A year in the life of Programming for Testers

It has been an exciting year presenting Programming for Testers It’s Easy! with my good friend Phillip Isles.

HorsesThe year actually started late September 2012 at the UK Testers Retreat at the village of  Eesergroen in the Netherlands (I struggled with that concept for a while as well).  Phill and I were in a discussion with someone about what we would like to present at a conference. I think I said something like “I would be interested, but only if I could run a workshop using the Raspberry Pi, a robotic arm, and got some testers to do some programming.

Well, I take credit for the idea, but it was just in the meme. I had unknowingly been influenced by the group. Later on in the weekend I spent an hour with Isabel Evans walking her through some basics in python programming. She had fun, and this became the programming spine of the workshop.

Phill and I added in the Robot Arm, the Raspberry Pi, some design and preparation, then headed off to Bruges for Belgium Testing Days.  Conferences now request speakers produce a video:

We were well prepared, rehearsed all of our moves, and not withstanding a few ‘technical issues‘ with an aged projector, got up and running for a 2 hour workshop. Amazingly we got through to the end, and managed to write some code to successfully achieve the Robot Arm challenge.  A good start then, and a real buzz that the workshop was successful.

We had also learnt a few things, like what to do for Mac users, the precise sequence to install the software in, and when people say “Yes my install is working” what they in fact might mean is “No, my install is not working!




We followed up Belgium with half day Tutorial at the London Test Management Summit (TMS). The longer half-day format giving us time to go into real depth with each exercise.  And the enthusiasm in the group after the session was a real reward for all the hard work and effort.

After London I was invited solo to the Czech Test conference in Prague to run the session again as a half day Tutorial.  Unable to turn down a trip to Prague, even though it also involved giving a track and Keynote, I immediately said “yes”.

As with the TMS the longer half-day format paid dividends. The real reward from the session was the fact that everyone managed to successfully finish the Robot Arm exercise, and the first to complete was a tester that had never coded before.

The next conference was at Agile Testing Days in Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin in early November. Phill and I had a few months off. We still had work to do though: updates to make to the slide pack and code exercises.

We also decided that to get real value out of the workshop we would write a supporting paper, which would take the reader through the process at an almost atomic level of detail. Given that when people were reading the paper, Phill and I would not be there to walk them through it.

I loaded all of the presentation material, including; slides, paper, video and code examples, onto my website here http://badgerscroft.com/home/programming-for-testers/ .

The workshop in Berlin went very well . We encountered some new problems. Language. Fortunately Daniel Maslyn joined us and was able to help out ‘internationalizing‘ the presentation. Mostly around the punctuation that is specific to python. Who would have through that # ! and :  would have caused so much trouble?

The following day in Daniel’s excellent presentation about Robotics he showed a couple of photos that he had taken in our Workshop to demonstrate the Robot Arm, Raspberry Pi, and Wii mote controller. Thanks for the kind words Daniel.

Afterwards Phill and I headed down to the Test Lab being hosted by Bart Knaack. Phill and I ran through the extra code submissions for the Robot Arm exercise that we hadn’t had time to run. All worked perfectly. Another testament to testers as programmers.

A weeks rest and then off to EuroSTAR in Dublin.  Phill only came to Dublin for the day. He wasnt originally coming but when we found out that over 70 people had signed up to an introductory programming session after the closing keynote we realized that it was going to take at least 2 people,  that our hard work was paying off, and we were gaining real traction.

The paper, although nominated which is a result in itself, didn’t win best paper. It was close . . . .

A lack of speaker prep facilities meant that we had to rehearse in the main hall. Sitting at table running a Robot Arm from Raspberry Pi is going to attract a crowd, and by a stroke of serendipity one of those was Neil Studd, who had attended the TMS workshop back in April. It took no time at all to persuade him to come along and help – thanks Neil.

We really did have over 70 people in a programming workshop at EuroSTAR. It went very well. Everyone got set-up. Completed all of the exercises, and even got the Robot Arm going.  A few did have to leave for the Guinness trip through. Hard choice that, Robot Arm vs. Guinness. We understand.

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Not quite the sunset for Programming for Testers, but we are nearing the end. Phill and I headed off to the BCS SIGiST in London for a half-day Tutorial. This was almost the hardest session to run. It took us fully an hour to set-up. Fortunately we had arrived early.  The session went very well. Everyone managed the Robot Arm challenge.

A few conclusions from what has been an exacting but very rewarding year.

Testers are more than able to write code. Of course it isn’t easy. But the hardest part is not writing the code. It is actually taking the simple steps to start.

And it was fun.  Best comment half an hour in at EuroSTAR. Head pops up and says “This is fun“.

We may well run the session again somewhere in the New Year. And if you have got this far then it will be no surprise to find out that I have ordered another Robot Arm and am looking forward to performing some hand-shake testing (thanks for the joke James!)

Thanks to everyone who helped, attended, supported, took part, or just influenced us.

Graham Thomas