My Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm, the city where Rene Descartes spent his last days, and which now hands out Nobel prizes, is also now becoming a capital of Context-Driven testing thinking. The cool kid of the North. (Oh, why can’t your brothers Germany and Netherlands be more like you?)

This past weekend I shared a room with some of the leading context-driven and anti-ISTQB testers in Sweden. This was the Swedish Workshop on Exploratory Testing, the second peer conference I’ve attended in Sweden.

The Swedish testing community had no definite form or presence that I ever heard of, before Tobbe Ryber and Anders Claesson came to my first class in Stockholm back in– when was it? 2005? 2006?– and represented their version of testing leadership.

Tobbe went on to write a respectable book on test design. Anders went on a journey of self-discovery that led him away from and back to testing, to return like some Gandalf the Grey-turned-White as an exploratory testing coach.

Michael Albrecht and Henrik Andersson contacted me a few years ago and became regular correspondents in middle and South of Sweden, respectively. Each of them is bold and confident in his craft, and innovates in Session-Based Test Management.

Simon Morley and Christin Wiedemann took my class only last year, but they earned their way to the conference all the same. Simon does his “Tester’s Headache” rollup blog and seems to have read EVERY book, and Christin is a physicist who discovered testing last year and is applying all that brainpower toward achieving her version of true sapient testing.

I actually flipped the bozo bit on Rikard Edgren, at one time. I unflipped it when I met him in person and discovered that what I thought was obstinacy was more a determination to think things through at his own pace and in his own way. He’s one of those guys who thinks he has to reinvent everything for himself. Yeah, I’m also like that.

Henrik Emilsson and Martin Jansson share a blog with Rikard. They are energetic testing minds. Somehow they seem like bounding sheepdogs to me, asking questions, raising issues, and generally herding testing ideas into neat pens.

Petter Mattson gave an experience report about introducing session-based test management into two different companies. I was pleased, although a little jealous, that Petter hired Michael Bolton instead of me to teach the Rapid Testing class. But Michael is very good at what he does. Damn him. He’s good.

I wanted to hear more from Johan Hoberg, Oscar Cosmo, Johan Jonasson. But they did ask some questions. Next time we’ll make them give full experience reports.

Christin gave an excellent report of how she thawed out the testing practices at her company using the exploratory approach. Not bad for a newbie. But the award for learning the hard way has to go to young Ann Flismark. She stood up to give an experience report about SBTM that somehow turned into a request for “KPIs” (which apparently means nonsense metrics demanded by her management). Several of us made a fuss about how that’s not really an experience report. I made the biggest fuss. Well, perhaps “brutal attack on the whole idea” would be a more accurate way to say it. Ann was pretty rattled, and disappeared for a while.  She was upset partly because she had a nice experience report planned (I’d seen her give it on stage at SAST) and decided to change it at the last minute.

But that’s a peer conference for you. It’s the fastest way to gain or lose a reputation. You have to stand and face your peers. Ann will bounce back with new and better material. She’ll be all the better for having had to pass through the baptismal fire.

[Update: Oh I forgot… I also gave an experience report. I told the story of how I noticed and named the practice of Thread-Based Test Management. My goal was partly to help everyone in the room feel like a co-inventor of it.]

I’m in Estonia, now. My mission is to rally the testing masses here and get them excited about becoming true professionals (not fake ones, but thanks anyway Geoff Thompson!). Oliver Vilson is Estonia’s answer to Michael Albrecht. 25 years old, but such ambition and intelligence!

My advice to Oliver is: look to Sweden and see your future.

11 thoughts on “My Stockholm Syndrome

  1. Well, THAT is a challenge!! Being a Dutch guy… I just dared to think of a NLET1.. But still a newbie/infant tester. Started with SBTM/RST/ET at my company after the very inspiring course with MB. Trying to pRevent making the mistakes others already made before, thanks for all the wonderfull blogs from all kinds of people, planning to really de-lurke sometime in the near future… Thanks!!

  2. James,

    You omitted your own experience report on Thread Based Test Management – something which I think generated a range of questions and thoughts – and it’s something that will continue to be cogitated on (by me and I’m sure the rest).

    I think my recent description of taking RST with you can probably be applied to peer conferences:

    “Like going on the ghost train at the funfair with a philosopher (or group of thinkers). Trepidation, can appear intimidating, surprises, thought-provoking – and good fun!”

    Until the next time!

  3. Hi James,

    Thanks for the kind words!
    This was a really great experience for me and I must say that this format beats all conferences and courses I have attended previous to this. And it was inspiring to meet you and all these bright and passionate peers.

    Before the meeting I had a fear that with a lot of like-minded people it could turn out to be a backslapping event. But my assumption was wrong. We were not like-minded (as to everybody agreeing with eachother); there were infact 14 different points of view and 14 different minds. So the discussions became more constructive since we were striving to sharpen our minds, not fighting religious wars. I think that this was a key thing.

    To all of you out there that want to try this out in your country/city, take a look at the LAWST handbook and use it as an inspiration on how to arrange it (

    See you at SWET2 next year!

    [James’ Reply: I will also help people start or run a peer conference. I was the facilitator for the first two WOPR’s and the first two WTST’s.]

  4. In 2004 I passed the ISEB Practitioner Exam. At that time you were required to write a lot of textual answers and to respond in a way that showed that you applied the ISEB-syllabus. The passrate was really low (bad for business). Nowadays it is reduced to simple multiple choice questions – just like the real world. Heavy focus on the V-model, process, documentation and measurements.

    I really tried make it work since I was already then determined to become an expert tester. But “When Passion Obscures The Facts” I neglected to accept that much of it was not working to well. Except for the test design part. That was really doing it for me. I tried hard to write detailed test cases and managed to waste a lot of time for some years. Then I saw the news that RST was coming to Sweden(2005). I had been reading some articles on ET before that and knew that this was something I HAD to do. From the first day I felt I really belonged there. As usual I could not keep my mouth shut and walked eagerly into most of the traps you set up. And I learned so much those three days! Then I had to detox from much of the stuff I knew from before.

    As you told me in Stockholm before parting last week, there were not many of us at that time but now I see skilled context-driven testers on all sides here in Sweden. Best of all, I really enjoy the trip!

  5. A quick note to Tobbe:

    Nowadays it is reduced to simple multiple choice questions – just like the real world.

    Careful. The real world does not reduce to simple multiple choice questions. Even if you were to make the claim that testing in the real world reduces to simple multiple choice questions, I’d reply that either a) it’s not the real world or b) it’s not testing.

    Multiple choice tests are canonical examples of checking.

    —Michael B.

  6. Michael: I was trying to be ironical. I should have made myself clearer by writing (NOT!) like the real world. I believe the multiple choice questons are there to make it easy to grade the exams.

    A fun exercise is to take an example ISTQB paper, pick a random question and then try to argue for each of the four answers to be true in a specific context. A variation is to give four different people the same question tell them each that a different answer is true and them have them try to convince the class that their choice is the correct one.

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