Meet the Speaker | Fiona Charles

Welcome to week two of Meet the Speaker Series! In this weeks edition, we are proud to present Fiona Charles!  

Each week the Meet The Speaker series will introduce one of the UKSTAR 2019 speakers. Each blog post will share a little about their talk at UKSTAR 2019 and we’ll delve into their personality with some tricky questions. If you haven’t already seen the programme, check it out HERE! UKSTAR 2019 promises a wide variety of talk on the most relevant testing topics.

Fiona Charles

Fiona is an independent consultant, specialising in the human side of software development and projects: teaching organizations to manage their software testing risk, and IT practitioners project skills “beyond process”—hands-on practical skills essential to thrive and excel on any kind of software project. 

She consults with clients on testing and test management, works as an Agile testing coach, and acts occasionally as a program-level test manager on difficult projects. Fiona is also a co-founder of Speak Easy.  Fiona will be presenting a keynote talk Technology’s Feet on Society’s Ground and a deep dive Embracing Uncertainty in Software Development.   

Here’s what Fiona has to say..

What inspired you to develop this topic as a talk? 

I fell in love with software in my first job in software development, and I’ve been fascinated ever since by computer technology and the amazing things it can do. Adopting new technology typically causes us to make tradeoffs, and I’m equally interested in the possible negative consequences of new technology.

Our age has been called the fourth Industrial Revolution. Previous industrial revolutions have caused massive disruptions in society: in the way people worked and also in the way they lived. This present revolution, in which everyone in tech plays some part, could potentially cause the greatest dislocation yet. With AI in particular, we are radically accelerating the pace of automation, while we also expand the reach of software to near-universality in societal institutions and in people’s daily lives. (In many cases we are also multiplying software complexity, which prompts a different set of questions and concerns.)

Tech journals and the mainstream press alike have articles predicting the death of bricks-and-mortar retail, i.e., your high street and mine. We hear that autonomous vehicles will end private car ownership and increase road safety, but probably also kill public transit systems. We can apparently expect to see most jobs now done by humans taken over by ever more capable robots, potentially throwing millions out of work. The medical patient of the near future may never see a doctor face-to-face, but rather communicate with robots which will diagnose, prescribe and do surgery. Meanwhile, we have people developing facial recognition systems that purport to detect your mood, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, or your propensity for crime. Algorithms determine your ability to pay or default on a mortgage, based on a sample of historical data that may or may not be properly representative. Other algorithms decide in a judicial court who should or should not get bail. The list goes on and on…

Apart from the inevitable bugs that will emerge in these systems, we are potentially facing enormous transformations in how people live their lives and interact. It’s all very exciting, but it’s also scary. Should we look forward to a utopian or a dystopian future?

Should we be developing possibly destructive software and letting it loose on the world just because we can and it’s fun to do and because entrepreneurs want to make pots of money?

As people in tech and supposedly in the know, what’s our ethical responsibility for asking “What could possibly go wrong?” of every potentially disruptive technology and “Do the possible harms to society outweigh the potential benefits?” Should we be helping people who are not in tech understand what’s happening and what the implications might be?

It’s a huge topic and one that I find endlessly fascinating. I hope the UKSTAR audience will engage with me in exploring it and trying to answer the central questions.

One tip for anyone starting out in software testing

What, only one?

I want to say “learn to think”, which sounds patronizing but isn’t at all. Most of us have to learn thinking skills as adults because how to think isn’t taught in any systematic or comprehensive way in our formal education. Thinking is the stem cell skill for a tester. Almost everything else grows from it. (I wrote more about this in my entry for the EuroSTAR Little Book of Testing Wisdom.)

Lately, I’m seeing testers who somehow missed learning simple test techniques. If you lack this foundation, it will hold you back. So if I can offer only one tip, I’ll say this. Learn and practice the basic techniques of the tester’s craft until they become second nature: techniques like boundary analysis, equivalence partitioning, mapping state transitions, all pairs… Then build your professional skillset/toolkit on top.

What’s the future of software testing?

You might just as well ask me if there’s a romantic liaison with a tall dark stranger in your near future.

As long as software is being developed or maintained—whether by humans or machines—it will need testing. By humans and/or machines. That’s the most I’m prepared to predict.

Join Fiona Charles at UKSTAR.

Early Bird ends Monday 21st January

UKSTAR Software Testing Conference Early Bird Offer


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