I’ve been watching television commercials about the amazing new world of technology since about 1997. You know the ones: people accessing the web on their phones, doctors diagnosing patients from 10,000 miles away, or people attending universities online, or meeting via video screens. The thing is, mostly this technology hasn’t worked. Mostly it has been hype.
Two years ago, I noticed that begin to change. The key moment for me was when my father had to ditch his seaplane on a remote beach, and I used my Treo 600 to access tide tables over the web to find out how soon we had to fix it before waves came up and battered the thing to pieces. Wow. I accessed the web from my phone and it actually helped me solve a practical problem.
These days I have a Blackberry, and it makes a great phone and a decent web browser. It also has great battery life, though still a little too slow on downloads and not quite compatible with every kind of website.
Video conferencing and general online collaboration remained impractical. But recently, I have experienced a collaborative revolution:
- My son persuaded me to install Skype.
- I upgraded to MSN Live Messenger.
- I got a webcam.
- I subscribed to GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar.
- I started using Google Calendar and Google Docs.
Though still not fully realizing the promise of all those advertisements about how technology makes the world work better together, these tools definitely go a long way.
Michael Bolton and I video conference on a regular basis, now. It’s reliable and fast. It really seems to bring us closer as we develop our training materials. David Gilbert demoed his latest version of TestExplorer while we shared screens with GoToMeeting. I’m giving a webinar to a class at Calgary University, this coming Saturday, from my home in Virginia. I’ll be using Skype for the voice feed.
Just in the last six months, I have begun coaching testers online and collaborating with colleagues with unprecedented clarity. I feel almost like I’m in a cubicle cluster with my best buddies. (To me, this is a good thing. I like being interrupted.)
The capper was a few weeks ago, when Pradeep Soundararajan, in India, tested a product on my computer in Virginia, while Grig Melnick, in Calgary, looked on. We Skyped to the GoToMeeting conference bridge (not free, but not expensive by U.S. standards) and shared my screen. Apparently, we could have added another 8 people to that process with no degradation of performance.
There is sometimes a voice quality problem when I use Skype at the same time as GoToMeeting. Otherwise, I’m happy. The thing I still don’t have is a viable persistent secure online collaboration zone where I can share files and co-edit documents. Google does some of that. MSN Live Messenger almost does it, but its file sharing is still pretty much a joke. Wikis make my skin crawl.
What Difference Does it Make?
For one thing, I’m developing new testing exercises much more quickly, now. I’m doing more of them as chat sessions, too, which means I can save the results for posterity. Whenever I have an idea I can bug one of my friends to try it with me online.
I’m adapting my class for teaching online. This is not easy, because some of my exercises are very interactive and involve physical props, but I’m getting serious about it.
I’m strongly considering offering tester coaching as a new service. The way it would work is a company would pay a small monthly subscription fee for its testers to have me (and eventually a team of other coaches I call the Students Of The Craft) available via instant message, Skype, and GoToMeeting. That way, I can actually hover over their virtual shoulders as they show me their products and their test documents. I’ve done this already with a few testers. It seems to work pretty well. It may also be a way to run an economically viable tester certification service that’s based on observing skilled testers at work, over time.
Imagine being a small company, yet able to call upon a coterie of technical specialists (such as rapid testers, performance analysts, etc.) to solve specific problems as needed. We have to figure out how to make it economical, but I think it’s within reach, now that the technology is routinely able to support it.
You may see me on one of those “ain’t technology great” advertisements, before long.