Friday, February 16, 2018

Things the Frog Did Not Notice Before It Was Late


Looking at my quarter of a decade in the software testing industry, I can look back at what I am now and what I've been earlier, to realize I've gone through some major learning experiences. Having gone through those learnings, they all now seem evident and obvious. But I've made myself a favor over the years, clarifying my stances in writing, allowing myself to see how my views change. At first I worried about sharing anything I thought was true because none of it might be, but writing more helped me deal with the concern and just embrace the positive. 

Many of the foundational changes are things I did not see coming before, they sunk in slowly over longer periods of time. They are foundational in hindsight, and could easily be things I thought I always knew. Here's four that I think are ones that caused my whole belief system to pivot to find new possibilities. 

1. Test Cases aren't What Good Testing is About

Early in my career, I taught testing at university. The course had 120 students a year while it was part of a major, and I reached a substantial amount of local young minds. Part of the course was four-phase hands-on lab where the students would write a test plan, test cases, execute test cases and report their testing as well as automate a subset of their tests. 

A few years passed, and some of my students taught me my first foundational lesson. We met in a real world testing project, where I guided them into exploratory testing and cautioned against premature documentation of test cases at times when we know the least, and opportunity cost of the documentation work in relation to time we could spend actually testing the products. My students reminded me of my teachings early on with words I've come to cherish: "Great to hear you're doing this in a smart way, not the way you taught us it must be done at the university course". 

I used to believe test cases were what good testing is about. But good testing is about finding relevant information with a limited budget, with consideration of best for today and for the future. Test cases have little to do with best for either time. 

2. Continuous Integration and Delivery Wins Over Change Management

I grew up with testing in mostly waterfall projects. By the time we were testing, many moons had passed without us seeing the software, hearing only rumors through requirements documents. We tested in phases, with a huge scope and a fixed schedule. And when it finally reached us, we needed to be careful with change management. Every fix would take us back to testing again, and we only wanted fixes that were absolutely mandatory. And we did not want them to come to us whenever they were available, after all we were approving a build, not making sure that the end system was the best possible for the users by enabling change. Because change was a risk, that usually realized as something even worse.

I remember the person who first tried to talk me into the idea that continuous integration was a good thing, and how fiercely I resisted. Later, living through continuous integration and delivery, I can't imagine wanting to control change in the way we used to. Small changes with small impacts, and lots of them over time makes life much simpler. 

3. Test Managers Can Make Testing Worse

With a some years into testing, someone decided I could lead testing efforts and made me a test manager. I created strategies and plans, discussed with the testers I was working with on how we'd follow through those plans and coached people into being better testers. I sat through meetings, building a great holistic picture of what was expected of us. And I tested some, usually something less time critical because my attention could be taken elsewhere. Then agile hit us. External managers trying to manage small self-organized teams did not make so much sense anymore.

I stepped down from my "career path" and became a tester again. The testers I used to manage became better because they did not leave "my work" for me to do, but found better ways of doing it all. They became better testers when part of their work wasn't expected from "manager". When I knew things others didn't, I could contribute just as much if not more as a colleague. 

4. Test Automation is a Core Part of Testing

I've spent years honing the thinking part of testing. I've learned to work with software and hear what it tells me, combining all sorts of information while using the software to test as my external imagination. The thinking part and the manual execution part supported each other, and automation in testing was something that helped me reach things I wouldn't be able to do manually. But a lot of the automation was throwaway code. I had colleagues with a different focus in testing, creating test automation scripts that could run reliably over time, detecting unwanted changes. And I thought of those as separate things - the artifact creation and the performance.

Then I learned to do the part I used to look at others doing, and it changed the way I looked at it. It made me realize my previous company would have been better off investing three years into me if they got both the great exploratory testing results and a piece of automation that documents, in an executable format, some of my lessons that the team could use to hold their stuff together. 

I realized the only reason for me to hire someone who does not do both exploratory testing and test automation and intertwine them is that people have not yet learned the other. And we have lots of test automation specialists who are bad at testing, we even have lots of test automation specialists who are bad at coding. But they leave behind, in long term, something that could help when they are not around. Those who don't automate make their impact in the quality as we see it NOW.


There's the story of a frog not noticing when it is boiling, moving to a different purpose as food. The frog story might be a fable without a foundation in empiricism, but as fable it describes the feeling of how things change. Many of the things that changed my views are like that. I did not notice them while I was in middle of the process. But where I started and where I ended up are very different states. 

2 comments:

  1. I was amused to see your former students telling you "Great to hear you're doing this in a smart way, not the way you taught us it must be done at the university course".

    What I suspect you were teaching - and what all the best teachers do - is not to show students the way things MUST be done, but rather the way things SHOULD be done in an ideal world and under a specific set of circumstances. In the Real World, of course, things are different.

    In the Real World, circumstances demand that what you might call the "standard model" of testing, or anything else for that matter, gets adjusted to meet the changed conditions. Knowing how to make that adjustment, how to break the rules and when, is down to experience. But in order to break the rules successfully to achieve the desired end result, first you have to know what the rules are and what consequences arise from breaking them. Only then can you make the trade-off between results and consequences.

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    1. In hindsight, I can't call myself a great teacher back then. I learned a lot being allowed to teach, and have completely changed both what and how I teach now.

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