but AST needs to sharpen its ability to attract membership, sponsorship, and conference attendees in a very competitive landscape in order to continue our programs.
While we work on that puzzle, I’d like to continue work on a couple of new programs we’ve been experimenting with.
First, expanding local chapters for AST. We would like to use regional pricing and more local engagement to better serve markets outside of North American and Western Europe. We’ve started a local chapter in Armenia with the help of people on the ground there, specifically Aramayis Hovhannisyan. Aram is the appointed local chair head, and has been provided discount codes to make the price of AST Membership more affordable for that market.
We need to continue to develop this model. Job boards and blocks of grant funding might be next steps. BBST courses might be something else to look at here. And of course, we’re eager to add markets like India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Uruguay, and many other developing areas.
Secondly, we started a program to run a second CAST conference (CastX) each year. We started with the idea that it would move each year to a new place, but as we dug more into the business of breaking into a new market (Australia), we realized that moving every year would make things harder. We eventually tried to franchise the conference with local volunteers, and they put on a great conference. Unfortunately, we were not able to make it to a fourth year in Australia.
I think there is still something that could work with local, loosely affiliated conferences. We need to connect with local energy, and find the right mix between our expertise and financial resources and local energy to generate ticket sales and sponsorship. I also think this may overlap with the local chapter effort. So, to speak my dream into existence: We should have a CAST in India in 2020.
Lastly, by serving one more term, I hope to help launch and support a new generation of leadership and healthy collaboration in AST. This is something our board has not been good at historically; as I came on the board, some of the treatment I got from departed/departing board members could be plainly described as hostile. Arguments, show-down votes, deep discussions of the ethical decisions being made by board members, dramatic resignations – these are the kinds of things that happen on the board in the best of times. Trying to navigate them in a hostile environment makes things far worse.
Under Justin Rorhman’s steady leadership, most of my AST board experience has been an experience of collaboration and consensus-building, and I have tried to maintain that since his departure. While human beings will always have disagreements, and people have bad days, I think this spirit of cooperation and harmony is worth preserving. As an elder statesperson on the next board, I will encourage the energy and ideas of the new board members and try to help them become real, but I will also be trying to transmit this culture of inclusivity and friendliness into the future of the AST board.
Q5: Many people come to be AST Board of Directors candidates through a long history of community involvement. This community involvement usually involves teaching, creating and running peer conferences, creating and running regular conferences, and working with commercial entities.
Q5A: These are all wonderful and valuable activities, but they might create conflicts for board members. One problem is that a board member spending time helping a personal conference to thrive means less or no time spent on AST events. The other problem, and the more important one, is that knowing program and financial information of a personal event will affect decisions made for AST events and initiatives and vice versa.
Q5B: Please describe any current initiatives you participate in that might affect your ability to serve on the AST board, and serve the AST membership
All the participants in AST activities are volunteers. This means that their activities for AST come after fulfilling their responsibilities to their families, business/employers, and other participation in/work for communities they are a part of. I have had to balance my concern about taking energy from AST with the new information and networking opportunities these activities have provided. I think I’ve made the right choices, most of the time.
As a board member, I have spoken at conferences, run a peer conference (WOPR), and participated in testing and adjacent communities in software engineering. I have committed to speaking at TestBash San Francisco in November 2019, and I might run another WOPR next spring. I do not have any other current affiliations or commitments in the testing community.
These activities cause me to think not just about my energy, but also about my ethics in this area, which is why I wrote the first version of this question a couple of years ago. Does the other work I do help or hurt AST? if I support another testing conference, am I at conflict with AST’s interest? Am I representing AST appropriately when I am talking and working with others?
Financial interest in another conference or competing business would be a very clear conflict of interest for me. Using AST resources to benefit another company, non-profit, or myself would be a clear conflict of interest, too. The rules I have come up with for my conduct working with other entities where there isn’t a direct financial interest are not as clear as I would like. If I speak at another conference, and my name and work is being used to sell tickets, is that a conflict with AST’s interests? What is a competing conference from an AST perspective? Which aren’t?
It would be more satisfying to have short and simple rules to constrain my conduct, but I have not been able to bake in simple to my rules yet. In discussions with other board members, they have become somewhat clearer, sometimes.
For example, we had a discussion about a board member performing as a program chair for another conference. I began the conversation with the position that this was an unacceptable conflict for one of our board members. I stated that this was moving beyond speaking at a conference to having a stronger investment in the success of a conference, even if it wasn’t strictly financial. Though while we were mentioning that, the leading of a tutorial at a conference leads to promotion responsibilities, which yields the apparently unseemly spectacle of a board member urging people to attend a conference not put on by AST.
On further discussion amongst the board, it became apparent to me that the normal marketing and business development opportunities of an independent/small business testing consultant involves doing this kind of work. Demanding that board members not do that kind of work would exclude people who are entrepreneurs from being board members. We would question their tighter involvement with CAST as well – so does being on the board mean no outlets? Board members are accomplished volunteers from the industry, and it’s certainly possible to define an ethical standard that excludes most. Does that best serve AST?
Reflecting on that, I thought about my own conference speaking and even being a member of the AST board – activities that people conduct to build their personal brands and compete for interesting work and citable honors. I am proud of my work for AST, and believe in the mission of the organization. I’m also literally competing in an election for a position on the board while and in writing this.
Fiona Charles is a fierce advocate for ethics and ethical behavior whom I deeply respect and admire. I am forced to admit that I do not think I have always met her standards in my activities as a board member. In choosing conference chairs, in engaging with certification, in being too slow in having AST adopt updated ACM ethical standards – she’s rightfully and righteously called out the AST board on issues and asked us to consider how we have made decisions. We are very lucky to have her watching over us, and I appreciate her vigilance.
I think that airing out ethical issues and acknowledging the inevitable conflicts of interest are the only way to navigate them. We need to discuss and agree on which shades of gray the elements of an issue represent, and which shades we’re willing to accept. Principles mean something, but so does judgment. There cannot be one without the other.
I do not believe I have any obligations that might affect my ability to serve on the AST board, and serve the AST membership.
Q6: What is your vision for the future of AST’s training program?
BBST is still an amazing experience for opening up thinking about testing. Deep reflection and analysis stretches intellectual muscles, and makes it possible for people to learn how to really think deeply about the nature of our work. It should continue, and we should find ways to enhance and modernize it.
We should resist the inclination to try and make it more bite-sized. While a good deal of training is moving towards small and short video tutorials, the deep thinking that leads to real breakthroughs for seekers is probably not found that way. As advocates for thinking deeply about software testing, we should continue to champion the hard work of being thorough.
Q7: (Optional) Would you like to provide a short (250-400 word) introduction to go on your candidate page?
Eric Proegler has worked in testing for 20 years, and strongly identified with context-driven testing for most of that time. He is currently a Director of Test Engineering for Medidata Solutions in San Francisco, where he has helped implement exploratory and other thinking testing techniques at enterprise scale.
Eric is the current President of the Association for Software Testing. He is also the lead organizer for WOPR, the Workshop on Performance and Reliability. He’s presented and facilitated at CAST, TestBash, Agile, Jenkins World, STARWEST, Oredev, Nordic Testing Days, Yerevan Testing Days, CodeFest, STPCon, PNSQC, CMG Impact, WOPR, and STiFS.
In his free time, Eric spends time with family, runs a science fiction book club, and sees a lot of live literary events, music, and stand-up comedy. He also seeks out street food from all over, plays video games, and follows professional basketball.