TestBash Speaker Series – Keith Klain

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TestBash is just around the corner now, and to celebrate we’ve got a series of interviews with our illustrious speakers. Next up, Keith Klain:

Please tell us who you are and where you’re from. My name is Keith Klain and I’m a Yank who grew up around Chicago, but has lived in London and Singapore for years…currently residing in CT and working in NYC.

What does your day job look like? Well, I recently left my job at Barclays running their Global Test Center to start up a new testing practice focused on context driven testing, so right now, every day is something new. When I was running the GTC, my day was made up of meetings, calls, operational and budget stuff and trying to send as much time as possible with my testing teams.

When was the last time you actually tested something? What was it? Can you share your approach/thinking/methodology? It’s been a while since all I did for a living was test software, but I try as much as possible to get into projects and stay as close as I could to the approach. I always make the habit of working at least twice a week with either teams or individuals at their desk or attending their meetings to see how we are testing and if its aligned to the principles and values we talk about. I made a decision about 10 years ago to focus a lot of my time on building and running enterprise-wide testing organizations, as I saw it as a pretty big gap in the industry. I also spend a great deal of my time coaching and training test managers because I have a very specific view of that role and their responsibility as care takers of others careers.

How are you/do you/have you observed testing changing over your time in the industry? I don’t think testing has (or should) change that much, I believe people are slowing getting educated as to what testing actually is and how to do it properly.  Sadly a lot of companies approaches to quality hasn’t changed much either since I started in the business 20 years ago, but I like what I am seeing in certain communities and I consider myself an activist in that capacity.

How are you changing testing? I’m trying to say my piece about how to align testing to your business objectives and get the word out about skilled testing or context driven approaches. Having employed probably thousands of testers in my career, I think I know a little about what it takes to be successful in my context, which I define as enterprise IT departments. I am also very passionate about alternative entries into technology careers through outreach and training, hence the involvement with Per Scholas.

How did you get started speaking? My first speaking gig was delivering the practice overview at the UK branch of a consultancy I was working at in front of the entire company! I was so nervous I was shaking before I got on the stage, and it was horrendous! Needless to say, after that performance I threw myself into learning about public speaking and started volunteering to speak in front of people whenever I got the chance. These days, I am very relaxed before I give a talk, but I still practice regularly and try to have high level points I want to get across while keeping it conversational and a little loose.

When was the last time you did a talk to a non-testing crowd? What was the reaction like? If you include presentations a work, I talk to non-testing crowds almost more frequently than testing crowds. I have also done a lot of client/press interviews for banks who want to hear about our approach, spend, etc. The reaction I get is mixed, some folks couldn’t care less about testing so I try to keep it relevant and topical so they can see I know what I’m talking about.

Any tricks or lessons in talking/teaching/coaching about testing? Yes. Be authentic, honest, and talk a LOT about your own personal failures. People are afraid of appearing confused or sharing their own fears, so I usual start right into stories like, “ did I tell you about the time I took down half the stores for retail operation I was testing for?”, or any other of my fantastic fails. That sets the tone for openness and then you can get down to the real work of figuring out how to improve.

Who has inspired and influenced your testing career? What sources have informed your testing philosophy? I am inspired by loads of people who I’ve worked with, the people who are in the trenches doing the work, sorting it out every day. That’s why it’s so important to me to spend as much time as I possibly can with the test teams, so I can see firsthand how it’s going, what the issues are, and it makes me a more effective leader. In my opinion, a lot of test managers in our business want to get as far away from testing as soon as possible, and I think that’s a huge mistake.

As far as influencing my testing philosophy, obviously the context driven school and all the leaders in that community have had an impact on me, but if there was one person I would highlight it would be Michael Bolton. As much as I rant and rave at that poor man, he has such a calm, methodical approach to sorting out problems, and is one of the smarted people I have ever met – I always say he’ll forget more about testing than I’ll ever know J

What do you love about testing? It’s the exploration of the unknown and contains the secret to unravelling life’s mystery’s and your own problems.

What do you hate about testing? Its domination by lazy thinking and carpet bagging snake oil salesmen.

What advice would you give aspiring testers? A good tester to me is humble, curious, honest, and knows how to construct an argument in the classical sense. My advice to anyone wanting to be a great tester is question everything, read A LOT, and get involved in the CDT community. Even if you don’t subscribe to everything that the CDT community believes in, it is a great place to debate, sharpen your arguments and learn. It can be a bit intimidating at first through its reputation for rigorous debate, but I have never seen a group of people more genuinely concerned for the betterment of testers.

How do you relax when you’re not bug-hunting? Ha! Relax? I have a job that keeps me busy and on the road a lot, so with having two boys (ages 7 and 4), most of my time off is split between the back yard, Lego’s, and sleep!

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