Interviews at peer-workshops

Last month I had the pleasure to facilitate the Workshop on Regulated Software Testing . At the workshop I had the pleasure to see something I've not previously seen at a workshop. During the workshop Geordie Keitt , the head of the AST eVoting SIG ,  interviewed Jim Nilius former Senior Director of Voting System Test Lab at SysTest Labs Incorporated. It was a full-on Barbra Walters style interview on the topic of testing voting systems. And it was awesome.

For peer workshops of that type, you typically have two or three types of presentations. The most common is an experience report. That's where someone in attendance gets up and tells a story about a real project they worked on or a real problem they solved. You can tell it's an experience report because they use words like "I" and "we" a lot. The idea is that through sharing of actual experiences, followed by open and honest questioning, everyone can learn more about what works and what doesn't, and why.

Other types of presentations can include problem-solving opportunities where an attendee relates an issue they are struggling with right now and attendees try to help generate ideas for what to try next. Workshops can also include research reports (describing original research that you conducted or significantly participated in) or position papers (which might be on a topic you feel strongly about, but may not have a specific experience to share).

What made the interview so great was that Geordie controlled how we learned about the topic. Through his series of planned and ad-hoc questions, he drew out Jim's stories and experience. It was also entertaining (since both of them have a health sense of humor). After the interview, Jim remained in front of the workshop for a session of open-season questioning where any attendee could as a question they thought Geordie had missed.

I suspect I'll be adding the interview format to the IWST website . I encourage other workshop organizers to do the same. I'm not sure everyone would be as successful and Geordie and Jim, but it worked really well - and it was a nice change of format. I'm thinking it might also be a great way for someone who might not be comfortable enough to share an experience report to still share their experience.

I believe Geordie and Jim will have some follow up work on the topic to publish at some point. I'll like to it when it comes out.