Swim Along with the Testing Wave: An Interview with Dawn Haynes

In this interview, Dawn Haynes, CEO, testing coach, and consultant for PerfTestPlus, explains how testers can expand their skills to move along with the development wave and collaborate with their programmer colleagues. She also talks about her problem-solving workshop at the Women Who Test summit.

Jennifer Bonine: As promised, we're back with more interviews. I'm very excited that Dawn's here. Dawn, thanks for sitting here and doing this with me.

Dawn Haynes: Oh, it's good to chat with you again.

Jennifer Bonine: I appreciate it.

Dawn Haynes: Chat to everyone out there. Welcome, virtual land folks. Good to see you again.

Jennifer Bonine: A couple of interesting things we're seeing are trends. Even a lot of the folks I've talked to yesterday and into today have heavily weighed on tools, technical skills, a lot around the technical side of testing, virtualization, automation. You hear so much on all these topics, right? DevOps, IoT, API testing, full stack, all that stuff.

Dawn Haynes: What's the word—bingo.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, we got all of them. I think I got most of them.

Dawn Haynes: Continuous delivery.

Jennifer Bonine: Yes, there we go, we got that one, any I missed? I've been talking to organizations and some folks, are we leaving some folks behind? Do some folks maybe feel a little left out of that? That, that isn't their background, or why they got into testing, right?

Dawn Haynes: I think possibly, and while you can decide to be left behind, or you can kind of move along with where the wave is going. I get the question a lot, where's my career going? The most common question that I get is, do I need to learn a programming language to follow my team into their agile odyssey? I'd say, "Well, it couldn't hurt." I think the misperception might be, do I have to learn a programming language? Well, not necessarily to write code, but learn enough about it to have a literate conversation with your development colleagues. I don't think that could hurt. Learn a scripting language, get some tools and skills that make your job in testing easier. Make it easier to have collaboration with your colleagues; I don't think that could ever be a bad thing. I do understand, kind of building it up in your head and thinking, that's unattainable, it's too much for me, it's too deep.

I come from the business side of the house, which is where I came from when I started testing. I did have a technical background, I started programming in high school, which was odd and lucky all at the same time. I'd been acclimated to flow charting, so simple things like that, just know what a variable is and know what a loop is, and you can have deeper richer conversations with people, richer explorations of the software. It's really like, if you're going to test a car, is it enough to test drive it on a track? Or do you want to open the hood and be able to test some of the components? Or understand how a combustion engine works, and an electric engine works, how an exhaust system works? Would it be helpful for you in testing to understand how those things work?

Jennifer Bonine: Not to build them, but to at least understand how they work.

Dawn Haynes: Right, so I think a lot of it is just sort of fear that we build up in our minds, that, oh, we can't do that. Buy a programming book that says, "Learn this in twenty-one days." Spend twenty-one days and then figure it out. Decide, is this horrible and do I want to run away and leave software in the dust? I mean, that may be the choice for some people. I would just kind of suggest to folks, follow that inner voice. That thing that's telling you, you want to stick in here, you like this stuff. You want to make a career of this, you're just not sure if you can be viable.

Don't doubt yourself, just go try that thing and stick with it on your projects. Ask for your colleagues' assistance. That's what I did. I was taking programming courses at night, and I would come in and I'd ask my developers the next day. I'd be like, I have this little problem, this little program that I'm trying to write and it's not working very well. Could you help me? Just that process of collaborating on something that wasn't work at all but was helping build up my technical chops.

Jennifer Bonine: Showed you were interested in learning.

Dawn Haynes: Absolutely, it went a long way to building credibility, getting respect from those colleagues.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, absolutely.

Dawn Haynes: Then it was an easier channel to funnel information and knowledge-sharing back and forth. It worked and it served me very well in my career, I so I can't imagine that it would actually be a blocker. I think one of the things that people perceive—both testers, test managers alike, even maybe executive managers, might think, well, if testers are going down this path, maybe they won't be objective enough to do the testing. I don't necessarily think that's true. I think mind sets and perspectives ... the heart of the tester is someone that looks for things. I think that if we're aware of the technical weeds it actually enhances our testing ability. I don't think it compromises our critical eye, so don't be afraid. Go there, try it, see where you end up.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, because I hear it almost like, the analogy I might use is when you go to a country that speaks a language other than the one that you speak.

Dawn Haynes: Which I just got back from, India.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, so you were just in India, and English I'm assuming is your native language. You're in a country now that they speak a language or languages ...

Dawn Haynes: Several.

Jennifer Bonine: ... that aren't your native languages because there's multiple dialects. When you go some place and that's not your primary background or language but you attempt to understand, know, and learn it, show them that you have some interest, it opens up a world of possibilities, right?

Dawn Haynes: It goes a long way.

Jennifer Bonine: It goes a long way.

Dawn Haynes: People really do acknowledge the effort, and I think a lot of our colleagues do acknowledge the effort. Once you start that, you can get to a place where you can ask someone. You know, can you explain that to me in a little more depth, and they're not going to blow you off and say, "Oh, well, that's too technical for me, you can't understand that."

Jennifer Bonine: You can't figure that out, it's way too technical.

Dawn Haynes: For all the times in my career someone has shortchanged me and used those exact words, well, I don't go away. If you don't know me well enough, I don't go away, I'll just be like, "Try me." We get there eventually. Be brave, be brave, try it.

Jennifer Bonine: You know, I think that's another great takeaway, is be brave, don't be afraid to ask the questions, and the people that are open will help you.

Dawn Haynes: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: It's not silly. If someone says something and you don't know what that means, don't be afraid to ask. Step forward and ask. I think there's a keynote earlier that talked about not stepping back or waiting, but going and stepping forward and asking. It's okay to do that.

There is an event that takes place on Friday—we talked to Jeff Payne about the leadership summit. There's another event that takes place on Friday, we talked to Tania [Katan] a little bit about it, and it's the Women Who Test summit, which goes on here as well, and you take part in that and facilitate a session at that. Maybe for the folks out there, let them know a little bit about that, and by the way it's free to attend.

Dawn Haynes: It's a free session, and to be honest, I had a little trepidation when I first heard of this session. I was sort of, like, curious about why we're segregating. I'm not a fan of that, and maybe in my career I've been a victim of some gender bias, but here's the funny thing about me. I don't seek to offend, although I'm pretty sure I do it frequently, and I don't seek to be offended. If there is something going on related to gender, I guarantee you I will ignore it. It doesn't matter to me why someone is shortchanging me, dismissing me, not servicing my needs on a project or whatever. As soon as that happens, I will be so in your face. I need whatever I need to get my job done.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, regardless.

Dawn Haynes: Regardless.

Jennifer Bonine: You're invisible to that piece of it.

Dawn Haynes: It just doesn't matter what the reason is.

Jennifer Bonine: It doesn't matter.

Dawn Haynes: I've learned, I've done some research in some of these situations that have personally happened to me. On occasion it has been called out: Well, Dawn, clearly you understand, it's because you're a woman. I'm like, I have no idea what you just said to me.

Jennifer Bonine: Right, no idea why that should make sense.

Dawn Haynes: Those words don't make any sense to me, and in one case someone told me it was because I was young. I was a young whippersnapper, you know, I was new so I didn't have the credibility, or whatever. I'm like, I do. I've actually done the job longer than you have. I've plenty of credibility, but the thing is, anyone externally can say anything they want about me, and this is how I've been all of my life, luckily. It never diminishes me. There are some people who feel diminished in the face of those behaviors and attitudes and words that people may direct at them. There are significant issues out there, and so the first time I went, I went with an open mind, with a little skepticism in the back. Going, what's this all about? I was like, wow, there's a whole world of issues that I've blotted out, completely.

I have a lot more respect for that, first of all. Second of all, the vibe of a bunch of women in a room could actually be daunting, but it's very nurturing. There are a lot of people very interested in helping each other, and that fit very well with the session that I had planned. I basically facilitate a problem-solving workshop inside of it, where I asked people to bring their own challenges, work in small groups, come up with ideas for addressing those challenges, and then kind of work it through and think about what are going to be some of the roadblocks to trying those things—using the wisdom of the other people at the table to share their experiences with that person. They feel like they've seen all these different perspectives and are kind of armed with an arsenal of ideas and experiences.

To look at this challenge with ... And I've heard from people, we've done this twice now. This is the third time that they got so much out of this session, they've got great ideas to take home, and so that's very much engaging me and encouraging me to do it again. I'm really looking forward to it.

Jennifer Bonine: Again, we're out of time. It goes so fast, but I can't believe it. Dawn, if people want to get a hold of you, if they're interested in some of the things that you've talked about and said and they want more information, what's the best way for them to reach out?

Dawn Haynes: Well, I'm on LinkedIn, so you can search for me there. My company name is PerfTestPlus, but I'm also on Twitter, and that is @DawnMHaynes.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect, thanks, Dawn.

Dawn Haynes: Thank you so much. Cheers. Namaste.

Dawn H.Dawn Haynes is CEO, testing coach, and consultant for PerfTestPlus, Inc. A highly regarded trainer of software testers, Dawn blends experience with a real-world view to provide testers with tools and techniques to help them generate new approaches to common and complex software testing problems. Passionate about improving the state of testing, Dawn engages with testers through writing, social media, training, meetups, and testing conferences worldwide. Selected in 2010 as one of twelve women of influence in Software Test and Performance magazine, Dawn is a founding member of the International Society for Software Testing, and a lifetime member, former secretary, and director of the Association for Software Testing.

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