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.


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.

Exploring new Territory

I learned something really important about myself today.

Photographer: Michelle Johnson

What all started it off was a discussion I was having with James Bach on Exploratory Workshops.

(You may remember that I blogged about designing an ET workshop recently – well James offered to help out and I wisely accepted his offer)

One comment he made was this:

[19:49:43] James Bach: – … you don’t need to prove anyone right or wrong. You can take the attitude that you are just trying to help everyone be clear.

Ok I thought,  instead of trying to control the exercise and making sure you prove a point, it would be better to relax, let the exercise take its course and trust the outcome. With some forethought, I felt that while it was a challenge for me, it was doable.  I left it at that and moved on to discuss other topics.

But my brain had other ideas and at 4 am it woke me up to think more about Socratic Examination.

Now, I’ve always been a big believer in goals and sticking to them. I make goals and generally I reach them. Any thing less than success is…well, failure.

But I realised (at 4.30 am)  that perhaps this idea of ‘not controlling’ is not just  for Exploratory Testing or for an ET workshop, but its a great way to approach your life.

Perhaps, just perhaps instead of sticking blindly to goals regardless of outcome, its better to allow yourself to wander, drift….explore even?  True, I won’t have the security of knowing my destination……….

But possibly, just possibly if I apply this idea to my life, new avenues and paths will appear?

(I know those of you who already live your life like this will be wondering what the fuss is all about, but this is  new thinking for me though!)

I’m  truly excited about this. It means that my journey is far more important than reaching my destination.

Or as Arthur Ashe  succinctly puts it:

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.

Your path may be less certain, but I suspect a hell of a lot more fun and who knows you too may come up with a new destination?