Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Slide incident, the long version

 I tweeted an image yesterday from James Bach's conference talk.

Let me be clear: I don't think it was ok to have this slide in the deck. It was less ok to spend a good ten minutes on it only to be interrupted by the audience half-way through explaining with "could we move to hearing about how the tester roles changes?" - the talk topic. If there was a critique of my morning keynote, the place for that was the time reserved for it after the keynote where there was a brilliant facilitator ready for that discussion. Or if this was indeed the place for this critique, I was there whole day available for a little chat to clarify facts.

[Edit: I object to James using his keynote to mischaracterize my person. He did not take my claims but his perceptions of me as a person. I'm calling for is James to focus on claims / content and fact-check what he presents. He did not. Please don't claim I'm saying you can't reference other people's work.]

The slide isn't quoting me. It's stating how James Bach differs from me. And surely, I prefer to be nice and kind, and care for safety of others in addition to mine. Right now I'm less worried about my feelings (I'm ok, just emphasizing this is _unacceptable_) and more worried of the impact attacks like this have on the speaker community so many of us work so hard to build.  It is not safe to have this behavior.

I've been second guessing my choice of sharing this, because if only people in the conference knew this happened, it wouldn't scare others. But it still happened, and being quiet about it isn't really a choice. It's like being abused, and not telling anyone. There's already comments out there saying I deserved it (because of speaking in public). And that I could avoid it (by not speaking in public).

Majority of voices recognize this as what it is. Not ok. Not acceptable. Not something to be referred to as "academic debate". Academic debates are references to what the other person is not just saying but thoughtfully writing. Not statements starting with "I" without the decency of fact-checking the "facts" the statements are supposedly based on.

It's kind of awful that I was really expecting this to happen. I was hoping there was a chance it wouldn't but instinctively knowing it would. It's just a continuation of a theme. A theme of wanting to tell what his keynote is about after I define mine. A theme of reminding me that "it must feel bad for me that he told me that I'm not a tester" and he'll "see if he can retract that after the peer workshop day" on Sunday. Didn't so couldn't. A theme of interrupting me five minutes into my talk with "ha, you just said you are not a tester" and refusing to not listen to the story first before jumping to conclusions about words I've chosen.

James ever says he knows I must feel awful by his actions. And he chooses them very deliberately, understanding how I feel. It doesn't make it better, but worse.

The worst part about these conference attacks is the feeling of alienation it leaves me with. It's like everyone is afraid to choose sides and I would just want us all to be on the side of "curious about good testing". I can best describe it as if my child died and everyone knew about it. No one would really know what to say. Some people would avoid discussion completely - we did not know before, we did not need to mingle now to address potentially a difficult topic. Others feel compelled to come and say something. They say they're sorry. But you feel they're somehow awkward and forced. Others are genuinely connecting and soon moving on to normal topics if I'm up for it, unsure if I am or not so a lot of probing is included.  Similarly, I feel like hiding. I don't want to be the party ruiner who talks about this. How about doing some testing or powerpoint karaoke instead?

In my talk, I talked about how safety is a prerequisite for learning. I talked about how testing is really about learning. And how we need to feel safe when we test and when we learn about testing.  I talked of deep love of testing and how a lot of the tacit knowledge is hard to transfer without sharing experiences.

I hope this experience stops happening to people. My heart aches for the person who let me know based on this that it happened before and someone left the industry for it. Same person: James Bach. Same pattern. Worse results.

This conference's organizer was aware of the risk and was there for me when it happened. She did not cause this. But she, like the other conference organizers are in power to stop this from happening more. I respect their choice on that, and realize that the middle ground of speaker facilitation could also provide a working solution.

With these thoughts, let me go back to testing as a non-tester and program as a non-programmer. Let's just do good stuff, learn a lot and enjoy the big portion work makes of our lives.


  1. Good grief! That one move has lost me a lot of respect for James Bach.

    It's possible to have a lot of respect for someone and still have differences of opinion - and express them in a professional manner. He could have stated his beliefs and framework without the gratuitous personal nastiness. He chose not to.

    It would be nice if we didn't have to deal with this kind of nonsense, ever, but I can promise you that even if I agreed with everything substantive Mr Bach had to say, I would still object to the gratuitous personal insults.

    He's chosen a fine, fine way to demonstrate compassion, there. Oh, wait. No, he's demonstrated conclusively that he lacks any.

  2. Hi Maaret, we have never met. I am just following this incident on Twitter and on your blog. I'm sad to say this has been going on for over 15 years and will likely continue. I have been the target at times. I have seen others be the target. It saddens me that software testing has devolved to the point where people, not ideas, are debated. And, if one disagrees with the ideas, they are considered ignorant. Let me just say for bullet point #1, being nice can be an act for insincere people. However, I do not assume people are insincere when they are nice to me. I try to show kindness to people instead of rudeness. This is how I genuinely feel, and I think it builds a stronger community. After all, what is community if it is not kind?

    I know how you feel. It is tempting to just say "enough" and leave. However, as your blog post and Twitter responses show, we are NOT alone in valuing civil discussion about ideas. So I encourage you to keep contributing despite stuff like this happening.

    All my best,

  3. Just wanted to say that I feel sorry about this whole situation. I wasn't at this conference but based on the initial picture alone it looks like a bad situation to be a part of.

    Thanks so much for this post!

  4. As a conference chair, I spend a lot of time thinking about what one should do when attending a talk where this kind of crap is going on, and why it's so bloody hard to actually do it in the moment. Why does our social desire to be polite outweigh the social need to make this other person be respectful?

    I also spend a lot of time thinking of what should be said in the opening session of a conference to both notify people that this kind of behavior is not acceptable, as well as notify attendees that they are empowered to stand up and say something when someone is acting in ways that are disrespectful to attendees, or to ... you know ... other humans.

    Thanks for speaking up. I hope that people continue speaking up, until it's the normal thing to do, to speak up, to tweet about this kind of thing, to stand up and leave, while saying, as one leaves, "Dude, that's not ok, and you should feel bad."

    1. As a conference organizer, I know how you feel. And I know how the organizer of this particular conference feels. For this one, I want to emphasize she addressed it well for me.

      The dude stopped when audience called him out and asked to stick to get to the topic. Any of us 80 in the room could have done that earlier. It's hard.

    2. Rich, I would suggest you to create a Code of Conduct for the conference and make sure that all attendees and speakers are aware of it.

      Of course this doesn't prevent people to act wrong, but at least if something happens you can take appropriate actions based on the CoC.

    3. I read this Rich and was reminded of my referee training where we were told about managing people. The tactics you use in the last five minutes have to be subtly different to those earlier. With five minutes to go, the threat of benching isn't so great.

      It's probably reminder how it makes good sense to have your least controversial speaker last.

  5. Uh oh. Unbelievable and unacceptable, even without knowing anything about the situation. It's not hard to choose sides on this one. Voimia.

  6. Maaret, I'm sorry this happened to you, but *utterly* unsurprised. Bach has been terrorizing and intimidating test professionals for well over 15 years. I'm pretty sure I have way more scars on my back from him than most people, as he made me the Emmanuel Goldstein of the "context-driven testing school" (or "cult" based on some of the behaviors I've observed), a special hate-figure upon whom he and his disciples poured scorn for my work on the ISTQB program.
    As long as people continue to tolerate these types of antics online, at conferences, and in other professional forums, he and his ilk will continue to plague our profession, stulting open debate, preventing the sharing of good ideas across people with honest disagreements, and generally making software testing an unpleasant way to make a living due to friendly fire from these self-appointed thought police.
    Stop inviting them, stop listening to them, don't buy their courses, and ignore them.

  7. Rule #1 of doing anything in public: be prepared to be attacked
    Rule #1 of growing up: you're not the centre of the universe anymore
    Rule #1 of interacting with experts: ignore the pedestal, appreciate the ideas, take the opinions with a pinch of salt
    Rule #1 for being respected: you have to respect others first in order to be worthy of respect yourself

    1. While I agree on your rules, I refuse to accept the first of rules. I believe I can expect people to learn kindness and professional behavior in professional settings. The world can be a better place than it is now.

    2. Can I come live with you in your beautiful fantasy world, it sounds lovely. I agree with you in principle and try myself to always be as respectful as possible, even when challenging someone's ideas. However, since I can only control my own behaviour, I've learned from experience not to expect such from all others. I fear what might happen when we try to control the behaviour of others.

    3. It's not a world that exists, it's a world I'm working for. Even though you can only control yourself, the others often do care about how they make you feel. Abuse, worse than this happens and it's not something I have to accept just because it happens.

      Society tries to control behavior of others by social norms to a level of success.

  8. Hi Maaret, it's not about you. Keep on doing the great work you are doing, ignore the bullies and enjoy testing!

  9. I no longer respect James as a person. He's got some kind of problem. I continue to respect his testing knowledge but there man himself, no. Unless he backtracks and apologises but I doubt that will happen.

  10. Maaret -

    I wasn’t at the conference, but from social media I think I understand the context for the slide and have multiple problems with it…

    1) There is so much room for interpretation in the way the slide is worded it reads like an attack on you for being inauthentic, uncompassionate, etc. basically the opposite of everything listed (which are bad traits) – if insulting you was not the intent then it was very poorly worded…

    2) Unless the two of you were debating, I think it’s very poor form to do that at a conference in that way, meaning making commentary on another keynotes presentation part of yours – UNLESS you both discussed and agreed the content beforehand so you knew it was coming (it sounds like you did not). There was no opportunity for you to respond in the same public way…

    3) Unless I’m missing something, your keynote was not addressing James specifically, just generically your thoughts on learning/testing, so for him to respond directly as if you were addressing him is inappropriate/excessive and as well could have been done verbally during the Q&A portion of your keynote…

    4) Finally, the whole thing feels so context unaware which frankly, is what bothers me the most about all of this. I cannot see ANY benefit to putting that slide, with those words, at that conference, about you, with your history with each other, in the age of social media…unless he was deliberately trying to start a flame war, it seems beneath everyone’s position in the community

    I strongly believe that we should hold people in our industry who present themselves as “experts” or “thought leaders” to a higher standard of accountability – especially in public discourse. But it is my understanding this not the status you claim nor seek.

    An apology is required.

    1. I have hard time seeing where the perception of my lack of accountability comes from? Accountability to me is not that I'm available for James or others to be interrupted for a discussion that isn't going anywhere and circles around wordplay without seeking intent or true meaning.

      I stand behind my words, until I change my mind. And that is known to happen. It's called learning. Happens to me all the time. Even then, I work hard to realize when and what I've learned. I would imagine that being part of accountability in an industry where learning is a prerequisite rather than an afterthought.

      Keynote is not a debate. There was a debate on the program. Neither one of the keynotes was it.

  11. Hello Maaret,
    I saw the tweet and was :
    1. Not surprised, for I'm too one of the shunned
    2. Angry, because this impacts again the ability to debate without fear of bullying
    3. Saddened, because it happens over and over again and
    a. There are people who think this is ok
    b. People still value this person a role model
    c. People who make a stand are bullied even till the extend of leaving the profession for this
    4. Sympathetic, because I can wholly relate to how you must feel right now.

    I wish I could say it doesn't matter, that you do an awesome job anyhow , being there, sharing your passion and that it comes down to valuing yourself is the most important. But I know from experience it will never be the same, the fear remains there, you still need others to value you too. Although they are there -and in great numbers- this event casts a shadow that will always have an impact in some way.

    I wish you all the best, my heart goes out for you

  12. I am so sorry to hear about this incident that shouldn't have happened. We need to use this a testing community to work together and Boycott Bach:

    1. I'm not into boycotts. I find that negative responses just creates more negativity, and focuses our energies into work that isn't taking us forward.

  13. Hi..
    I appreciate that I'm a little late to this however I've read each side of the argument.

    Whilst you have a lot of people agreeing with you here, few people have challenged you (none that I could see upon a quick scroll down).

    Now, I wasn't there.. however you have compared being debated with in public (no matter how demeaning you felt it to be) with being abused. And then you compared it with the death of a child. This hyperbole is gross and indecent; yet everyone seems intent on wanting to agree with you and bash James Bach.

    I don't know the manner of how he called you out. It may have been aggressive and unkind, however that is completely disproportionate to the examples of abuse and aligning it with " if my child died and everyone knew about it".

    Your exaggeration and unkind posting of Bach's slides without context or permission dilutes your credibility.

    1. I chose death of child rather than rape. But after 6 months, I can confirm that is very much my experience. I don't get to talk testing, other people have taken over my topics and this comes up everywhere. Stop shaming the victims.

      Presenting a slide in public is permission. Keep things private if you wish to talk about asking permission.