So long 2012, and thanks for all the tests

As some people know, 2012 has really been a rebuilding year for me with regards to my career and my love of software testing.  I have been involved in testing for over 13 years, but I spent a good chunk (4-5 years) in a senior management role, which effectively removed me from anything remotely involving testing.  I managed managers and spent all of my energy trying to be good at that.  After that role was eliminated and I moved back to a line manager role, I discovered (again) everything I had been missing all those years.  I really like testing.  I like using the part of my brain that I need to use to think like a tester (which I found had been turned off for years thanks to my focus on HR issues and processes and procedures).  I like sitting with my team (now 10 instead of 65) so that we can have thought provoking discussions.  I like touching software.

Sure, my position change had a part in this, but I really see two other pieces to this puzzle as key to where I am today.  The first thing I did when I got over being mad for being pushed out of my old role (which in the end was a blessing, I just couldn’t see it at the time) was demand that I be sent to CAST to reconnect with testing.  The second key step was making a Twitter account and connecting with anyone I could find that I thought was interesting, starting with the context-driven testing community.

So, with a bit of my back story (and returning to the original intent of this post), I wanted to thank a few of the people that helped me along my journey this year.

Thanks to James Bach for coming out to speak at two NOSQAA events, and to Shaun Hershey for getting him to come talk at Hyland.  Thanks to Michael Bolton for the many Twitter discussions, the offers to help me start a tester community and for a very awakening full day session at CAST 2012.  Thanks also for sitting in on a game of Zendo at CAST and for sharing your beer (I still don’t assume beer on the table is for sharing by default).  Thanks to Eric Proegler for continuing to give me good advice on testing and testers.  Sorry it took me years to catch up with what you were saying.  Thanks to Claire Moss for being friendly to a new-comer at CAST and for incessantly favoriting many of my tweets.  Thanks to Dean Biron for introducing me to Zendo (much to my bank accounts chagrin).  Thanks for Paul Holland for showing me the dice game, blowing my mind, for sharing your The MacCallan and for being patient.  Thanks also to Paul for the many Twitter discussions, and for (reason still to be determined) hosting my blog.  You were key to me actually getting this thing going.  Thanks to Wendy Robinson for being my testing buddy and co-advocate for change during much of the past year.  I am really glad we got you out to CAST.  You started or helped start our internal testing game nights, the re-awakening of our testing forum and our lunch time tester discussions.  Thanks to Mike Talks for the earl (and deserved) teasing about being a recovering senior manager (I got better).  It helped me further confirm that I did in fact want to get away from managing managers and get back in touch with testing and testers.  Thanks to Jari Laakso for the interesting discussions, for letting me ‘peer review’ one of your posts, for pushing me to blog and for giving me the inspiration for the name.  Thanks to Matt Heusser for the numerous discussions, tips, introductions and for the (soon to be) training.  A bit of a warning, I’m looking to pick your brain off hours in January if possible.  Thanks to Anna Royzman for the session at CAST, and for the invite to join the AST Leadership SIG seemingly out of the blue.  I am really looking forward to this group taking off and making a difference in the community.  Thanks to Pete Walen.  I’ve been following you for awhile now on Twitter and find many of your insights interesting.  I enjoyed (finally) getting to speak on the Leadership SIG call last month and I look forward to seeing you in January with Matt.  Thanks to Mike Larsen (and Matt again) for the TWiST podcasts; I’m not caught up on all of them, but I have really liked the topics so far.

Thanks to Eric Brickarp, Martin Hynie, Paul Clewell, Mike Lyles, Keith Klain, qualitycaptain, Guy Mason, Simon Morley, Matt Hutchinson, and numerous others for the conversations, tips, help, info, re-tweets and everything else along the way.

I appreciate everything that you’ve all done to help me this year.  Whether you realized it or not, you’ve helped me tremendously.  I am a better person, and a better, more connected, more involved and more passionate tester and test advocate thanks to all of you (any the many I have forgotten in my rush to put this together).

So I Started a Blog

First, I need to thank Paul (thanks Paul) for offering to host my blog on his site.  I probably would have eventually gotten around to putting one together myself without his nudge in the right direction, but it definitely would not have happened this quickly.  I’ve been thinking about writing a testing blog for a few months now, but never did anything about it.  At the end of November of this year, I had a Twitter conversation (can you call them conversations if they only take place via 140 character long strings?) with Jari Laakso about possible blog topics.  Somewhere in that discussion, I halfheartedly mentioned needing to set up a blog. The next day, I had a DM from Paul stating “If you are seriously interested in blogging, I could probably set you up on my site. Let me know and I can I investigate the logistics.”

Let me digress a tiny bit here. I may have been in test for over 13 years, but I still feel very new to the context driven community (even if I was unknowingly agreeing with them for some time).  Going to CAST2012 and then researching testers on Twitter and blogs, I came across a tier of people in the community that I saw as the ‘big names’: Michael Bolton, the Bach brothers, Dr. Cem Kaner, Lynn McKee, Scott Barber, Matt Heusser and others.  From my time working with Eric Proegler, I had also heard of, and come to respect Paul Holland. Sure, I played ‘the dice game’ with him at CAST and shared some scotch, but I was still in little bit of awe.

So here I was, with an offer to be hosted by none other than Paul Holland.  What could I do?  I’d look stupid if I said no, and then eventually gotten around to putting a blog up somewhere.

So here I sit, with a blog all configured, several topics in my head (OK, they’re in a mindmap really, my memory is pretty much rubbish), and I have no idea what to call the thing.  So I do what many people do nowadays.  I asked for ideas on Twitter.

I got several things back:

  • use puns
  • make a play on words with your initials
  • write a blog post about trying to name your blog (thank you Martin)
  • an entire chain of silliness revolving around the maximum number of times “enterprise” could be used in the title

I then moved on to the internet for ideas.  How about words containing ELD?

  • unwieldy – That means I’m either fat, or awkwardly pointy
  • sheldrake – Cool sounding word, but I am not duck that masquerades as a goose
  • chield – young man or fellow, it’s cool because it’s Scottish in origin, but I may be too old to be a “young” man
  • Testing Minefield – dramatic, catchy, serious, I’ve just made my blog into the NBC Nightly News, or this
  • wergeld – wow, the monetary value assigned to every person in every class of society to be paid upon their death by the perpetrator
  • Dieldrin – oh awesome, a deadly insecticide that biomagnifies as it moves up the food chain?  No thanks
  • Aceldama – OK, I gotta stop this.  The field of blood so named because it was purchased with the money Judas got for betraying Jesus

I look at songs.  Chemical Brothers “The Test” is a great song, but it’s a but too drug referency for a blog about testing.  Maybe movies would be better?  I love Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.  There’s even the scene with the bridge keep at the bridge of doom, “answer me these questions three” and all.  How do I turn that into a blog title?

For now, I think I’ll have to fall back on a derivation of an idea that Jari threw out in our chat back in November.  Sowing Seeds: A Testing Blog

On Guessing

While at #CAST2012, I visited each of the (maybe four?) vendor booths. I had good discussions at two of them (with test suite vendors, mind you), and even got two free shirts. (I’m a sucker for free shirts.) At the Telerik booth, I also snagged a sticker that reads “I never guess. I test.”

At the time, I thought it was cool and proceeded to stick it on my portable HDD. A few days later, it hit me differently. Is it true that I don’t guess when testing? Is guessing a bad thing when it comes to testing?

After thinking about it a bit, I realized we guess all the time in testing. For example, when you first start to test a new feature or module, you have to make guesses as to how it might work. Sure, you may have some info from dev on what the feature is supposed to do; maybe you even sat in on design discussions, if you were lucky. But when it comes down to test time, the first thing you are doing is looking for patterns to help you uncover bugs. You start out with an opinion about how the module/feature should work, without having sufficient evidence to support your opinion (otherwise, why would you be testing it?). The results of your testing ARE the evidence that either confirms or contradicts your guess.

That IS the definition of guessing.

No, really, it is. Look:

  • “to arrive at or commit oneself to an opinion about (something) without having sufficient evidence to support the opinion”

When most people first begin a career in testing, they follow the recommendations of other testers, do what their developer told them to or follow a test plan/test case (without much deviation). This is fine in the beginning, as it gives you a chance to see how others do things and to understand the expectations for testers here.

In the end, we NEED to guess/speculate/conjecture/hypothesize to advance as testers, even if that goes against some of the more rigid testing methodologies out there. To make an educated guess is an intellectual activity. Testing should be a challenging, intellectual process.