Being Lucky — A Keynote at the Agile Testing Days 2019

This year (2019) I went back to the Agile Testing Days, after a one year break. This post contains most of what I talked about in my keynote at the conference, as well as the reason for the break.

Some years ago, I chatted with another attendee after the conference and she noticed that I seem to be particularly lucky in life.
I didn’t think much about this at that moment and yet, I started to observe whether I am lucky or not.

A Definition

Let’s start with a definition of ‘luck’. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines ‘luck’ as

the force that causes things, especially good things,
to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities.
— Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Note, that the definition mentions chance. In other words: There is some kind of randomness involved. Also note, it states that we can’t affect luck.

What Luck is Not

I am interested in the kind of luck, I experience personally, at the place where I am, at the time when it happens.

What luck is not: Gambling, Happiness, Coincidence
Gambling
I’m not talking about, for example, buying a lottery ticket. While winning in the lottery is nice, it’s not a personal experience. The winner is drawn at some other place and another time.
Happiness
You can be lucky, but not happy — or happy but not lucky. An example of happiness is the feeling when getting a beautiful gift, you totally didn’t expect.
Coincidence
Events happening without being related by causation.

These are aspects that are related to luck, but are different.

A Story About a Car Crash

In early 2018, I went to a standard medical check-up. Everything was OK: The blood test results were not brilliant, but there was nothing to worry about.

A few weeks later I was on a business trip and took a taxi from the train station to the hotel. At a crossroads, another car crashed into the taxi, damaging the two cars significantly. The taxi driver and I were taken to hospital. It wasn’t too serious: The X-ray showed that two ribs were damaged, but not broken. One of my neck bones was slightly dislocated. Nothing pain killers, some physiotherapy and a good amount of rest couldn’t fix.

Not long after the accident, tiredness kicked in. I became less and less energetic. Getting out of a chair was demanding. So I went to see my doctor again. More blood samples were taken and the result was alarming: I was loosing blood! But where? More examinations followed. A colonoscopy brought the diagnosis. I suffered from colon cancer and it had to be treated as soon as possible.

Life came to a complete halt.

In hospital, a computer tomography showed that the tumour had strayed into the liver. So the therapy began: In two surgeries a good part of the liver and the affected part of the colon were removed. After a break to let the wounds heal, a chemo therapy followed, which lasted a bit more than half a year. I call this my personal debugging.

A surgeon told me that it’s very likely the tumour had been damaged in the car crash. This caused an internal bleeding which in turn caused the cancer to be diagnosed. I was extremely lucky, as it was diagnosed just in time to be treatable. As far as medicine & science can tell I am now (as of November 2019) cancer free! So, it’s very likely that the car crash save my life.

Tip № 1:
Good news can be hidden in bad news.
Tip № 2:
Listen to your body. Go to medical check-ups.
It can save your life, and your life is worth saving.

During the treatment, especially during the chemo therapy, I contemplated a lot about whether I am lucky or not. Four aspects are particularly important to me:

  • Persistence
  • Opportunity Cost
  • A Caring and Welcoming Community
  • Helping & Get Help

1. Persistence

This is relatively simple: If you want to be lucky in a particular context, put yourself in that context. In other words: Be where you want to be lucky.

As an example, I come back to my most favourite conferences.

2. Opportunity Cost

A tea bag fortune text

I had a ‘tea bag fortune text’ once, that said: “Akzeptiere, dass du nur eine Sache auf einmal tun kannst”. In English: “Accept that you can only to one thing at a time”.

You are where you are now, and you can’t be elsewhere. This is obvious, but still important. And there is always a price to pay.

If you’re at a conference listening to a talk, you can’t be in the theatre with your friends at the same time.

Note, that there’s also a price to pay for ignoring this: You may leave the talk half-way through, and rush to the theatre in time for the second act. There’s a price to pay for this, too.

3a. A Caring Community

The best example I have for this are the people at the Agile Testing Days. In 2018, the year I couldn’t attend due to my cancer treatment, I received a get-well card: A huge inflatable unicorn, covered in messages from attendees, speakers & organisers. That’s the biggest and greatest get-well card I ever received.

inflatable get-well unicorn
The inflatable get-well unicorn
(Photo thanks to Sabine Wede & Eddy Bruin)

Here are just 3 of these messages:

  • Marianne Duijst wrote: “All the best! Our community is rooting for you.”
  • Someone from Portugal: “Fique melhor logo” (“Get well soon”, in English)
  • Gitte Klitgaard said: “Hugs & Glitter for you”

This is a prime example of a caring community. A big “Thank you!” to everyone who has sent me get-well wishes, gifts and video messages! It means a lot to me and it helped immensely to get through chemo therapy (and the FOMO from not being able to attend the conference).

3b. A Welcoming Community

My heuristic is this:

When you can embarrass yourself by accidentally misbehaving and you’re still welcome, well, that is a welcoming community.

Let me explain this by an example: Back in 2009, I arrived at the venue of the Agile Testing Days the evening before the conference. Trying to find someone to have dinner with, I tweeted about it, and a super-friendly Canadian answered.

I joined his group and had a great night.

The next day, I tried the same, but without tweeting about it. So I went down to the hotel lobby. The same friendly Canadian told me his group was about to leave for dinner and that I could join, which I did. Food was fantastic!

Later that night, Lisa Crispin turned to me from another table, asking what I was talking about. I told her what we were discussing at my table, but that was not what she wanted to know. She clarified: “No, your session, what are you presenting in your talk.” Me: “I’m just an attendee, I don’t give a talk.” In that moment Elisabeth Hendrickson turned over to me and asked: “But you do know, that this is the speakers dinner, right?” I said: “No!?” Uncomfortable silence started spreading. Embarrassment kicked in, and probably blushing, too. I wanted to disappear there and then.

But I also noticed that everybody else seemed entertained. If I remember correctly, the organisers started laughing.
I was still welcome in the community!

4. Helping & Getting Help

My journey at the Agile Testing Days continued. In 2013 Lisa asked me, if I could help her and Janet Gregory with their keynote. I agreed immediately. — Little did I know, what I was embarking on.

They had prepared a small theatre piece for the beginning of their keynote and I had to play the role of Super Agile Person! I panicked.
This looked like a good opportunity to ruin a keynote, without being a speaker. But again, it went well and people were entertained.

A short time later I had the chance to contribute to their second book ‘More Agile Testing’. This helped me in an interview for a project.

Interviewer: “Have you read ‘More Agile Testing’?”
Me: “Yes. In fact I contributed to it.”
Interviewer: “No way!?”
Me: “Kindly open the book on page 372.”
Interviewer: “Wow!”

Imagine this: WHAT IF … I had denied playing SuperAgilePerson?

Apart from all the good things that happened to me by helping people: Helping feels good!

Tip1 № 3:
You can’t possibly predict the strange ways of luck.

At this point I started looking for something better than anecdotes, something scientific.

A More Scientific Way

And there is research: Richard Wiseman studied lucky and unlucky people for about 10 years! He found four principles that can help to lead a luckier life, which you can read about in his paper in the “Skeptical Inquirer” (Volume 27, No.3, May/June 2003) and the book: “The Luck Factor”. In fact, I highly recommend both!

I’ll briefly introduce Wiseman’s principles.

1. Maximise Chance Opportunities

Essentially: Do similar things repeatedly, but vary behaviour.

For a conference, I suggest to try these two things:

Tip № 4
Start lunch alone.
Go a bit early, grab food and sit down at an empty table. Than wait for people to come to your table and ask whether they may join. Of course you welcome them and enjoy a meal together & share ideas and thoughts.

Tip № 5
Don’t start lunch alone.
Start lunch a bit later, grab some food, find a table with a free seat, and ask whether you may join. Most of the time people will welcome you.

2. Listen To Lucky Hunches

Again, the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a hunch as

an idea that is based on feeling and for which there is no proof
— Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

In other words: Trust your gut feelings.

As far as I can tell, gut feelings still work if you have part of them removed.

3. Expect Good Fortune

This principle does not and cannot always work: I didn’t expect or even hoped to get cancer, but still did.
Notwithstanding, I expected the best given the circumstances. That gave me the strength to do what I could do.

A lead doctor explained to me that walking significantly improves chance of long-term cancer-free survival. The reasons for this are still unclear, but there is evidence the positive effect (see, for example, https://academic.oup.com/epirev/article/39/1/71/3760392).

I started with 10 steps (with a walking aid). After a while, back at home, I was able to walk around the house.
Now, after more than a year of trying and improving, I can do 90 minutes of training on an ergo-meter, and feel great afterwards.

This is the lesson I learned: I cannot control everything, and sometimes I can only control small things. But some things I can control.

Where else can you expect good fortune? Well, at least for speakers at the Agile Testing Days, you can expect an audience that likes you and that wants you to succeed. You still need to prepare, even prepare for inconveniences, such as notebook failures at the wrong moment or a conference WiFi not being available.

Tip № 6
MOVE!
A word of caution: There are exceptions to this! If in doubt, ask your doctor. Also see Tip № 2 above.

Tip № 7
The audience wants you to succeed.

4. Turn Bad Luck Into Good

In short: It’s the story about a car crash again. See — or even better actively search for — the good things in all events.

Revisit The Definition

Luck is the force that causes things, especially good things,
to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities.
— Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

My my opinion some parts of the initial definition of luck can be removed:

First of all, it seems that luck can be affected and is not all about chance and randomness. This leaves us with this:

Luck is the force that causes things, especially good things.

Second of all, I’ve learned that there’s ‘bad luck’, too. With that part removed, the definition now looks like this:

Luck is the force that causes things.

There’s not much left and talking about the force doesn’t explain that much.
I’m sure Obi-Wan Kenobi would approve this:

In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.
– Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan Kenobi (photo taken at OUTPOST ONE)

With That Said … Am I Lucky?

To me, the answer is a loud and resounding “YES!”.

Having survived cancer literally by accident and having received a tremendously positive feedback after my keynote, I’m lucky, indeed.

Can you be lucky, or luckier than before? Likely. Try to answer this question:

What are you trying this week to be luckier?

Take a moment to think about it, then answer the question, make a plan and do it.

GOOD LUCK! — AND MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!


  1. I’m not sure whether this should be a tip or a warning.

Calling Me Names — New Labels

After a one year break, I was back to the Agile Testing Days this year (2019). Damian Synadinos gave a great keynote “More Than That“, where he explained, that we are more than ‘just’ testers. We can also be: parents, programmers, trainers, musicians, comedians… The list is long. This got me thinking about labels and titles I’ve put on (or used) myself.

In another talk Tobias Geyer shared his thoughts about wizards & witches (from Terry Pratchett’s series of novels about the disc world) in “Wizards, Witches and Testing” and in it he compared the witches and wizards of the disc world to testers and programmers. Given this input, I clearly identify myself as a witch.

During the breaks, I kept thinking about which labels I could put on myself, especially some that may be a tad bit far-fetched: Since I have some bits of high-tech implanted in my body I could be labeled as a cyborg, technically.

Following a similar thought: If one consumed blood of other people, that make one a vampire. And I did, during an operation last year, I thankfully received a transfusion.

Hmm, a vampire cyborg. There must be more positive sounding labels!

Then, there was a “AgileTD Late Night Talk Show” hosted by Daniël Maslyn. I was invited as a guest to speak about my cancer treatment I went through during the last year and a half. Daniël labeled me as a Jedi Knight, for having gone through this. Thank you! “Jedi Knight” — that’s a label that sounds much more positive! 🥳

"IT DEPENDS" Certified Practitioner

Also during the conference, I became a certified practitioner of “It Depends”, thanks to the exam by Gitte Klitgaard. Very nice, too!

And just after the Agile Testing Days, I took and passed the exam to become an  Agile Testing Fellow

Other than that, since 2013 I occasionally become SuperAgilePerson.

A tiny part of @Stuartliveart‘s sketch note from Agile Testing Days 2015

Let’s combine all those labels:

Cyborg Vampire Agile Testing Fellow
It-Depends Practitioner SuperAgilePerson Jedi Knight Witch

Oh, what a title! I won’t use all of those labels all the time, certainly not on a business card. 😉

What are your labels and titles?

Agile Testing Days 2019: A Keynote

I’ll be giving a Keynote at the Agile Testing Days 2019 in Potsdam, Germany: “Being Lucky”.

Stehpan's Keynote at ATD: Being Lucky

Here’s the abstract:

Good fortune can be influenced, so let’s do it.
Do you think a little more luck in your life could help?
Someone at the Agile Testing Days once noticed that I seem to be a particularly lucky person. This made me ponder: Am I lucky? When? How often? Where? I also asked myself, whether it’s possible to influence luck.
Episodes, some from this very conference right from the beginning in 2009, illustrate how luck can strike. However, it doesn’t necessarily feel like a lucky moment at the time it happens. It may actually feel embarrassing and stressful. These stories also provide some heuristics to help you become more lucky.
Lesson learned: While luck can’t entirely be controlled, it might in fact be shaped in our favour.

Agile Testing Days 2016 — Part 6: Conference Day 3

For the 3rd conference day, I’d like to mention two highlights: Ida Karine Bohlin‘s “The Tinder Project—How To Test The Right Swipes” and Gojko Adzic‘s keynote “Snow White and the 777.777.777 Dwarfs“.

Ida introduced Tinder, an online service to meet people. It can be used to find someone to have a chat at an airport or meet a lifetime partner. She described how she applied her testing knowledge to search for a partner on Tinder. The compilation of acceptance criteria  was hilarious already, including a good dozen aspects from handsome (but not weak) to strong enough so he could help with heavy luggage at airports. She presented the testing quadrant for identifying test approaches she applied and a testing pyramid to be used. To me, the topic of agile testing was very well presented, the talk was very funny and entertaining. Well done, Ida! I believe it would make a great keynote to introduce the topic of agile testing at a conference!

Gojko presented some aspects, that he believes will change the world of testing in dramatic ways. Two of the reasons for these changes are the ever decreasing cost of computation in general (e.g. by  services such as AWS Lambda), and the decreasing time needed to fix issues after production defects are found.

When applying a micro service architecture, the single service can be tiny — Gojko talks about a few dozen lines of code. With so little code, finding the cause of a bug is typically easy. (At least a lot easier than in a code base containing hundreds or thousands of lines.)

Let me finish with just one tweet about this talk (there are many more on Twitter):

Due to Gojko’s presentation there was a whole new session dedicated to “Gojko’s Future” during the unconference day that followed this 3rd day of Agile Testing Days 2016. But since that’s another day, I will cover it in the next blog post.

Agile Testing Days 2016 — Part 4: Conference Day 1

Similar to the past few years, I participated in the opening session of the Agile Testing Days playing the role of Super Agile Person—only this year Super Agile Person represented the ghosts of testing past, present and future. Playing and singing along with the audience to the tunes of Jingle Bells was great fun. Thanks to Elad who posted a short video sequence of this on Twitter

https://twitter.com/eladsof/status/806050167925383169/

I enjoyed the opening keynote by Abby Fichtner a lot. It made me think about the close relationship between vulnerability and braveness. Here’s Samantha Laing‘s sketch note summary:

The next two sessions rushed by in no time — I was thinking about my own session in the afternoon too much, I believe.

Since I had to prepare some Raspberry Pies,  set up my own network for my workshop, I missed the 2nd keynote of the day. A huge “Thank You!” to Dragan Sekuloski for helping me setting up the workshop!

Sadly one thing went wrong: When presenting a topic as “Testing and the Internet of Things” two aspects are essential: The things and the internet. Alas, the internet wouldn’t work! So the story of Goblin King Jareth XLII and his labyrinthian world of connected rooms had to proceed without the prepared game. Sad but true.

Given how bad it started, the workshop then went pretty well: Thanks to understanding and wonderfully active participants we were able to collect a good number of topics the King was interested in. In particular the King wanted to learn about 3 topics:

  1. What risks are we facing?
  2. What interfaces are we dealing with in the Internet of Things (IoT)?
  3. What should be tested (and what shouldn’t)?

Here is a list of what we listed during the session:

Risks

  1. Power outages
  2. Cables can be pulled
  3. Malicious input
  4. No proper instructions
  5. Unreliable hardware
  6. Memory leaks
  7. Loss of device
  8. Dependencies
  9. Display resolution

Some of these are not limited to the IoT, and in fact many can happen in other contexts as well. However some of the risks, when dealing with the IoT, are more, well, risky.

Interfaces

Here we did not precisely differentiate between interfaces and transport mechanism.

  1. Skin (think of heart rate monitoring fitness trackers)
  2. Sound, microphones, pressure changes (think about services like Siri)
  3. Light, eyes, radiation (iris scanners, light barriers)
  4. RFID, NFC (card readers, new payment methods, theft prevention)
  5. Brain waves

Not all of these are easy to measure or available everywhere. The point is that in the IoT we are dealing with a lot more interfaces and mechanisms to transport information than in ‘ordinary’ web apps or most other software systems. And each additional interface also provides a new way for attackers to get into the system.

What to Test

  1. Battery life
  2. Replies of other systems
  3. Bad conditions (e.g. when using light to communicate through air, what about fog?)
  4. Connections
  5. Distance (How far away from a card reader can a card be read?)

It gets really interesting when these topics are combined. Since the initial reading of RFID cards worked on the computers during the workshop, we discussed these questions as well:

  1. Is it necessary to test the uniqueness of the IDs stored on the cards? When? Why?
  2. What about testing the card readers?

An interesting observation: The card readers used in the workshop actually register as a USB keyboard when connected to a computer. This means that we could unplug the reader and still enter data using a real keyboard. Since the real IDs of the cards were also printed on the cards themselves, we even had IDs the system would recognise!

After my workshop I took a break from the conference and went for the next great offer right in front of the hotel: A conference private Christmas market! After enjoying some “Grünkohl mit Würstchen” it was already time for the next big thing: The “Ho-Ho-Ho-ly STWC & MIATPP Award Night”.

As in the previous years the 1st conference day ended with a great costume party and ceremonies for the award winners of the year. Congratulations to the Dutch team “Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters” for winning the “Software Testing World Championship” and to Maaret Pyhäjärvi for winning the well deserved “Most Influential Agile Testing Professional Person Award”!

costume-party-2016_s

 

Update (12. Dec. 2016): As promised, here is a PDF version of the slides used in the workshop: https://seasidetesting.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/stephans-labyrinth.pdf

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