QA or the Highway 2016 – Speaker Series – Featuring Karen Johnson

Our fourth featured speaker who will be at QA or the Highway is Karen Johnson.

KarenJohnson1. What attracted you to speaking at QA or the Highway this year?

I enjoy speaking at regional conferences; it is wonderful to meet people who live in the same region. The opportunities for me to work with or for people I meet at regional conferences is higher than conferences further from home. Also frequently I am in a position where I am hiring people so it is helpful to meet people who are at least somewhat close to Chicago or perhaps willing to move to Chicago should I be in “hiring mode.”

2. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference?

Again, I’m looking forward to meeting people and spending as much time as possible on the “floor” of the conference. There are several sessions at the conference that I am looking forward to as well – a few on test automation and also a session on evolving your test strategy in an Agile context. The sessions look great and I think it’s going to be a terrific conference this year.

3. What piece of advice would you give conference attendees to maximize their experience at QA or the Highway 2016?

I generally advise attendees to make a point to meet some new people – don’t just stay with your co-workers (if you attend with them) or spend time with people you already know – make a real point to meet at least one new person. In addition to meeting someone – talk to them about testing and/or work challenges and see if you face the same issues. After the conference, try to stay in touch with people. I often meet people who are happy at their job and don’t think to network and meet other people until they are looking for work – which frankly, is not a great time to meet people! So make the most of being at any conference, don’t try to meet everyone or abruptly network but focus on meeting at least one person and connect if you find you have similar interests.

4. What are your favorite reading references (books/blogs/etc.) that have helped your grow as a testing professional?

This is a hard question to answer because over the years I’ve had a number of colleagues I’ve learned from – Robert Sabourin, James Bach, Cem Kaner, Mike Kelly, Scott Barber, Matt Heusser, and Rosie Sherry – gosh I could go on. I think what people might not see is how often over the years those colleagues and I have had such earnest conversations – exchanging ideas, talking through challenges. After all these years, it feels like a large swirling collection making it difficult to point out one or two references. My advice to other testers wanting to learn is to reach out and find blogs and other materials looking for people who write or speak in a way that resonates. It’s also a good idea to listen to more than one person or one point of view to build out your knowledge and perspectives.

5. What do you enjoy about the testing “field”/what keeps you in testing?

I see testing – or at least my career as particularly project driven so that each project has really been a story of it’s own with unique people, challenges and learning opportunities. (Working as a consultant over the years means I’m often hired for a particular project and then move onto another client, another project.) It just happens that I’ve been in testing for a long time but it has always been one project at a time that keeps my attention, keeps me learning and keeps me on my toes.

Let me give an example – this will explain why highlighting one favorite testing book or blog is a challenge for me. Suppose I am working on a BI (Business Intelligence)/data integrity project – for those few months, I’m all about data warehousing, data quality and related challenges and of course, related reading. A month later, I might be working on a mobile project and then my interest and reading shift to mobile. Given this type of chronic shifting, I’ve had an array of experiences making my work in testing ever changing.

6. What do you think is the most important skill(s) software testers should have?

Be curious. Have a sense of mystery towards software and want to discover and learn. Since technology changes, learn how to learn since you will likely need to keep learning. And since technology is inherently a disruptive field, don’t expect your career to necessarily be settled either – your career may be disruptive as well – so be adaptable.

7. What advice would you give to new testers or to those looking to find their “testing spark” for reigniting their passion for testing?

Testing is a demanding job – so make a point to take a vacation or find other ways to mentally refresh. For me, when I’ve faced burnout in some way – burnt out of politics, project, company – whatever, I find after a break – the right next project or work reinvigorates me – and in fact, if the project doesn’t spark me – I know it’s not the right next “thing.”


I’m fairly active on Twitter; find me @karennjohnson (note the two n’s! – my middle name is Nicole).

Also check out my website, I make a point to post presentations and articles I’ve written. See: or

Karen will be giving the opening keynote entitled “How Nancy Drew Prepared Me to Become a Software Tester.”

You can find Karen’s keynote information or more information about QA or the Highway 2016 by going to the following links:

Previous speakers featured from the QA or the Highway 2016 – Speaker Series:

Matt Heusser 
Bhupesh Dahal 
Erik Davis

QA or the Highway