Motivate and Inspire Software Quality Goals: An Interview with Annette Ash


In this interview, Annette Ash, a coach and trainer with SolutionsIQ, talks about the dirty term in the room: quality metrics. She reveals whether tracking metrics is beneficial, what it accomplishes, and what should be tracked with regards to software quality.

Jennifer Bonine: We are back with another couple of interviews this afternoon, so thanks, virtual audience, for joining in and listening in on what we're going to chat about today. Annette, thanks for joining us.

Annette Ash: Oh, I'm excited.

Jennifer Bonine: I get the preview before you guys get on camera—a little bit of what's going on in background. Why don't you tell us the story of how you got where you are today and how you got here? You've been doing this in software testing for a long time but are kind of changing it up a little, so maybe explain to them what you're doing and how you got where you are.

Annette Ash: Okay. I've been doing the software testing in engineering and management for some thirty years. I started out with good old Iomega way back when Bernoulli drives were the thing, and then moved to zip drives. Last company we got to doing continuous integration and continuous delivery. We've been through a lot of different scenarios in testing and different ways of doing testing, tried a lot of different avenues to see what would work, what didn't work. Some weren't so successful; some were very successful. Based off of that, after I'd been there doing this stuff for thirty years, I said let me step out of my comfort zone, do something completely different that I've never done before, because that's the way I learn and so I started doing coaching and teaching.

Jennifer Bonine: Wow.

Annette Ash: I travel every week and meet new, fun people and do a lot of talking to them about best practices and kind of some agile principles. I've been having a ball, so when this came across to do, I went, "Okay, there's another opportunity to step out of my comfort zone."

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, and try something new.

Annette Ash: Something new.

Jennifer Bonine: This is awesome. We're glad you're here. That's a really good lesson for folks out there watching that maybe are saying, "I've done this a while. I'm getting kind of stagnant. I don't feel like I'm learning new things." How did you make that leap? When you say do something different, for folks that may not know, so you completely went outside of ... I'm assuming you were a full-time employee of organizations in the past, worked for someone, did that, and now moved into more of a consulting role and the teaching, so coaching and teaching in a consulting capacity after that time, using all the experience you have, how did you decide that that was right for you, and then also which company to do that with?

Annette Ash: It was extremely difficult. I was on LinkedIn and down rolled somebody that I had worked with years ago, and they were looking for a position for a coach consulting. I literally at that point, I actually had put in also for this talk here at the same time that this thing came through for this other job, and so I wrote this great big long response. I sat on it all day long, and I didn't send it. I was like, "Should I, shouldn't I? Should I, shouldn't I?" I called home, said, "What do you guys think?" They went, "Well, what do you want to do?" I went, "I want to do something that's not what I normally do every day," and so at the end of the day, I pushed send.

Jennifer Bonine: And waited.

Annette Ash: And waited.

Jennifer Bonine: We've all been there, right?

Annette Ash: I thought, "You know what? What happens happens." I was not expecting to get a, "Yes, we want you to speak at STAREAST, and yes, we want you doing consulting," all at the same time, because I wasn't expecting to go that far out of my comfort zone.

Jennifer Bonine: Right. You were trying a few things and they both worked out.

Annette Ash: Yes. There you have it. I'm here and I just got through with a class this morning on metrics and why that's always a bad word for most companies because it's driven, in my opinion, incorrectly, driven from management versus from the team realizing what they want and what they need.

Jennifer Bonine: So true. You've been doing this now, so from when you pushed send to now, a couple months ago I'm assuming, so you've been out there a little about.

Annette Ash: It was about eight months ago.

Jennifer Bonine: Eight months, so almost a year.

Annette Ash: Almost a year, so I'm a pro now.

Jennifer Bonine: Right? Into this transformation. For folks out there who are wondering what type of coaching you do, can you tell them a little bit about what the company you work with does and what types of coaching you guys do with organizations?

Annette Ash: I'd love to. I work for SolutionsIQ. It was originally Davisbase. They merged in December. When I hired on, it was for agile and development and testing. I've been teaching and coaching for agile development teams and going all over the country. Every week is a new destination and adventure as I'm going around and doing boot camps, Scrum Master, product owner, user stories, and then testing and talking to the testing development business side. I just got through with business and trying to figure out in some companies how the business fits into these agile teams.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes. Awesome. That's wonderful. Companies are out there saying, "That's something I'm interested in. We need a coach." I know there's different ways to do coaching. There's embedded coaching where the coaches go in and they're inside of the teams, and then there's where you just do the training and kind of leave. What is the model that you guys work with in terms of organizations or companies, or does it vary?

Annette Ash: Yes, it varies. They do both. In these companies we have coaches that are embedded with the teams. The goal is to go in there to train, to mentor and get them operating on their own and then get out. From that respect, they may be there for a few months to a year. I've been going in and then doing the training with the employees that are going to be having to go through this transformation. Had some interesting experience with some of them where we've had some discussion on how this just wasn't going to work for them to the point that we had management come down and explain to them that they were moving in that direction and that they were in there with them and that they didn't know what they didn't know at this point and they were going to go through this struggle together. They said the right things that calmed the classes down to the point that they were accepting and going, "Okay, yeah. We're wanting to learn."

It's just been so embedded with the Waterfall way of doing things that it's really, really been difficult for some of these larger companies to embrace, but realizing that these other companies are going at a such faster pace than they are that they are trying to figure out how to embrace it and use that to their advantage, because otherwise they are going to slowly die in a very fast-moving industry.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, and you can get behind. It's amazing. We were having some conversations with a few other speakers about how fast things change now. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that if you're not evolving and able to move quickly, you get behind much quicker than you would have ten or fifteen years ago. The rate of change is magnifying the need to be able to adapt and continue to grow and change I think, too. I'm wondering if you see that as well with companies, that needing to have to adjust much quicker and not having the amount of time they used to have for projects. You used to have a one year release cycle or a six month release cycle.

Annette Ash: You don't have that anymore.

Jennifer Bonine: No. You can't have that. It just doesn't work. That would be way too late. It wouldn't be relevant anymore.

Annette Ash: I look at the US Postal Service and where they're at right now with the same way of doing things for years and years and years. It's not to their fault, but the world passed them by to the point that now, there's companies out there that are hiring you and me to deliver a package from point A to point B because you're going there anyway, and so they'll pay you $20 to take the package and as soon as it's delivered and they sign, you get $20 in your account. How do you compete with something like that when you're still stuck in the same way of doing things?

I always said, unfortunately, the world passed them by and they didn't know it. The poor people that are working in those companies don't know that either, and so how do you get the word out to people knowing that there's a better, faster. Once I saw continuous delivery working, I went, there's no way as an individual I could keep up with the pace at which things were going. The productivity that was happening was phenomenal. There was no way I could keep up with it.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, exactly. I think that's right. Just getting the word out and the education piece of it and conferences like this are great for that. You obviously submitted a talk and hit send on that just about the same time as you were hitting update on my career and my path and where I want to go. What was that process like for you? How did you, for those out there that are saying, "I want to be there next year. I want to be at the conference and I want to try and speak," what did that look like for you as far as finding something that you thought was relevant that people would want to hear, and then submitting that? I think a lot of folks out there have maybe never looked or tried to see that it's actually pretty available and open to them if they want to do that.

Annette Ash: I really seriously did not think once I submitted a topic that they would pick it, number one. I was passionate about this topic because I drove this area from the aspect of the team's goals versus metrics, but I thought in my wildest dreams, it wasn't going to be something that anybody would really care much about because it was the boring metrics topic. I was thinking nobody really wants to learn about metrics because it's one of those necessary evils that management demands, but I was passionate about it, and I saw it working and saw it working very, very well once we got it all implemented into our continuous integration and delivery aspect.

When we got that all put in place and I could see the value that the teams were seeing in this and that management was getting excited about it because the teams were doing it, I went, "I need to share that with people that struggled like myself," but still not thinking that was going to be a topic that anybody cared about. Anyway, I did my presentation today to a packed room and I was surprised thinking I didn't imagine that, either. I didn't think anybody cared that much about metrics.

Jennifer Bonine: They do.

Annette Ash: That they would be there, so yes, it was a fun experience. It actually was relatively simple to do and to fill out the information to send it in. I got in contact with Lee after that. He and I talked. He's actually from the same area I am from, and so we chatted about some focus groups, which he was surprised that I had started the QA focus group in that state. He had been to several of our conferences, but we hadn't crossed paths because the goal for those focus groups as people were leading those areas of QA focus was that they would be there for about a year and then step out and somebody else would go in. That was the goal was just to keep it rotating, and so I had been there for the start of it and then turned it over to somebody else to start involving other people into it so it belonged to the community, not to an individual, was the goal.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is great, because then it lives on and changes and morphs and breathes as it needs to with new individuals being brought in.

Annette Ash: Right.

Jennifer Bonine: That's wonderful. For folks that are interested in this topic, more information, places where you would send them to get some ideas, because you talk about it being a necessary evil. A lot of people are told we need metrics, we need to measure things. Where can they go to get some information on how to do that so it becomes something that is useful to the team, that is relevant and valuable? Suggestions or ideas for the folks out there.

Annette Ash: Yes. When I was looking into it, I was doing some research on my own, looking up what were my different options. Years ago, there were options that I was using that were very expensive. We used the cyclomatic complexity tools that were seventy grand for the company, and I said, "Yeah, this is not going to fly," doing some further research and finding what was out there that was much more open sourced, if you will.

I came across some studies and analyses done by developers, by test people, that had actually embraced some of these open source options. I came across this article on the seven deadly sins of software development and read through all of that going, "That's exactly where we're at." Based off of that was where I started putting in place some of those tools for the teams to embrace. Once we implemented those tools into the build process and it became transparent that the developers and the testers didn't really need to do anything, it just happened and they would get results back, that's all that needed to happen.

Jennifer Bonine: From a tools perspective, just for folks out there, when you talk about the more open source tools, what did the tools happen to be that you guys used for that?

Annette Ash: SonarQube was the one we picked and that we went with. There's others out there, but that was the one that we picked, that the teams rallied around and embraced. That took research, though, on my part to do, so it wasn't something that somebody came up and said, "I have something to sell you. Look at this cool thing," because I had been down that path before. I didn't want to go to the path of, "Here, you have to use this." It was, "Here, we've put it in place. If you want it, here it is, and you guys can figure out what you want to do from there." Then, the team started to say, "Hey, you know what? We have no unit tests. We have no integration or acceptance tests that are showing up in our coverage, so what do we need to do?" It just started sparking more questions and involving the teams and finding answers.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, because it provides information, right, and makes it accessible?

Annette Ash: Information that they loved, and so when you have that, it's easy to embrace from there.

Jennifer Bonine: The time goes so fast. We need to wrap up. If people have more questions or you've peaked an interest for them, which I'm sure you probably have around some of this, what's the best way to get in contact with you or get more information from you?

Annette Ash: You can reach me at [email protected]. I've not been there for very long, but reach me there. Not a problem. I'd be more than happy to answer questions.

Jennifer Bonine: Awesome. Thank you so much, Annette, for joining us. Stay tuned for another interview up next.

A AshA passionate, motivated, and driven IT professional, Annette Ash has thirty years of experience helping to build software development teams with an emphasis in software quality. She is currently a coach and trainer with SolutionsIQ. In the testing field Annette has seen and been a part of the constant changes within software development and test. She enjoys the benefits that come from empowering individuals and teams to succeed. The most rewarding part is the amazement these teams feel when they realize what they have accomplished in such a short period of time.

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