Skip to main content

The Tester Connector

Connections. We spend our time searching for them, stumbling across them, postulating them, making them, questioning them, confirming them, creating them and breaking them. They might be between products, between bits of your product, between people, between the ideas different people have, between different ideas that you have, between what you've seen, what you're seeing and what you might hope or fear seeing next.
  • finding associations (or the lack of them) between the system under test and something else. 
  • connecting the product's behaviour with some notion of what it's supposed to do - or not do.
  • building links between components in your mental model of how an application works.
  • relating a new bug to previous ones.
  • identifying areas of consensus or disagreement, bringing concepts and people together.
I think therefore I am is fine and dandy, M. Descartes, but for testers I wonder if this would be better: If I am not connecting, I am not.

I am. Or, at least, I was when I first thought it and asked myself whether it had any validity. And I guess I'm hoping to connect with you, right now. So let's say I am. Here's what happened...

While I was writing No F in Spec a couple of weeks ago I was also finishing up a round of annual appraisals and had recently attended a UK Test Management Forum meeting where I'd been introduced to the term futurespective. It occurred to me that there's a link between specification, introspection (which I'd been praising and encouraging in appraisal) and futurespective.

Coincidence to have them all drop on me at once but it piqued my interest and so I looked them up to see if they shared a common root. It turns that they're from two distinct Latin words (to view, to be specific) so there's no etymological connection, although it doesn't matter: it spurred an interesting thought, one that I'd never brought out explicitly before; specification as a view of (some aspects of) intended behaviour.

But the process of looking for the connection triggered another thought on the nature of connections themselves. I stored it away for later and wasn't actively pursuing it when the phase only connect floated into my mind. A phrase that I'd heard but never understood the context of. So I looked it up. Interesting. Later the same day I was browsing Twitter and this tweet from @kinofrost  leapt out of my timeline:
Listening to @GaryDelaney on @ComComPod. Loads of information on cross-role and cross-purpose heuristics, totally fascinating.
Cross-role, cross-purpose? Connections! Delaney is a comedian whose stock in trade is the one-liner and in the podcast the tweet refers to he deconstructs one, explaining how he starts with a punchline and then looks for related ideas that can be used to build to it, enabling it to be seen only at the reveal. The humour comes from multiple connections being possible at the same time and the listener being forced to switch from one to the other. (In passing he also makes his own connections between the delivery style of comedians and evangelical preachers, hype men, Martin Luther King and Hitler.)

And in turn that reminded me of a forum post I made at the Software Testing Club a couple of years ago where I was asking what testers just do naturally that they think is useful to them as a testing tool. For me, punning is an innate habit and feels intuitively very similar to what Delaney describes: take some concept and run through things that have some kind of relationship to it looking for an ambiguity to exploit.  James Christie noted that he, as a matter of course, "mentally check[s] relationships. Mistakes in newspapers leap out at me, like someone being born in 1940, then a few paragraphs later entering college at the age of 18 in 1957."

We both picked out habits that build relationships. I wondered whether the vogue for mind maps in testing is a reflection of this more generally? I began to see an analogy between a network of connections and an exploratory search space - which branch to follow? Why? When? I started to think about the value of being exposed to a wide range of inputs in order to enable more connections. I thought about the need to filter connections out to avoid noise; about how repeated bad connections - biases? - can be identified and cast aside. I speculated about testing heuristics and mnemonics as devices that suggest ways in which connections have been made previously in software testing and which could be useful again. And I thought more about how lateral thinking can be valuable in this respect too; with puns there's no reason for a logical relationship between two concepts to exist as long as the result is a useful one.

And so I started writing it up, to get it straight in my head - which is how it works best for me - and, in the course of doing that I realised I'm connecting with my earlier train of thought but wondering something more general this time: maybe testing isn't helped by the skill of making connections but instead maybe testing is making connections?

Then as I concluded that round of writing I found I'd connected back to the word archaeology I was doing at the beginning, with a new word I learned looking up my Latin. I'd ended up with an F in conspectus.
Image:  "Novus planiglobii terrestris per utrumque polum conspectus" by http://maps.bpl.org


Popular posts from this blog

The Ideal Test Plan

A colleague pinged me the other day, asking about an "ideal test plan" and wondering whether I could suggest something. Not without a bit more information, I said. OK, they said. Who needs the plan, for what purpose? I asked. Their response: it's for internal use, to improve documentation, and provide a standard structure. We work in a medical context and have strict compliance requirements, so I wondered aloud whether the plan is needed for audit, or to show to customers? It's not, they replied, it's just for the team. Smiling now, I stopped asking questions and delivered the good news that I had what they were looking for. Yes? they asked, in anticipation. Naturally I paused for dramatic effect and to enhance the appearance of deep wisdom, before saying: the ideal plan is one that works for you. Which is great and all that, but not heavy on practical advice. --00-- I am currently running a project at the Association for Software Testing and there is a plan for

Notes on Testing Notes

Ben Dowen pinged me and others on Twitter last week , asking for "a nice concise resource to link to for a blog post - about taking good Testing notes." I didn't have one so I thought I'd write a few words on how I'm doing it at the moment for my work at Ada Health, alongside Ben. You may have read previously that I use a script to upload Markdown-based text files to Confluence . Here's the template that I start from: # Date + Title # Mission # Summary WIP! # Notes Then I fill out what I plan to do. The Mission can be as high or low level as I want it to be. Sometimes, if deeper context might be valuable I'll add a Background subsection to it. I don't fill in the Summary section until the end. It's a high-level overview of what I did, what I found, risks identified, value provided, and so on. Between the Mission and Summary I hope that a reader can see what I initially intended and what actually

69.3%, OK?

The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book, Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide responses to common questions and statements about testing from a context-driven perspective . It's being edited by Lee Hawkins who is posing questions on Twitter ,  LinkedIn ,  Slack , and the AST mailing list and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to contribute by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "What percentage of our test cases are automated?" There's a lot wrapped up in that question, particularly when it's a metric for monitoring the state of testing. It's not the first time I've been asked either. In my

Why Do They Test Software?

My friend Rachel Kibler asked me the other day "do you have a blog post about why we test software?" and I was surprised to find that, despite having touched on the topic many times, I haven't. So then I thought I'd write one. And then I thought it might be fun to crowdsource so I asked in the Association for Software Testing member's Slack, on LinkedIn , and on Twitter for reasons, one sentence each. And it was fun!  Here are the varied answers, a couple lightly edited, with thanks to everyone who contributed. Edit: I did a bit of analysis of the responses in Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 2 . --00-- Software is complicated, and the people that use it are even worse. — Andy Hird Because there is what software does, what people say it does, and what other people want it to do, and those are often not the same. — Andy Hird Because someone asked/told us to — Lee Hawkins To learn, and identify risks — Louise Perold sometimes: reducing the risk of harming people —

Testing is Knowledge Work

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book, Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide responses to common questions and statements about testing from a context-driven perspective . It's being edited by Lee Hawkins who is posing questions on Twitter ,  LinkedIn ,  Slack , and the AST mailing list and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to contribute by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "We need some productivity metrics from testers" OK. I'd like to help you meet your need if I can but to do that I'll need to ask a few questions. Let's start with these: Who needs the metrics? Is there a particular pr

My Favourite Tool

Last week I did a presentation to a software testing course at EC Utbildning in Sweden titled Exploring with Automation where I demoed ways in which I use software tools to help me to test. Following up later, one of the students asked whether I had a favourite tool. A favourite tool? Wow, so simple but sooo deep!  Asking for a favourite tool could make a great interview question, to understand the breadth and depth of a candidate's knowledge about tools, how they think about an apparently basic request with deep complexity beneath (favourite for what task, on what basis, in what contexts, over what timescale?  what is a tool anyway?) and how they formulate a response to take all of that into account. I could truthfully but unhelpfully answer this question with a curt Yes or No. Or I could try and give something more nuanced. I went for the latter. At an extremely meta level I would echo Jerry Weinberg in Perfect Software : The number one te

The Future of Testing? GRRrrr!

I really enjoy lean coffee conversations. I am energised by the rapid-fire topic switches and love it when I get exposure to multiple perspectives. The time-boxed aspect of the activity is a turn-off for some, keeping things relatively shallow, but it's one of the great advantages of the format for me: I know that I'm only investing a certain amount of my time, and it's usually small enough that the return is worth it. All of which is background context for my experience at the first Cambridge Tester Meetup event for over a year , an online lean coffee, this week. I died a little inside when I saw The Future of Testing ticket placed on the board. I felt the pain of internal necrosis spreading as it was voted up. I winced while my pre-frontal cortex withered into a tiny blackened stump at the precise second that Devops, automation, and quality champions were tossed into the discussion. The? Future? Of? Testing? GRRrrr! For as long as we are build

Trying to be CEWT

I attend, enjoy, hopefully contribute to, and get a lot from, the local tester meetups and Lean Coffee  in Cambridge. But I'd had the thought kicking around for a long time that I'd like to try a peer workshop inspired by MEWT , DEWT , LEWT and the like. I finally asked a few others, including the local meetup organisers, and got mostly positive noises, so I decided to give it a go. I wrote a short statement to frame the idea, based on LEWT's: CEWT ( Cambirdge Exploratory Workshop on Testing ) is an exploratory peer workshop. We take the view that discussions are more interesting than lectures. We enjoy diverse ideas, and limit some activities in order to work with more ideas. and proposed a mission for an initial attempt to validate it locally on a small scale. Other local testers helped to refine the details in usual the testing ways - you know: criticism, questions, thought experiments, challenges, comparisons, mockery and the rest - and a list of potential at

Be a Quality Detector

  I've just finished reading Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows. It's not a new book but I'd managed to be unaware of it until recently when Marianne Bellotti mentioned it on her podcast, Marianne Writes a Programming Language .  Bellotti is writing a programming language (duh!) for modelling system behaviour using the concepts of stocks and flows, inspired by Meadows' book. The image at the top gives an idea of how such models can work, notably making explicit the feedback relationships for resources in the system, and allowing modellers to reason about the system state under different conditions over time. I have been aware of systems models similar to this since I first saw Diagrams of Effects in in Quality Systems Management Volume 1: Systems Thinking by Jerry Weinberg. Weinberg's book, and other reading I was doing early in my career as a tester, inspired me to look deeply at the systemic context in which the software I'm working on sits and

Fail Here or Fail There

The First Law of Systems-Survival, according to John Gall, is this: A SYSTEM THAT IGNORES FEEDBACK HAS ALREADY BEGUN THE PROCESS OF TERMINAL INSTABILITY Laws are all-caps in Systemantics . Not just laws, but also theorems, axioms, and corollaries. There are many of them so here's another (location 2393-2394): JUST CALLING IT “FEEDBACK” DOESN’T MEAN THAT IT HAS ACTUALLY FED BACK There was a point when I realised, as the capitalised aphorisms rolled by, that I was sinking into the warm and sweetly-scented comforting foamy bathwater of confirmatory bias. Seen, seen, seen! Tick, tick, tick! I took the opportunity to let myself know that I'd been caught in the act, and that I needed to get out of the tub and start to challenge the content.  Intervening at that moment was congruent: I was in a context where I would accept it and prepared to change because of it. Of course, I enjoyed the deep irony of nodding along with Gall when he talked about