This interview with Katrina Clokie is part of the Hexawise “Testing Smarter with…” software testing interview series. Our goal with these interviews is to highlight insights and experiences as told by many of the software testing field’s leading thinkers.
Katrina Clokie leads a team of around 100 testers as a Test Practice Manager in Wellington, New Zealand. Katrina is an active contributor to the international testing community as the founder and editor of Testing Trapeze magazine, a co-founder of the WeTest New Zealand testing community, a mentor with Speak Easy, an international conference speaker, frequent blogger and tweeter.
Hexawise: Do your friends and relatives understand what you do? How do you explain it to them?
Katrina: Honestly, I don't think they understand what I do. But I think that's common for most people who work in IT. Fortunately my husband is a software developer, so I can have work-related conversations with him and he understands. But otherwise, I usually avoid talking about the details of my work with my friends and relatives.
Hexawise: Related post by Katrina: How I explain software testing to people who don't work in IT.
Hexawise: Failures can often lead to interesting lessons learned. Do you have any noteworthy failure stories that you’d be willing to share?
Katrina: In the first role where I was involved in testing, before I had the word 'tester' in my job title, I was part of team that released a piece of software in a mobile phone network that had a serious bug in it. I had completed the installation and pre-release testing of the network in a South American country. After returning to New Zealand, a member of the public found a loophole that allowed multiple account top-ups with a single prepaid voucher code. It quickly went viral, and my team came under a lot of pressure to find and fix the problem as within 36 hours the mobile network operator was losing significant amounts of revenue.
The root cause of the issue turned out to be a race condition that we fixed by changing the order of our voucher recharge workflow. The experience was an eye-opener for me. It made me a lot more wary as a tester, and more willing to think of the ways that a system could be misused. It was a hard way to learn the dangers of being too confirmatory by only sticking to known error scenarios. On future projects I tried to be more creative in my testing.
Hexawise: In How do you hire a junior tester you state "I am looking to create testing teams with complementary individual strengths that mean we are collectively strong."
I appreciate your focus on the importance of building a team that works rather than focusing on making every person have the same skills. Why do you think organizations so rarely focus on creating a strong team?
Katrina: I think that organisations who use agile principles for software development often focus on creating strong delivery teams. Recruitment activities are for product-oriented teams rather than discipline-oriented teams.
From my experience, the role I occupy is unusual in that I have influence in hiring of testers across the entire test competency of my organisation. I am fortunate that the people who are managing testers day-to-day are willing to take my input in their hiring decisions, and that I can drive the broader vision for testing. Without this oversight, particularly in agile organisations where there may only be one or two testers in a cross-functional team, it can be difficult to create meaningful diversity within a discipline.
The experience was an eye-opener for me. It made me a lot more wary as a tester, and more willing to think of the ways that a system could be misused. It was a hard way to learn the dangers of being too confirmatory by only sticking to known error scenarios. On future projects I tried to be more creative in my testing.
Hexawise: Please describe a view or opinion about software testing that you have changed your mind about in the last few years? What caused you to change your mind?
Katrina: I regularly change my mind. If you work in an industry that is constantly evolving, then I think you have to have that flexibility. Here are a couple of examples of people who challenged my way of thinking in the past 12 months. Both are sharing details of the evolution of their role.
Jesse Alford works at Pivotal in the US. He spoke at CAST2016 on the topic "Against a Harmful Divide: Testing as the lifeblood of development" sharing a really interesting perspective on the "we don't need testers" phenomenon.
Sally Goble works at The Guardian in the UK. She spoke at Pipeline Conf 2016 on the topic "So what do you do if you don't do testing?" which, again, is a real experience report on a significant change in the role of the tester.
Hexawise: Your post, Test Manager vs. Test Coach, echoes Dee Hock's quote: "If you don't understand that you work for your mislabeled 'subordinates,' then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny." Do you have hope the testing community will gain more leaders, managers and coaches that focus on helping the team instead of directing the team?
Katrina: Yes. But I don't think that helping a team and directing a team are mutually exclusive. In the post that you reference where I contrast the manager and coach roles, I wanted to create a polarity to emphasis the differences. As evidenced in the comments section, the reality is a lot murkier.
I am often surprised by the rich conversation that happens when you take the time to ask people for their opinions. I always learn things that I would have liked to have known sooner. If you're a manager you may think that you have an open door policy, but there is more to learn when you seek out information rather than wait for it to come to you.
Hexawise: There has been a rapid increase in workers telecommuting in the last 10 years. And software testers do this even more than most other professions. In your post, Finding the vibe of a dispersed team, you discuss ideas on how to succeed at managing disperse teams. What other advice can you share on creating successful teams spread across different locations?
Katrina: I found it extremely difficult to work remotely as a coach. So much of my role is in face-to-face interaction, which the tools for remote working didn't support to a level that I was happy with. For testers though, it seems to be more of an option. If someone were to ask me for advice, I would refer them to Alister Scott or Neil Studd, who I think are both currently working as testers in distributed teams.
Hexawise: What blogs would you recommend should be included in a software tester's RSS feed reader?
Katrina: It's worth checking out the Testing Bits that Matt Hutchison compiles each week on the Testing Curator Blog. It's a good way to keep up-to-date with what's happening in the community and discover new voices. Similarly you can subscribe to the Ministry of Testing Feed via RSS, but I find the content a little more variable as there's no active moderation.
A prolific blogger who I really admire is Maaret Pyhäjärvi of Finland. Her blog, A Seasoned Tester's Crystal Ball, is full of practical advice and insights. A few others that I read whenever I spot a new post are:
Hexawise: Organizations often have exit interviews to learn from those leaving the organization. In your post, Stay Interviews for Testers, you suggest interviewing those testers staying in your organization. What have been some surprising ideas you have learned from using stay interviews?
Katrina: I'm unwilling to give specific examples here, but I will say that I am often surprised by the rich conversation that happens when you take the time to ask people for their opinions. I always learn things that I would have liked to have known sooner. If you're a manager you may think that you have an open door policy, but there is more to learn when you seek out information rather than wait for it to come to you.
Katrina Clokie leads a team of around 100 testers as a Test Practice Manager in Wellington, New Zealand. Katrina is an active contributor to the international testing community as the founder and editor of Testing Trapeze magazine, a co-founder of the WeTest New Zealand testing community, a mentor with Speak Easy, an international conference speaker, frequent blogger and tweeter. Her complete professional profile is available on LinkedIn.
Blog: Katrina the Tester