I recently had the opportunity to be a judge for the European Software Testing Awards.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s probably the same as Mahatma Gandhi: “Imperfect men have no right to judge other imperfect men”, and you’d be right (I’m also sure he meant “people”). But in this instance, I reckon we can make some allowances…
After all, being a judge does imply some degree of judginess by necessity. Not super-judgy mind you, the role didn’t require one of those fancy curly wigs that “real” judges stereotypically wear, although I do have one in the kids’ fancy dress box ready for emergencies should that (quite unlikely) situation arise.
Putting Gandhi’s wisdom to one side and ignoring my wig stash for the moment, I happily agreed to the assignment and prepared myself mentally for the task ahead…Judgey McJudgeface (my assumed persona) was ready for action!
The awards are now in their 9th year and are an independent affair, recognizing the accomplishments of the software testing community. They’re open to businesses, teams and individuals from across Europe and culminates with a lavish awards ceremony in London where the finalists find out who has won each of the 14 categories. The categories cover a diverse range including teams, projects and innovation. Each judge is assigned a category and criteria to whittle down to the finalists and then all judges score the finalists to determine the winners.
When the time came to judge my category, my first surprise was the number of submissions and the length of many of them. I was determined to make sure I scored fairly and consistently across the board using the provided criteria. My Sunday evening Netflix slot went out the window whilst I sat in a darkened office with a spreadsheet, a notepad and a stack of entries at the ready. A hot cup of tea and an optimistic cat were my only companions…
The entries covered a diverse range of modern approaches, technologies and thinking, which were both interesting and insightful. The most important aspect of course, was the idea itself : “What is the award winning thing that’s been done”. But, if you’ve done something worthy, there’s a few extra tips that may nudge your entry from good to great and in a close race, it could make all the difference.
These should help focus the judges on the right things whilst also making their task a little bit easier….which is no bad thing as they sip their 5th cup of tea and bite into the last jammy dodger…
USE THE RIGHT CATEGORY
There will be a temptation to enter into as many categories as possible: “More chances to win, right?”
Choose the categories that your entry is particularly well suited to and double-down on tailoring the submission to target them. Quality definitely beats quantity in this case. Submitting the same content for multiple categories stands out and risks coming across as vague rather than laser-focused on the most appropriate few.
USE THE CRITERIA
Each category will likely have several criteria associated with it. It sounds obvious, but make 100% sure you address each of them as fully as possible. These are the criteria the judges will be using to score the entry and are likely to be equal weighted. If you’ve got a really strong submission but didn’t provide “evidence of overcoming obstacles” when it was listed as a criteria, you’ll score poorly against that and it’ll adversely affect your total score. They’re often tight races and every point counts.
These are so important that I’d go as far as suggesting you structure your entire submission around them as headings. That way you can be sure you’ve covered everything and it also makes the judge’s job a tiny bit easier.
…and yes, this will likely mean a custom submission for each category you enter
This sounds a bit condescending, but using sentences really helps the judges understand the narrative of the potentially award-winning work. Lists of bullet-pointed items work well for short genuine lists of context-sensitive items but try not to over-use. Similarly, structure your sentences into paragraphs to help with the reading of it — no one likes wading through huge blocks of solid text. Probably time I pressed return…
USE A NAME
Company names are often redacted to limit bias, so unless you want your entry referred to as “submission 3” or similar, giving it a name helps when referencing it. It also helps stick it in the judges mind: “Serverless Digital Platform Team” is easier to contemplate than “the team that did some refactoring of the website foundations to improve it over the course of a year”.
USE THE FORCE
In the words of Yoda, “You must unlearn what you have learned”. This might make sense in this context, but quite possibly not…Read into it what you will. Consider this bit, a blog post interlude…You’re well over half way now…stay on target!
Your submission might well be the best thing since sliced bread for the entire company and beyond, but try and keep the content focused on the category you’re gunning for. Going too broad may dilute the entry to the point where it’s hard to know what value the entry adds versus things going on elsewhere. It’s great if the company profits were up year-on-year but does it directly link back to the stuff you were doing and can you demonstrate the link?
I’m not referring to the eternally optimistic parental request to “use your words” rather than whines, shouts and pointing, but rather using words instead of acronyms and initialisms. You’ve been immersed in this malarky for a prolonged period of time and to you, the “T.P.S. reporting M.T.E. being replaced by the C.I.C.O. implementation of F.U.N.K.Y.’’ makes perfect sense. However, for a judge, it’s at best an Internet search or document scan, at worst, it’s gibberish. At the very least, make sure you spell out what any abbreviations stand for early in the submission.
How do you know that the thing you’ve done is successful? Perhaps more importantly, how does the judge know? The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind, it’s hiding in the data. Whatever measures you’re using should be able to demonstrate value in a meaningful way. Use them to hammer home the message that your entry is the one that should win.
USE THESE TIPS
And that’s it. Mostly common sense I think and they won’t help a poor idea win, but they could certainly give you an edge if you’re up against an equally great one.
Judgey McJudgeface has banged his gavel on this topic…going, going, gone (or is that auctions?)
Let me know if you have any luck using these tips, or indeed would add any more!