Posted on May 12, 2010 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Yesterday on twitter I put out automation can help you do better testing, or it can help you do poor testing faster as a bit of a vent around a problem I’ve been having the last couple days. And it might have gone no further than a sarcastic quip except for an article in the paper today talking about how all solutions have problems, and not just the normal, cheery, all problems have solutions.

Part of being a tester is being cynical. Or as I’ve pointed out a couple times, the difference between a cynic and a realist is spelling.

Its only about 1/4 of a page long, so go read it now, but here are the choice quotes.

  • Yesterday’s solutions appear on the front page of the paper as today’s problems.
  • For a solution to metamorphose into a problem it first has to work. Solutions that don’t work fade away, like Esperanto. The solutions that haunt us are the ones that function well
  • Problems are reincarnated solutions. One could say that problems get second leases on life as solutions, or solutions get second leases on life as problems
  • A solution is something that substitutes itself for the problem it has eliminated
  • There are no solutions, only replacements of one problem with another. This doesn’t mean that all problems are equal, only that all problems are problems. The best we can hope for is that our solutions will be problems we prefer to the problems they have replaced.
  • Some replacement problems are more manageable than their predecessor problems and therefore they’re easier to mistake for solutions.

So how does this relate to testing? Two things very clearly jump out at me.

First is the whole notion of automation. Testing was slow so lets put an army of machines to work! Seems like an excellent idea on the front of it, until you get tools that allow for quick, but horrible testing.

The second is information overload and the use of Metrics. Yes, the modern software development project has a lot of information to juggle and using algorithms to help navigate it is a good idea. Except when taken to the extreme and entire courses of action are determined by math and not by humans making rational tradeoffs and decisions. Just ask the quants on Wall Street how well that worked in the last decade.

Posted on May 9, 2010 in Uncategorized by adam1 Comment »

I was listening to a podcast recently (which one doesn’t matter this time) and they mentioned a university which put down a big expanse of grass down between two buildings — and did not put any paths through it. Instead what they did was wait for students to wear paths where they walked constantly and then put the ‘proper’ paths there.

It turns out that the school in question was the University of Oregon and this was documented in The Oregon Experiment and the idea of having people first tread where they want the paths to be is called Desire Paths. Desire Paths have been replicated elsewhere which lead Larry Wall to once say:

When they first built the University of California at Irvine they just put the buildings in. They did not put any sidewalks, they just planted grass. The next year, they came back and put the sidewalks where the trails were in the grass. Perl is just that kind of language. It is not designed from first principles. Perl is those sidewalks in the grass.

I’m actually a bit amazed that it took me to hear about Desire Paths as they seem the perfect metaphor for Iterative development processes. The application is the untrodden field and with each sprint the paths created by the small, incremental feature development and acceptance slowly gain more permanence and become the final means to get from point A to point B.

Landscapers/planners who utilize Desire Paths in their work don’t pretend to have the conceit of knowing how their customers will really use their designs. Agile shops also don’t hold that conceit, not being able to predict the future; of the product, of the market, of the economy, of …

So put Desire Paths into the toolbox of teaching methods. For me, this was a huge find (and further solidifies my argument that the big learning for the craft will come from outside Testing). Hopefully it will be for you too.

Posted on May 3, 2010 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

I’m quite convinced that the next ideas that revolutionize testing will not come from the relatively insulated world of testing itself. Instead, they will come from likely unrelated fields and be ported to testing. The biggest example of this right now is likely the notion of testing as a big-c Craft with the notions of Apprenticeship, Journeymen and Masters.

Following up on this theory I strolled over to some adjacent conferences while and Star East and picked up what loot I could from them, including…

The Journal for Civil Aviation Training

  • There are three types of training: initial, transition, recurring
  • Although [air traffic] controllers do not need a college degree to be hired; it helps. – Ah ha! Another industry that is confused about the value of formal education.
  • Fatigue Science and defect rates is a post-graduate paper waiting to be written
  • Leadership in the cockpit (by the Captain) is a top issue for regulators currently. I think part of the testing world is in good shape from a leadership perspective, but it needs to keep spreading.
  • There is a spooky reliance on ‘intelligent automation’ in the next batch of planes. Where is today’s test automation [in general] on the intelligent / dumb-as-rocks scale?
  • Training for the Embraer Phenom series jet is tailored to the pilots current experience, skills and deficiencies emphasizing certain parts over others depending. Nice! Tailored training is what will separate the next wave of coaches from the rest of the pack.
  • The laughable ‘security theatre’ that one goes through at airports is recognized as such by people in the industry. And yet it persists. When does ‘testing theatre’ or ‘quality theatre’ enter the lexicon?
  • Powerpoint training lacks context, interactivity, instructional design and graphic design. Hear hear! Powerpoint should support the training, not be the training.
  • Four steps to alter attitude through training: motivate the learner, help the learner diagnose their challenges, empower the learner with knowledge to overcome challenges, reinforce the learning
  • In a show report from the ‘Aerospace & Defence Training Show’ in Dubai, the following bullets are identified as challenges.
    • Out-of-date checks, which do not address the threats of modern aircraft operations
    • Training and checking for events, which are extremely rare
    • Making best use of limited and expensive training resources to ensure quality training is delivered at affordable prices
    • Combatting increased dependence on automation
    • Incorporating meaning CRM training into training programs
  • In the same keynote were some solutions being implemented to address these, including
    • Using evidence based training via recognized programmes, which address legacy training and checking issues
    • Use the considerable data available worldwide to enhance training and make it relevant and appropriate for individual airlines
    • Review possible solutions to address the degradation of manual handling skills – The what?!?!
    • Acknowledging the fact that the 21st century does not mean training has to be wholly technologically driven – we can and must learn from the past

Low-Fare & Regional Airlines

  • The proposed legislation … may be a solution in search of a problem
  • Hours [of flight time] is no longer a predictor of competence. It is true that to go through all of the things you need to become a proficient pilot, it does add p to a certain number of hours. But what the industry has to get its arms around is having the right kind of training in the right environment to produce a highly proficient, skilled, safe pilot – Ummm, certifications and boot-camps anyone?
  • It is going to become ever more important to tailor the training for the environment in which the pilot will operate – Hey, again with the tailored training. A trend from another industry that could be borrowed?
  • Same article – Effectively, what we did was mould our training around the student, instead of making the student fit into our training programmes

Divorce Magazine

  • So the url on the magazine is but it redirects to Dead-tree hand not know what the electronic one is doing?
  • This is actually a consumer magazine rather than lawyer-focused which is where the interesting bits would be

There was also The Essential Marketing Guide For Family Lawyers, but its big and has lots of content — just like this post, so it will have to wait.

And with that, your mission from now on fellow conference goers is to crash the other conferences that are going on in the same facility as your conference and get their niche publications. They are the mine from which the next gold nugget will be found.

Posted on May 3, 2010 in Uncategorized by adam1 Comment »

This year’s Star East was the first one I had attended and I got to speak there; which is a pretty big deal as it is one of, if not the, most well known stops on the testing speaking circuit. (Thanks Lee!) My session was a reprise of the Hats Art Show that I did at last year’s Agile conference (results, analysis), but what made it interesting is that the demographics between the two conferences are very different.

I think what I want to do now is run this workshop in India, Europe, Google and Microsoft and see what the results are like on an even larger sample size — but throwing in cultural issues into the mix as well.

My observations from this round:

  • A Detective variant was still the top hat from the group
  • Firefighter was also right near the top of both lists. I continue to think that the people wearing this hat need to have a think about why they wear it and do some corporate structural changing.
  • There was significantly more of what I will call ‘old school’ type hats with the Star East crowd. Things like ‘Soldier’, ‘Defender’, ‘Victim’ and ‘Spy’ all, to me, reflect the sort of us-versus-them, command-and-control quality police that still exists in too many organizations. But it was to see whether this would happen, as I thought it would, that the workshop was held
  • The teams that people split into tended to be far more insular than at Agile with very little conversation happening between teams. And when the Art was on the walls, few wanted to move things around for better groupings.
  • There were still Hats on the wall that had no stickers on them to indicate that someone wore it
  • I’m quite happy that Teacher came in second, and Coach in fifth. Aside from the Detective type ones, I think those are important ones every tester should strive for.
  • Bottleneck really frightens me. Even more so than Firefighter. As someone who does a bit of agile coaching, I’d be looking at removing that hat from the organization as quickly as possible.
  • The hats I listed at the beginning to illustrate the concept were not listed.
  • Some teams did just a list of hats, other just the name, others drew the hat and yet others coloured it in (I gave them crayons)

Full Results:

  • Sherlock Holmes – 30
  • Teacher – 25
  • Firefighter – 23
  • Bottleneck – 22
  • Coach – 19
  • Houdini – 16
  • Soldier – 16
  • Product Support – 15
  • Liaison – 15
  • Diplomat – 13
  • Collaborator (which was a princess hat…) – 11
  • Translator – 10
  • Battered – 10
  • Pioneer – 10
  • Hard Hat (to fend criticism) – 8
  • Chef (a little of this and a little of that) – 8
  • Scapegoat – 8
  • Defender – 8
  • Traffic Cop – 8
  • Victim – 7
  • Hero – 7
  • Butcher – 6
  • Psychologist – 6
  • Advisor – 6
  • Wishful Thinking (a crown in a thought bubble that says “Its good to be the king”) – 6
  • Chef (What? You never bribed the devs with cookies? How else can you make them write unit tests?) – 6
  • Reporter – 6
  • Doctor/Nurse – 5
  • The developers were late getting the material for your hat so we cam’t show it yet. Do you mind telling me what you think of the above anyways? (was a ‘?’) – 5
  • Mediator – 5
  • Team Player – 4
  • Chef (cooking up test automation) – 4
  • Keeper of Hats Hat – 4
  • Spy – 4
  • Chemist (person who does experiments) – 3
  • Wizard – 3
  • Referee – 3
  • Planner – 3
  • Guardian – 2
  • Happy – 2
  • Hard Hat (construction) – 2
  • Parent (which appears to be a halo) – 2
  • Celebration Planner – 2
  • Lawyer – 2
  • Clown – 2
  • Psychic – 2
  • Viking – 2
  • Navigator – 2
  • Author – 2
  • Warrior – 1
  • Invisible (things are going well) – 1
  • Bandit – 1
  • Fun – 1
  • Witch/Dominatrix (shared a card so not sure where the star should be applied) – 1
  • Conductor – 1
  • Farmer – 1
  • Judge – 1
  • Timekeeper – 1
  • Doctor – 1
  • Pilot – 1
  • Weaver – 1
  • Swimmer – 0
  • Dunce – 0
  • Debugger – 0
  • Reference Builder – 0
Posted on May 2, 2010 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

I was honoured to be invited as the speaker for the April dinner meeting of TASSQ. While the audience was small (only around 25 people I think), I had a lot of fun doing it and think it can get added to my stable of re-usable talks (though on-demand performances of it will be missing the props I use for it).

The gist of the talk is that the biggest inspiration we can have as testers comes not from blogs, or courses, or even other experts, but from living our lives. It is said that you really, really, know a language when you don’t do the mental flip to your first language, translate it, then speak; you just speak. The same thing happens with testers as well. You know you have truly become a tester when you see testing all around you, and not just at your desk between 9 and 5.

The first half of the talk relates how being a house league lacrosse coach has helped me be a better test team lead using strikingly similar approaches to skill development, planning, stakeholder management and efficiency improvements. This is essentially the same talk that I gave at CAST 2008. There is no blog post on it specifically, but I did write a paper on it.

The middle section is all about the lessons I’ve learned about testing from fixing both my washing machine and dryer. I never wrote up the washing machine story, but did with the dryer tale.

The final section is about how we have too much stuff and so I needed to build a shed in the backyard to hold it all. Again, this was documented at the time on the blog here and here.

The talk wraps up with the reiteration of the theme, which is that Testers Notice Stuff. We truly do — often to the detriment to the non-testers around us. Just ask your non-tester friends how much ‘fun’ it is to watch a movie around you.

Posted on May 2, 2010 in Uncategorized by adamNo Comments »

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, the keynotes at Star East this year were pretty good overall. Too often at conferences you get preached to subtly sales pitched during them but James, Elisabeth and Alan all did wonderfully. Alas, for the latter two I didn’t take notes as I was already familiar-ish with the content. Here though is the write-up for James’ keynote.

  • Steve McQueen, Consulting Software Tester
  • If you want to test really well, you need to ferret out the underlying dynamics and principles
  • There is no navy that is going to save me. Its just me and my band of friends.
  • Think about what makes you unique
  • Thing that lead to self-development and earning reputation
    • Project experiences
    • Writing
    • Teaching
    • Speaking
    • Innovation
    • Vision
    • Study
  • You earn reputation if you don’t keep it secret
  • Are you a buccaneer scholar?
    • You live free – have independence, seek first hand knowledge, self directed learning
    • You hunt ideas – are an explorer, driven by curiosity, intrigued by puzzles, dared by complexity
    • You win your place in the world of thinkers – earned credibility, earned reputation, you have constructed yourself
  • Key components to being successful
    • Reputation
    • Portfolio
    • Performance
  • You are not a commodity; don’t act like one
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