Q&A with Damian Synadinos

Welcome to Q&A, a series in which we discuss testing and quality with guests from the world of technology and software development.

Some guests you may know well, and others might be less familiar. You should learn something new about each of them, and something new from each of them. Each brings their own perspectives and insights on quality and testing.

The format will be the same each time:

  • a little information about this month’s guest and what they are currently up to
  • some questions for them to answer
  • some answers for them to question (the ‘Jeopardy’ section where I will provide the answer and ask the interviewee to give me the question)
  • finally, the ‘Pass it on’ section with a question from last month’s participant and the opportunity to pose a question for next month’s guest

This time around Q&A features speaker, trainer and consultant Damian Synadinos who has been helping “build better software and build software better” for more than 25 years. His experience spans many processes and tools in numerous roles and companies in diverse industries, including airline, education, ecommerce, finance, insurance, and retail. Now, through his company Ineffable Solutions, Damian offers experienced-based and research-hardened talks, training, and consulting that focus on a variety of “soft skills” and core concepts that underlie most of the business issues he has encountered throughout his career.

Over the past 5 years, he has delivered keynotes, sessions, and workshops at dozens of conferences, corporations, and user groups around the world, and also helps organize an annual, regional software testing conference (QA or the Highway) in Columbus, Ohio. Additionally, Damian has over 10 years of theatrical improv experience and frequently uses Applied Improv to teach a variety of subjects in diverse contexts.

Welcome to Q&A, Damian. Would you like to tell us about anything interesting you’ve been involved in recently, any exciting upcoming ventures, or just what you are working on at the moment?

One interesting venture I’ve been involved with lately isn’t testing-related, at all. Or…is it?

I recently authored, illustrated, and published a children’s storybook called “Hank and Stella in Something from Nothing”. The book stars my kids’ real-life, stuffed-animal friends, Hank the dog and Stella the bunny, and is intended to introduce children aged 5-10 to improv.

Improv(isational theatre) is, essentially, making something from nothing. Performers create and perform shows spontaneously, without a script, props, or costumes. Improv training involves learning and practicing improv “rules” – principles and skills that are as useful to performers on stage as they are to anyone with play, at work, and in life. These “rules” and the book cover things like “focusing on the present”, “ways to get and explore ideas”, “how to react to accidents and mistakes”, “the importance of practice”, and “the benefits of diversity”.

I frequently use improv in my speaking and training to teach a variety of topics, such as improved self-image and self-confidence, effective communication, requirements elicitation and analysis, and, yes…even testing! Many improv “rules” are extremely useful in the context of testing, as well.

You can find more info about the book at https://www.hankandstellabooks.com/.

If you encountered a version of yourself from earlier in your career, and talked about how you approach your work, what would you disagree on?

Likely lots.

However, instead of listing individual, low-level disagreements, I’ll instead provide a general, high-level answer: I think that much of my disagreement might relate to “what and how I approach my beliefs”. My former-self believed many things without question. Now, I question more and believe less. My increased scepticism has helped me develop a deeper understanding of testing, and improve many other aspects of my life, as well.

I think this is a great question (and one I consider often) for many reasons, including: Reflecting on “what I used to believe and why” can sometimes help me better understand “what others believe and why”, which can, in turn, help me better relate to and interact with them. Relating to and interacting with others are important skills in life and are vital to testing.

This question also reminded me of two of my blog posts – How I Learn and Thinking About Beliefs – which basically describe many things that I do now, but didn’t do before.

When you look back at your career so far, what do you consider to be the highlight(s)?

My 25-year career has many highlights (and nadirs). But, the one highlight that stands out the most to me is my decision to start my company and focus on people. This highlight represents the most meaningful and risky professional decision I ever made.

Over time, my values and priorities have changed, and I’ve come to value meaning over money. After much consideration about “what is meaningful to me”, I decided to start Ineffable Solutions to focus on “things that matter” to try and make a bigger difference (and a little money, too).

When you think back to these highlights, what were the most important lessons you learned?

I’ve learned many lessons (often the hard way) from “my decision to start my company and focus on people”. A few: I’ve learned that my chosen focus (people) isn’t always seen as important or popular by others. I’ve learned that marketing and advertising can be difficult but are necessary to building a successful business. I’ve learned that “success” can be measured in many, different ways. I’ve learned more about trade-offs. I’ve learned a greater appreciation for intentions, support, and help.

When you consider the many organisations around the world involved in developing software and technology, is there an example of one which stands out for you as having a focus on quality?

Like some previous respondents, I also had trouble identifying a company that “stands out as having a focus on quality”.

However, the first company that popped to mind was “House Of Test” (https://www.houseoftest.rocks/). This is less because of “what they do” and more because of “who they are”. The people at HoT that I’ve met and known (like Carsten Feilberg, Ilari Aegerter, and Ben Kelly) I hold in high regard. And it is my understanding that HoT constantly strives to find and keep this level of “high-quality people”. From deep conversations with co-founder Henrik Andersson, I learned that HoT seeks individuals who hold the same venerable values and qualities that he holds himself, and will not allow concessions when considering future employees. In my opinion, “not settling” is very difficult, admirable, and helps keep HoT in mind when I think about “a focus on quality”.

What do you think is the most common misconception about testing?

I think there are many misconceptions about testing. And, although I’m not sure which is “most common”, I’ll offer 2 misconceptions that I think are interesting, aren’t obvious, and might be contentious:

  • Testing is necessary. Testing is actually unnecessary. Testing provides information. This information can be used to help make more informed decisions. But, if you are ok making uninformed decisions (and are willing to accept the associated risks), then you don’t need testing. Testing is only necessary IF you want to get and use information to help make more informed decisions.
  • Testing [doesn’t] provide confidence. I frequently encounter the claim “Testing provides confidence” (or conversely, “Testing doesn’t provide confidence”). And, the claim is often followed by debate. However, I think the claim itself is incomplete and ambiguous. The claim does not explicitly state whether or not “testing” directly or indirectly provides confidence. The claim does not explicitly state whether or not “testing” wholly or partially provides confidence. The claim does not explicitly state the degree of confidence. And, the claim does not explicitly address the specific type of confidence (confidence…in what, exactly? Products? Decisions?). I think a more complete, unambiguous, and reasonable claim is, “Testing can sometimes indirectly help provide increased confidence in certain things.”

And now, the Jeopardy section. I’ll provide you with some answers and ask you to suggest the questions…


What is…a synonym for “value”?


What is…evaluating (forming an idea of the value of) some thing (any person, place, process, product, idea, etc.) via experimentation (trying out new ideas, methods, or activities) and more (i.e. questioning, study, modelling, observation, inference, etc.) to get (obtain) and provide (make available for use) useful (able to be used for a practical purpose) information (facts about something) to relevant (appropriate to what is being done or considered) stakeholders (a person with an interest or concern in something) for consideration (careful thought) to help (make it easier to do something) enable (make possible) more informed (having knowledge of a subject or situation), confident (feeling or showing certainty about something) decisions (a conclusion reached after consideration).

Lastly, the ‘Pass it on’ section. This question was posed by last month’s participant, Rosie Sherry:

“What can testers do better to share our craft with non-testers?”

One suggestion: learn “non-tester” values and languages.

By “values” I mean, “the things that they hold important”. And by “languages” I mean. “the manner or style of writing or speech; the phraseology and vocabulary of a certain profession, domain, or group of people.”

In order to “better share our (testing) craft with non-testers”, I suggest first learning a bit about what non-testers value and how non-testers speak. Learn what they consider important, and the words they use to express those things. And then reframe “our craft” in “their context” to make sharing it more meaningful and consumable to them.

And, learning more about “non-tester” values and languages can also help develop and enable the use of metaphors and analogies, which are a useful and effective means of communication.

And finally, what question would you like to pose for next month’s participant?

What is a “requirement”, are they important (and if so, why?), where can they come from, and how can testers use them?

Thank you Damian for taking part in Q&A. We’ll be back with another Q&A soon!

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