Live Blog: What Executives Value in Testing, Michael Kelly and Jeanette Thebeau, STARWEST 2013

Noel Wurst's picture

I sat and thought a long time about the choice for the first keynote at this year’s STARWEST conference. People come from all over the world to attend these conferences, and every seat is guaranteed to be filled—especially at the first keynote. I tend to be drawn to “exciting” topics like “How to Break Software,” “The Google Hacking Database,” and “Test Automation Challenges in the Gaming Community.” By the way, all of these are actual session titles from this year’s program.

So, when I saw the title for our first keynote, “What Executives Value in Testing,” I’ll admit, I wondered, “But what about video games?” and “C’mon! Let’s break some software already!” This is my naivete. Not everyone plays video games, and even though this is a conference solely dedicated to testing, not everyone here wants to “break” the software they test each day.

But, as Michael and Jeanette proved only minutes into their keynote, everyone needs to know not just what executives value in testing, but also how testers are 100 percent responsible for explaining and increasing that value.

Kelly’s descriptions of the average founder and the typical CEO in the world made sense instantly. This was evidenced by the number of heads nodding in front of me, as many attendees’ founders and CEOs were accurately labeled. But what was more impressive than the pigeonholing of the world’s higher-ups was Michael and Kelly’s ability to immediately make everyone in the room ask themselves, “How could the executives at my company possibly have the time or ability to know how valuable I am, with everything else on their plates?”

All hope is not lost, though, as Michael pointed out that while the differences between testers and executives are obvious, there are many similarities that neither party may be aware of.

Testers and executives both strive to ensure that the product is not only stable and usable, but also solves the business problem. Michael also noted that testers, developers, and, honestly, everyone at the company are driven to ensure that the product doesn’t embarrass the company.

Testers can accomplish this by refusing to look at themselves as being “only” testers and starting to transition into being “facilitators.” How is this accomplished? First of all, stop believing that testers and executives are incapable of speaking the same language. Sure, you may use different lingo now, but by having the same mission, learning a new language is easy—much easier than if it were the other way around.

Michael pointed out that while many testers may feel like they’re a lot closer to “I don’t know what you do” in regards to their relationship with their executives, by speaking their language, which is not hard to do, it’s a shorter road to “I wouldn’t dream of doing this without you” than testers might believe.

I think many of the other attendees and I would agree that the keynote provided a really great opportunity to hear from both a seasoned tester like Michael and someone like Jeanette, with her years of consulting experience in dealing with executives. It’s one thing to take a respected speaker’s word for “Try this, it works.” It’s another treat entirely to have the executive herself confirm the message with, “I can promise you: It does.”