Sunday, January 3, 2021

Contemporary Exploratory Testing

We all know what testing looks like: it's when we hunt information, using the application, it's interfaces and all existing information as our external imagination to go even deeper in empirical understanding of what is true and what is an illusion. It involves a person or multiple people, using programming to get to places in time, but it is all framed in this quest of someone learning what more we could try knowing. 

Yet when organizations set up "testing", they ask for resources, pay limited attention to skills, focus on plans, covering requirements, writing and executing test cases, cutting down in testing when project schedules fall short. 

When we say "all testing is exploratory", we have the individual tester on their good day in mind. I call this exploratory testing, the verb. The act of testing is inherently exploratory when people are involved. No matter how strict a test case you gave, how much you told not to leave that path described, the human mind wonders and the human fingers make mistakes revealing more than the test intended. 

The organizational frame however makes a huge difference on how that inherently exploratory testing takes place, and how much of its wings are cut. I call this exploratory testing, the noun. Organizations often set up frames for testing that are far from exploratory, and get results that are far from what we would mean by results of exploratory testing. 

Exploratory testing (verb AND noun) is focus of my learning and teaching. I want to create excellent products with excellent testing, and I feel that the 36 year old coining of the term needs a revisit from its watered down interpretations. Thus I sometimes add still one more word to explain what I am aiming for: contemporary exploratory testing.

Contemporary is about today. I use that word to get away from the ideas of ISTQB and agile testing where exploratory testing was considered a technique, a thing you do for unknown unknowns on top of all the other testing recipes. For me, it has for the last 25 years of my career in it been an approach, a foundation of agency, learning and systems thinking that frames my choices of using all the other recipes. And I believe that is what it is at its roots, so calling my approach contemporary is saying I want to take a step away from some of the popular notions of it being the idea of just spending time with an application to find bugs. 

With this new year, I welcome you to join my exploration of how to understand and teach contemporary exploratory testing. I have many subproject on it:

  • Exploratory Testing Podcast. I just published my first episode yesterday, and will continue to do so on a monthly cadence. 
  • Exploratory Testing Academy. I work with  Parveen Khan (UK), Angela Riggs (US), Irja Straus (Croatia) and Mirja Pyhäjärvi (Finland) to create free testing video courses and a series of paid facilitated courses with focus on learning by doing testing under various constraints for various systems under test. 
  • Exploratory Testing Book. I finish the book I started so that you don't have to read all the individual articles and get out a timeline of where I am now compared to what I wrote earlier
  • Exploratory Testing Slack. I want to bring together people that are figuring out contemporary exploratory testing. I take it more as a forum of practitioners than a forum of consultants. 
  • Exploratory Testing Twitter account. I use this for promotions, because the one advice I was given on marketing (collect people's emails) is the one advice I don't want to use. I want pull over push, even if it is against all things marketing. 
I have a full time job at a company as a tester. My job pays well, better than average developers, and I have my company specific goals there. I do this all because I feel the one thing I should do better is scale. I make my work available for free to support scale. I have things I could use extra money on, but I leave the payment part for the community based on value. You can pay (but don't have to) for my book in progress. You can pay by buying me coffee. Since I am Finnish, you can never donate me money - only pay for my services. But I want that to be optional, and work against paywalls in my own little way. 

If out of this I create more great testers, more testing trainers, more love of testing in both professional testers and programmers - my aspirations are fulfilled.