The School of 1

Like many testers I’ve been watching the unfolding drama of school versus approach that is taking place in  Context Driven Testing community with part dismay, part fascination and part anger.

That’s a mixed bag of emotions and it bothers me.

Two people that I hold in such high regard are not speaking to each other. People that I have worked with and respect deeply. On a personal level that saddens me. From a professional testing perspective, not so much as good testing will continue to thrive as long as testers are devoted to their craft.

But something angers me about this whole debacle. Lanette Creamer describes this as estranged family but to me it more like when a couple decides to divorce and the friends end up divorcing too. To be fair to both James and Cem, neither have suggested that this is necessary. James has stated he still has a huge respect for Cem. I admire him for that. Similarly, Cem has never suggested that ‘sides’ have to be taken.

Why then, do I feel that I’m being put in a position that I have to chose between the two?

Emotions aside, this whole debacle has challenged me to try and logicaly reason about what I think. Where I see myself.

I am a Context Driven Tester. I don’t want to test in any other way. I won’t test in any other way. If its an  an approach then I’m not going to take any other. I guess according to this post, that makes me part of the Context Driven School.

Yet I do agree with Cem. The idea of schools is polarizing and sometimes I feel uncomfortable when other schools are denegrated publicly. Regardless of schools, I respect thoughtful testers who work in these paradigms.

My solution at times like this is too look to myself. Reaffirm what I believe and move on with my work. I will continue to test in a way that I believe is best for me. I will continue to treat testers who I admire regardless of school with respect. I hope that means being able to work with both Cem and James (albeit independently) in the future. Time will prove if thats possible or not.

So in the mean time I will continue to study testing, help others test and focus on growing a vibrant testing community in Sydney. If that means I end up in a school of one, then so be it.

 

The antipodes are calling

I’m heading to Sydney, Australia on 22nd January 2011.  I will be looking for test consulting work  preferably through my Australian consulting company Testing Times.

What do I offer?

I shed light on testing problems often obscured or caused by a testing process. I bring a new perspective often hard to gain when inside an organisation.

I do this by thinking outside the square, looking for solutions outside traditional process orientated ideas.

So, if you have a problem that you haven’t yet being able to solve using traditional testing approaches, or you want a testing approach based on excellence and speed* why not contact me?

I also deliver one day training workshops on testing. These workshops focus on increasing tester skill.

I offer a context driven approach to testing.

These  principles are:

1.    The value of any practice depends on its context.

2.    There are good practices in context, but there are no best practices.

3.    People, working together, are the most important part of any project’s context.

4.    Projects unfold over time in ways that are often not predictable.

5.    The product is a solution. If the problem isn’t solved, the product doesn’t work.

6.    Good software testing is a challenging intellectual process.

7.    Only through judgment and skill, exercised cooperatively throughout the entire project, are we able to do the right things at the right times to effectively test our products.

What this means to you is that the advice I offer is to ensure you the customer get the best value out of your testing.

If you like that idea then contact me at amcharrett @ testingtimes.com.au

Interesting fact on the word antipodes. “The antipodes of any place on Earth is the point on the Earth’s surface which is diametrically opposite to it.” – Wikipedia. So, technically that would mean somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Though I suspect that not a lot of testing is done there!

* I use a rapid software testing developed & taught  by James Bach & Michael Bolton.

Rapids Software Testing

As some of you know, I’m in the process of creating an Exploratory Testing workshop. It’s been a bit of a wild adventure, but hey, I’m clinging tightly to my oars as I hurtle down the rapids of ET adventure.

Have you ever been white water rafting? I have, and here’s a tip, don’t bother going if there is a drought.

Trust me, I learned the hard way on the Tully River in North Queensland. Tully is one of the wettest populated towns in Australia with an average annual rainfall exceeding 4000 mm (13.1 ft).

But not the year I went. I went when there was a drought and the water levels on the river had dropped.While the day’s outing was great fun, it never reached the hair raising exhilaration that I had anticipated.

It can be a bit like that in testing I guess.  If you want to have fun and be challenged, it helps to go where the water is deep.

Well I’m in deep testing water and I’m loving it! A day doesn’t go past where I’m not motivated to learn more and to challenge myself. To hell with the life jackets, watch me go!

Why? Because I’m learning something that is fundamental to any tester.

I’m learning how to teach  testing.

Precisely, I’m learning how to teach testing through Socratic Examination. This means, that I’m learning to ask the questions, pose puzzles and push students to struggle through testing principles so they come to a better understanding.

If this style sounds familiar, its because James Bach is teaching me this stuff. Its all part of this new coaching program which I’m aligning myself with. I will also be collaborating with him on a book he’s writing on the topic.

My experience on learning to teach suggests to me that this book is much needed. Practice is key to being a good teacher, but having a few strategies and heuristics to guide you along the way is essential too. This book will go some way to demonstrate that.

So what have I learned so far?

Lesson 1: A Mental Model

When working with a testing exercise you need a mental model of what you are aiming to teach.

Its not an easy task. There is no one strategy or model that fits all students. All students differ in their learning needs and in temperament. what works for one person, may not be suitable for the next, yet your mental model needs to cater for each individual.

You need to know your outcome, and where you are taking the exercise and still allow the student capacity to explore and come to some learning outcome.

I’ve noticed that James starts his coaching sessions with a mental test. He uses that to observe a tester’s thinking. He then frames his coaching session around a key thought or lesson, allowing  the tester to explore, yet always bringing them back to the intended final outcome.

All without one powerpoint slide.

I’m learning how to do  that too.

Lesson 2: Observation.

The coaching sessions may seem unstructured and ‘ad-hoc’, but as I mentioned there is always an underlying model or framework in use.  I’ve been observing some of these coaching sessions, and I’m starting to see patterns of behavior. I asked James about this and his comment was this:

Anne-Marie Charrett: When you are having these conversations do you consciously have an idea of the types of patterns you are going to use?

James Bach: Yes

James Bach: I’m trying to become more conscious of them and to make them easier to teach

James Bach: that’s what I’m using you for.

James Bach: we’ll learn them together

Observing patterns is essential to honing your teaching skills. Only through observation can you identify how you teach, what your natural strengths are or where you are biased. But also identifying patterns, helps you know what pattern (or heuristic) to use next.

Naturally, being taught directly by James Bach is helping a lot too. I think confidence in yourself is critical, both as a tester and a trainer. After all, how can you confidently explain your testing story if you have little confidence in yourself or what think you believe?

So that comes to lesson 3:

Lesson 3: A Testing Story

Teaching testing gives you confidence in your testing story. Yes, I read and study Exploratory Testing, I use Exploratory Testing. But standing up and talking about Exploratory Testing to me is the ultimate test in what you believe. If you can stand up and talk about testing, its a great boost to your testing story. Well , it is for me anyhow.

This confidence comes by first willing to put yourself in a vulnerable position, where you are willing to learn. It was only when I blogged about my difficulties about creating an ET workshop did help arrive.

It also comes through practice. I’m doing that too now, by blogging and testing out by challenges on fellow testers. I’ve already asked a few of you to testing challenges on skype or IM. I need to practise my exercises and puzzles against a variety of people.

If you want to be part of the fun, skype or IM me. I’m happy for anybody to take up my challenges. I need practice to improve my skills.

There’s lots more I’m learning, most of which my mind has yet to digest and formulate into identifiable ideas. But are you starting to see something here?

Teaching testing is very similar to testing itself, maybe a bit more intense…. like ET on steroids perhaps.  I strongly urge any tester looking to improve their skills to consider this option. Even if you never end up teaching formal workshops, the insights you get about yourself, the confidence it builds in yourself and your ideas in testing will stand you in good stead.

Footnote.

I value your thoughts, in particular if you disagree, or question what I’ve said. Every discussion on this helps me refine and consolidate my understanding on the subject.

Are you a Buccaneer Parrot?

I’ve had a couple of ‘epiphanies’ this morning and consequently have that weird floaty, happy/anxious feeling that I get at moments like this.

Courtesy National Geographic

I didn’t go to StarEast but I, along with countless other software testers have been watching the virtual show through twitter.

Some of it I let go, but a couple of links I’ve clicked on to see what all the fuss is about. Boy, if the two links I clicked on are anything to go by, it would have been a great event to be at.

The first seismic changing event for me was listening to James Bach’s clip on what it means to be a buccaneer tester.  Now James is a tester that I have mixed feelings about. I went on his RST course a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I loved his FOCUS/DEFOCUS heuristic and its one of my key techniques that I apply when I test. BUT, sometimes I find his style can be overly aggressive, especially when it comes to:  oh crap, here I go, CERTIFICATION.

But not today. Today he was sublime and this key point hit me:

“We have got to be testing from our own place, not copying like parrots”

This resonated heaps with me as its a trap that I constantly fall into.  Now, I pride myself on my software testing skills. I do have a fondness for exploratory testing and have a knack in asking the ‘right’ question when determining context. Here’s the crunch though. I call my approach pragmatic. In other words, I DONT ROCK THE BOAT.

So when asked, I will happily manage a team of scripted testers. Why? Because that is the process. That is how things are ‘done’ in that company.

This creates a dilemma for me, because it leads me to ask what in  software testing do I really believe in? Where is my “own place”?   To what lengths would I go to ensure Exploratory Testing was used in a team I led? (I know I would never personally create a test script, or follow one for that matter). This is pertinent to me because I’ve just gone for a test lead role that requires ‘strict adherence to a process’.

In order to be able to answer these questions, (and writing this post is helping me decide mine) and as James puts it ‘test from your own place’, y ou have to know where and what “that place”  is. The only way your going to find it, is by taking a stand, having an opinion, suggesting a new approach and being prepared for people to disagree with you.  To quietly agree(or disagree) is not going to help you know what you believe in.

It’s funny you know, I’ve always thought that being outspoken is such an ‘American’ thing. We ‘Europeans’ are way too polite to express our views so, well, blunt. Perhaps there is an element of difference in culture, but I don’t think I can hide behind that excuse any more.

Here’s the great thing though,  when you find ‘your place’ you will be a lot more secure and that is going to help you become a better tester.  Why? Because being secure about your place means you don’t have to worry about what other people think. You are less fearful one thing I know for sure:

IF YOU FEAR WHAT OTHERS THINK OF YOU, YOU WILL NEVER BE FREE TO LEARN NEW STUFF

It kind of goes with Elizabeth Hendrikson’s article that says “Not knowing answers isn’t sign of weakness; not asking question is”  Being fearful of looking stupid, prevents you from asking the dumb question. By the way, before you pat yourself on the back about being able to ask ‘dumb questions” I believe its easy to ask the dumb question when your experienced in an area, but try doing it in a field where your not so experienced. It can be a real challenge.

And it can be a real challenge for experienced testers to ask ‘dumb questions’ when they want to appear knowledgeable. I think for wannabee experts this is a real trap. If you try and spend all your time looking like you have the answers,  you put yourself in a situation where you stop asking ‘dumb questions’

Why do I believe all these things, because its what I feel and do sometimes. No often. And its something that it going to change. Now.

So thats why James Bach’s Video resonates so strongly with me.

Thank you James, you have once again been instrumental in my growth as a software tester.

Arghh, what’s that pieces of eight, pieces of eight?

I have a dream..a software testing dream

Tester Tested wrote a post on the amount of ISTQB advertisment (direct and indirect) a testing magazine had. His main point was, if its a Professional Magazine for all testers why does it lean to ISTQB all the time? Talk was made of lawyers and being sued for blogging about it.

Whilst I valued the point of his post (many thanks Pradeep), it made me sad. It made me reflect on how divided we are in the testing community. In an area that obviously needs great minds to promote the benefits and value of testing, we instead waste them on picking holes in each others ways of doing things.

Why dont we use our energy on focusing on the real bad guys, like the CEO’s and CIO’s who don’t value the benefit of testing and place software testing under development in the company structure?

Why can’t we complement each other on the positive steps that are being taken in the testing world, instead of resorting to suing each other for defamation?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of critical thinking and the need to challenge each other, but with that goes the responsiblity of building people up too. My mum had a saying “for every one criticism, give ten encouragements” (or something like that!)

Criticising ISTQB testers alienates the thousands of testers out there who are certified. This us versus them mentality only further divides our community and testers inside it. Not everyone who is ISTQB certified did so because they wanted to. Not every ISTQB certified tester is unable to test in an intelligent way. Many ISTQB testers need to take the certification to get a job. Many ISTQB certified testers may be interested in exploring other testing avenues if their certification was not sneered at in blogs written by ‘experts’ who ought really to know better.

Our focus ought to be on educating and encouraging all testers to examine all testing ideas and make up their own minds on they believe.

After all, it is the tester who is central to testing, not the testing expert.

What in the world do developers, marketing and project managers think of us, squabbling between ourselves on the right and wrong of different types of testing. To these people, testing is all the same thing, they dont understand the finer points of context driven testing Vs IEE 829.

I know, I know  this is all very naive of me, but are we not mature enough now to put or differences aside, respect each others opinions and work together on promoting the importance and benefits of testing to those outside the testing industry?

I have a dream where we are building up testers to test better regardless of creed…….