Diversity starts with empathy

Imagine working hard for years to be part of a profession that you’re excited about. Imagine going to one of your first conferences and seeing well-respected people in your profession on stage, eager to learn the advice of experienced people in the field. Now imagine that one of these people, up on stage, tells the whole room that your industry doesn’t need any more people like you – people of your gender. Imagine how hurt and unwelcome you would feel. You look around you see that you are in the minority – most of the people in your field are not the same gender as you and there are only a few others in the room like you, scared to respond. Imagine how helpless and overwhelmed you would feel. And imagine this person further saying that they know the statement was harsh, but that they’re sure you people will “get over it”.

This is what my brother Anthony experienced at a Dietetics conference a few weeks ago. Anthony is in his fourth and final year of his nutrition and dietetics degree. It’s his passion and he works extremely hard at it. With less than 10% men¹, dietetics is a female-dominant field.

The woman who told the conference that they don’t need any more men in Dietetics, despite the overwhelming majority of Dieticians being female, was previously in the police force – a male-dominated field. The feelings that led to her statement are relatable and understandable – she regularly faced gender discrimination from men and undoubtedly had to work extra hard to succeed in a hostile work environment. But rather than justify her decision to make such a harsh statement, it only illustrates what kind of working environment this can create. Her feelings were valid. Her actions were disappointing.

As a woman working in the field of software engineering, my brother and I have drawn many parallels between our experiences with regards to gender discrimination. With less than 30% women², software engineering is a male-dominated field. While neither of us would describe these incidents of discrimination as frequent or extreme, we do feel the impact of them when they occur and we notice the cumulative effect they have on ourselves and our peers. When someone says something that makes us feel unwelcome in our working community, it reminds us that we look different, act different, talk differently. We’re suddenly hyper-aware that we don’t fit in with the people around us and there is nothing we can do to change that. It’s a very isolating, helpless feeling.

Anthony and I are no strangers to this feeling – we are both Eurasian. This means that we are ethnically a mix of Caucasian and Asian races. In predominantly-white Australia, we could count the amount of other Eurasian kids we grew up in our town with one hand. Everywhere we go in the world, we are asked “Where are you from? No I mean where are you REALLY from?” or the ruder “What are you?” We don’t have a country of people who mainly look like us. We’ll always be the ethnic minority.

So maybe it’s strange that we both decided to go into fields where we would be the minority gender. Or maybe we just have more learned resilience to the feeling of being the odd one out, and that helps us forge our paths in these fields.

But one thing we do know is that responding to discrimination with more discrimination is not constructive. The best remedy here is compassion. The hardest part about showing compassion is understanding through empathy, which means truly listening. And the hardest part about receiving compassion is showing vulnerability instead of anger or stoicism. We each felt the instinct to show that we’re tough, that the words don’t affect us, that if they hurt us we will fight back and they can’t keep us down. But we need to show the impact of those words – it causes people to feel unwelcome in an industry that they are passionate about. For every angry person lashing back there is a quiet person internalising their disappointment and leaving the field.

Diversity isn’t about one side being victorious over the other – it’s about the benefits of having people who are different to each other all working together and learning from each other. There are many studies available showing the benefits of a diverse team³. We learn different styles of communication, different approaches to learning, different ways of seeing problems and different ways of relating to others. Our differences are what makes our teams stronger, and when we learn from each other’s differences then it furthers our professions as a whole.

So next time you engage in a discussion about diversity, try responding with empathy, compassion and vulnerability as we seek to be welcoming and learn from one another.

1. Difficult to find one set of recent conclusive results, but sources suggest that less than 10% of registered dieticians are male. Examples: 94.6% of Australian dietitians were female in 2011. 93.7% of Canadian nutritionists and dietitians were female in 2015.
2. Statistics show an average 29% female across major tech companies, the Verge report, 2015. Results for females are significantly lower for the tech departments within those companies.
3. How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, Scientific American, 2014. Why Diversity Matters, McKinsey&Company, 2015. The Impact of Gender Diversity on the Performance of Business Teams: Evidence from a Field Experiment, Sander Hoogendoorn Hessel Oosterbeek Mirjam van Praag, 2013.


Rock solid testing without hiring an army

This is my favorite talk that I’ve ever done. I presented it at the Business of Software conference in Boston last year. The audience were business people – company founders, CEOs, CTOs, folks like that. So it’s also the best description I have yet of the kind of work I do, aimed at people who know something about software but perhaps nothing about testing. It also says almost everything I’ve been wanting to say to the industry in general for the past few years.

Link to presentation

Business of Software’s website has the presentation video, slides and a full transcript.


Heading home

It’s been richly rewarding experience living in Silicon Valley for the last year and a half, but due to various factors I’ve decided to head back home to Australia and take some time off work to focus on my health and spend time with my family. I’ll be based in Brisbane for the most part, with regular trips to Rockhampton to hang out with my parents and cats.

So I won’t be committing to any conferences or similar for the time being. I’m taking a leave of absence from Google and I’ll keep you posted on what city I end up in once I figure that out.

I know I mentioned health reasons but I don’t want anyone worrying about me or sending me messages of sympathy. All in all, in Australia with my family is exactly where I want to be right now and I’m looking forward to it.


Preparing for your presentation

Presentations used to terrify me. I remember stressing for days about having to give a 3 minute presentation in high school about a topic of my choice. I chose “ghosts” and in my nervousness completely forgot my talk one minute in and started directly citing the textbook I’d read instead, discovering to my surprise that I’d accidentally memorised it. I still didn’t manage to make the whole 3 minutes.

These days I give 40-60 minute talks at international tech conferences! While preparing for my most recent one, I realised that I’ve developed a process for preparing for these talks that really helps make this easier. This is just a series of steps that I’ve learned over time, and I hope it helps first time presenters prepare for talks more easily too.

  1. Start early
  2. Do your research
  3. Just have one big message
  4. Get the admin stuff out of the way
  5. Make a talk outline and do a dry run
  6. Make pretty slides
  7. Nail your intro
  8. Make a strong conclusion
  9. Figure out what you’re going to wear
  10. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

1. Start early

I usually *try* to start my preparation at least 3 months before the actual day. Depending on how much of a procrastinator you are, you’ll have to figure out what works for you but I know from experience that the 4 weeks before a talk are very busy for me with rehearsing, creating slides and figuring out last minute details so the earlier this starts then the less stressful these last few leadup weeks are.

You may also need to submit a bio, abstract and photo very early. It’s worth getting a professional photo taken – it will serve you well throughout your career and you’ll feel much better when you see the pro photo on the conference website rather than an awkward selfie.

2. Do your research

This is another big reason to start preparing early. The most convincing talks are based on demonstrated evidence, not just opinion and anecdotes. Getting the data that you need takes time, and often involves approval from one or more parties to present publicly. Interview industry experts, look for papers, studies and surveys, find data within your own company that is cleared for public use. Strong evidence to support your claim adds credibility and added power behind your message.

3. Just have one big message

Audiences are unlikely to remember everything that you say. Ask yourself, if your audience only remembers one thing from your talk, what do you want it to be? Then centre your talk around that message. Make sure it’s a message that’s directly relevant to your audience.

4. Get the admin stuff out of the way

There are a lot of little things to take care of when doing a public presentation, and it’s good to just get them out of the way as soon as you can so you’re not worrying about them at the last minute.


  • Will you bring your own laptop or will they want your slides in advance?
  • What kind of equipment is available, and will it work with your laptop?
  • What slide dimensions are expected for the projector used?
  • Will you be holding a microphone, have one on the podium or have one attached to you? (important for ladies intending to wear a dress)
  • If you need props, are these okay and will you have time to set them up?
  • How long does the talk need to be (including time for questions)?
  • What time of day will you be presenting?
  • How many people will you be presenting to?
  • Are there any due dates you should know about, such as deadlines for slides in advance, bio, abstract, etc?
  • Do you need to submit a photo with your bio?

Legal things:

  • Will the talk be recorded? Do you have to sign any consent forms?
  • Is your company okay with you presenting the materials you have planned? Do you need approvals?
  • What are your rights regarding the presentation contents? Can you reuse the talk at other conferences? (this might be something you care about)
  • Do you have the correct image rights to all of the images used in your presentation?
  • If you are quoting anybody or referencing their material, have you cleared this with the owner and credited appropriately?

5.  Make a talk outline and do a dry run

The first one is always the hardest, and you will sound like an idiot. Just get it over with, force yourself through it. Skip the intro if you have to. Just lock yourself in a room for an hour or more and blunder your way through your talk outline. This will give you a rough idea of the amount of time you have too and will give you an early indication of whether you need to trim down or pad out your talk to fit the allotted time. It also gives you a chance to get early feedback from friends and coworkers on the general content and format.

6. Make pretty slides

There are a few easy tricks here. My first recommendation is Canva, which makes it easy for you to create beautiful images that you can use as slides. It has stock photography too that only costs US$1 a pop.

My second recommendation is for images generally. Unsplash is a fantastic HD free stock photo site. And Google Photos lets you search your own photos by keyword – you might find that some of your holiday snaps make the perfect backdrop for your message. All those pictures of trees and sky are finally good for something!

My third recommendation is a bit more advanced – I once used Sketch which is a vector drawing tool to create all my slides. It was pretty but it helped that I’d already done several tutorials to help me use the tool. And it cost about US$99, a price I was happy to pay because I was already using Sketch for other design projects.

My fourth recommendation is to look for professional presentation templates. Sometimes these are free, but good ones can be purchased for about US$15-20.

Try to keep your slides minimal, and make good use of your presenter notes instead of cluttering all of your content as slide text. Reading from slides makes for a boring talk, and having less text on screen makes you look like a better presenter even if you’re glancing at your notes from time to time.

In terms of presentation tools, I recommend Keynote or Powerpoint because they work offline and can be stored on a thumb drive (but best to also store it in the cloud and email a copy to organizers for safety). They also don’t depend on your web browser. Make sure you shut down all other running programs while you present in case some pushy program suddenly decides it needs your attention and interrupts you in the middle of your talk. Figure out if you want to use a remote for your talk – this can help you break away from behind the podium. Keynote has a mobile app that lets you do this while viewing speaker notes too – just make sure it’s in aeroplane mode so nobody calls you while you speak.

7. Nail your intro

I find the introduction the hardest part of the talk. This is the bit where you’ve just walked on stage, you’re nervous as hell, and you may freak out and forget what it was you were going to say. But it’s the most critical part of the talk because it’s the part that hooks people in and makes them pay attention for the rest of it. Set up a special rehearsal session just for your intro and rehearse the hell out of it. Read up on presentation tips for introductions that will make your audience want to listen.

8. Make a strong conclusion

Don’t awkwardly trail off at the end with a tentative “…any questions?” Drive home your main message confidently.

9. Figure out what you’re going to wear

This is probably harder for women than for men, but I have no experience being a man so all I know is that this is important to work out ahead of time. Odds are you’re going to end up recorded and on the Internet forever so make sure that whatever outfit you pick is something you’re willing to have the world see.

  • Make sure your outfit fits you properly and is comfortable. You don’t want to be constantly pulling things up or down, or fidgeting with sleeves and cuffs.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for some time.
  • Figure out your hair. If you have difficult hair, consider booking a salon appointment the day before your talk.
  • Is there a dress code? If it’s vague or you don’t know, better to be overdressed than underdressed if you are presenting.
  • Go for something that’s neat but not distracting. I wore a thin striped shirt once and it had a rather dizzying effect on camera.

10. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

Goes without saying really but at least make sure you’re allocating time for this. If it’s an hour-long talk then you need hours of practice so make the time. Setting up a preview rehearsal for some friends or coworkers about a week before will make you get ready earlier and get you some timely feedback as well. Recording yourself or practicing in front of a mirror can help you weed out any odd speaking habits you didn’t know about. Make sure you’re on top of any difficult slide transitions (avoid the “oh! I forgot that slide was next!” moments).

Have an answer prepared for the questions you’re likely to be asked. Have a backup response to anything that you don’t know how to answer – “That’s a good question and I’d love to discuss it in detail with you later, come and see me after the talk” is a handy one for anything that looks like a can of worms. If you don’t know if you *should* answer something, probably better not to – remember you’re being recorded.

Most of all, just slow down, take your time and remember everyone sitting there wants to listen to what you have to say. You get to talk for 40-60 minutes without being interrupted – how great is that! Take advantage of it and good luck!


Good reads

Some books I’ve read that I found useful in my career and my life.

The Logic of Failure: Recognizing And Avoiding Error In Complex Situations (Dietrich Dörner)

logic of failure

One of my pet hates is when people try to oversimplify a complex problem in order to make it solvable. For example, “we’ll just automate everything through Webdriver and won’t have to do any more manual testing”. This book follows the results of a study where subjects were given several computer simulations of complex environments, and were asked to control certain variables in order to affect a desirable long-term outcome. It explores the strategies used by successful and unsuccessful participants and gives recommendations for successful strategy in complex situations.

What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People (Joe Navarro)

what every body

I read a couple of body language books before this one and they weren’t nearly as in-depth. The perspective of an ex-FBI agent made for compelling reading too. Navarro talks about the physical and chemical reasons behind body language, what is automatic and what is controlled, and how to read body language in different contexts.

I bought this book to help me read other people better, but what I didn’t expect was how it helped me to notice my own body language more. It made me very aware of the subconscious message I was sending to others with my posture, my tone of voice, and more. This helped me in everyday situations and in public speaking.

Later it even helped me in my artwork, as it helped me understand  how character emotion affects posture, stance and muscle tension in different parts of the body.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Fisher, Ury, Patton)

getting to yes

I’m not the kind of person who likes to get the best deal at the expense of somebody else, and I don’t like using manipulation or lies to get what I want. So negotiating always made me feel uncomfortable, as I felt it was difficult to achieve a fair outcome for myself if the other person wasn’t willing to be fair to me.

This was a required textbook for my friend’s Law degree, and she recommended it highly. It describes the strategy behind principled negotiation – coming to an agreement with all parties through empathy and creating options for mutual gain. It does also go into what to do if the other party is not entirely moral in their negotiation tactics.

It’s served me well and should really be required reading for life.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (Dale Carnegie)

stop worrying

I’ve met some people who have unflattering opinions of Dale Carnegie, but whatever you think of his reputation I still think his books have a lot of value. I’ve always suffered from worry and anxiety and this book actually helped me a great deal. The case studies used are interesting and useful.

Surprisingly, I found it related well to software testing too. If you think about it, testing is a response to risk and risk is, well, worrying. I’ve worked with many software development teams that want someone to “test everything” because they’re worried something bad will happen. Worrying isn’t necessarily needless – something bad COULD happen – but having a sound mitigation plan and accepting necessarily risks after analysis of the situation is a way to address this.

How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations (Jeremey Donovan)

ted talk

When I was first asked to deliver a keynote, I was excited but pretty intimidated. I knew my talk had to be compelling and memorable, and this book helped give me some ideas what makes great presentations great.

This is tailored advice for 10 minute TED talks though, so it wasn’t all applicable to my 40 minute keynote. But the principles are sound, and it’s not a bad resource. There’s still a lot more study to be done beyond this in order to give a great talk!

Interview by Fog Creek Software blog

I was recently interviewed by Fog Creek Software’s blog about embedded testers in development teams. Check it out here to listen to me rant about how software testing needs to be a core competency of the software engineering discipline.

Note: I mentioned a book in this interview “Driven by tests” but I got the name horrifically wrong. The name of the book is “Growing Object Oriented Software, Guided by Tests” by Steve Freeman and Nat Pryce.

Introducing Speak Easy

I’m delighted to announce that I have agreed to be a regional patron for Speak Easy – a program designed to increase diversity in tech conferences through dedicated conference spots, mentoring and events.

Speaking at your first tech conference can be intimidating, but it’s very rewarding. I’ve written about my experiences before.

If you would like to get better at public speaking at tech conferences, or would like to mentor others, do have a look at where you will find a supportive speaking community.


Start spreading the news: CAST keynote in NYC

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be giving a keynote at CAST 2014 this August in New York City! The title of my talk is “Scaling up with Embedded Testing”.

The theme of CAST this year is “The Art and Science of testing” and the speaker lineup looks fantastic. I’m really looking forward to spending several days in the company of some amazing and inspiring people.

If you’d like to join us in for CAST in New York City this August, register here. See you there!

Trish Khoo's tech blog