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Communicating Quality (with Conor Fitzgerald from Poppulo)

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Intro

In the digital reality, evolution over revolution prevails. The QA approaches and techniques that worked yesterday will fail you tomorrow, so free your mind. The automation cyborg has been sent back in time. TED speaker Jonathon Wright’s mission is to help you save the future from bad software.

Jonathon Wright:            

Hello and welcome to the show. Today, we have a very special guest. He’s the co-organizer of the Ministry of Tests for Cork. He has got one of the coolest jobs at the moment. He’s worked for gaming companies. He’s worked for Intel. He’s been out in Australia working for some of the big insurance companies over there. He speaks at some of the best events: Test Bash, Soft Test in Ireland, and it’s so great to have Connor on the show. Welcome to the QA Lead.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Thank you Jonathon. It’s a pleasure to be interviewed by you on the podcast today.

Jonathon Wright:            

Wonderful. Well, for those people who are listening, could you give a little bit of brief background about kind of what you do? And a good way to contact you, as well.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. So what I do currently is, quite recently I became the test team lead at Poppulo, and that has been like I was saying, a recent transition. Prior to that, I was a senior tester for the last three years with Poppulo, and prior to that, I did a variety of roles, including leadership positions in the past, consultant, and in automation. In relation to contacting me, I frequently tweet at @conorfi C-O-N-O-R-F-I. And then my website is also conorfi.com.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah. It’s really cool. I had a look the other day, and you’ve had some really good talks that you’ve done. And that’s why I really wanted to get you on the show, and also to kind of get an idea of, what got you into kind of QA and testing?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. So what got me into it is, the story I often tell is actually quite straightforward. So often at conferences, when they ask people to have a show of hands, who came from computer science backgrounds, the majority of audiences often put their hands up to say they didn’t come from computer science backgrounds. They came from so many backgrounds. Psychology, cheffing, whatever it be. Really interesting, diverse backgrounds. But my own story is quite straightforward. I did a degree in software development for computer networking at the Cork Institute of Technology here in my home city. And then I went to Limerick on the west coast of Ireland, did a master’s in the same topic, and Intel were hiring at the time in County Clare, which is also on the west coast of the country.

And all the development positions were filled up, and that’s what I had applied for because in my internship I’d worked as a junior Java developer for a start-up. So they said all their dev positions are full, but we have test positions. And that sounded interesting, testing cryptographic frameworks and network drivers, all this kind of thing. So I took a position, and six months in, there were development positions opened up, but I was enjoying my testing so much that I said I wanted to stick with testing, and here I am 15 years later. Tried a couple of things along the way, tried a little bit of digital marketing, a little bit of product management, ultimately it’s nearly been 15 years straight of testing from that point, starting with Intel.

Jonathon Wright:            

It’s fascinating. I was talking to Lisa Crispin, who was on the show a couple of days ago. And I was saying that I went out to the Intel offices in Portland, so they’ve got Hillsboro, massive campus. And my friend Ray [Orrell 00:03:54], who’s, like yourself, very much in kind of the agile movement, and I was just amazed at just how far Intel really are advanced on agile adoption and really … miles ahead of the rest of us, as far as maturity. You started off down at kind of the voice over IP, the network stack, and using some of those cast tools. Did you find that back then, it was a real challenge to kind of adopt quality or understand what the quality manifesto was for Intel? Or were they that far ahead back in 2005?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. In a way actually working for Intel did me a disservice in ways, because they had such a quality focus. The same quality folks that took in the fabs, when they were fabricating the chips, and the other related hardware. They took the same approach to their software. So I’ve got drilled in the very good processes around the software. Probably the level of the process sometimes you may not always do, but I got drilled in a very good process. And then I suppose I saw different levels of quality as I went along.

So as you can imagine, it’s essentially waterfall because you’re, the project’s going to be 18 months to two years. Sometimes you’re waiting for hardware to come, so you’re using your emulators to try to start testing. But in relation to the software development teams and engaging with the test teams, it was pretty much agile from the start. So I guess I was fresh out of college and had learned waterfall versus agile and the differences, but it was interesting that all the process was very much agile. In many ways we went … it is a challenge to get the early feedback, but in relation to communication and collaboration, and all the other positive aspects of agile were there in the teams.

Jonathon Wright:            

That’s amazing. Because of the architecture, obviously they do a flip flop, don’t they? But working with things like hardware emulators, especially with edge devices now in IoT, you must be feeling like it’s looping back around that you’re using emulators, using shims and stubs for things that haven’t been, endpoints that aren’t available. Are you seeing that as your journey through and … you’re starting to see some of the same kind of patterns for testing against things that aren’t existing yet?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. It was very interesting that we’d be mocking out the … [inaudible 00:06:38] hardware, and like you were saying, generally stubs and drivers when you didn’t have your firmware, because for us to run the software, we have to have hardware and then the firmware to bring that hardware to life. So yeah, it was a lot of mocking out of services and stuff. And it’s very interesting to see it. There was a part in the middle of my career where I didn’t see much of that. Now I see a lot of it again, particularly with Poppulo, where people are, to move fast, they’re mocking out services to begin to get early feedback and to start to progress. So yeah, it’s very interesting to see it kind of come full circle again.

Jonathon Wright:            

Absolutely. And you even had a little bit of a stint in the gaming industry. So I guess, going in that kind of API landscape, did you find that again, a lot of stubbing out endpoints for, with swagger specs, and … what was that landscape like, dealing with the gaming landscape?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah, so I was working in the e-commerce space for Big Fish Games. And we would work on the … So I would work on things like integration with tax solutions and things like that. But I think the one that people find interesting, and I guess, and I found it incredibly interesting myself, was the in-app purchases, in that most of the games were [inaudible 00:08:06], most of their revenue came from desktop games. And then they moved into virtual, people buying virtual goods through in-app purchases. So we were there in the Cork office at the time working on a lot of the in-app purchases, so that was really interesting. Culturally it was an amazing company. I’d put it up there with any company I’ve worked with. I learned so much there. And yeah, like you were saying, yeah.

When we’d be building out, we’d build out solid back end services. Solid APIs. We’d test them to a very high standard, and they were our building box. That was a great discipline to build up. That was me… I’d worked at API level in Intel, and again, for a number of years then it would have been a lot of front end work, and not being exposed to the back end. But Big Fish Games brought me back to that back end again, building out those solid APIs. And if you have those solid building blocks, then you can build a great experience on top of that. At UI [inaudible 00:09:06] then. Because you know that you’re … you know that everything’s solid under the hood, so then you can just focus on that really good user experience then.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah. It’s so interesting. Because you think about Apple. I remember when I was working with Apple, it wasn’t long until I realized they don’t make their money from hardware, they make it from in-app purchases, right? That’s what the App Store is, the revenue generator. That’s where 90% of their revenue comes from.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah.

Jonathon Wright:            

So part of it is, and I remember at the time they said something like, “Oh, we’re doing 300000 transactions an hour,” or something. Huge volumes of people buying stuff off the App Store. And each one of those was an SAP transaction. So if you think about just the sheer volumes and scale of that, it’s amazing. The modern-day, and especially under the circumstances, the number of transactions or micro-transactions must be going through systems. I notice there you’ve done some performance stuff as well. So how important was the non-functional side of things as well, for those kinds of organizations? And also kind of you’ve obviously worked in places like insurance companies in Australia. Into those banking systems. They must have so many transactions going through, so performance being really important.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. So I guess the way I look at it today, I suppose in the past I would have talked about functional and non-functional. Today I just, if I’m working with a team it’s taught more around quality characteristics. But yeah, they popped up a lot. So security would have been very important in a lot of these applications. Particularly the ones say when I was working for a consultancy company called Logic Consulting. So I ended up working for ING, the insurance group, and then for the banking group. So our focus on every step along the way was security. For example, we’re building out nearly a whole banking platform with ING. The security focus was huge there, as it would be with a lot of these applications.

And in relation to performance, I’ve touched on [inaudible 00:11:10] from time to time with different companies as kind of a sanity check of the performance, to make sure things are good. But going back to Intel, we would have had packet generating equipment to ensure we could test those network drivers and cryptographic frameworks. We used [inaudible 00:11:28], if I remember correctly, the packet generation equipment. So they provided packet generation for voice over IP and also general network traffic generators as well. So, all the way back then, that was great exposure to get that. And these things stick with you, then. Things like having the eye for security and performance. So yeah, it was very good exposure to have all the way through my career, yeah.

Jonathon Wright:            

So what made the big leap, then, from going literally from Ireland to kind of jumping over to Australia?

Conor Fitzgerald:

What led to that, was it?

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. I guess my then-girlfriend and now wife and I always wanted to travel. And what we did was we did seven stops around the world. So we went out through southeast Asia, visited some of Australia over a period of two to three months, then worked in Sydney to replenish the funds and went home through, we took an Argentina and Chile and two islands in New Zealand as well. So we brought together our passion for travel and exploring new cultures with the ability then to add a new dimension to our careers. We both got really great work in Sydney, so it was a great experience overall from start to finish, both the travel and experience new culture side of things, but then also the work experience side of it, too.

Jonathon Wright:            

Absolutely. And I love Australia. So I lived in New Zealand for many years and then moved over to Melbourne. And I also worked in Sydney for a while. But I did find that culturally, they were very different. The work ethic was incredibly hard in Sydney, it felt like it was somewhere like Singapore, where you’ve got these kinds of tech hubs. Did you find that each location that you’ve worked at has changed the level of maturity or how they’ve approached things based on where their companies are based, or where they have teams? Have you seen that kind of happening when it comes to testing?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. So I suppose a lot of my career is based in Ireland. I did time in Australia, but also through travel at work I ended up in some interesting places as well. So London would be good exposure to a lot of new and progressive ideas, and then Bangalore in India, where companies have been created overnight with ten thousand jobs, and huge levels of outsourcing going on. And then Seattle, which is an incredible hub of technology. You’ve got your Microsoft and Amazon there, and Big Fish Games, of course, had their presence there. So it’s amazing to see the differences, like you’re saying, in maturity and approach.

So what I found in London when I was working for a company based there, I was getting exposed to an incredible variety of ideas. And similarly, with Seattle, I found engaging with people who had actually been in that market for a while can but only accelerate your thoughts, in a positive way, towards your work. Because for example, if you come from a telecoms background and you’ve only worked in that telecoms background in one city, you’re probably going to have your frame of reference from the people you work with, and in that industry. But you get exposed to other industries in different locations, then all of a sudden you’re getting lots of different points of reference, so you’re much more likely then to have a more holistic approach and to be more open to ideas.

And in ways that come across in the test communities as well, when you go to conferences and you engage with people from different industries and disciplines at different locations. It’s amazing, that melting pot of ideas that you come across, and it’s one of the reasons why I always tell people to attend conferences. For the, not just the talks. It’s really like a meal. You have a meal to get people together so that you have good discussions. So the talks are like the meal to get the people together, but then it’s all those discussions you have in between the talks. And in the evenings, and all the people you meet.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah, absolutely. I was really excited because I signed up for an online dev op with wine. And the idea behind it was because there’s a lot of countries that are in lockdown. And it’s like, well, why not have wine and also do a conversation with, on dev ops, or … it’s really interesting that based on this kind of challenge which we’re going through at the moment with the coronavirus, is that ability to work with teams closely has now become more virtual. In your current role, do you find that you’re having to help facilitate people to understand enterprise collaboration in a totally new way?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah, I guess so, yeah. So I guess in Poppulo where I work currently, the culture is excellent in that the collaboration, the communication, is just fantastic. And once you have that in place, then you can do a lot of good. So I often think that nearly you go through three phrases if you really want to have good quality software. The first being that you change the culture, so there’s a huge focus on respect, communication, collaboration, which is there in Poppulo. And then I think the next big step is to actually use something like Kanban or your Agile methodologies to reduce the amount of work so that you can actually focus on getting a small amount of work done to a good standard. So then you end up with a really nice sustainable flow of work.

So that’s a lot of the things that I’ve focused on in the current role. Because the positive culture was there, I’ve tried to engage with things like Kanban and then brought in a lot of the ideas that I’ve been exploring over the last couple of years, including of course exploratory testing. I’ve taken a lot from the context-based world as well. I did the rapid software testing course that was hosted by Michael Bolton a couple of years ago, and that … there’s a lot of ideas from that that I’ve brought in as well. And then, of course, I don’t know if your listeners are aware of the modern testing principles, as well, that Alan Page and Brent Jensen have worked on over the last number of years. They’ve had a big impact on my test … how I approach testing and quality. So, a lot of my role now, now that I’ve changed into more testing lead role, will be getting the testers to be engaged with what I call modern testing. And I’ll be closely working with the teams as well, so a lot of that would be teaching, coaching, mentoring at times, and facilitating. So that’s the direction we’re going at the moment.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah. See, it’s really interesting, especially I know you’re a big advocate of things like mind maps, and making things a bit more visual.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Sure.

Jonathon Wright:            

And also sort of your talks have taken some of the lessons from health care or aviation as really good examples.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah.

Jonathon Wright:            

To make it more context-driven. And, do you find that exploratory testing, that kind of team mentality, is going to be a real challenge with remote working? Or do you think we’re actually going to discover some new approaches to collaborating under the circumstances?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. I think we … we’ll continue to collaborate. So I think a mind map is a way I like to do it. And when I’ve shown it to other teams, they think it’s really great. And it’s if you work with a team to develop out a mind map of all your ideas that you must test, so, essentially looking at the risks of the product, and then looking at their general coverage, then that can really help around the collaboration. So if a team, for example, uses a Jamboard, and everybody’s working remotely, then that’s really going to help ensure that we capture all the ideas, that everyone gets their input, and then when we go to test, if we’re working as a team when we go to test that, then everybody knows what area they’re going to test on. I’m sure we’re going to encounter challenges, in the sense of Poppulo, it’s been communicated recently that we went from a company that had a percentage of remote workers and we were office-based, and now we’re a fully remote company.

And like everybody at the moment, we’re going to go through challenges. But in many ways, we’re set up quite well for it, because in a way, having at least a percentage of remote workers, you start to learn some of the challenges. And a lot of it actually comes down to good facilities. So, having, we use Google Hangouts a lot to hold our meetings. We find Slack excellent as well, it really creates a sense of community, especially when people are working from home. So, and when we were doing the mixture of remote and in-office, we were using things like Catchbox that people controlled around the talking, too. So we’ve been trying to learn all the time how to engage more remote people more. So I think now that we’re going fully remote at the moment, I think we’re going to take some of the learnings on, and of course, we’re going to learn some new things along the way.

Jonathon Wright:            

Absolutely. And I guess that Kanban kind of being able to have access to that and really, those Slack video conferencing, you could in theory pair up and start doing some of that session-based testing you talked about. You can, there are lots of different techniques out there. When you’re looking for kind of inspiration, and I know you’ve got some fantastic resources, things like How Google Tests from James Whittaker, you mention in some of your material. Where’s your kind of go-to sources? What could you recommend as far as things like the stuff that you do for the Ministry of Tests? Where’re good resources for the people wanting to learn more about this kind of stuff?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. So there’s a couple of things I’d recommend. So, I suppose, to give a little bit of context to it, I suppose, a big turning point in my career a number of years ago that I talk … part of the intro to some of my talks is that I was on two projects that failed. The first one, I wasn’t on the project that long. I was only there in the last year of it. And it was disappointing, but you move on. But I was on another project for over two years, and when that failed, that really put me into a reflective mood around, how could I do things better in the future? How can we test better? And just try to take on as many learnings as I could. So that kind of brought me down a path of looking at context-based testing, at school of context testing, sorry. And looking at that area. So that kind of brought me to the rapid software testing course that I was talking about earlier, and it also brought me to the subject of exploratory testing, and then onto the modern testing principles.

And what I see is very modern or kind of progressive approaches as a whole. So some of the books along the way that I’d recommend are the Lessons Learned in Software Testing. So that’s great if you’ve been testing for a couple of years, and you kind of want to reflect back on some of your learnings. Another book that I highly recommend to everybody is, Elizabeth Hendrickson’s Explore It. I find that really good. And don’t just read the book around testing. In one of my talks, most of my talk is based around two books, which are the Checklist Manifesto and the Black Box Thinking, which are two great books. And by exposing yourself to books outside testing, you’re really opening yourself up. There are some great podcasts out there as well, so the Ministry of Testing does a podcast. There’s of course, this own podcast we’re on now, which is new on the block. We got the Modern Testing podcast. And Joe Colantonio has been doing a great podcast around automation the last couple of years as well. Things like the Testing Guild is the brand it goes under now, they do automation performance. Security. And again, not just looking inside the world of software testing, but there are things like the Maintainable Podcast, which is folks on maintainability of software.

And then around training, I guess of course Ministry of Test, I’ve got the pro account with them. And I use it a lot for my training, I go into the dojo and they have all sorts of training on various types. Now, I guess there’s also certified testing. So in the past, I would have done the ISTQB foundational manager. It was a good frame of reference, but I’m probably at a different point in my career now. So, as I was saying, the rapid software testing course is more in line with how I think about testing now. And that’s not certified, but it’s a great exposure over the three days. And the other probably key recommendation is, get involved in the community. It’s something I say to people. A huge lesson I’ve learned myself in the first 10 years or so. My frames of reference were in the jobs I was working in, the people I was working with. I didn’t have that wide exposure from the community. And the first time I really felt an engagement of community was with the Ministry of Testing. And I just think they’re really inclusive, diverse, and progressive. And it was exactly what I was looking for. And their TestBash conferences are as good as any testing conferences in the world.

Now, there’s a whole bunch of other conferences I’ve spoken at over the last, say, two years or so. But the TestBashes are wonderful. And I’m sure we’ll cover some of the other conferences maybe today as well.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah. Roti’s done an amazing job with the MOT. And I also heard, maybe joining things like the MOT Slack channel as well, to kind of talk to other people and other members. Your meetups which you run for the Ministry of Testing caught. I know you’ve got a few events lined up. You’ve got the Lucas is doing the performance testing one and then you’ve got the no estimations and dream or reality, which Darryl’s doing.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah.

Jonathon Wright:            

Are you planning to make those virtual, or, how are you planning to deal with the current situation with those?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah. So we kind of work with the speaker at hand. So some speakers may be comfortable virtual and others aren’t, and it’s very interesting at the moment. You’re probably getting the breaking news on this, but on the Ministry of Test Slack channel there are meetup organizers, so there are 65 meetups around the world. So a few of us are grouping together, and we’re hoping, fingers crossed, that once a week, each meetup will do a virtual meetup over Crowdcast. And we’ll have a speaker maybe do a 30-minute talk, and then there might be 10 minutes of questions and answers. So, that’s something we’re really excited about at the moment. So, that’s how all the meetups are coming together.

And with our own one in Cork, we’re going to take it on a case by case basis. We have done three Crowdcasts in the past covering a number of topics, and they’ve gone really well. So we actually got about 20 to 30 people often physically in the Bank of Ireland workbench in Cork, but we often get maybe between 80 and 110 people online. So, we’re getting a huge amount of people on the virtual option compared to the physical option. Now, I like to have both. Because when Robert [inaudible 00:27:04] and I originally set up this meetup, the idea was that the community in Cork would come to get exposed to new ideas, meet other people, and help each other out. Say, if somebody’s looking for a job.

So I always wanted that face to face side to it. But it’s also great as well that when we do have someone speak, that now we can bring it to a global audience through the Ministry of Testing. So I’m trying to balance the two. But with the current situation, with coronavirus, it will look like we might be going virtual for a while. So the wonderful thing is that Crowdcast the platform is there, and the Ministry of Test provided it to us. And also provide any support around it as well. So that provides us with lots of options for the future.

Jonathon Wright:            

No, and that idea of bringing all the meetups for the MOT and making that into an MOT virtual roadshow sounds like a fantastic initiative, and I really look forward to that. We’ll make sure we promote it on the show. As far as people who are kind of new to testing, is there anything which, any kind of tips on, you’d give them around the kind of maybe finding a mentor or maybe, there are early steps? What does QA really look like now in comparison to what it used to look like? Have you got any real tips for people that you could share with them?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah, sure. So I’m a big believer of context, now. So depending, do they want to come into the career in general if they’re new to it? Or do they want to work in a specific industry? Because the context is everything. So often a lot of banking insurance still today, from chatting to testers, often still uses scripts, in that people write scripts and follow the steps. And an element to that is auditing. Other industries like the ones I’ve worked in the last number of years aren’t … I don’t use test scripts or none of the testers I work with use it. So, we use, like I said, more progressive approaches. So knowing the context is really important.

And the Ministry of Testing has a wide ratio of concepts to get you going. I know, I believe it was [inaudible 00:29:26] wrote the book, I think it’s 100 Tips for New Testers. So they walk you through a lot of things that you can learn about. At the start, a lot of people do the ISTQB foundation. But that’s fine if that’s the path you want to take, but there are alternatives to it. And I would say to people early on, get used to some of the concepts that will help you and really accelerate you. And what I mean by that is, get awareness around things like heuristics. So heuristics are a rule of thumb that can help guide you as a tester. And what I love about heuristics as well, they act as a checklist, they act as ideas when you’re testing. So, they can be really useful. One that I always say to people is, [inaudible 00:30:13] API and UI level. And then there are other ones like zero, one, and many. What happens when there’s no data? When there’s just one instance of a record or many. Get used to things like that.

Also beware of cognitive biases, as well. So cognitive biases are filters that we have, that we all have, and understanding that in a way, that can limit our thinking, really shows why we should have diversity in our testing and also why we should take the whole team testing approaches. So I would say get into these what I call more progressive concepts earlier in your career, and I think they’ll help accelerate you. And in relation to getting mentoring or help, there are the software testing clinics are run by the Ministry of Testing in various locations around the world. But if you come along to a meetup in your locality, people will always help you out. So if anybody is new to testing, they come and ask us for advice or help, ask for some mentoring, we’d always help people out in our meetups.

And there are other communities out there as well that will be assistants to you as well. And I mentioned earlier around conferences as well, coming along, it may seem like a big thing to go along, even if you’re only working, looking for your first job in testing and you don’t know much about it. But actually, going to a conference, if you can afford it, or if not sometimes free tickets are there, but coming along to a conference and getting exposed to ideas, again, is another way that will accelerate you. So come along to the conferences, take advantage of any training or mentoring that’s out there. Learn as much as you can.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah, I think that’s absolutely fantastic advice. And I really like that on your kind of presentations you also recommend the other books that aren’t testing specific, like the Black Box Thinking, you’ve mentioned the Checklist Manifesto, and I think you’ve also got, you’ve put down the Thinking Fast and Slow and The Outliers.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yep.

Jonathon Wright:            

It’s great to have that kind of, that wider view of … it’s kind of this critical thinking side of things that people really benefit from, kind of understanding some of the challenges and some of the context behind it. Do you find that within things like systems thinking and some of the kind of challenges around just the sheer complexity, is why it’s such an exciting place, career, to be in?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Oh yeah, definitely, yeah. That’s a huge part of it. Systems thinking is something I’ve probably started to embrace a lot more in the last while, reading Gerry’s Weinberg book on it. And also just recently reading the book Systems Thinking as well, which is a classic. It was released on Audible, so that was a nice way of consuming that and getting in touch. So yeah, that systems thinking approach are really required for the systems we’re working on today. For example, we work with architectures today, we’d have a mixture of monolith and microservices. And if you’re working on a microservice, for example, you just zone in on that and don’t take a holistic view of how that microservice may need to interact with the monolith, and the challenges you may face, and if you don’t stand back and do your risk analysis on it, whether that be through a risk workshop with your team or whatever approach you to deem appropriate, then you will get caught. Whether it’s immediately or in the long term if you don’t take that holistic approach. And I would really recommend it to people.

And it’s those books like you were talking about really get you to think in a different way, and economics is something I got interested in a couple of years ago when I went back to study business at night time. And it’s really funny when economists are talking about something that people would only think would apply to economics, it’s strange how that can apply to test. And often you can take a lesson that people in economics learn, and you can take that lesson as a tester, as well. And I do think that’s maturity in a tester. Maybe not immediately, people will start to start reading books outside of testing, or even going into the works of, say, the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and the like. Or maybe that’s part of somebody’s journey as they mature on the quality track that they’ll start to expose themselves to more holistic topics as they go.

Jonathon Wright:            

Absolutely. And I’m trying to get Tom Gilb on the show, who’s done some fantastic work. He’s still actually putting some great publications out there. But switching gears slightly to kind of the leadership aspect of it, you’re a test team lead now.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yes.

Jonathon Wright:            

What’s the difference from a leadership perspective being in the quality landscape as well?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah, so I guess when I took over the role, there was … I brought my ideas. So three ideas I’m trying to implement as a leader at the moment is I’m trying to focus on whole team testing. So I want, as a leader, and my vision there is that the whole team takes responsibility for quality. Now, in our company, that’s already well in place. We want to push it further. And it’s simple terms. We don’t want our testers to be a safety net for the teams. A second thing I’m looking at is that people are using progressive, modern approaches. Now, the modern testing principles is a great framework, a loose framework around that. But of course, exploratory testing is a skill we want to teach people. We want to teach people the value of coaching and just get these ideas out there. And I’ve already mentioned things like [inaudible 00:35:55] heuristics. So that’s another part of the vision I’m trying to get out there at the moment as a leader.

And the third thing, then, is that as an industry we went through a strange, we’ve gone through some changes. So when I started in the industry, when we were early stages of agile moving out of the waterfall, the whole test, all the testers worked together in one team. And they were separate to the developers. And then what happened is the testers moved in when we switched to agile, and the testers got embedded inside of the teams. But more often than not, they got so embedded with the team that, in a way, that they stopped engaging with the other testers in some cases. And they actually became now embedded in the teams but actually siloed from the other testers, and the testers aren’t learning from each other anymore.

So something I’d like to do is that I think it’s so positive that the testers are embedded in the teams. Not just testing, but playing a wider role in ensuring the customers get value. But I also want the testers to learn from each other, learn from their experiences, learn different techniques from each other, and also that we start to drive some initiatives as well so that we pick areas and focus on those. So that could be around, say, automation. Making things run faster than they do today. Or even removing redundant tests, which is really important. Maybe we want to look at how we do performance testing, or even an initiative that we were looking at recently is all the team we’re getting up to date on Kanban. So we’ve done a training session around Kanban. And they’re bringing that into their teams now, and seeing how Kanban can help. Because I’m a massive advocate for that.

And the whole team did an offsite last year, and they felt that Kanban was something that could really help them in their role. So that’s another thing we’re pushing. So, this is what I’m doing now, I suppose, is moving out from my previous role as a senior tester in the company for the last 18 months, was working with two teams. One was a mobile content team, and the other was a content creation team. And I was working with them to try to make that focus on whole team testing, and now I’m shifting up a level to try to get some of those ideas across the whole department, and making the testers a really cohesive unit, as well.

Jonathon Wright:            

It must be awesome, as well. With the type of work that you’re delivering, internal communications for enterprise organizations, communication, and collaboration is kind of at the actual heart of everything. So, is there stuff you’re learning from how they manage the actual product that you’re delivering?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah, sure. So we can all learn from that. So, there are many lessons you can learn. One thing we probably all learn is, and it’s a valuable lesson anyone takes away, is about putting the employee first. If you really want to be customer-focused, one thing I learned from Poppulo, and you can also see this in industries, I know aviation’s getting a bad rap at the moment. But in general, aviation, a lot of the learnings you take away from there is that if you put the employee first and have an environment for them where they feel respected and safe, then they really want to come into work. They want to do a great job. And of course then what they want to do is deliver great products for their customers. So then the customer experience increases 10-fold.

You can’t say, “We’re going to be customer-focused,” and then not have a great environment for your employees to come into. So you really have to switch that around, is one of the great things I’ve learned. And it’s something that I read about in the past, but it’s really come to life in the last couple of years working at Poppulo, because of the nature of the business. Because it’s internal communications, and that huge focus on employee engagement. We role model that all the way through. And there’s so much you can get out of that, from a testing perspective and a delivery perspective. Because if you really engage people who want to do great work, then it’s such a great platform to build on, then, from a quality perspective.

Jonathon Wright:            

And you mentioned, I know just before we started recording, that you do, that you also have a mobile app channel which you use. So, do you find that those different platforms are challenging in different ways? Or, how do you understand the level of engagement, how many people are viewing that internal comms? Do you have that kind of feedback, that [inaudible 00:40:30] feedback from how people are actually consuming the communication?

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah, we do, yeah. So we do it in a way, in a responsible way, as anybody would. We’d never drill down to an individual or anything like that. We’re giving a yardstick, I guess, of how things are going. So we can help people understand all the way through. So we can let them know, if you sent to 10000 people, that it got delivered to those 10000 people, and what percentage of people opened it in general terms. And what were the most popular articles, what’s working? And the thing about it you can figure out is that you can start to figure out a connection between employee engagement and things like retention. So in your marketing department, for example, they may be really engaged. So you can tell that by the fact that, they may not use every channel, but there are certain channels they’re really engaged in and they’re consuming the material that’s being sent out. Say the CEO message, for example.

But in the engineering department, then, for example, they may not be engaged. So if they’re unengaged with the company and its vision, then it’s more likely that your retention isn’t going to be as high. So then what you need to do is put a plan in place, then, to figure out what kind of message lands with that team, then. Is it the material, the content you’re creating? Does it not hit home? Sometimes it can be things like localized content can work a lot better. So, you have your communication circles company-wide, and you need a certain amount of that. But also as well, the thing that people love is local content. And that can even be seen if we take it outside internal comms and look at something like Google. You look at the success of the local search. So if you’re a local business, say, there’s a business here in Cork. It’s very important that when they’re writing their content for their website, they use what the product is. That they’re a Cork company. So that when people go and look for that service than that it’ll go to look for it. So it can often be similar to internal comms, that local content could sometimes be the solution, then.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah, it’s fascinating. And that’s extra levels of testability, isn’t it? You’re looking at GPS location information, so you can make sure you’re delivering at the right time zone, with the right content, to the right teams. There’s a lot of complexity in that. And in these kinds of times, it’s really important that the right messages are sent to the right people. And I think you’ve got some really exciting times ahead.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yeah, definitely, yeah. And like you were saying, around scheduling is an important feature now [inaudible 00:43:18] from an email perspective. And the mobile app performance, as well. Because you learn this from social media as well. When you send your comms, the time you send it, the day you send it, can have a big impact on how it’s consumed. So features like scheduling are very important. And I know you said earlier as well, around mobile app testing and things like that, so yes. A year and a half ago when we decided to build out the mobile app, we went from idea to sale in, say, six months. So during that time, I joined that mobile team, and I hadn’t done mobile app testing in the past. So I went about learning around it. And there were some really good resources at the time, actually, it was very useful. The Ministry of Testing did one of those Ask Me Anything sessions on mobile, so that was good.

And one of the things you just learn around mobile app testing is the diversity. So, the diversity around the platform, mostly iOS versus Android, things like the screen size can have a big impact. And you’re looking at things like quality of the network. Some people are on really fantastic 4G connections, and other people are on the equivalent of [inaudible 00:44:31] or something like that. So it’s actually taking in those factors. And one thing I always advocate for is bug bashes. Getting people together, not even just in your team but people outside the team getting together and test before release. And with the mobile app, that’s what we did a lot. Before we do a release of the mobile app, we get the team together with other people from outside. We’d all be in a room with real devices. So we’d use emulators and we’d use a cloud firm solution as well. But when it came to just before that release, we always ensured it was physical devices, and it was a great way of doing it. So we’d always make sure we had a diverse range of devices, and we’d probably work for about an hour and a half or so, and sort a lot of those things out.

I also as well, we kind of use the cloud as well in parts of our solution as well. So getting used to the likes of AWS is really interesting, as well. So over the last, while it’s been really interesting getting exposure to mobile, getting exposure to cloud. The great challenge is starting off from scratch with these things, and building up testing [inaudible 00:45:40] areas is fantastic.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah. That’s a really good tip. And I love the AWS device farm. And this thing that I notice Microsoft has going on, which is called the App Center. It gives you the ability to bring a device that you’ve got or a form factor or an older version of an Android OS, and this visual testing. Especially when you’re delivering messaging where the content’s, it’s important that it be visible and also, I guess, accessibility for some of your delivery mechanisms. So that’s a really great tip around physical and also using virtual or on-demand devices. Because it seems to be going that kind of way. You can’t have every single phone plugged into your, for testing purposes.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Yep.

Jonathon Wright:            

So that’s really fascinating, so kind of hear the story which you’ve got. And I know we could definitely talk all day about this, but if you’ve got one big tip, you mentioned so much about the context stuff. And the great work James and Michael have been doing. What would your big tip be for the listeners?

Conor Fitzgerald:

The biggest tip I think is something I touched on earlier, is the engagement with the community. Nothing will accelerate you faster than engaging with communities. Initially, maybe it’s just through Slack, through conferences, through webinars, whatever it be. Get engaged with the community, because every time you encounter a problem you’ll find there’s someone there to help you, and that’s the big thing. And nothing will, whether you’re new to testing or you’re in a midpoint, or wherever you are in your career, there’s no point along that journey that someone in the community can’t help you. There’s always someone further ahead in the journey, or someone right where you are right now who’s going to help you out. So I don’t think I could recommend anything more than the community. And to me, community to me has always been the Ministry of Test, was always the first community I engaged with, and I see them as the largest and best global community. There are other communities out there, and you should engage with them, too, so that you get different ideas. It’s just to me, I guess, the Ministry of Test is my community.

Jonathon Wright:            

Yeah. And it’s a fantastic community to be in. And I know, anybody who’s got a Meetup account, go and search for the Ministry of Test in your local area. I know you’ve got 700 members. That’s a really active community, where people can help you if you’re trying to start out and learn more. And I think, Conor, it’s been an absolutely wonderful experience talking to you, and I think I’ll make sure that the books and the links that we’ve talked about today are available on this podcast notes, so you can access those. And we will have to get you back on once you’ve been at where you work a little bit longer and see what’s changed, really.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Oh yeah, that’d be great, Jonathon. I’d love to come back again, and we’ll see how things are progressing.

Jonathon Wright:            

Wonderful. All right, well thanks so much, and thanks for listening to everybody. And thanks, Conor, for being on the show.

Conor Fitzgerald:

Thank you, Jonathon.

Slack Team

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