The Speak Easy program, Part 2: Arachnofobia and Fear of Public Speaking

This is a very personal story about my fear of speaking in public.

I have previously indicated I have had a great fear of speaking in public. It is not limited to a public event but in fact to mostly any kind of groups of people I don’t know. In fact even with people I know, I get nervous. Why? I think it is the feeling of being observed, judged that scares me. With that in mind it might be difficult to understand why I have chosen a career which in fact requires speaking to groups of people I don’t know very well, almost every day. It actually sounds crazy when I think about it.

Why I have chosen to follow the path that have led me to where I am today is thanks to my ambition to:

  • learn from my mistakes, even when they hurt so much you think you never want to do this again
  • continuously improve myself
  • share my experience, so that others might learn from it
  • help others to improve and find there strengths

So how did I reach to the point where I held my first recorded international presentation (Visualizing Testability at CAST 2015)? Let me first share a different story about fear.

Capturing the spider

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had what you would might refer to as a light degree of arachnophobia. I would panic in the near sight of a spider. I would start sweating and behave completely irrational.  As a child I refused opening the windows to my bedroom when it was hot outside. I would rather sweat and not be able to sleep because of the heat, than opening up an opportunity for a spider to get in to my bedroom.

One time I was laying in my bed, reading a book, when I noticed in the corner of my eye, something crawling on my pillow. The horror I felt when I saw it was a spider is completely irrational. In Sweden where I live, we don’t even have any poisonous spiders, at least not any that would be lethal to humans. That night I slept on the couch in another room, since the spider had disappeared before my parents could catch it and was not to be found any where.

When I got older I realized I couldn’t rely on my parents or other people to help me out every time a spider appeared. The breaking point was the day where I had just gotten a new apartment and my parents were helping me to move. My new flat already had an inhabitant, a spider and I panicked. I was lucky to have my father remove it. I believe I was in my twenties! This could no longer go on. What would I do next time a spider appeared?

I decided to take control of my fear. My process was rather straight forward. It has taken many, many years to get to where I am today. I still don’t like spiders, but I can control my fear a bit better. So what did I do?


When searching for what resulted in this picture, I realized I can still easily lose control over my fear. Search for “spider in a glass” and I think you will understand. I had to bring out one of my tools from my tool box. It’s the same one I use when I get nervous on stage. I use the Deep breathing technique to calm myself down.

  • I trapped the spider with a glass
  • I slid a stiff paper under the glass
  • I watched the spider closely
  • I lifted the paper and the glass and threw the spider in the toilet (yes, sorry all animal friends, this is what I did)

It sounds easy, right? Well it wasn’t. I cried the very first time I caught the spider. The first times I left the glass with the spider in it standing for days on the floor. I also let the glass with the spider in it standing on the paper on the floor for days. I’ve made horrible mistakes using too thick paper, leaving a gap large enough for the spider to escape when trying to slide the paper under the glass. I have used glasses that were too small and completely missed the eight-legged monster. I’ve tried to throw the spider out the window and it blew back and landed on me! Yes it might be funny now. But I was surely not laughing at the time.

When I became a mother,  I had even a bigger incitement to not let fear take control over me. I wanted to be a role model and show them how you can overcome, or at least take control over your fear. When I think back to my childhood and think of how I felt when a spider appeared I can only wish I had dealt with my fear earlier.

Getting control over the fear of public speaking

It might sound like a cliche, but the more you practice the easier it gets. I don’t know how many spiders I’ve captured with a glass but today it feels a lot easier than it did many years ago.

After a speaking incident that left me with low self esteem and tears, and with a new upcoming presentation only six months later I knew I had to do something about it. On top of it, this presentation was THE presentation, my first presentation at a conference, which happened to be Let’s Test. It was THE presentation, where so many of the testers I respect would be. It meant a million to me and I didn’t want to fail again.

I used a similar approach as in treating my arachnophobia. I decided to accelerate my learning and I  was lucky enough to have a boss who supported me and agreed to pay for me to consult a speaking coach. We met 10 times before my presentation. So what was the process:

  • Speak – the moment we met, he made me stand in front of him and speak
  • Recording me speak
  • Watching the recording of me speaking
  • Showing me a structure of the speak
  • Immediate feedback
  • Challenging me – continuously challenge me to take control over the space.
  • Making me practice – over and over again
  • Setting up a sub target – a speaking event where I could practice before THE conference

The process was not easy. I don’t think my coach knows this but I cried at home during the process too. I doubted many times that I could go through with it. I doubted that I could have a dialogue with the audience. I doubted I could engage the audience and get them to respond to me. I doubted I could be or do all those things he challenged me to do. The thing I remembered the most was our second encounter where he immediately told me to get up and speak. I couldn’t get a word out of my mouth.

Since then I have only spoken three times in public counting my first presentation at Let’s Test. My last presentation at CAST went pretty well I think even though I was so nervous I couldn’t remember very much of what I said. Luckily it was recorded and I’ve managed to force myself to watch parts of it. I have also had several workshops which I don’t feel the same about. I actually love workshops.

I believe you too can take control over your fear of public speaking. That is what is so great about Speak Easy. It’s a program where people voluntarily wants to help you! You can choose for what you would like to be mentored for. Some one in that program might be able to help you as my coach helped me. The two main things to summarize my process in overcoming the fear of speaking and to get better is:

  • Practice – As easy as it sounds it’s all about practice, practice and practice. The first time I couldn’t even stand in front of my husband and present. You would think that would be easier than practicing in front of your coach. To me it wasn’t. Practice is not only about practicing your speech in front of the mirror. It is also to practice in front of people, so that you can receive…
  • Feedback – To be able to improve you need some kind of feedback. Perhaps not as part of the process of overcoming fear, but in order to accelerate your learning and improvement. When you know what you do well you might feel better about speaking in public. There are many ways you can do this. I think you can to some extent do this on your own to. You can record yourself and watch it. However I am my worst critic and prefer to ask others for feedback. The feedback I ask for needs to be constructive. If people liked my talk I would like to know what they liked. I also want to know what I can improve and how, though I mostly already know that myself.

I have come far but I still have a long way to go where perhaps I one day will even like speaking in public. Today I have reached the phase of where I have taken some control over my fear. I can now hear some of you asking: “Why do you even bother to speak in public if you don’t like it?” That is a very good question, and I will elaborate on a few of the points I did in the beginning of my post next time.

Now I wonder, what keeps you from speaking? What is your fear? How can you learn to take control of it and trap that spider?

This is the second of a few post in a series related to being a mentor for the Speak Easy program. The Speak Easy program, Part 1: Becoming a mentor


Hiring Testers, Part 1: How about a cup of MOCHA?

A cup of MOCHA

A cup of mocha.

Caffè Mocha or café mocha, is an American invention and a variant of a caffe latte, inspired by the Turin coffee beverage Bicerin.

This is the first post of several in a series of post on my experiences in hiring software testers.

Interview or Interrogate

A friend of mine recently reminded me of how different job interviews can be, when he told me about his latest experience. He was upset over the interrogation he had gone through for an hour with out being able to actually ask any of the questions he had prepared for the interview.

I was quite upset myself since I see a job interview as a conversation and I had difficulties in relating to the interrogation style. The interview serves as a discussion where my aim is to gather as much information as possible about the candidate. However I can see that there might be some type of information that you would get from an interrogation.

Perhaps the interrogator was interested in how the candidate reacts under pressure. Maybe the person was looking for very specific answers, correct answers since the questions where very much related to technical knowledge.

I believe most people are already under pressure when in an interview. I think there is enough stress in the situation. Unless you are looking for someone who will handle extreme situations I don’t see the purpose of using the interrogation as a style of interviewing. I prefer to create a relaxed environment and open up for a conversation when I interview people.

My experience comes from many years of interviewing in the role as a test leader and test manager. I’ve researched the field of interviewing in tech and I am very influenced by Johanna Rothman. I highly recommend her book Hiring Geeks That Fit.

I see interview as an art, where you need to follow the flow but also influence it. Asking questions is an art. Based on Johanna Rothman’s suggestions on how to ask questions I have created a heuristic to help me ask the “right” questions in an interview.

A cup of MOC(H)A

A cup of mocha describes my style of interviewing. It’s like having a chat over a cup of coffee ( or tea if you prefer). Mocha reminds me of the type of questions to ask during the interview and how to ask them, and to keep the right blend.

Meta questions
A meta question is a question about questions. I use it very rarely but something I might ask in the end of the interview is: “What question have I forgotten to ask you?”
The reason I ask this question is to find out if there is something the person thinks is important. It might help me to find new areas to discover.

Open questions
Open ended questions are the one’s I use the most. They are questions that reveal information on behavior. Questions might start with why, what, how? I mostly open up the discussion with a : “Tell me about a situation where…”  I listen, observe and follow up with open ended questions.

Closed questions
Closed questions are some what binary. They often lead to very short answers when asked. I frequently use closed questions in the first scanning interview. If there are specific requirements needed for the role I will start with these questions. They describe facts.
It might be questions like: “Do you have any experience in Python?”
I also use closed questions to find out where to explore further. Questions such as: “Have you ever been in a situation where you had to…” If the person have experience from this particular situation I would probably continue with an open question.

Hypothetical questions
I rarely use hypothetical questions (which is why I have put the H in parenthesis) They are not suitable as behavioral questions and often lead to the candidate answering what you think they want you to hear. However I use hypothetical questions sometimes as part of auditions (see below). But in those cases I am more interested in the thought process than the answer.

I highly recommend auditions especially when it comes to testers and developers. How else can you tell how some one actually performs? The audition consist of different assignments that I give to the candidates. One of them is to watch them test a product.  This is something I believe most people feel stressed over. So putting the candidate under the pressure that an interrogation causes is completely unnecessary. It is important for me to try to make it as relaxing as possible.
The audition might also contain a simulation where the tester is given a context and special assignment to solve.

My blend of MOCHA contains a high amount of open questions and auditions.  How does yours taste?

A bugging bug report

This post was written as an article for Testing Circus – 2014 – April edition.

The monster bug

The Monster Bug

It was an early Tuesday morning. The sun was shining through the windows warming up the air as I was walking down hallway to get my daily morning coffee. The office was quiet and calm and was only lit up by the sunshine reflecting off the small particles of dust floating around. I greeted a few of my colleagues who were staring into their screens with a mumbling “Good morning” and a brief smile as I passed by.
As I got closer to the coffee area I could hear the machine rumble as it was most likely brewing a steaming hot espresso. I remember thinking how glad I was that my desk was not located close enough to hear this all day, and then I heard a surprisingly lively discussion for such an early hour. It was Anna and Bree, two of the testers in my team. Anna seemed a bit agitated over something.

“Good luck with getting that one fixed.” Anna smirked and rolled her eyes. “I’ve reported lot’s of bugs to that team but they NEVER fix them!

“Oh?” Bree looked slightly surprised. “I’ve had no problems with getting my bugs fixed. I usually get my bugs fixed from that team”.

Anna frowned. She looked at Bree suspiciously and asked loudly: “Really?! HOW?!!”

“Uhm, I report the bug in our system and the I go and talk to them”

Anna was clearly annoyed. “But I do that too! How come you get your bugs fixed, and I don’t?!”

This was not the first time I came across bugs not getting fixed. In my experience I would say it is quite common. But the question is: Is this a problem?
There are many definitions of a bug. I personally like this definition: “Anything that threatens the value of the product. Something that bugs someone whose opinion matters “(reference James Bach
When bugs don’t get fixed, it might be a problem. There may also be many reasons for this. In Anna’s case, there were many potential reasons worth considering both from Anna’s perspective and from the receiver of the bug report’s perspective:

  • The receiver didn’t like Anna.
  • The receiver didn’t trust Anna.
  • The receiver did not understand the bug report.
  • The receiver did not have the time to try to reproduce the bug.
  • Anna had a bad attitude when informing about the bug she found.
  • The bug couldn’t be reproduced.
  • The bug seemed unrealistic: “A user would never do that”.
  • It wasn’t a bug. It’s was a feature.
  • It wasn’t a bug. The feature was not yet implemented.
  • It would take too much time to fix the bug.
  • The bug was too risky to fix.

In Anna’s and Bree’s case the main reason turned out to be communication. When I started to analyze the situation, most of the bug reports Anna filed were lacking information about the problem. It was not clear to the programmers how to reproduce the bug. A few times they did not understand what the bug was about. When Anna communicated face to face with the programmers, they did not trust her. The programmers did not find her story compelling because most of the time Anna just stumbled upon a bug and was not able to tell them how she found the bug. Often Anna would just attach the error log in her bug report hoping the programmers could tell her what went wrong.

Bree on the other hand managed to write her bug reports with just enough information for the programmers to reproduce the bugs. What stood out the most was Bree’s ability to highlight some of the potential consequences of the bug.

Was there a problem here? Did it need to be addressed? Yes! I found one example where Anna had found a severe bug which was very difficult to reproduce. Because of her inability to clearly communicate how to reproduce the bug and what the potential consequences might be if the bug was not addressed, it didn’t get fixed and was found in production.

The problem was not isolated to Anna. This was a very important project, and so there were many poorly written bug reports being created by concerned stakeholders from outside the testing team.

Eventually, the problem with bug report quality became so serious that the project manager limited access to only include members of the project team. He became concerned about all the time being spent to understand and reproduce the reported bugs. On the other hand this resulted in loss of important information in an early stage of the development of the product.

Getting your bugs fixed
I have plenty of similar stories and events such as the one just told. They all have one thing in common, serious bugs not getting fixed.

As a tester, you will likely be remembered by the bugs you find. A bug report can then be considered one of the most important products that you produce.
You may be remembered as the lousy tester who files hundreds of poorly written bug reports. Or you may be remembered as the heroic tester who found some rather serious bugs and helped save your company’s reputation and your customer’s businesses. Who would you prefer to be?

If you want to be the latter I recommend you have a look at e.g. Bug Advocacy to learn more about the subject.

Guest lecturing at the vocational education program Software Tester in Malmö

I am currently working as a teacher in Software Testing. It’s a vocational education program running in both Malmö and Örebro. My collegue Erik Brickarp is teaching in Örebro and since February this year I am teaching in Malmö having taken over the class from Martin Nilsson. There have been several blog posts and one article written about the program where you can read more about the content of the education.

Since it is a vocational education that prepares the students to specialize in Software Testing and hopefully as an entry point to get a job, it is important to give the students as many influences as possible from the real world. A few different things we have done is to bring in people to give guest lectures. Thanks to a good network and very helpful people we have managed to provide several possibilities for the students so far. The students in Malmö has had some advantage since the location and closeness to Copenhagen airport is beneficial. The contact network in Malmö is also bigger since both teachers and House of Test are located in the area. I would like to thank everyone who have visited the students so far. I am truly grateful! I will keep adding people to the list of helpful contributors:

The students have also had the opportunity to participate at Oredev 2014 for a few days.