SIGiST Event – Autistics and Software Testing: A good fit

Abstract

Employment Equity is law in South Africa, but those with learning impairments are still underrepresented in the workforce. One way to narrow the gap is to find areas where the attributes of the conditions are strengths, not weaknesses. With autism, one field is IT in general, and software testing in particular.
This presentation is about autism, and how its attributes fit well with software testing. It will mention two cases where autistics were hired as programmers and testers (SAP and Dandelion). Afterwards, the presenter will hold a question and answer session.

About the Presenter

Julian Frost
Born in 1976.
Obtained diagnosis of autism in 1997.
Holds BSc from UNISA.
Working in Software Testing since 2004, first at Test and Data Services, then at iLab.
Tested for RMB, ABSA, Standard Bank, and numerous other clients.

Venue
Accenture, Building 19 Harrowdene Office Park Kelvin Drive Woodmead, Sandton

When
February 24th 2016 at 5:30pm

Full details here.

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Films I saw in 2015

I like to start the first post of the year with a look at some of the films I watched over the previous year.
I saw the Marvel films “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Ant Man” and “The Avengers – Age of Ultron”. All very entertaining. Parts of the last named film (the fight between Hulk and Tony Stark in the hulkbuster suit) were shot in Johannesburg and Cape Town. What pleased me is that they didn’t just use South Africa as background. It was really cool when a convoy of Wolf APCs (the standard APC of the South African National Defence Force) pulled up.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was fun. It was lighthearted, amusing and gentle.
“Ant Man” was also interesting, in a good way.
If anyone wants evidence that sequels are frequently just cynical attempts to cash in on the popularity of an original film, this year provided solid proof.
“Minions” was a film about the little yellow creatures that helped Gru in the two “Despicable Me” films. It felt contrived, silly, and not very entertaining.
For me, the absolute worst film of the year and perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen was “Pitch Perfect 2”.
The film starts with a performance by the Barden Bellas for President Obama going wrong in a stupid way. I wanted to say “ridiculous”, but that might mislead you into thinking that it was amusing. Instead, it felt contrived and forced.
John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks return as the ICCA commentators and Administrators, but this time around their comments come across less as witty and more as mean-spirited. The Barden Bellas are suspended from US competition over the mishap. This was not convincing or believable in the least. It came across as an attempt to return the Bellas to an underdog role. MAD Magazine commented on this aspect of sequels years ago in their parody of Ghostbusters II.
After being suspended, the Bellas are replaced on their tour by a German a cappela group named “Das Sound Machine”. Cue all sorts of national and ethnic stereotypes about Germans. I didn’t find them even remotely amusing, just tedious. The Bellas are alarmed by just how good they are.
The Bellas have been banned from taking any new members, but allow Emily Junk to join because she asks. They also decide to compete in an international championship as they haven’t been barred from that.
At their first meeting, the Bellas decide to emulate their German opponents. Emily is unhappy, and says that the Bellas should instead play to their own strengths.
And that’s when I decided enough was enough and walked out the cinema. That is the first and so far only time I’ve ever done that.
I realised exactly how the plot was going to unfold at that point. The Bellas would first try to beat Das Sound Machine at their own game, only to lose badly. They would then regroup, realise that they should have played to their strengths all along, and do so, emerging victorious. I’ve seen this plotline plenty of times before, but it doesn’t matter as long as the film is done in an entertaining way. “Pitch Perfect 2” wasn’t.
As well as perhaps the worst film I’ve ever seen, 2015 produced one of the funniest films, if not the funniest, I’ve ever seen. “Spy”.
Melissa McCarthy stars as a backroom assistant to a CIA field agent played by Jude Law. But when Law’s character is murdered and the data revealing the identities of every field agent gets into enemy hands, McCarthy’s character has to go undercover. The result is utterly hilarious. I laughed throughout.
“Spy” is a parody of the spy films genre, particularly the James Bond films, and it follows a crucial rule about parody.
In order to work, parodies have to understand and make use of the tropes and conventions of what they are parodying. In fact, a good parody will actually work as an example of the genre it’s parodying, and Spy meets this standard. Not only is it a fantastic comedy, it is also a pretty good spy film.
Finally, and on a sadder note, RIP to David Bowie, Alan Rickman and voice actor Brian Bedford. All three died of cancer.

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Well that was quick

On Saturday, I wrote of my anger at learning that Nhlanhla Nene had been dismissed as the Minister of Finance and replaced by the virtually unknown David van Rooyen. On Sunday evening, four days after his shock declaration, Jacob Zuma performed a partial volte-face and named former Minister of Finance and current Minster of Co-operative Governance Pravin Gordhan as the new Minister of Finance. David van Rooyen will now become the Minster of Co-operative Governance.

I wonder what happened to get Zuma to backpedal like that.

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A few steps closer to the edge

Last month, I expressed my worries about the course South Africa appeared to be following. Since then, we have taken a few more steps towards the edge of the cliff.

On December 9th, less than a week after Fitch downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to BBB-, the lowest category before junk status, Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene was unexpectedly dismissed from his post by Jacob Zuma. He has been replaced by David van Rooyen.

The Market’s reaction was immediate. The Rand lost value against the US Dollar, Euro and British Pound, although it recovered slightly. The Public’s reaction has been one of shock and disbelief mixed with anger. Analysts and Commentators have slammed Zuma for a decision that could politely be called “questionable”. The hashtags #ZumaMustFall and #JacobMustFall have been trending on Twitter.

David van Rooyen, the new Minister of Finance, is a virtual unknown. He was Mayor of Merafong from 2003 to 2009 where he had a mixed record, and has served as a whip of the economic transformation cluster. His highest qualification is an MSc in Finance from the University of London. That he was appointed instead of Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas raises suspicions about why Nene was removed.

The rumour is that Nene was replaced because he refused to fund the nuclear deal between South Africa and Russia, refused to pay for a new presidential jet, and that when Dudu Miyeni, chairwoman of the SAA board changed the terms of a deal between Airbus and SAA, refused to fund the deal and demanded that the deal go ahead on the originally agreed terms, and that van Rooyen will be more susceptible to executive pressure. I hope that this is not the case, but we will have to see.

On November 30th (my birthday), the Constitutional Court overturned a ruling by the Electoral Court and ordered that by-elections in the Municipality of Tlokwe be re-run.

The story is as follows: in 2013, several ANC councillors in Tlokwe Municipality disregarded instructions from their party and voted with opposition political parties to remove then Mayor Maphetle Maphetle. They were then expelled from the ANC, and had to vacate their seats. They then stood as independent candidates in the By-elections which were held.

And lost to the ANC’s candidates.

The independents then approached the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) with various complaints about the way the by-elections were conducted. These included:

  • Failure to properly verify if the people who cast ballots were from the wards in question;
  • The independent candidates had experienced delays in receiving the Voters’ Rolls for their Wards;
  • That when they did receive them, in many cases the residential addresses of the voters were missing, and that;
  • As a result, voters not entitled to register in these wards had been registered, and;
  • Their participation had materially affected the by-election results.

The IEC investigated, and found that the complaints were valid, but ruled that the irregularities had not impacted the outcome. The candidates then appealed to the Electoral Court, which rejected their claims. So the candidates went to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in their favour.

This entire issue raises questions about the competence and impartiality of the IEC. The independent candidates had brought the problems to the attention of the IEC, but the IEC went ahead anyway. Adding to this, the current head of the IEC, Vuma Mashinini, is a personal friend of South African President Jacob Zuma. Next year, Municipal Elections are being held across South Africa.

Will the elections be free and fair? Or will there be cheating?

If things haven’t changed drastically by the end of next year, South Africa will be ruined.

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I am never buying from Volkswagen again

(Note: this only applies to VW South Africa. Other countries may be better.)
I have had it with Volkswagens.
I have owned two cars in my life and both were Volkswagens. When I buy my third car, it will not be from that manufacturer.
My parents between them have owned five Volkswagens: two Passats; a 1988 Jetta CLi, a Citi Golf and a Golf 3. When it was time to purchase my first car, I went for a 1.4L Citi Chico. After it was written off in a crash, I bought my current vehicle, a 1.4i Polo Classic.
The Chico was as robust as a tank. The only major expense it incurred was at the 90,000km service when the clutch assembly needed to be replaced. That service in 2009 cost me just under R9,000.
Now let’s compare that to the Polo.
30,000km service: The dashboard mounted cupholder had to be replaced.
Before 50,000km: The hooter gave out and had to be replaced.
60,000km service: The workshop found a bunch of things wrong with my car. Total cost to fix was R14,745.53. No, that’s not a typo. I have the bill in front of me now.
90,000km service: On Monday, I took my Polo in for its 90,000km service. Bill was R12,462.08. I also have that receipt in front of me.
I accept that as cars get older, massive and expensive overhauls are inevitable. However, a car needing two services before 100,000km that each cost in excess of R10,000 is totally UNacceptable. I would also like to mention at this point that my mother’s experiences with her Golf 3 led her to abandon the Volkswagen brand. She now drives a Honda.
It seems to me that Volkswagen South Africa’s standards have slipped badly, and that they are sitting on their laurels and trading on past glory. They have permanently lost me as a customer, and if anybody asks my advice about buying a new car, I will tell them all about my experiences and advise them to avoid Volkswagen.

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South Africa is heading towards the edge of a cliff

Around two years ago, I expressed my concern for the future of South Africa. The events of the last few months have left me even more worried. South Africa is in crisis and I don’t know how much longer it can survive.
This has been a long time coming. Bad and dishonest decisions taken over the past 21 years combined with haughty arrogance and a failure to plan have led us to a point where the fiscus has been drained and the economy weakened, and the decision-takers lack both the will and the ability to rectify matters.
The bad decisions that have brought us to this started very early. Soon after democracy, the artisanal training programmes were shut down. Every country needs artisans, and we have had to hire people with the necessary skills from overseas as the loss of the programmes meant a loss of vital skills. Also, Outcomes Based Education was introduced over strong warnings from educators who correctly warned that South Africa did not meet the preconditions to successfully implement it.
Another example of mishandling things was the manner in which affirmative action was initially done – it was treated as a numbers game. Instead of a period of handover, training, upskilling and skills transfer, white civil servants were offered retrenchment packages and replaced by previously disadvantaged individuals who didn’t receive the training and support they needed to succeed in their jobs. In many cases, smart civil servants took retrenchments, then became consultants and were hired back at lucrative salaries to train their replacements. It was a textbook failure to plan. The institutional knowledge (so vital to any organisation’s success) of South Africa’s Civil Service was eroded and took years to recover.
Even before 1994 the world economy was a modern one. By this, I mean one where skills and brains are paramount. The removal of a vital training programme and the introduction of OBE (now thankfully removed) damaged South Africa’s skillset.
One of the most damaging strategies in South Africa is Cadre Deployment: the action of making political appointments to non-political posts. In far too many cases, the appointee lacks the skills and qualifications to do his or her job. Furthermore, because the appointment is a political one, decisions are taken for political reasons, not business or practical ones. The consequences have been devastating. State-Owned Enterprises from ESKOM to SAA and the SABC have had to be bailed out by the taxpayer to the tune of millions, and are still unable to fulfill their mandates. Hospitals and health care departments have been under-resourced, with patients dying.
There has also been a massive failure to plan ahead and prepare for future needs. In 1998, the government was told that ESKOM needed to build new power stations to meet future needs. The government failed to let ESKOM expand, and failed to do anything else like bring in private power producers to meet future needs. In 2006, we had our first round of load shedding. This year, we had another round, although thankfully not as severe.
Instead of facing up and acknowledging that there are problems, the preferred manner of dealing with issues is to pretend they don’t exist and hope they go away, and to attack those who try to point them out. In the late 1990’s the city of Johannesburg faced a billing crisis. Ratepayers were being incorrectly billed, double billed, overcharged and charged for properties they didn’t own. The municipality first denied for months that there was a problem, then cast all sorts of aspersions on the complainers, then finally admitted that yes, there was a problem, and yes, it would be fixed. That is not the only example, just the most memorable.
A haughty arrogance and refusal to admit to gaffes is also prevalent. The aforementioned introduction of OBE against valid concerns is one such instance. More recently, new visa rules for travelling to South Africa (including biometric readings) were introduced. The tourism industry warned Home Affairs Minister Mmalusi Gigaba that South Africa didn’t have the scanners set up in missions and embassies across the world, and that the regulations were impracticable. Gigaba ignored the protests, and when the inevitable drop in tourist numbers occurred, blamed the tourism industry for failing to properly market South Africa overseas instead of owning up to his blunder. The new regulations are being reviewed, but South Africa has lost millions from tourists who went elsewhere instead of coming here. The damage has been done.
A big problem is our government’s attitude towards business. The unions played a big role in the fight against apartheid, and there is an open hostility towards business. The Council for Concilliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is loaded with commissioners who frequently rule against businesses regardless of the merits of the case. Many large companies have had CCMA ruling overturned by the Labour Court, but smaller businesses often lack the money to appeal. Founding a business is also a nightmare, with red tape and legislation making it very difficult to register a company. Because businesses are the cornerstne of the economy, the result is a loss of job opportunities and taxes.
Most damaging of all is the massive corruption and the complete and utter failure to deal with it. Starting with the 1998 Arms Deal, billions have been lost. Our own president had a fortune spent on his private residence at Nkandla, and refuses to repay any of it, despite the Public Protector ruling that he should pay back a fair portion of the money spent. A secretive deal with Russia to build nuclear reactors was signed. The secrecy has aroused suspicions that there will be massive bribes and kickbacks paid.
The reality is, because the president is corrupt, everyone else now has no incentive to be honest.
All of the above has now led South Africa to a crisis point. The signs are clear. South Africa’s economy is growing at a slower rate than most other economies, even developing ones. While other countries are slowly recovering from the global downturn, our economy isn’t even outperforming inflation. As a result, South African Investment companies are looking outside of South Africa for opportunities. South Africa’s membership of AGOA is also at risk.
Last month, workers at the Post Office received 70% of their salaries because the Post Office was out of money. After a threatened strike, the workers got the remaining 30%. Students protesting university fee increases managed to get no increase for next year, but the universities will need funding from government to cover their shortfall. It is money South Africa does not have, as Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene revealed in his mid term budget speech.
South Africa is about to run out of money. This has been a long time coming, but come it has.

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Autistics’ Speaking Day: On my voice and identity

Normally, when Autistics’ Speaking Day occurs, I stay up until midnight, and post as soon as possible. Not today, though.
I’m going to write about identity and autism. Mostly in regards to myself, but I guess it can be extrapolated outward.
I’ve been blogging for the last five and a half years, and commenting on others’ blogs for almost six. During that time, people have tried to deny me my voice. They have told me that I am not autistic enough. That I can’t possibly understand or advocate for people who are more autistic than I am. The most egregious example of this was four years ago. MJ, a parent to three girls with autism, bluntly said:

So, no, when you advocate, you do not advocate on behalf of what my children need. What you do is minimize and marginalize them – especially when you compare their disability to something like women’s rights.

It was a blatant and mendacious attempt at laying a guilt trip on me, and it backfired. In the thread, Kassiane Sibley had called MJ out for trying to get autistic adults to shut up, and she had been absolutely correct. MJ wanted to silence me. He didn’t succeed.
I recently read a blogpost by another autistic blogger who hit the nail on the head with regards to the fallacy used by those who want high-functioning autistics to stay out of the discussion. The blogger claimed that the would be exclusionists were invoking the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. The exclusionists were trying to redefine the meaning of autism to exclude high-functioning individuals from the discussion. MJ was trying to do that to me, but that is not the only time it’s been used against me. Several other times internet commenters have said something along the lines of “you’re not disabled enough”. I only wish I’d recognised the tactic sooner.
There is a trend to use “person-first language” when speaking about disability. For example “person with retinitis pigmentosa”. I’ve seen recommendations to say “person with autism”, but that’s not my viewpoint.
As I see it, I’m not “someone with autism”, I’m autistic. It’s a part of me. It’s part of who I am.
I don’t doubt for a second that I would have had an easier life had I been born not autistic. But if I was given the option of a treatment that would turn me neurotypical, I’d refuse it.
If I wasn’t autistic, I wouldn’t be me.
The fact that so often, people have tried to deny me my voice and identity has made me more determined than ever to keep them.

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