Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Open letter to Windows Insider Program members around the world: Our duties, what we should have done for Redstone 1, what we can do for Redstone 2

To my fellow Windows Insiders, especially for those using screen readers and assistive technologies:
As a fellow journeyman in software testing and development, I'm proud of the fact that we have done our job when it comes to testing Anniversary Update builds (Redstone 1). We faced issues, sorted through bugs, provided millions of feedback and served as an influential partner with Microsoft in shaping the Windows 10 ecosystem for months and years to come.
As I reflect back at Redstone 1 era, I'm reminded of how much we've accomplished, as well as the need to remind ourselves that our mission isn't over. In particular, I believe that we need to take proactive steps in making sure that we carry out our duties: continuous feedback, and serving as a guide to those who will follow. As Insiders, we are called to help, give back, and support one another, and in extension, people who'll get to know what we've been testing for a few weeks.
However, I must say that I'm disappointed with the way we think about the privilege of our participation, especially when it comes to testing for accessibility regressions, not thinking about certain aspects of being Insiders, and championing progress rather than support and guidance to others. To me, an ideal Windows Insider is someone who can give guidance to many, an influential representative of a population who may not know what's going on behind the scenes. As representatives, Insiders should serve as a voice for the population we serve, as well as to give essential guidance in times of need, especially when a stable build appears in Current Branch. Unfortunately, we have witnessed the opposite in certain cases, notably misinformation floating around when Anniversary Update came out that caused some to resort to risky behavior (for example, removing a screen reader completely when it was sufficient to remove the unnecessary driver unless if this was necessary). Although the cause of this issue was due to compatibility flag from Microsoft (subsequently fixed), I believe we Insiders are also to blame, seeing that we did not serve as helpful guides in some cases.
After thinking about what some users went through last week, I came to the conclusion that we Insiders should re-evaluate how we think about why we join the program and train ourselves to serve as supportive guides as well as champions of change. Progress and change is nothing unless we give guidance to others, especially to a population who does not have resources to obtain needed information on time. Instead of rallying around a cool feature, I believe it is also important to provide ropes for Current Branch users so they can have painless experience as much as possible. Instead of just being soldiers of change, we Insiders should also be counsellors who are ready to help in times of crisis.
The events of last week (Anniversary Update upgrade attempts and display compatibility issues for screen reader users) clearly showed what Insiders should not have done and some underlying causes (the actual cause of the display flag problem, according to Freedom Scientific, Microsoft and reputable sources, was due to errors from Microsoft's upgrade tool, now fixed), with one of the issues being Insiders not taking proactive steps to step up and help. For some, this gave us an opportunity to think about what we Insiders can learn from what happened a few days ago, as well as what we Insiders can do better to prepare for Redstone 2 (Windows 10 Version 170x), especially the first few days during which the kind of event we witnessed may happen again.
In light of this, I'd like to ask my fellow Windows Insiders to ask the following questions as we prepare ourselves to board next round of flights:
* Why did I sign up for Windows Insider Program?
* Did I sign up for Windows insider Program just to play around with new features or to help stable build users in the future?
* Am I willing to try the unknown and constantly changing feature sets, knowing that stable build users will use them later?
* Am I willing to give my best when giving feedback, such as steps to reproduce and serving as a representative of a population?
* Am I willing to serve as helpful guides in times of crisis, confusion and need, such as when new stable builds are released?
Few remarks for audience groups:
To users of stable builds, especially to users of screen readers and other assistive technologies: as a Windows Insider and a screen reader contributor, I take user feedback seriously. At this time, on behalf of other Insiders, I'd like to apologize for not doing our real work in times of need. I regret that we Insiders should have been more helpful when you first came to know Windows 10 Version 1607, especially when it comes to upgrades. I and other Insiders will try our best to make sure that upgrade to Redstone 2 will be painless for you.
To other Insiders (not just screen reader users, but also to millions of fellow WIP citizens): As noted above, I'd like to kindly request that we think about our duties as Insiders: not only being champions of change, but also to serve as counsellors in times of need and support.
Thank you.

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