Skip to main content

On The Wisdom Of Testing


To celebrate its 25th anniversary, EuroSTAR asked 25 testers who have played a big part in its history for a "top tip or piece of advice" that has returned value to them across their career and compiled the answers into a short (in length and height) publication, The Little Book of Testing Wisdom. Sales from the book raise money for the Saving Linnea campaign.

We put the book on our Test team reading group agenda at Linguamatics for this week with the mission to "read all or some, but bring one (or more) articles you liked!" I decided on the strategy of reading the start of every article and continuing only with those that grabbed me immediately. I didn't seek (and haven't sought) to understand why some grabbed me and some not, but I did think about whether there was any commonality to the set of four that I particularly liked by the end and took to the meeting ...

For me, advice that will stand the test of time must have inbuilt sensitivity to context, and be valuable enough frequently enough to make it a net positive for the advice-taker.  I can't claim to have been in testing for a quarter-century, but I do feel like I've been around the block a few times and, while walking that beat, and watching the scenery change as the years go by, I've come to feel that any advice with designs on immortality is likely to be meta-advice. That is, advice that guides the making of a decision, rather than advice that dictates the decision to take.

Jerry Weinberg is a master of advice that is not only responsive to the context in which it is to be applied, but which forces the advice-taker to think about that context and the factors at play in it. Here's one gem from a discussion about reporting test results:
When I say start with the most important item, I mean start with the one that's most important to start with.
Even with good intent on the part of the advice-giver, even with inherent adaptivity to circumstance, even with pieces of advice that have served you well for many years, it's worth regarding any kind of lore as heuristic. You and your interpretation of a given situation are only two of the variables in play and you are unlikely to control them all. Put simply, any advice is likely to fail to achieve what you want sometimes.

With that in mind, I've picked out a handful of words of wisdom from the 25 that got past my first-paragraph filter and spoke to me and my own experience.

Rikard Edgren, Understand Your Testing Mission

To do a good job as a tester you need to know what information the relevant stakeholders want from your testing. Unfortunately, you can't just ask them what your mission is because others don't think in terms of test missions. Instead you need to find out what's important to them and then think of ways to find it at an acceptable cost. These are your missions. Personally, I sometimes start with a mission of finding out what my mission should be.

Alan Richardson, It's Simpler Than That

When we begin to learn a skill it feels hard. We are slow and awkward and we do unnecessary work because we haven't identified which aspects are core and which can be glossed ... yet. Take solace, though, from Richardson's advice to tell yourself that, whatever you are doing, however you are doing it, it's simpler than that. With practice and particularly with reflection, you can discover other ways, and those ways will have time, resource, or effort advantages over the current one. This chimes with something I read last year: regard even your best ideas as bad ideas and you'll feel more able to challenge them, alter them, substitute other people's ideas for them.

Fiona Charles, Diversify Your Thinking

There's value in recognising that not all problems are amenable to the same solution, or even the same patterns of finding solutions. It's also worth remembering that different people will respond differently to a problem cast in different forms: verbal, written, or pictorial. Finally, be aware that at different times, changing your own perspective on a problem can provoke you into thinking about it differently too. I love the rule of three as a way to provoke the use different perspectives in pursuit of more options.

Michael Bolton, Relatively Rational

The advice here is actually Weinberg's. When confronted by what looks like irrationality on the part of others — an ugly codebase, for example — try to view is as "rational from the perspective of a different set of values". This advice requires us to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, and to consider that they were trying to do a good job in spite of whatever constraints (personal or contextual) they were under at the time they did the work in question. I think it's useful also to turn this around and understand your (often implicit) hope that others see your own efforts for what they are: a pragmatic attempt to compromise on a decent solution given all the competing pressures on you at the time.

The full set of contributors is: Michael Bolton, Hans Buwalda, Fiona Charles, Anne-Marie Charrett, Derk-Jan de Grood, Rikard Edgren, Isabel Evans, John Fodeh, Paul Gerrard, Shmuel Gershon, Dorothy Graham, Julian Harty, Anne-Mette Hass, Rob Lambert, James Lyndsay, Rik Marselis, Fran O’Hara, Declan O’Riordan, Stuart Reid, Alan Richardson, Huib Schoots, Ruud Teunissen, Geoff Thompson, Bob van de Burgt and Erik van Veenendaal. (Taken from Derk-Jan de Grood.)
Image: EuroSTAR

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Can Code, Can't Code, Is Useful

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 , Mastodon , 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-- "If testers can’t code, they’re of no use to us" My first reaction is to wonder what you expect from your testers. I am immediately interested in your working context and the way

Meet Me Halfway?

  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 , Mastodon , 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-- "Stop answering my questions with questions." Sure, I can do that. In return, please stop asking me questions so open to interpretation that any answer would be almost meaningless and certa

Testing (AI) is Testing

Last November I gave a talk, Random Exploration of a Chatbot API , at the BCS Testing, Diversity, AI Conference .  It was a nice surprise afterwards to be offered a book from their catalogue and I chose Artificial Intelligence and Software Testing by Rex Black, James Davenport, Joanna Olszewska, Jeremias Rößler, Adam Leon Smith, and Jonathon Wright.  This week, on a couple of train journeys around East Anglia, I read it and made sketchnotes. As someone not deeply into this field, but who has been experimenting with AI as a testing tool at work, I found the landscape view provided by the book interesting, particularly the lists: of challenges in testing AI, of approaches to testing AI, and of quality aspects to consider when evaluating AI.  Despite the hype around the area right now there's much that any competent tester will be familiar with, and skills that translate directly. Where there's likely to be novelty is in the technology, and the technical domain, and the effect of

Testers are Gate-Crashers

  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 , Mastodon , 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-- "Testers are the gatekeepers of quality" Instinctively I don't like the sound of that, but I wonder what you mean by it. Perhaps one or more of these? Testers set the quality sta

Postman Curlections

My team has been building a new service over the last few months. Until recently all the data it needs has been ingested at startup and our focus has been on the logic that processes the data, architecture, and infrastructure. This week we introduced a couple of new endpoints that enable the creation (through an HTTP POST) and update (PUT) of the fundamental data type (we call it a definition ) that the service operates on. I picked up the task of smoke testing the first implementations. I started out by asking the system under test to show me what it can do by using Postman to submit requests and inspecting the results. It was the kinds of things you'd imagine, including: submit some definitions (of various structure, size, intent, name, identifiers, etc) resubmit the same definitions (identical, sharing keys, with variations, etc) retrieve the submitted definitions (using whatever endpoints exist to show some view of them) compare definitions I submitted fro

Build Quality

  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 , Mastodon , 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-- "When the build is green, the product is of sufficient quality to release" An interesting take, and one I wouldn't agree with in general. That surprises you? Well, ho

Make, Fix, and Test

A few weeks ago, in A Good Tester is All Over the Place , Joep Schuurkes described a model of testing work based on three axes: do testing yourself or support testing by others be embedded in a team or be part of a separate team do your job or improve the system It resonated with me and the other testers I shared it with at work, and it resurfaced in my mind while I was reflecting on some of the tasks I've picked up recently and what they have involved, at least in the way I've chosen to address them. Here's three examples: Documentation Generation We have an internal tool that generates documentation in Confluence by extracting and combining images and text from a handful of sources. Although useful, it ran very slowly or not at all so one of the developers performed major surgery on it. Up to that point, I had never taken much interest in the tool and I could have safely ignored this piece of work too because it would have been tested by

Am I Wrong?

I happened across Exploratory Testing: Why Is It Not Ideal for Agile Projects? by Vitaly Prus this week and I was triggered. But why? I took a few minutes to think that through. Partly, I guess, I feel directly challenged. I work on an agile project (by the definition in the article) and I would say that I use exclusively exploratory testing. Naturally, I like to think I'm doing a good job. Am I wrong? After calming down, and re-reading the article a couple of times, I don't think so. 😸 From the start, even the title makes me tense. The ideal solution is a perfect solution, the best solution. My context-driven instincts are reluctant to accept the premise, and I wonder what the author thinks is an ideal solution for an agile project, or any project. I notice also that I slid so easily from "an approach is not ideal" into "I am not doing a good job" and, in retrospect, that makes me smile. It doesn't do any harm to be reminded that your cognitive bias

Test Now

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 , Mastodon , 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-- "When is the best time to test?" Twenty posts in , I hope you're not expecting an answer without nuance? You are? Well, I'll do my best. For me, the best time to test is when there

Vanilla Flavour Testing

I have been pairing with a new developer colleague recently. In our last session he asked me "is this normal testing?" saying that he'd never seen anything like it anywhere else that he'd worked. We finished the task we were on and then chatted about his question for a few minutes. This is a short summary of what I said. I would describe myself as context-driven . I don't take the same approach to testing every time, except in a meta way. I try to understand the important questions, who they are important to, and what the constraints on the work are. With that knowledge I look for productive, pragmatic, ways to explore whatever we're looking at to uncover valuable information or find a way to move on. I write test notes as I work in a format that I have found to be useful to me, colleagues, and stakeholders. For me, the notes should clearly state the mission and give a tl;dr summary of the findings and I like them to be public while I'm working not just w