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My Life in Tech: Q&A for Software Tester and Agile Coach Janet Gregory

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Software tester and agile coach Janet Gregory answers our questions about transitioning traditional test teams into the agile world, misconceptions about agile testing, and why some agile projects fail.
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InformIT: How did you become interested in agile testing and coaching?

Janet Gregory: My first introduction to agile was as QA Manager for a company that wanted to start practicing XP (eXtreme programming). We were quite successful with the testers and programmers working closely together. After that job, I decided to go out on my own, and joined another XP team as a tester. I wanted to learn more, so I contacted Lisa Crispin who was writing a book about “Testing XP” at that time. She was so willing to share all she knew. After that, she and I became friends, co-presenting and sharing what we learned. I started working with teams helping them transition to agile and passed on what I knew to them. Coaching seemed to be a good fit for me and my personality. It seemed to be a natural progression but involved a lot of learning along the way for me.

InformIT: You co-wrote Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams with Lisa Crispin. If you could give testers (or developers) one piece of advice from the book, what would it be?

Janet: I’m not sure this is in the book, but I would tell testers to be curious and open to all experiences. This may challenge some of their current beliefs, but I think it is absolutely necessary so they can get the benefits of being a tester on an agile team. To the developers, the one piece of advice I would give is to be ready to collaborate and take advantage of the knowledge from all team members.

InformIT: What is the most challenging aspect of transitioning traditional test teams into the agile world?

Janet: Transitioning to agile is a cultural shift, and not all organizations (or people) are willing to make that shift.

InformIT: You wrote in your blog that many software teams are good at creating software, but many of those same teams still struggle with creating the right value. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Janet: Writing good software is a development process, and many teams do it well—using agile or traditional methods. However, unless teams understand the business problem, and work closely, they can create perfect software that the customer won’t use. When I mentioned cultural shifts, this is one of them. Having a customer representative working closely with the team so together they can create software that solves the business problem.

InformIT: What is the biggest misconception about agile testing?

Janet: One of the biggest misconceptions that I see is that “It’s all about testing the stories.” There is so much more—a good agile tester is part business analyst, an excellent collaborator, a great exploratory tester, has a good grasp of automation, understands the domain, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound….  Well, maybe not that the last part. They need to understand the big picture, how the stories are part of a business feature, or how it fits into the system as a whole.

InformIT: In your experience, what is the most common reason that some agile projects either fail or are not as successful as intended?

Janet: There are many reasons, but one I see the most is that stories are either too big and not well understood or created in a manner that suits the programmers – ex. Do all the configuration, or Code the GUI. Either way, the stories are not testable. This means the integration and testing is left until the end of an iteration or the next iteration, which is too late to give timely feedback. Defects are logged and may or may not get fixed later, which affects product quality. When testable stories are created with the whole team in mind, everyone can work at a sustainable pace and get the stories to "Done".

InformIT: What is your favorite part of being an agile tester?

Janet: That is an easy question. It is being an equal part of a productive team.

InformIT: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in your career?

Janet: Mostly there have been many small challenges, but I think starting was the hardest. Going to university as a mature student with two children still in school and both in competitive sports, meant giving up any kind of social life for four years. I spent many hours reading and doing homework in the swimming pool stands and in the gym club. It was hard to compete with many of the young students whose life was university. I was lucky I had a great support.

InformIT: What has been the most unexpected thing that has happened to you career-wise?

Janet: I have to say that I never expected to write a book. It was not in my career path, but when I was given the opportunity to write with Lisa, I couldn’t resist.

InformIT: Who or what has inspired you to get where you are today?

Janet: There are so many people along the way who inspired in small ways. However, I would have to say that Mary Poppendieck is one of my greatest inspirations. She showed me that is possible to do everything I love to do—travel, teach, coach—and that I don’t have to do it alone. Today, my husband travels with me to most of my opportunities, and we are able to share in the wonders of the world together.

InformIT: What kind of advice do you have for those who are following in your footsteps?

Janet: Simply, don’t be afraid to embrace opportunities that present themselves, even if it is out of your comfort zone.

InformIT: If computers had never been invented, what would you be doing today instead?

Janet: It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without computers. When I decided to go back to university, I narrowed my options to either Home Economics or Computer Science. I’m guessing if computers didn’t exist, I’d be teaching Home Economics, or perhaps own a sewing shop. Although at one time, I dabbled in graphic art at a local newspaper, so maybe I would have done that.

InformIT: What do you do for fun?

Janet: Right now my hobby is painting miniature houses for my Christmas village. It has grown quite large over the years. But for fun, one of my favorite things is to go camping in the summer, especially when my whole family joins us, including my grandchildren. I love to dance, but don’t get the opportunity to do that much anymore.

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