Let's Debate: Taking On James Bach For My First Conference As A Speaker

A bit about the beginning.

I believe at this point it is obvious or has been made evident that Im newer to this scene. Up until now I have built my brand around it. Even here in this post, I am recalling an instance where I am advocating for space for people like myself to see themselves in this community of testers. I wont get into my theology about the topic of being new here, so insert *post about newness, blah blah* that Im going to write later. (More of a note to self than anything. But hey, blogs are supposed to be about freethinking right?!)

Moving on.

So about how I got here. I have a mentor through the amazing Speak Easy (SE) program, crafted to help extend and diversify the testing community's voice. I dropped a number of hooks in the water and after much trial and error, was offered opportunities at a few of the many amazing conferences that are highlighting movement and establishment among testing. Defining + moments or "Defining moments," if you will. 

In a sequence of things, Test Master's Academy (TMA) was the first. 

The Test Master's Academy Debate. 

That is right: my first speaking commitment in the world of testers everywhere was a debate!

It was to my utter shock that this opportunity was even afforded me, but what was even more surprising was how it was going to be a debate... with James Bach nonetheless. The invitation came in an email with all consenting parties attached and open to discuss said debate. James, being one of the supporters (correct me if I'm wrong here), had some feelings about what I was claiming in my CFP and desired more clarification on my stance of "Anyone could be a tester;" a simple statement taken out of context, that I believed I would have the chance to clarify during the interactive phase of speaking. It was my impression that this is what the aim of CFPs is for, right? To get wheels turning, to draw in an audience with some sticky comments to catch their attention so that they want to learn more. Well apparently I caught James'.

I had a number of feelings about this, but quite honestly fear was never one of them. I had confidence in my stance and would go to great lengths to show it. I was asked a number of times if I was afraid. Anyone who knows me knows how hilarious this question is to ask, especially if it is not in regards to falling off cliffs or Drop Bears. There were a number of other feelings to have, however fear was nowhere on the spectrum. I was excited if nothing else.

So, the debate.

Just to preface a few things: 

1. The debate had already occurred before the conference had even happened 

2. There was much back and forth, online and in person, on account of our arguments, and

3. The objective was to gain understanding about each of our statements and to then debate in order to initiate thought among the community about said topic.

We then decided upon a structure. It was important for him and me to get community involvement. So instead of standing before a crowd purely debating, we wanted to get feedback and perspective from other participants. For 15 minutes within our debate we would offer an open floor for others to present their arguments, support or take on the matter. It was designed to be inclusive. We had set our terms. We were having a debate.

The Real Debate.

From email one, I knew I was in for a treat. I happen to be one of those oddballs who enjoys a bit of a debate, mostly because I have strong opinions and perspectives. I feel like often times people are not in the motion of being exposed to things that are not within their control or in their immediate life experience. Because of this I feel sometimes being faced with opposing opinions is a doorway to better understand the world around us and to be more inclusive of potential possibilities that come with a growing community.  

James' Stance 

Im going to use James' name as many times as possible in this post. Mostly because I think it's funny. But on a more professional note, because I cannot blog about this experience without him. And hopefully the more I use it, the more it offers insight as to how involved he was with making this assumed loaded task an enjoyable experience. 

As many of us know, James has some very weighty opinions about testing and what it means to be a tester - too soon?? But seriously, this man IS testing in many people's eyes. To me, again emphasizing Im new, he was someone I had only encountered a few times before. He had a great knowledge of the world I was crafting into my profession, and to me, he was and is someone who has great ideas. He is a source of truth and righteousness in the world of testing... except about this point we were arguing, of course. And a number of others Im sure, but time will tell.

James believes that it is his many years of experience that classify him as a tester. It is his hard earned skills that lend him a professional and expert seat at the table. Anything otherwise is ridiculous! Im paraphrasing and lofty in my words, but you get the point. 

In his words: 

“Arguing that nothing really qualifies people to be testers sounds exactly like you don’t believe testing is an important job that is worth learning how to do well. This doesn’t help our craft grow, it helps our craft continue like Peter Pan in Neverland... Flying around by fairy dust.”
— James Bach

James Bach, everyone. He has quite the sense of humor. 

To him, as he understood from my CFP, I was in the mode of letting anyone in the door. I didn't care about skill or time, investments, practice or any of the other life intensive task necessary to becoming a tester. I was Oprah Winfrey in this instance, "Everyone gets a [job]!" I was defacing our craft by lowering the standard. This was alarming to him and so he wanted clarification. 

The amazing part about all of this is that on the contrary we actually had a very similar argument. He just misunderstood.

My Stance

I don't blame James in his misunderstanding! What I was arguing was arbitrary by design. It also was based on my personal experience. Something he could never have understood until I provided context. This was my intention. I stand by the notion that "It is better that they ask than you tell." To me, this is an invitation to really engage in understanding one another as well as to initiate conversation with others.

I have an unusual story as to how I became a tester.

I have an unusual story as to how I became a tester. Me arguing that "anyone could be a tester" was my way of making space for myself in this community. It was my way of providing space for others like myself who come from little to no professional tech experience, but with desire, by hard work, gaining skills and practice, are offered a seat at the table. It was a way for me to say, "Hey, I have passion about this, and I want to learn more. Over the years I will gain experience much like you. But first, you have to let me in the door." 

the bottom line

I do not have 20+ years of experience to call myself a tester, as do many whom are trying to enter the world of testing. A number of us also have "unusual" stories. Perhaps all that was afforded to us was an abstract job description with intimidating details. Or a job post listing with so many requirements that we didn't even bother applying. Some of us had past occupations and professions not within tech. And some of us have a certificate that says something in the way of us being a tester.

Though all of these are starting points, it is likely that lone-standing, these are not enough to get us a job. The hope is that whatever it is, it stands as being enough to gain an interest and move our anticipated careers forward.

That along with a desire and an open door to join the community, would help us in the coming years to eventually be like many of the great testers around: James, Maaret, Anna, Matt, Kate, Lisa, Janet, Paul, Anne-Marie... etc. This is the goal. However how do we get there? Where is the starting point?

My argument was crafted to initiate thought as to how inclusive we are being. How welcoming is this community to diversity, not just in skin color or gender, but also to age, experiences outside of tech and opinion. 

The Honest Debate.

One thing I am certain of is I am a tester. My first job offer is one that I would describe as my boss saying, "[take] a chance on an unknown kid." That's a Clueless reference for all you 90's folks out there. But it's quite honestly the truth. I knocked at the door with my loud ambition, passion, chef-life experience, and intention to become a professional at testing, and here I am.

My debate with James at Test Master's Academy helped me to see a number of things. The most important being this community is stock full of amazing years of experience that we all need. Whether contributed by one person with 20+ or by many with barely a year. 

In the thick of our developmental phase as a community we don't have space to be exclusive. There are worlds of experience out there that we need. If we iron out the kinks with pure intended debate, we can create a dialog that has room for many seats at the table, all of which can provide value. 

This experience was such a great opportunity for me. I wanted to give a quick thanks to Anna Royzman for "taking a chance on an unknown kid." And to James for engaging in this debate. Once again I see that the tester community is making an effort and so long as that continues to be the case, I think I'll stick around for a bit.