After three days at CAST2011, I finally caught up on the #CAST2011 Twitter feed.  It was filled with great thoughts and moments from the conference, which reflects most of what I experienced.  There was only one thing missing; critical reaction.

In Michael Bolton’s thought provoking keynote, I was reminded of Jerry Weinberg’s famous tester definition, “A tester is someone who knows that things can be different".  Well, before posting on what I learned at CAST2011, I’ll take a moment to document four things that could have been different.

Here are some things I got tired of hearing at CAST2011.

  • Commercial test automation tools are the root of all evil.  Quick Test Pro (QTP) was the one that took the most heat (it always is).  Speakers liked to rattle off all the commercial test automation tools they could think of and throw them into a big book-burning-fire.  The reason I’m tired of this is I’ve had great success using QTP as a test automation tool and I didn’t use any of its record/playback features.  I’ve been using my QTP tests to run some 600 checks for the last 24 iterations and it has worked great.  I think any tool can suck when used in the wrong context.  These tools can also be effective in the right context.
  • Physical things are shiny and cool and new all over again. One presentation was about different colored stickies on a white board instead of organizing work items on a computer (you’ve heard that before).  One was about writing tests on different colored index cards.  Someone suggested using giant Lego blocks to track progress.  In each of these cases, one can see the complexity grow (e.g., let’s stick red things on blue things to indicate the blue things are blocked, one guy entered his index card tests into a spreadsheet so he could sort them).  Apparently Einstein used to leave piles of index cards all over his house to write his ideas down on.  I’m thinking maybe that was because Einstein didn’t have an iphone.  IMO, this obsession with using office supplies to organize complex work is silly.  This is why we invented computers after all.  Use software!
  • Down with PowerPoint!  It’s popular these days to be anti-PowerPoint and CAST2011 speakers jumped on that too.  Half the speakers I saw did not bother to use PowerPoint.  I think this is silly.  There is a reason PowerPoint grew to such popularity.  It works!  I would much rather see an organized presentation that someone took the time to prepare, rather than watching speakers fumble around through their file structure looking for pictures or videos to show, which is what I saw 3 or 4 times.  One speaker actually opened PowerPoint, mumbled something about hating it, then didn’t bother to use slideshow mode.  So we looked at his slides in design view.  PowerPoint presentations can suck, don’t get me wrong, but they can also be brilliant with a little creativity.  Just watch some TED talks.
  • Traditional scripting testers are wrong.  You know the ones, those testers who write exhaustive test details so a guy off the street can execute their tests.  Oh wait…maybe you don’t know the ones.  Much time was spent criticizing that approach.  I’m tired of it because I don’t really think those people are much of a threat these days.  I’ve never worked with one and they certainly don’t attend CAST.  Why spend time bashing them?

I’m not bitter.  I learned from and loved all the speakers.  Jon Bach and his brother, James, put on an excellent tester conference that I was extremely grateful to attend.  I was just surprised we couldn’t get beyond the above.

Positive posts to come. I promise.

BTW - Speaking of candor… to Jon Bach’s credit, he opened Day2 with a clever self-deprecating bug report addressing conference concerns he had collected on Day1.  Things like the name tag print being to small and the breakfast lacking protein.  Most of these issues were addressed and he even used PowerPoint to address them.  Go Jon!  I was very impressed.


  1. Matt_Middleton said...

    The funny thing is, physical and electronic "formats" for tracking information are both prone to overcomplication, if for no other reason than human beings tend to like to overcomplicate things! *LOL* I've caught myself several times thinking "ooh, I should add a new indicator to my test case charts", and then stopping myself and realizing that it's just because I like to tinker, not because I really need that new indicator.

  2. gMasnica said...

    Hey Eric,

    Lots of good points here. I think several of them revolve around the same idea of "Think for yourself". The retaliation against blindly doing what HP says with QTP, dryly reading PPT slides back to the audience, or following a test case spreadsheet like a robot are all rooted part of the same argument I think.

    If the tester (or anyone really), can find a way to use a tool and still allow either themselves or their audience to think and adapt then they aren't "bad". When you hear things like "Don't think about it and just do what we say" it sparks rebellion and defensive outbursts.

    Almost everything can be helpful or useful, providing the right context :)

  3. Lizard said...

    Why spend time bashing traditional scripted testers? Well, I think that message still needs to be preached, but not to the people at CAST. No, it needs to go out to a developer I talked to the other day (via a dev-related mailing list) and probably a whole bunch of other devs, dev managers, and the like. They still think that this is an effective testing strategy.

  4. Ben Kelly said...

    Hi Eric,

    I like that you're thinking critically about stuff you experienced at CAST. I think that's important. I would have liked your blog post a whole lot more if you'd been more specific in directing your criticism. Let me make some observations about your four points.

    Commercial testing tool bashing:

    I didn't attend any talks on automation, so I can't speak to exactly what was said in them - but you can. Who specifically said what? It's all well and good to intimate that a bunch of different people bashed tool automation, but I'm guessing it was more like two, maybe three people said some stuff you disagree with. I know James is passionate about his rants against unscrupulous tool vendors. I don't hear him bashing tools. Who else said stuff and what did they say?

    What I want to hear is how you spoke with the presenters and disagreed with them. I want to hear how that conversation went and how it ended up. Keep people honest, man. If you heard someone say something you don't like, call em out on it. CAST is the sort of place you can have those sort of arguments and have them actually be constructive.

    For what it's worth, I didn't hear anyone bashing automation, but the circles I moved in during the conference tended not to talk about it a whole lot, so that may not be saying much. My own adventures with QTP are on my blog, fwiw.

    Physical things are shiny and new...

    I wasn't at this presentation, but what I would have loved to hear about was the discussion you had with the presenter about your concerns, either during open season or after.

    Down with slide decks...

    I think you're being a little unfair here. It's possible I was in a bunch of different talks to you, but either way you seem to be assuming that the presenters you saw were jumping on some sort of anti slide deck bandwagon. I saw three (out of eight) presentations that were sans slides. Two of those were due to technical difficulties, so you may want to give others the benefit of the doubt. Again, I hope you gave the presenters your feedback. Not sure if you realized, but a fair number of presenters (myself included) were not veteran speakers, so I'm sure your feedback would have been welcome.

    Traditional scripting testers are wrong

    It may be that you're lucky and aren't exposed to having to work with testers who don't want to think and refuse to educate themselves. Let me assure you - they are still out there and unfortunately they're not dying out. I'm not anti-test cases or anti waterfall. I'm anti-zombie. I'm anti-lazy imbecile holding our industry back. I've worked with talented testers in waterfall environments. I've also worked with some complete oxygen thieves. When I can put out a call for resumes and not throw out 95% of what is sent to me, then maybe I'll agree that those conversations are not worth having.

    It sounds like your experience at CAST was a bit different to mine. I am curious to hear what else you got out of it, good or bad. Good on you for calling it like you see it.

  5. Eric Jacobson said...

    Ben, thanks for the awesome response. Perhaps I am a bit cynical. I see a little CAST2011 group-think and the tester in me comes out.

    No, I didn't call anyone out during CAST. It sounds so easy the way you put it, but in practice, these are not the kind of observations one can challenge an individual speaker on. They are observations accumulated over the course of the conference and far decoupled from their presentation topics.

    And no, I don't have the guts to call out individual people because like I said, I enjoyed all the speakers I saw; it's not worth publicly criticizing someone. Perhaps CAST should have provided anonymous feedback cards like they do at other conferences...did I miss those?

    Anyway, I read several of your blog posts and really enjoyed them. Wish I would have gone to your talk. Maybe next year...

    Thanks again for the comments, Ben!

  6. Chris Chartier said...

    CAST was great and I enjoyed it. I agree with your four main points though.

    One thing that grates on my nerves a bit is the constant bashing of nearly any tool that helps you. It seems that many think that using a tool to help you means you aren't thinking for yourself. I think that's a silly POV.

    Thanks for the CAST 2011 criticisms...I think they are good ones. It can be a great conference and still have points we are critical of.

  7. Jeremy Wenisch said...

    Hey Eric, thanks for this post; I agree with a lot of what you said. My perspective was that a lot of presenters and attendees seem to carry a shared history of dealing with testers who don't think and vendors who don't want testers to think, and the tone and talk that comes with that history can be very offputting for some of us who are either newer to the industry or just haven't had to deal with a lot of that stuff.

    I definitely enjoyed CAST overall though and am thankful for the experience. (Kudos again on your presentation; I shared the parole board study with my coworkers and we got some good discussion from it all.)

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