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Good metrics critical to software projects, CAST keynoter says

At this year’s Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST), taking place July 13-16th in Colorado Springs, Dr. Jonathan Koomey will be delivering the keynote address on “Real-life lessons for responsible use of data and analysis in decision making.”

In the keynote, Dr. Koomey is planning to present a few recent examples of widely-cited statistics that were grossly misleading or wrong. He’ll then use those examples to summarize real-world lessons for attendees so they can immediately improve their use of data and analysis.

“My presentation will delve into often ignored aspects of the art of problem solving,” said Dr. Koomey. “Including the crucial distinction between facts and values, the dangers of ill-considered assumptions, the need for transparent documentation, and the importance of consistent comparisons.”

Dr. Koomey is a Project Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a consulting professor at Stanford University. He is one of the leading international experts on electricity used by computers, office equipment, and data centers, and is the author or co-author of eight books and more than one hundred and fifty articles and reports on energy and environmental economics, technology, forecasting, and policy. He has been quoted in many major media sources, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Barrons, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, Science, Science News, American Scientist and more.

I opened the interview by asking Dr. Koomey about his latest book, Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving, now out in its second edition.

“The book summarizes what I’ve learned over the years in doing analysis and supervising analysts at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I’ve hired dozens of analysts over the years but I grew frustrated that I kept having to explain to them basic aspects of the art of analysis, like making good tables and graphs, what constitutes complete documentation, and how to structure a technical report. The book, and this talk, grew out of that frustration. It summarizes the craft of research in a way that is useful for inexperienced analysts, but it’s also a good refresher for those who’ve been in the field for a while. And I tried to make it a fun read, with lots of short chapters, cartoons, and funny graphics.”

When I asked what influenced the talk and the book, Dr. Koomey cited a couple of sources that were influential to him. Those included Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and William Hughes’ 1997 book, Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills. Dr. Koomey also added: “Also surprisingly enough, I was inspired by Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams. The fluidity and readability of that book influenced the structure of Turning Numbers into Knowledge.”

In addition to his keynote at CAST, Dr. Koomey is also leading a workshop on his new book.

“The workshop will be an interactive exploration of how managers can encourage, prompt, and cajole their employees to give them the numbers they need to make good decisions. It will also help both managers and analysts hone their own analytical skills. Even if you’re a seasoned analyst, the exercises in the workshop will get you to think afresh about the challenges you face at work, and should help you become more effective at your job.”

This will be Dr. Koomey’s first time speaking at CAST, and I asked him if he was looking forward to getting to know the software testing community. “The essence of good software testing is critical thinking, and I’m happy to be in the company of smart people who use their problem-solving skills in new and innovative ways. I always learn something when I attend conferences like this.”

For more on the upcoming show, check out the CAST conference website.

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