Monday, June 20, 2022

Untested testing book for children

Many moons ago when I had small children (I now have teenagers), I saw an invite to a playtesting session by Linda Liukas. In case you don't know who she is, she is a superstar and one of the loveliest most approachable people I have had the pleasure of meeting. She has authored multiple children's books on adventures of Ruby and learning programming. I have all her books, I have purchased her books for my kids schools and taught lower grades programming with her brilliant exercises while I still had kids of that age. For years I have been working from the observation that kids and girls in particular, are social learners and best way to transform age groups is to take them all along for the ride. 

The playtesting experience - watching that as parent specializing in testing - was professional. From seeing kids try out the new exercises to the lessons instilled, my kids still remember pieces of computer that were the topic of the session, in addition to the fact that I have dragged them to fangirl Linda's work for years. 

So when I heard that now there is a children's book by another Finnish author that teaches testing for children, I was intrigued but worried. Matching Linda's work is a hard task. Linda, being a software tester of a past while also being a programmer advocate and a renowned author and speaker in this space, sets a high bar. So I have avoided the book "Dragons Out" by Kari Kakkonen until EuroSTAR now publicised they have the book available on their hub.

However, this experience really did not start on a good foot. 

First, while promotional materials lead me to think the book was available, what actually was available was an "ebook" meaning one chapter of the book and some marketing text. Not quite what I had understood. 

Second, I was annoyed with the fact that the children's book where pictures play such a strong role is not promoted with the name of the illustrator. Actually, illustrator is well hidden and Adrienn Szell's work does not get the attribution it deserves by a mention on the pages that people don't read. And excusing misattributing a gifted artists work by not allocating her as second author works against my sense of justice. 

So I jumped into the sample, to see what I get. 

I get to abstract to start with annoyance. It announces "male and female knights" and I wonder why do we have to have children's books where they could be just knights, or at least boys/girls or men/women over getting identified by their reproductive systems. Knights of all genders please, and I continue.

Getting into the book beyond the front page keeping Adrienn invisible, I find her mentioned. 

Ragons. Cand. Typos hit me next. Perhaps I am looking at an early version and these are not in the printed copy? 

Just starting with the story gives me concerns. Why would someone start chapter 1 of testing to children with *memory leaks*? Reading the first description of a village and commentary of it representing software while sheep are memory, I am already tracking in my head where the story can be heading. 

For a village being software, that village is definitely not going to exist in the sheep? I feel the curse of fuzzy metaphors hitting me and continue.

Second chapter makes me convinced that the book could use a translator. The sentences feel Finglish - a translation from Finnish to English. Gorge cannot really be what they meant? Or at least it has to be too elaborate for describing cracks into which sheep can vanish? Sentences like "sheep had stumbled into rock land" sounds almost google translated. The language is getting in the way. "Laura began to suspect that something else than dangerous gorges was now." leaves me totally puzzled on what this is trying to say.

Realising the language is going to be a problem, I move to give less time to the language, and just try to make sense of the points. First chapter introduces first dragon, and dragons are defects. This particular dragon causes loss of sheep which is loss of sheep. And dragons are killed by developers who are also testers and live elsewhere. 

We could discuss how to choose metaphors but they all are bad in some ways, so I can live with this metaphor. There are other things that annoy me though.

When a developer makes and error, she is a woman. That is, when we are introduced in explanation text dragons as defects, we read that "developer has made an error in her coding". Yet, as soon as we seek a developer to fix it, we load on a different gender with "he is known to be able to remove problems, so he is good enough". Talk about loading subliminal gender roles here. 

What really leaves me unhappy is that this chapter said *nothing* about testing. The testing done here (noticing systematically by counting sheep every day) was not done by the knights representing developer/testers. The book starts with a story that tells that dragons just emerge without us leaving anything undone, and presents us *unleashing the dragons* as saviors of the sheep instead of responsible for loss of the sheep in the first place. The book takes the effort of making the point that knights are not villagers, developers/testers are not users and yet leave all of testing for the villagers and only take debugging (which is NOT testing) on the developers/testers. 

If it is a book about testing, it is a book about bad testing. Let's have one developer set up fires, wait for users to notice it and have another developer extinguish the fire! Sounds testing?!?!? Not really. 

On the nature of this red dragon (memory leak), the simplifications made me cringe and I had to wonder: has the author ever been part of doing more than the villagers do (noting sheep missing) with regards to memory leaks? 

This is a testing book for children, untested or at least unfixed. Not recommended. 

Unlearning is harder than learning right things in the first place, so this one gets a no from me. If I cared of testing the book, setting up some playtesting sessions to see engagement and attrition of concepts is recommended. However, this recommendation comes late to the project.