“If you never cry your eyes get all dirty, and you can no longer see” - Jerry Weinberg
There is no use asking for specifics about what is done at PSL because it might be the wrong question. PSL is an introspection into oneself, a mirror and individual thinking and processing.
more to come later...
Hey! I’m so powerful, I can change the world
One would like to feel comfortable sprawling in a cushiony illusion that an executive of a test center for a major Swiss bank with 650 testers understands something about software testing.
Not so, as 800 spectators at the Swiss Testing Day painfully experienced while listening to the second keynote in utter disbelief about the intensity of bullshit coming from the stage.
The friendly people from the organization of Swiss Testing Day had a recording team ready in the big hall and all presentations - also Lee Copeland’s first keynote - are available on Youtube. All, exept one. Now guess which one that cold be, he?
The Head of Global Testing Services at Credit Suisse did not like to allow his keynote on Youtube. Well, from my perspective, I fully understand. After a ridiculous presentation I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself any more, neither.
I wanted to know more and headed to LinkedIn:
I’m a bit confused, I mean, what is there to swear about one’s own education? Maybe digging a bit deeper will enlighten me. Off I went exploring by scrolling down on the LinkedIn profile. That’s where I suddenly understood:
Just a little hint, Mister: It is “commuter” with two “m”. Wow! I was not aware that you can do a PhD in Commuter Sciences. Maybe spending a lot of time in overfilled local trains? Well, I don’t know, as I am not a specialist in that domain. But apparently it was not very pleasurable as it lead him to swear about his education.
Don’t get me wrong. I usually do not ridicule people. But this “Head Global Testing Services at Credit Suisse” is a testosterone-impregnated alpha-male with an overreaching certainty to always be right. He is tough enough to take it. During his presentation he said something in the line of: “Yes, there are many discussions in my team, but at the end I always decide anyway, hehehe”.
During the presentation, the many typos in his presentation made me lift one of my eyebrows. Hey, come on, there is auto-correct for the worst of the orthographic glitches. But, no, they all remained in his slide deck, but since the font size usually was very tiny and unreadable anyway, some of the slapdash assembly of text strings might have contained even more embarrassing details. He talked a lot about quality. Isn’t that ironic?
Admittedly, typos are not such a big deal. But leading a testing services org of 650 people and outsourcing the hell out of it because “it is cheaper”, insisting on worthless certifications and applying a factory model to the whole org is a big deal. Where is the leadership here?
Then he displayed the hockey stick with the bug fixing getting more expensive tenfold in each phase of the development cycle. He really, really was neither interested in presenting verified facts, nor did he make any effort to think for himself. Have a look at Laurent Bossavit’s excellent book “The Leprechauns of Software Engineering”. Five seconds of one’s own thinking would have lead to the conclusion that fixing a bug one hour before release might also only take five seconds (e.g. fixing wrong values in an array). Five Seconds Effort = Virtually $0 Costs
But the funniest thing was the map of the Brave New World (See on top of the page).
Synergized with India and therefore fired from the map.
Annihilated from the map for not being certified, probably. Stepping over the eastern border of Finland, one would find oneself falling down the abyss of nothingness.
But my favorite area is the sudden phallic half-erected extension of a cloned Spain and France forcefully thrust deep into the Atlantic. Just makes me laugh my ass off.
All funny targets of sarcastic comments and ridicule, but I honestly sympathize with the people in this testing organization. Apparently devoid of being allowed to make their own decision, as the boss is always right and probably in constant fear that their job is being outsourced to India. That is not a fun place to work at.
The horror! The horror!
image credit: http://j.mp/XFQ1PS
Zounds! What a menacing title, you might think. Yes, I am fishing for effects and the word “Heroin” always appears to do the job. And so does “Fuck”, “Motherfucker”, “Fuck you!” and “Fuck it!”. “Cunt” isn’t bad neither.
As a freethinking European I find it amusing when you desperately hide these words behind tiny asterisks like “F*ck” or suggestive ellipses like “F…”. Come on, prude people, get a life! None of you has a problem spelling the word “kill”, do you? Fucking is pure pleasure, killing is not. What’s wrong with you people?
Admittedly, fucking is not the topic of this post, but after the highly screened and politically correct ebaytechblog post, I am gasping for some “political incorrectness”-air. So - if you allow me - fuck you all!
The topic is Twitter and its importance to the context-driven community. As I see it there is the twin fix of Twitter and Skype that do the job. They both keep the network connections alive. Twitter plays an important role in the dog-sniffing activities of the people in the context-driven world. Some friendly hellos, fervent fights about semantics and an abundance of pleasurable disputes and useful links.
Whenever there is a need to either take the discussion offline or elaborate on something more in-depth, Skype is the tool of choice. I have had many good discussions both on Twitter and Skype. All good so far.
Only that there is a problem here: Twitter is a terrible attention grabber and temporarily transforms - well, I don’t know about you, but it certainly does it to me - people into ADHD victims. In the course of a day there are countless checks on new tweets and there always is a strong urge to engage in discussions.
That is not very good when you should work on longer term projects, such as preparation of a conference presentation. One’s own vainness is also in the way of many things. It is flattering if your tweets are re-tweeted or favored by your followers.
I did an experiment today. My thought was: What kind of tweet would generate the most re-tweets? It certainly had to be crispy and short, unexpected, funny and unusual. This is the tweet I came up with:
QA = Questioning Assumptions
It produced a good number of re-tweets and marks as favorites. But why would this be important? I don’t know.
Still, Twitter plays an important role in maintaining the relationships between the context-driven testers. It is just a great experience to meet some of my Twitter friends physically at conferences. It is like meeting old friends you have never met before.
Semantical discussions on Twitter tend to generate a common view on the meaning of things. Twitter has a tremendous power to make thinking better and have people experience deep learning.
The one thing I have not yet figured out is how to actually handle Twitter in order for it to not rob a significant share of my time. I’d be very much interested in how you keep the balance of sanity.
‘This is a nice one.’ A very simple sentence consisting of five words. Yet completely unintelligible. What is ‘this’? What class of things does ‘one’ refer to?
It is indexicality, one needs to take into account. A word or an expression can be considered indexical, when its meaning is tightly connected to the circumstances or the context of its use. As an example, the word 'this' is only fully understandable if it is either accompanied by a hand or head gesture pointing to what it refers to or if in the preceding sentence indicates a reference.
- This is a nice one (Together with a pointing finger to a beautiful rose)
- This is a nice one (Preceded by the sentence: ‘We just found some gold nuggets’ )
Mitigation of ambiguity in direct human to human interaction is quite seamless and its procedure is mostly not even noticed. A facial expression, an utterance of 'huh?' or a short interruption with a clarifying question helps to create meaning. Meaning of words and sentences are mediated by their interactive use between humans.
As a tester it makes a lot of sense to be physically close to a developer who can fix a bug. Even non-linguistical indexical behavior, like a pointing finger, works just fine. I point to something on the screen and the developer is ready to fire up the debugger.
In written language this is a bit more tricky. And bug reports are often written in a bug tracking tool. It is just not the optimal choice for clarity. However, in a bug report, some of the ambiguous effects of indexicality can be mitigated by a clarifying screen shot. It provides the necessary context for understanding. Therefore:
- This leads to a 404 page not found (followed by a screenshot with a button circled in red)
Alright, boys and girls, be aware of possible indexicality the next time you write a bug report.
BTW: ‘Nice’ has always been one of these words that irritate the hell out of me. Noncommital, superficial and mostly just semantically muddy. Some time ago, the meaning of ‘nice’ was ‘stupid’, coming from its latin roots ‘nescius’ (=ignorant). My good friend George Carlin - in his context - could not have expressed it better.
image credit: http://j.mp/YoyDvM
The year 2012 has been an exceptionally eventful and busy year. It was actually the first year I took testing really serious and it was also the first year I started to become active in the context-driven community. Since there are so many outstandingly smart people around, it is a highly stimulating intellectual experience. I am very happy to have chosen this path.
The year started with a one-day workshop Critical Thinking for Software Testers with James Bach. James was in Switzerland in March for the Swiss Testing Day and it was a good opportunity to have him present his workshop at Phonak AG. Quite interestingly there were not only testers participating but a fair share of developers, too.
In May I participated in BBST Foundations, which was quite hard as it coincided with Let’s Test 2012. BBST courses are very time intensive and each participant can decide individually about how much effort to put in the course. I can recommend the BBST courses to anybody who has serious aspirations in software testing.
Shortly after I had started to work for eBay, I organized the famous Rapid Software Testing Course with James Bach. Additionally to my own team I invited testers from all around Europe from eBay companies to join us. We spent three wonderful days contemplating about software testing and the puzzles were one of the most refreshing part.
October/November was filled with BBST Bug Advocacy, which again was quite an experience, this time for personal reasons.
The year started with Swiss Testing Day. At that time I was still a member of its Conference Board and since I was in charge for the Keynote Speakers, I invited James Bach to have one of the Keynotes. He was as energetic as ever and the following book signing saw all his Buccaneer Schoolar books being sold out in no time.
In May it was time to fly to Let’s Test. What a conference! I had my first introduction into facilitation with Paul Holland. I think that Let’s Test has established itself as being /the/ context-driven conference in Europe. You need to experience it to know what I mean. I am very much looking forward to its second edition in 2013.
The weekend before CAST we gathered for Test Coach Camp 2012 in San Jose. We were a small group and we intensively discussed coaching of testers. I think that coaching is an ability which will become even more important in the future.
Test Coach Camp was followed by CAST 2012, where I presented two Emerging Topics sessions: ‘Observational Proficiency’ and How to ‘Make ’em Read Books’. I also enjoyed facilitating some of the other tracks.
In October, there was the Dutch peer conference DEWT2 in Driebergen; 2 days of intensive discussions on context-driven topics. It was an intimate event with interesting people. And it was quite cool to have a lunch walk while discussing management styles with Jean-Paul Varwijk in the forest of Driebergen.
In November I unfortunately had to cancel my attendance at Agile Testing Days 2012, since my youngest son was in hospital.
The year finished with a one hour talk at the technical University ETH in Zurich, where I talked to software engineering students about how we test at eBay and I presented my general views on what skillful testing means.
Not as much as I wanted. 2012 was so busy that my book reading suffered severely. I don’t like that and I have some plans to change that in 2013. However, five of the books that influenced my most in 2012:
- Wolfgang Metzger - Laws of Seeing
- Ludwig Wittgenstein - Über Gewissheit
- Robert A. Stebbins - Exploratory Research in the Social Sciences
- Paul Feyerabend - Against Method
- Robert D. Austin - Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations
Probably my most radical decision in 2012 was to change my job. I had been working for Phonak AG for more than seven years and when the opportunity arose to start with eBay, I decided to have a go. There were more than 80 applications for the position and I somehow managed to convince them that I was the right choice. I am very glad it worked out. Working at eBay is wonderful, there is a lot to learn and my flight schedule has become very busy. I was sitting on a plane on 16 trips and I travelled 53,318 km in total.
With a lot of help by James Bach and Anne-Marie Charrett I started coaching testers on Skype. I have done 30 one to two hour coaching sessions in 2012. Coaching testers is a perfect activity to learn more myself. Currently, my coaching activities are on hold because everything else is very busy and I cannot do everything.
Twitter & Blogging
I both value Twitter for the richness of personal contacts and loath it for its capability to steal my time. I still want to figure out how to handle that in 2013.
Blogging has been an outstanding experience. This is my fortieth blog post this year and I value writing because of its capability to sort my thinking.
One of the experiences I valued most in 2012 was to have met so many outstanding personalities. I hope to not have forgotten anybody.
Henke Andersson - Very upbeat, highly knowledgeable, and a fun person to spend time with
James Bach - Probably the most important person for my own testing career and a good friend, too
Jon Bach - It is great to have Jon around at eBay, every encounter has been filled with intensive testing discussions
Scott Barber - What a wonderful person with a refreshing energy level
Sigge Birgisson - Very kind and energetic person
Michael Bolton - One of the sharpest and most educated minds I know
Tony Bruce - I think I have met Tony at almost every event I went to in 2012
Fiona Charles - Fiona impresses me with her calm yet firm approach to things
Anne-Marie Charrett - One of my mentors in the domain of Skype coaching
Pascal Dufour - Very intelligent, should find more time to discuss testing with him
Henrik Emilsson - We look alike! Hopefully it works out with the visit to Sweden in 2013
Markus Gärtner - I am so impressed by Marcus’ productivity in all areas around testing
Julian Harty - I like Julian’s kind and helpful energy
Leo Hepis - Still remembering well his fantastic introduction into the world of Virginia Satir
Matt Heusser - Also one of those people whose energy level seems to have no upper boundary
Doug Hoffman - Thoughtful and wise. In a several hour discussion, I learned a lot about american corporate culture
Paul Holland - Facilitation is a demanding job. Paul knows everything about it. And he values a good bottle of beer. Or two. Or three.
Ola Hyltén - I am glad to have met Ola in person and I am so sad that he no longer is among us
Martin Jansson - What a fantastic Test Lab Martin built for Let’s Test. Hopefully again in 2013
Johan Jonasson - Without Johan, Let’s Test would not be here. So: Thank you Johan
Cem Kaner - If only I had a tiny slice of Cem’s testing wisdom
Maria Kedemo - Always a pleasure to chat on Twitter. Looking forward to your session at Let’s Test 2013
Ben Kelly - Nobody has a darker humor than Ben…Well, maybe Ben in combination with Paul Holland might top it
Michael Larson - One of the most friendly people I know. Meeting Michael automatically makes you more happy
James Lyndsay - Hopefully it works out with the Test Lab session at eBay in 2013
Iain McCowatt - If you want to have a deep intellectual discussion, Iain is your man
Meike Mertsch - It is very cool to see how intensively Meike pursues her path in testing.
Simon Morley - Simon is from England but since he lives in Sweden, he decided to speak Swedish. I am impressed
Duncan Nisbet - Very refreshing and he has a serious plan about becoming a world class tester
Ray Oei - I was happy to enjoy Ray as an instructor for both BBST courses
Alan Richardson - Besides being an excellent tester, Alan opened the fascinating world of hypnosis to me
Alexandru Rotaru - We should refreshen our plans for a session in Romania next year
Robert Sabourin - Glad to have received the Gallows Puzzle from Robert
Simon Peter Schrijver - Simon is a hard working tester and an outstandingly friendly person, too
Huib Schoots - If you want a good laugh, spend time with Huib. Test yourself if you can pronounce his name correctly
Aleksandar Simic - Very soft spoken and a lot of dedication for testing
Ben Simo - My main source for old and useful books. Has a fantastic sense of humor
Neil Thompson - If you think you can draw a complex diagram, meet Neil. He’ll top you
Jean-Paul Varwijk - Should there be a need to attribute ‘senior’ to somebody, Jean-Paul would the number one candidate
Zeger van Hese - There is still this fantastic picture of which I want to write a deep description of
Oliver Vilson - A man of honor. I deeply respect his drive to lead an independent test consultancy company in Estonia
Wade Wachs - If I had to label somebody as a ‘free thinker’, it would be Wade
Christin Wiedemann - Exceptionally smart person. And Christin shares my conviction that soap is always the better choice
Benjamin Yaroch - Somehow I rarely agree with Benjamin. Maybe that is the reason I value him
I also met some interesting Swiss testers in 2012. I think some of them will become more active in 2013: Sandro Ibig, Chris Glättli, Tomi Schütz and Simon Berner
Still to meet:
With some testers I only conversed electronically, but I am looking forward to meeting them one day, hopefully in 2013.
Jesse Alford - Jesse is both a skillful writer and a very sharp mind. He is new in the testing business. I am looking forward to meeting him at PSL in April 2013
Jari Laakso - Jari is the master of Twitter and I am looking forward to meeting him at Let’s Test 2013
Savita Munde - I have spent many coaching sessions with Savita. I hope her testing institute is doing well
Raimond Sinivee - Without Raimond, I would not have finished BBST Bug Advocacy. I hope he’ll be at Let’s Test 2013 so I can buy him a beer or two
Richard Robinson - Hopefully there is some opportunity to meet Richard next year. Very much enjoyed spending time with him during BBST Bug Advocacy
In general, I want to identify wasteful activities and stop doing them. These include - among others - watching TV series, reading news in daily newspapers and mindlessly goofing off on the internet.
Having experienced the power of writing, I intend to do it even more intensively. Since there are some excellent testing publications, I want to write articles for them.
In 2013 I want to establish myself as an expert in the domain of observation. I think that in the domain of software testing, it is a very important aspect that needs further exploration.
Since I am not a very good programmer, I want to spend significant time on getting better at it. eBay is the right place to do it, since we extensively use test automation.
I could imagine that /the/ highlight of 2013 will be PSL. Everybody I know who has been there, told me it was quite a life changing experience. Now I want to see it for myself.
On the conferences side I am most looking forward to Let’s Test 2013 and CAST 2013. I think that these two conferences are the best, the testing world has to offer.
image credit: http://j.mp/SfEvs2
BBST courses are known to be tough and they ask for a lot of quality reasoning. The workload should not be underestimated. After having spent a fantastic time during the Foundations course, I thought it would be a good idea to continue with one of the other two courses.
It appears that - although there is no requirement for it - most people choose Bug Advocacy as their second course (Why is that so?). I was excited, because I knew that some of the people I did the Foundations course with, would also join.
Bug Advocacy teaches you that writing bug reports is a persuasive activity, you need to make a case for your findings and convincingly explain, why a certain bug is worthy to be fixed. There are many dimensions to be considered.
Off we went into the first week.
It is advisable to carefully plan the BBST courses during times, which are not too busy with other obligations in order to free your mind for the course. This can be difficult as unexpected things can come up any time. In the first week I had a workshop with my team at eBay in Paris. Hard work, and very nice, because Paris - among other qualities - offers quite a variety of gastronomically refreshing opportunities.
I skipped the first quiz on purpose. Now, I admit that I am opinionated against the BBST quizzes. There are many excellent elements in the BBST courses, the quizzes are not among them. I regard them to be of minor value. Yes, they are meant to provide feedback on how well one follows the lecture videos, and they try to evaluate whether or not the students have understood what Cem was talking about.
My criticism on the quizzes is, that because of their nature - multiple choice questionnaires - they do not allow any subtlety and the answers are either right or wrong. I do not agree with that. Whatever answer one gives, if one is able to defend it with convincing arguments, it is not necessarily wrong.
When I came back from Paris, we were in full swing of the course and there were many exciting exercises on the subject of bug advocacy. What I enjoyed most, was the high focus on evaluating the quality of bug reports, and, on a further meta-level, evaluating the evaluations of bug reports. These are exercises, which help to become really good at arguing about the quality of writing.
Then, at the end of the first week, both our sons fell ill. Our older one (Marvin, 7 years) had a not too serious winter cold, but the little one (Nelson) - defenseless at his young age of 9 months - really caught something nasty. As it is, he acted as a biological petri dish, and so the germs multiplied. My wife and I hardly slept as he was coughing his way through the night.
In the following week he became weaker and weaker, and then it was shockingly clear to us that something serious was happening here. When we went to the hospital, he was immediately put into isolation and received additional oxygen and heavy medication. This is devastating to parents, as seeing ones own children sick is undescribably troublesome.
Bug Advocacy continued its course and in between hospital visits (my wife stayed there permanently), organizing the bigger one's school schedule, cooking breakfast/lunch/dinner, keeping eBay stuff up and running, I struggled to find time for the BBST exercises. I was close to quitting the course.
But I didn't until after 5 days in hospital the doctors declared that our son might have caught tuberculosis. Now I know what people experience, when they say that they lost the ground beneath their feet. It is a feeling of utter helplessness and complete despair.
It was already close to the end of the third week, I had under tremendous difficulties finished all my assignments and there was only the exam week to go. I just could not continue any more. It was too much to handle. I wrote on the moodle page that I stop the course immediately. I also cancelled my session at Agile Testing Days and every other non-family duty. We had other priorities now.
A couple of days later the suspicion of tuberculosis had blessedly not materialized and our son was getting better from day to day. Raimond Sinivee contacted me on Skype and and in a remarkably cautious and supporting fashion encouraged me to maybe still try to do the exam. I honestly had not taken into consideration to do that, but his message changed my mind. So that is what I did.
Our son was released from hospital after 10 days and now he is slowly recovering. It is great to see him smile and play again.
As I wrote in the introduction, BBST courses are hard and one should plan accordingly. And sometimes life just comes along and performs a test. I am not sure if I passed, but I am sure that the multitudes of pressures I experienced was close to what I can handle. I know my limits now.
I have always enjoyed the sound of the Dutch language; for one, because there is a proximity to Swiss German and also because it sounds friendly: ‘GEEN FIETSEN PLAATSEN’ - not here, put your bike elsewhere.
Schipool welcomed me with enthusiastic rainfall and energetic wind blows. It was Friday, 5 October 2012. I decided to have a walk in Amsterdam. Jordaan is a good place to drink coffee and contemplate. Later the day I met Joep Schuurkes and together we drove to Driebergen, which is about a 50min drive south-east of Amsterdam.
The DEWT guys had found a great place for a peer conference. Hotel Bergse Bossen is located in the middle of a forest and there is a lot of space to sit together and confer. And what would be a better start of a conference than have some beers together.
We had a relaxed evening, and Jean-Paul Varwijk gave a short lightning talk which resulted in a discussion whether the club of testers, who subscribes itself to the context-driven school, was too elitist. I believe this is a question that needs some more thinking.
The testers I know from the context-driven school all have at least two character traits. They all are very eager to learn as much as possible, and - and this is important - they also want to share it with anybody who asks. Yes, there is a relentless urge to become better, and that might put off some people. Should we care? Yes, of course we should. But under no circumstances would it be justified to move in the direction of mediocricy. And what we shouldn’t do neither, is become a club of arrogant pricks, frowning at everybody else.
The second day was filled with talks I won’t go into in detail because they have already been elaborated on here. Instead, I want to mention our walk in the woods, honoring the peripatetic school. I had an engaging talk with Jean-Paul Varwijk about dysfunctional management systems. Why not establish regular walks at conferences? I have always enjoyed concurrent thinking, talking and walking.
To finish up here, I think Simon Peter Schrijver deserves a special mention, as he found a healthy middle ground between assertiveness and humorous coolness as a facilitator of DEWT2. Well done, man!
I enjoyed coming to Driebergen, and I hope to come back soon. DEWT3 will take place on the weekend of 20/21 April 2013. Would be happy to join the Dutch crowd again.
For the second time this year, James Bach came to Switzerland. After having had one of the Keynotes at Swiss Testing Day in March (see the recording here) and spending time with me on solving puzzles, intensive discussions on testing and reviewing Skype coaching transcripts (see my previous post here), it was time for Rapid Software Testing at eBay.
As usual, James arrived in Switzerland a few days earlier in order to re-balance his jet lag. Knowing that James loves the mountains, I just had to show him Jungfraujoch, which is a spectacular ride on the train and also the highest train station in Europe. We walked on ice and worked out a graphical proof of the addition of ascending odd numbers starting with 1 being n^2 for n being the number of odd numbers added. (Send me your solution, if you feel inclined to solve it graphically)
We at eBay International are a team of 13 testers. As we also wanted to connect with other testers, I extended my invitation to RST to other testers within the eBay family. The enthusiasm level was high and we ended up being 24 people from eBay, marktplaats.nl, mobile.de, brands4friends.de, tradera.se, dba.dk and two developers from eBay, who all found it important enough to spend 3 full days on software testing education.
James jumped right into getting our brains to work with an assignment on how to test font sizes in Wordpad. Appears to be a straightforward task until you spend some time thinking about it. What exactly are sizes of fonts? How do you measure them? On paper? On the screen? What screen? Is it even relevant for Wordpad? How relevant? Good testers immediately start with asking questions.
“If you talk about the number of tests without specifying their content, the discussion becomes meaningless” -- James Bach
Many of the exercises and ‘hot seat’ situations exemplified, that software testing is a demanding and intellectually challenging activity. The hot seat situations consisted of one participant being engaged by James into solving a task. This was tough, since James is very skilled at spotting inaccurate thinking. And once he has done so, he is in your face and all over you. One needs to have nerves of steel in order to successfully navigate through the traps set by James; and the eBay testers mostly proved worthy.
As much as one needs good technical understanding in software testing, there are other qualities equally important. An exercise on ‘shallow agreement’ - a state where you believe that you are talking about the same thing - demonstrated, how important the clarification of assumptions is in software testing.
And why can’t you just automate everything? Simple reason: you can only automate what you know (and even in that category, most would be impractical since of the costs involved to automate it would be too high).
In non-human systems there is a fundamental absence of peripheral wisdom, which is what allows collateral observation. Humans are very good at detecting violations of expectations they did not even know they had. Does that sound obscure? Talk to me on Skype (ID: ilarihenrik) and I can show you with an exercise.
I am very happy that we had the opportunity to spend 3 full days on deep and active reflection on software testing. It is important to acknowledge, that software testing consists of more than just writing scripts and fiddling on automation frameworks. A skillful tester chooses his/her tools according to the needs presented by the testing challenge, and not blindly by following some imaginary ‘best practices’.
Two areas I will focus on with my team in the near future: modelling and reporting. Modelling for its necessity to grasp the complexity of a big system like eBay, reporting out of the need to be able to explain what we do. You not only need to be good at testing but also at explaining what you do. A good report should give an accurate impression on what I as a tester did during the period I tested.
I believe it would be a good idea if more executives in large companies attended Rapid Software Testing. It might clarify some of the misguided assumptions on what software testing is all about.
Back in the sixties, some military dickheads had a good idea. Why not use atomic bombs for engineering purposes? Let’s bomb ourselves a harbor. Let’s get rid of that nasty mountain. Or why not just build a new canal between the pacific and the caribbean sea?
One bomb after the other planted in a row and - hey - he he, it’s automated and we need to do nothing else but pull the trigger. A good name had to be found and what would be more obvious to choose from for the god fearing good Americans than the holy scripture?
And that is how Operation Plowshare was born to henceforth bring the blessings of the modern age to mankind. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Only that quite obviously there are some shortcomings to this kind of project. Radiation might leave the harbor useless, the costs could rise to astronomic proportions. They did not care about things like that and so the project died a silent death somewhere in the seventies.
"And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" - Somewhere in the Bible
Just recently I overheard some snippets of a conversation in the cubicle next to mine: “Yeah, just give me the coverage”, “No, I am only interested in the automation part”, and the best of all: “I don’t care”. You don’t care? Really?
Does that sound like Operation Plowshare?
It is the same mindset that takes one advantage (creating a hole quickly/executing a test suite rapidly and repeatedly) and completely disregards any shortcomings (radiation wasteland/untested wasteland). The ‘full automation’ extremists probably might not even have a good mental model of what ‘full’ or ‘complete’ means. Just do it for the sake of it because it is ‘engineering’, right?
But the analogy is only partially valid. Unlike nuking ourselves some harbors, test automation has value. It does have huge value, actually, if it is applied for the right purpose. In some cases, it is enormously helpful for regression testing, but it does not give any ‘guarantee’ for not having messed up.
Automation checks things, and it checks only what has been thought of and might (or might not) catch anticipated bugs. It is a lightweight insurance ticket for a part of the system. And in its execution it is fast (not so much for its development, though). That’s all.
Is it somewhere rooted in the western thinking style that we seem to insist on opposing binary categorization for concepts and ideas? It is either or, not both. It is complete nonsense to think of automation and manual sapient testing as being opposites. They are not.
So, let’s not be military dickheads and instead apply each test automation and manual sapient testing where it is most suitable. Maybe sometimes in the future, the ‘let’s automate the hell out of it’-idea also dies a silent death, much like Operation Plowshare did.
image credit: http://j.mp/NsbeVj
Some years ago I studied Sociology and General Linguistics at the University of Zurich. That was before my time as a software tester and I enjoyed Sociology a lot. Well, at least part of it. Quite interestingly, Sociology and - in my observation - many of the human sciences, display a minority complex towards the so called hard sciences such as Physics.
This leads to a sad obsession. Make everything quantifiable.
But I was much more interested in qualitative studies. There is a brilliant sociologist from France - Jean-Claude Kaufmann - who studied and described many of the deeply human activities and behaviors. For instance, how men behave on beaches where women do topless sunbathing. The book: Corps de femmes, regards d’hommes - La sociologie des seins nus (women’s bodies, mens looks - the sociology of naked breasts). A fascinating read!
Also, one of my lesser known heuristics is, that men with extravagant mustaches are interesting people who have captivating stories to tell. Jean-Claude Kaufman has an extravagant mustache. Judge yourself:
On the other hand, I have always found that quantitative Sociology has only boring stories to tell. Its findings tended to be things that everybody already knew. There is hardly any discovery. Not even mentioning the fact, that the whole complex of validity of what has been found out through measurement, leaves some questions open. Measurements often give a false sense of certainty.
Our good old friend Availability Bias enters the scene: "if you can think of it, it must be important”. And we are already deep in the domain of software testing.
It is not difficult to count something and put that counting result into relation to something else. And - hey! - we are already 50.4576% done. Only that this has no relation to any relevant reality. It is utter nonsense. It is dwelling in fantastic la-la-land. And our users couldn’t care less about 50.4576%. They want a joyful experience while using our application.
Peter Drucker - the famous management man - once said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. A simple sentence that stuck in the simple brains of too many simple contemporary managers. That statement is of course not true, as every parent on earth knows from empirical experience. You do not quantitatively bring up a child. You don’t draw progress charts. You tell stories and pass your time playing and laughing.
But because many managers are too busy collecting meaningless data, they no longer find time to read books and have missed that Peter Drucker later in his life had serious doubts about his initial statement. It is not only us testers who suffer from that lamentable laziness.
I’d rather go with Albert Einstein instead: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”