Testing Talks is a series of interviews highlighting well-known personalities from the world of software quality and testing. In this new episode, we had the pleasure to talk with Janet Gregory.
Janet Gregory is an agile testing coach and process consultant at DragonFire Inc. She is the co-author with Lisa Crispin of Agile testing books. Janet specializes in educating agile teams how testing activities are necessary for the whole team to develop good quality products. She works with teams to transition to agile development and teaches agile testing courses worldwide.
Can you introduce yourself and your background?
I’m Janet Gregory and I’m Canadian, from western Canada. I am one of the lucky people that gets to spend a little bit of time in my hometown, Calgary. It’s very close to the mountains, so that’s a good thing. But I get to spend part of my time in my summer home in British Columbia, in the mountains. I’m lucky that I get to spend equal time in different places. Today, I’m doing this from our place in British Columbia.
But, what else can I tell you about myself… I love to travel. At least, I used to. It’s not quite as much fun anymore, with the whole air travel thing.
I went to university late in life to study computer science. So I’ve been in the tech industry since about 1991, which is over 30 years, and to me that is kind of scary when I think about it. I’ve been working on Agile teams or with Agile teams since 2000. That’s over 20 years, being in the Agile part of it.
That’s a little bit about me!
What motivated you to get into this industry?
That depends on what industry you’re actually talking about. When I first went to university, to get into tech, to take my computer science degree, I went to school for the dollars. I really was kind of looking at my history, what I could do, and I thought tech was probably the best place to make money. But when I went to university, and studied programming, I realized that I didn’t want to be a programmer for the rest of my life. It wasn’t what thrilled me. I could do the job, I could do it right, but it didn’t create passion in me as such. When I got into testing, I went from programming to testing, I got excited about it, there was so much to learn. I think that excitement about it really appealed to me in the testing part of it. I also am a big fan of the process. Not necessarily a heavy-duty process, but I like the process, having things in order. And I think passion, to me, is what makes people good at their job. At least, that’s my opinion!
What do you love the most about your job?
I couldn’t talk previously about passion. My job consists of many things these days. I consult, I speak, I write, I teach, I test, I create too! For example, I work on a new course right now with Lisa Crispin. Lately, I’ve been in the role of product owner. And I know I wouldn’t want to do that all day. But, I think my favorite part of any of these activities, no matter what it is, is when I have helped somebody. For example, when I’m doing a workshop, I can see the excitement in a person when they understand what they are learning. The impact of what they could do, how they could apply it, that excites me. Or when somebody reads our first book, and tells me they don’t know how they could have done their job without getting through it. That warms my heart. That’s really what keeps me going!
Do you have an anecdote to share?
One time, Mike Cohn, I was talking with him, and he said “Janet, I have to show you something!”. He sent a picture. It was a picture of our book, the first Agile Testing Book. He said: “I came across this when I was with the team the other day. I thought you would appreciate it.” And, it was a book, and it was full of sticky notes. When you were turning the pages, it was full of highlighters and little notes on the side of the margins. That told me that the person read the book very thoroughly, and had a lot of questions, and thoughts about it as well. That picture sticks in my head! Anytime, I get really frustrated and think about what I do or when I say or write something that kind of falls on deaf ears. I go back to that picture in my head. I think at least it has hit one person, and it helped him/her. That’s very powerful.
What is the best part in writing a book with someone?
Lisa and I have been partners for quite a long time. I met Lisa Crispin back in a conference in 2002. But, my first introduction to her was when she was writing her very first book: ‘Testing Extreme Programming’. That was when I first got into an Agile team, and I was panicking because I didn’t know what that really meant. I was in this Agile team, I was the tester, and had done some reading, but I really didn’t know what it meant. So, I emailed the only person I knew who was in testing and Agile at that time. And that was Brian Marick. He was one of the signatories on the Agile manifesto. So, he wrote back and he said ‘Well, I can answer questions, but Lisa Crispin might be better because she is writing a book. So, I had the honor of being one of the reviewers on that book, and trying out a lot of the things she was talking about. That’s really when I first started our relationship/partnership. From that, after I met her, she kind of took me under her wing a little bit, and helped me get into speaking. I co-presented with her, she’s probably one of the best people on earth to bring new speakers up, and work with them. So, I started speaking with her, and doing some workshops, and things like that… And, she asked me if I would be a co-author on her second book, which I almost turned down, because I didn’t think that writing was in my skill set. And as it turns out, that collaboration in our partnership has lasted a very long time: 20 years! I think the best part about collaborating with somebody is being able to test your ideas. Seeing someone take an idea, and write it out. Also, by the pairing up we did when we’re writing a book, being able to take turns, being the lead I’ll say. Because, sometimes life gets in a way, it doesn’t always allow you, in two hours a day to write. Lisa and I took turns.
If she had something going on in her life, then I would help her a bit more on the book, and I would do more writing for that week or two; and vice versa. We really try to stick to the schedule that we had laid out for ourselves. Sometimes, that meant, just taking a little bit more work, helping out. So, that collaboration is really important, it’s really hard to work on your own, and I don’t think that either of us would’ve been as successful if we had tried to do it on our own.
An advice you always give about agile testing?
I think, if I was gonna say anything, I would say ‘Keep an open mind’. Look for ways to collaborate, ask for help when you need it, whether it is from your teammates, or community at large. Don’t assume that you know only answers, because you never will. In our first book, we listed seven success factors, and I believe these success factors are all still very true. And we’ve talked about it on our blog. We keep talking about it, we think about it… But one thing I hear sometimes is criticism, is that some folks think that people on Agile teams don’t think about testing deeply; and that’s not true. Although, like on any team, some people know their craft better than others. But, if you think about testing periods, testing activities, and think about the best way to carry those out, it’s not necessarily the tester on the team, for example. It might be collaborating with one of the programmers. And I have done this myself to say that we need to do some load testing. How we are going to do that, and then collaborating with the developers to figure out together. I think that keeping that open mind, and looking for ways to collaborate, is the superpower that people have on Agile teams.
How should companies organize their testing teams for better efficiency?
Your question here is for better efficiency. But I use the word effective versus efficient. Because I think the word efficient gets people in trouble because they try to cut the wrong things. It’s kind of like the testing I mentioned before. It happens on Agile teams, just like it happens to the traditional teams. Trying to get efficient isn’t the best way, but looking at how to be more effective. And I think every organization will find their own way. I personally like testers embedded on teams, not knowing that the testers won’t do all the testing. The whole team needs to look at what activities need to be done and figure out how to do that. That tends to be very effective. In some teams I’ve seen, testers aren’t actually doing most of the testing. They’re being a coach or a consultant, and I’ve been in that role myself before. That was the very first team that I was on, as a tester on a team. I wasn’t bored of the testing consultant, working with the programmers to figure out how we could improve testing, how could we do that better, how could we, as a team, do it better. Other teams, delivery teams, choose to have a tester that might do all of the exploratory testing, but has input into the automation and programmers do all the automation. What I don’t think works well is when the tester thinks they are responsible for all the testing, because they can’t possibly do that, they become a bottleneck. I think that every organization is different, you might have very small ones and bigger ones that are going to be very different from very large organizations, that might need some kind of test group to look for economies of scale, like having a lot of different devices to test all of those. While you can do all these individuals on Agile teams. So you know, the consultant’s answer in me is: it depends.
So, it depends, there is no ‘a’ best way, but there are some leading practices that work very well.
What do you think about the future of agile methods?
I really have no idea about where Agile will go in the future. I know there are a lot of different camps talking about which is better; personally, I’d like to see people thinking about how we improve, what they call it ‘Agile’ or anything else. What we wanna do is ‘don’t stagnate’, because if we’re getting this in our head to say ‘Agile is the only thing, and we can’t ever move’, then you’re getting to stop. And the idea behind Agile is that we are Agile, we are flexible, we will change. So, there are many teams now going to continue with delivery, with continuous deployment. Some teams would get there, others will not. They don’t need it, they don’t want that extra work to get there.
I think looking at where we want to be, how we are constantly approving is just a general shift. Will somebody come in the next 10 years and say ‘Hey, I just found something brand new! I think this will work!’. They might and I’m just hoping that people will be open to look at it and say ‘This is a good idea.’, and not say ‘that represents a lot of work, because at the beginning of Agile a lot of people thought it was a lot of work. And now we know that it does pretty much in every situation. But again, not all. So, I think it will be an evolution which is just keep adapting, let’s keep getting better and better. Some people go this way, some people will go that way… and that might be okay. I wish I had a crystal ball!
Between your different activities, what do you prefer and why?
That’s really hard. I do have to say that I still very much enjoy testing. I don’t do as much as I used to, but it is still very much part of my life. Kind of everything I do, but, when I’m thinking about testing applications, I still do that.
Second to that, I think creating. Working on new models, thinking of possibilities, challenging myself to say ‘What will work about this, or not work?’. But, also, collaborating with others to get their opinions to say ‘How could we get this better?’. I like creating. But another thing I do, on my own, is painting. I use watercolors and I try to paint, and that creating can be carried over in one and different ways. So, no matter what part of it is, it’s that thinking part, the aspect.
What would you have done instead of being an agile test consultant?
If I could have done anything other than testing… When I look back in my early life, I got up from high school, and I work for the government. I definitely wouldn’t want to do that. I did a lot of odds and ends for a few years, when my children were little. For example, I started coaching gymnastics when my daughter was young, and I wouldn’t want to do that. I did some graphics art stuff for a while for a newspaper, and I quite enjoyed that. Maybe I could have done this for the rest of my life… but I’m not sure, I’m really not sure about that. I thought about teaching, once. That was my original answer in high school when people asked ‘What do you want to do? I’d like to be a teacher’. And, when I got out of high school, I thought: ‘No, I don’t wanna go to university for 4 years and teach kids’. Well, it turns out I’m teaching adults now. I’m not sure what I would have wanted to become, because I really enjoy what I do now, and I think that being able to change and the variety of what I do really helps. Out of all the things that I do right now, I like doing consulting work with teams. That might involve a little bit of testing, but it’s helping people by looking at what they do in a different way. And I like to do that. So, if I can find some other job that lets me do that, that might be what I do.
Your final word for this interview?
I like to tell people to be true to themselves. Find out what makes you happy. We are not all able to do exactly what we want in life. But kind of look at what you are doing, and find the joy in that if you can. But also, don’t be afraid to take risks. I did a talk once, and it’s probably on the Agile testing days YouTube Channel, talking about things that changed my direction, making choices. Like when I went to University, I had a couple of choices about what to do: whether I wanted to take home economics, for example, or computer science. I took the hard way and I took computer science. and that changed my life. But there are a lot of smaller things, things like saying ‘yes’ to when Lisa asked me to help her to write that first book we co-authored.That was a really risky thing for me, because I didn’t think I was a writer. And I couldn’t see myself writing a book. But, I took that risk and said ‘Yes’ and it changed my life. But there are many things that people do, and sometimes it’s scary to say ‘Yes’. But I encourage people to take those risks if it’s safe to do so. One of the questions I always ask myself is:
‘What is the worst thing that can happen?’ And it can go from there.’ So, other than that? Don’t be afraid, take the risk sometimes.