In gesprek met Michael Bolton

Michael Bolton is een onafhankelijke testconsultant. Hij geeft trainingen, spreekt vaak op conferenties, schopt graag tegen heilige huisjes, schrijft artikelen, draagt bij aan boeken en geeft zijn eigen nieuwsbrief uit. Voor heb ik hem een aantal vragen gesteld.

1. You give keynotes and presentations on almost all important conferences. What is the secret of your success? 
The first secret is to think in terms of plurals, so “secrets”, rather than secret.  The second secret is that they’re not really secrets; they’re factors.  So here are some of the factors  :-)
I’ve been mostly interested in the thinking part of testing, rather than the process stuff.  Many people who say they enjoy my presentations seem to be all processed out.  I like to appeal to the mindset and the skill set of individual testers, and I think people find that empowering.
Since I started working with James Bach and, later, Jerry Weinberg, I’ve been trying to make sessions more experiential.  That changes attendance into participation, and puts people in charge of what they’re learning. They seem to enjoy that, for the most part.
Testing is all about looking deeper and making connections to things.  Most disciplines tend not to get their biggest advances from within.  More typically, ideas from outside are the revolutionary ones, because they encourage us to look at our craft from a changed perspective.  So I’m always on the lookout for books and stories that I can link to testing.  That helps to keep things fresh.
Another thing that keeps things fresh:  there are some things in testing that might seem uninteresting on the surface. Yet the farther you delve into a topic, the more opportunity you have to find something deeper and more interesting.  Consider something that seems ordinary, or something that we take for granted.  What’s behind it?  What’s its history?  How do people actually use it?  How is it related to the things around it?  Could you accomplish the same purpose with something that’s radically different in form or structure?  Could you do other things with what you’ve got?  I’m listening to a set of audio lectures on the philosophy of science, and the lecturer (Prof. Jeffrey Kasser) points out that there are lots of instruments that we call “thermometer”, but from the outside, they look radically different.  So what does it mean when we say that something is a thermometer?  That it tells us something about temperature?  If that’s true, would a frozen birdbath in the back yard count as a thermometer?  What do we mean when we say that two tests are “equivalent”?  We have what we think is a good idea about that, but how can we be /sure/ that two tests are equivalent unless we perform both of them?  Software development is full of questions like that–or at least, it should be.  The sense of discovery of a new perspective or a new idea is very exciting to me, and I think–I hope–that’s contagious.
Whether I’m working as a tester or as a consultant, I try to notice things about the testers, or the organization, or my own work that other people might find helpful or instructive.  That is, I try to talk about what I’ve learned.  I’d say to all testers:  if you have an interesting story to tell, people are eager to hear about it. If you’re a tester, and you’ve solved some tricky problem, experience reports make fantastic content. For me, the success of a conference presentation–a whole conference, for that matter–lies in the quality of the stories that get told.  So tell your story!  Don’t read it off the page, or off your slides, though; /tell/ people a story about what you’ve done, or what you’ve discovered.

 2. I saw you as a devil and angel once. Did you had some media training and is  there something you do not dare to do or wear during your presentations?
When I was much younger, I was a child actor, and I did study theatre in university. My first real career was in theatre stage management–not directing the show, but making sure it happened the way the director and the designers wanted it to.  It turns out that the role is very similar to being a program manager in a software company, which I did later for several years. 
In terms of what I’d do in presentations, I like to tease the people that I don’t agree with.  But I try not to be mean about it, and I wouldn’t do it intentionally.  As for costumes… you’re unlikely to see me sporting a badge with a testing certification on it.  But you never know.  It helps to be a little silly every once in a while, if it’s in service of a point.

 3. Do you still do test projects for clients, or is your core business writing articles, books and giving presentations and workshops?
I do some hands-on testing work, but I’d like to do more of it.  I’ve found one way of fostering that: in the last couple of years, I’ve been offering a free day of testing, coaching, or consulting–whatever the client wants–after the three-day Rapid Software Testing course.  I’d be delighted to help out over longer periods than that, though.

 4. Will we, as testers, do the same things in 2020 as we do now?
Will we be testing the same technologies?  I can’t imagine that we will.  Look at the difference between 2000 and 2010.  In 2000, the Web was important, but not quite ubiquitous.  PDAs were abundant, but they weren’t integrated with telephones and the Net in the same way that they are now.  The BlackBerry was a pager.  There were no iPhones, no iPods, even.  No WikiPedia. No Twitter.  Ruby was around, but it wasn’t as big a deal as it is now.  So many technologies will be different, which means different things to test, different tools, and different approaches.  On the other hand, it’s likely that people’s ability to imagine and invent things will continue to outstrip their ability to make those things work for their intended audiences.  Product owners will still want to know about how things work, and about how they might not work in ways that matter to their clients.  In that larger sense, I think that excellent testing won’t change much; it’ll still be a form of critical inquiry.

5. I don’t know if you have plans already, but what will your next book be about?
It may not be a surprise to you, but my next book will be about software testing.  The difference is that it will be a book-length work; all my other book contributions so far have been articles or sidebars.

Michael Bolton
(photo by Steven M. Smith)