Utest interviewed me earlier this month.
It’s been quiet on the blog for a while now, mostly because I’ve either been too busy to write, or because I wasn’t yet able to write about the stuff I wanted to write about.
After four plus years in Japan, I have left the land of the rising sun. Japan seems to be equidistant from the major testing destinations I go to, but just a little too far away to be convenient for any of them. Sure I’m a little sad to be leaving. I’ve made some fantastic friends and had some wonderful experiences there. No doubt I’ll be back to Japan at some point, but for the moment, my place is elsewhere. Specifically, I’ve taken up residence in England. I’ve accepted a position at eBay International working with Ilari Aegerter and his very solid group of testers. Early days yet, but so far I’m thoroughly enjoying it. There look to be some very cool things going on and I’m looking to get my hands dirty, especially with iOS driver and Selendroid, both championed and developed by some of my colleagues. I’m travelling for most of June, doing meet & greet and induction stuff in Germany, Switzerland and the USA. From July I should be (more or less) in England.
There are a great many testers in the UK and mainland Europe that I’ve never met, but know by reputation or by email exchange. I’m looking forward to putting faces to the names. Europe seems to be an exciting place to be for context driven testers right now. The Let’s Test conference has put a stamp on testing in Europe that anyone promoting commodity testing ignores at their peril. I get the feeling this is just the beginning and there is a good deal more to come. Exciting times.
The CAST2013 Call for Participation has been announced. I’m stoked to have been selected along with my very good friend Louise Perold as the program co-chairs. We chose the theme “Old Lessons applied and new lessons learned: advancing the practice and building a foundation for the future.” We think it reflects where we’re at as an industry and I’m excited to see what sort of presentations and what sort of conversations this subject will spur.
If you have some experiences you’d like to share about how you’ve changed your approach to testing based on the changes in technology we interact with, we’d love to hear from you. If you know someone you think has an awesome experience to share, please pass this on and encourage them to submit a proposal.
Either way, we hope you’ll come to CAST2013 and help us make it an awesome conference by testers, for testers.
If it’s true that zombie testers are being churned out faster than we can rehabilitate them, then what do we do about them? Asked in a perhaps less provocative way, how do we go about making sure that zombie-like testing behavior is neither encouraged, nor rewarded?
When you begin speaking with management types who have thus far only experienced zombie testing, when you engage them about thinking testing, you may well meet reluctance, disbelief and suspicion. A more highly skilled testing group sounds like a good thing, but how do you measure it? How do you make sure that people are doing what they are supposed to be doing? Skepticism is okay. Testers should be able to explain themselves and their actions. Sometimes it’s a little more than that though. Sometimes it’s a deeply ingrained cultural issue, demanding adherence to procedures. To some extent, dealing with that sort of mindset and company culture goes beyond convincing them of the non-viability of zombies – there are apparently such things as zombie managers also. They tend to be the ones that roll out that little ‘What gets measured, gets done’ chestnut – to which I invariably reply ‘what gets measured gets gamed’. Nonetheless, thinking testing can be an accountable activity.
If someone wants to be able to see numbers on how effective testers are being, then have members of a project answer a brief questionnaire on how the testers did during the project. How well did they identify and report on risk during design? How well did they find and convey information during hands on testing with delivered builds? Did testers provide information that allowed you to make informed decisions about the project? and so on – if you ask these questions of people the testers interacted with and have them rate them on whatever scale you like (as well providing a few open-ended questions such as ‘what else could testers do / what information could they provide in order to be more effective’ Then you can put that into whatever pretty charts and things you like and you have a basis from which to begin conversation that doesn’t rely on nonsense like test cases executed or bugs reported. As an aside, you should be asking these questions throughout the project anyway. If you do, not only will you be able to alter your strategy when needed, you’ll give your peers points of reference when they’re filling in said questionnaire later.
We need the people we work with and the people we serve to understand what testing is in a way that is valuable to them – I spoke about this a little bit in the second post on this subject – not just within our own organization, but in a broader sense also. We need to make sure that programmers in general understand the value testing adds, the program managers, analysts, upper management understand the value of testing and to hold software testers to a higher standard, or at least to expect a higher standard from them.
Part 3 talked about taking steps in your own backyard. What about the wider world?
I semi-regularly attend gatherings for developers. I’ve given presentations on what developers should be expecting from testers. Initial reactions were interesting. I had some people say to me afterwards things like ‘I’d expect anyone with that sort of skill set to be managing a development group or test group’ or ‘you’re so wasted in testing, we need to get you into a programming role’. I think both comments stem from an overly low expectation of what value a thinking tester can add and my reply to both statements was basically that.
Now that they see that I am a tester by choice and I’m not looking to bridge into a ‘better’ role, they can see that value of having someone around that can speak the same language and brings a different set of skills to the table. Now they contact me for advice or ask me to help them hire skilled testers. I’m happy to do it. If you’re not attending gatherings by non-testers, then have a look around for some in your area and turn up. Spend time with them. You don’t necessarily have to evangelize or proselytize, just spend time and let them get to know you and what you do.
Attend non-testing conferences. This is a tough one. I’d like to see the Association for Software Testing put a grant together to let testers do exactly this. I think there is a lot of good that we could do by attending, and perhaps better still, presenting at non-testing conferences.
Offer to give guest lectures at your local universities. Rather than have young computer scientists indoctrinated to believe that testing is either synonymous with debugging, or something that the unwashed masses do, help them understand how deep and diverse testing can be.
If you can’t find any gatherings for non-testers (or even if you can), invite non-testers to your tester gatherings. Even if you have to bribe them with the promise of alcoholic beverages. Encourage your testing peers to do the same. They may come for the latter, but they’ll likely stay for the conversation. Relationships formed off the clock can have a deep impact when its time to clock on again, whether that be in your own environment, or someone else’s.
The fight against zombie testing will not be won overnight and it won’t be won by taking out the zombies already in the field. Thinking testers need to get amongst the thinkers of our non-testing peers and help them understand how much more we can do. When they start expecting a higher standard from the testers they work with, then zombie testers will start to find it more and more difficult to find work. Getting rid of the zombies will come down to thinking testers doing our part in whatever way we can. To mangle a phrase (probably) by Edmund Burke – The only thing required for zombies to triumph is for thinking testers to do nothing.
Another interesting post linking Zombies and Testing
Previously on the Testing Dead I talked about various forms of behavioral dysfunction that I call Zombie Testing and why that’s a problem. So what can you do if you find yourself with a zombie infestation at your place of work?
Well you could fire them,
but you may not want to make that your first action. Some zombies can be rehabilitated. Some are thinking human beings mimicking zombie behavior because either they don’t know any better or perhaps they don’t feel it’s their place to break the mold. So before you consign your zombie testers to the sweet flames of napalm death – do have a look around for ones that show signs of higher brain function and help them if you can.
Pairing them with experienced testers is one way of helping them learn new skills. Some testers with zombie tendencies believe they are skilled testers because they don’t know what they don’t know. Pairing them up with someone who *is* a skilled tester can help impart skills that they didn’t know they needed.
For the ones that don’t want help becoming a better tester – You cannot force change. All of the helpful links to blog posts and exercises and offers of coaching will not avail someone who isn’t interested. If that is the case, perhaps you can help them out the door instead.
Identify how zombie testers get into the building and apply liberal defensive countermeasures. Take an active hand in recruiting of new testers. You may need to help educate your HR people or recruiters to get past buzzword bingo and be able to identify real testers, or at least be able to not throw away promising candidates because they don’t have the currently most fashionable acronyms in their resume. I’ve worked with a score of recruiters over the years and perhaps one or two had any real clue about what testing was. The typical testers resume I get from recruiters generally looks like this:
Most recruiters I’ve worked with were open to learning more about testing. If they’re good, they’ll want repeat business from you, so it’s in their best interests to find out what sort of people you want. This is not an overnight process. You’re not going to sit someone down and lecture them on all the stuff they need to know. Tell them what you want up-front, sure. Give them the details that are important, but I find that real understanding takes more time. Develop a relationship with recruiters that make an effort to provide you what you want. Catch up for lunch occasionally or a Friday afternoon beverage of choice and talk about what’s going on in the industry. Talk to them about the frustrations you have when hiring. Doing this has been worth the time investment for me.
Give them a profile of the sort of person you’re looking for. If you’re looking for someone more experienced, then someone with a diverse background and a number of different skills – there’s a marked difference between someone who has 12 years experience and someone who has 3 years experience 4 times. Someone who is constantly honing their skills. They should be able to talk about what they do to stay sharp. I wrote a post a while back about what I look for in a resume. I share that sort of information with recruiters also. Make sure they know that not having certification is okay.
On that subject, I think certification sometimes unfairly demonized. If people get value from studying for a certificate, that’s fine. I don’t think certification creates zombie testers, although I do think it acts as a neat form of spray-on credibility for them. My major objection to certification in its current form is that it is marketed as a measure of tester competence. It is no such thing. I would love to see certification bodies be more up-front about this, but they have a financial disincentive to do so – they grow fat off the ignorance of testers and the people that hire them alike. Quite brilliant in a morally bankrupt kind of way, but I digress.
Rehabilitate the zombies you can, get rid of the ones you can’t and do what you can do to keep any more from getting into the building you work in. What about the wider testing community? The truth is, with the barrier to entry to the testing profession being no more difficult than knowing where a computer’s on switch is, zombie testers are being churned out far faster than we can hope to rehabilitate them. Does that mean it’s a lost cause? Far from it I think, but focusing on the zombies won’t get the job done. I’ll talk about that some more in the fourth (and likely final) post.
In my first post on The Testing Dead, I identified a number of patterns of behavior that I like to call Zombie Testing.
Is this really a problem we need to be concerned about?
I think it is, for a number of reasons.
I think Zombie Testing has the ability to infect an organization. It’s a generally less grisly process than your traditional zombie, but the downside is it takes a lot longer to die and it’s only slightly less painful.
How does Zombie Testing infect non-testers? I mentioned in a previous post things like arbitrary entry/exit criteria. Have you ever seen programmers changing bug severity or priority (or reassigning them or closing them) to meet these bogus criteria? Ever been in sign-off meetings where project managers argued about which bugs were severity 1 and which were severity 2 and go on to (re)define what they meant?
This one little artefact that says ‘no more than 1 severity 1 bug and 5 severity 2 bugs or else your code doesn’t get signed off’. It’s a sign that zombie testing has taken hold. Anyone with kids will tell you – it doesn’t matter if it’s number one or number two, you just have to take action before it gets messy.
When Zombie Testers hold themselves up as the quality police, there’s a tendency for others to see them that way also. That invites dysfunction like the segregation of testers and programmers – because the dark gods forbid they should unduly influence one another. The testers need to remain “objective”. Segregation of testers and programmers is one of those ‘won’t someone think of the children’ arguments. It’s a solution in search of a problem that I’ve yet to ever actually see.
Imagine a straight-laced chaperone at a formal high school dance, insisting that testers and programmers may dance, but must keep at least two feet apart whilst they do so. That might seem very civilized and genteel, but everyone knows the real magic happens when the testers and programmers slip away behind the bike sheds and show each other their notes.
More recently I’ve heard and read about some programmers calling to do away with testers all together. It’s a misguided notion, but I can understand where they’re coming from. If your only exposure to testing has been with people that enforce unhelpful rules, have an adversarial attitude, waste your time and otherwise make your life difficult, (whilst adding questionable value) why wouldn’t you want to do away with them?
The problem for thinking testers isn’t so much that Zombie Testers exist. It’s that they’re so prevalent that they’re seen as the norm by non-testers. We need the people that hire testers, the people that manage testers and the people that testers serve to understand what it means to be a thinking, professional tester.
Moreover, we need to them to understand it in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Easier said than done. It’s a tough sell.
Can we go to upper management and tell them that quality will improve as a result of our participation?
It may indirectly, but that’s not generally something we have direct control over. We don’t make design decisions, we don’t hire or fire programmers, we don’t decide what gets fixed or deferred – we might influence one or more of these things, but the final decision is not ours.
Can we tell them their product will be released bug-free?
No. Finding bugs is part of what we do and while we can test for their presence, we cannot prove their absence. Some less scrupulous companies (who may well have a large stable of test zombies corralled somewhere) might say otherwise, but that’s not a claim a tester can make in good conscience.
The alternative we have is to tell them that we can reveal risks and problems to them much earlier than they might otherwise find out about them, giving them time to take action.
It doesn’t sound like a particularly attractive alternative. In my experience, people don’t want you to tell them about problems (unless you’re also telling them about how you fixed them). They want solutions.
Moreover, many people seem to cling to the broken Taylorist model that software development is mass production. Programmers turn out widgets that come down the conveyor belt. Testers pick up these widgets, compare them to spec and/or known good widgets and if they’re within tolerable limits of variance then all is well.
It’s an attractive fantasy. It’s measurable. It’s controllable. The workers can be switched in and out because it’s repeatable labor. Unfortunately (for those that believe it), it’s complete bullshit.
So how do we put that alternative in a way that is more palatable to an audience that needs to hear such a message, but may not be ready to accept it?
There are no easy answers to that question (that I know of). There’s no silver bullet. In part three I’ll talk about what can be done to help educate our non-testing peers about what software testing is, and what can be done about stemming the flow of zombie testers.
The zombie apocalypse has occurred. They walk among us even now – The Testing Dead. These dead-eyed, soulless creatures make sounds that seem human, but they’re an empty shell inside and will bite you if provoked. Left unchecked, Zombie Testers will infect an organization with their disease. Zombie testing is any rote application of testing practice or methodology without regard for how appropriate it is in that context. It often looks like one or more ‘skilled’ testers churning out test cases for meatbot automatons to execute, but there are no doubt those who identify with context driven methodologies who have missed the point and follow the same go-to patterns regardless of context.
While there is some amount of tongue-in-cheek in this analogy, it does describe actual patterns of dysfunction that I’ve observed. I want to be clear at this point that I’m having a go at a kind of behavior. I’m not trying to demonize people.
There are a number of different flavours of Zombie. See if you recognize any of them.
These are the ones who finished whatever secondary or tertiary education they did and decided they were done learning for the rest of their life and could they please have a job where they could memorize and regurgitate the right answers like they did in school. Not particularly adventurous, they might have found some of the large amounts of crap online about software testing and decided that was just fine thanks. Give me a recipe to follow or a template to fill out, but the dark gods forbid I should have to think for myself.
The Template Weenie
A variant of the Misled. They discovered some testing templates online or perhaps their company had some already put together. Their belief is that if they fill out these templates and no gaps are left, then good testing will have been done. If they’ve got all the requirements covered and tests all trace back to them, and the test plan is all filled out and the schedule is set properly, then we’re all good. It appears that for them, reality is an obstacle to be managed with paperwork.
The passenger has fallen into testing but has no desire to be there. They have no desire to be a tester, but are using testing as a bridge to somewhere ‘better’ (typically programming, business analysis or project management). They tend to do only enough work to avoid reprimand and will often be found hanging around the group they’re trying to break into as though they might be absorbed by osmosis.
I generally try and cut a deal with passengers should I encounter them. It is in our combined best interests to move them on, so I promise them I will do everything in my power to get them where they want to go if they agree to be the best tester they can be while they are with me. If they have a strong body of work I can show the manager of the group they want to transition to, and I can honestly talk about the strength of their efforts, then that tends to lend great credibility to their application. Sometimes that approach works, sometimes not. If they won’t let you help them to get where they’re going, you may wish to help them out the door instead.
Similarly to the passenger, these zombies have no real desire to get better at testing, they simply want to turn up between 0900-1700, go home, rinse and repeat. They won’t think about or do testing in their spare time, it is merely a job. To some degree there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but personally I’d rather work with inspired, passionate people that genuinely enjoy what they do and want to do it better.
In some respects having a few apathetic zombies around can make your life easier – they tend to be the ones who enjoy predictable monotony and there’s often no shortage of that in testing. If you have repetitive work that is difficult to automate, these people can be handy.
This lot think they’re doing Quality Assurance when what they’re doing is testing. Quality assurance is really a collection of roles and actions that have a direct bearing on the quality of the product, such as the hiring/firing of programmers, architects etc, Decision making about what to include or what to leave out, which design to go with, which vendor to go with and so on. In contrast, software testers reveal information about the product. Some testers write production code, but in their role as a tester, they do not directly influence the product itself. The Confused either do not get this, or vehemently believe that their role is to be the final bastion of quality before the software goes out into the world.
They tend to enjoy grandiose titles such as ‘Quality Assurance Engineer’ despite not doing quality assurance and not being an engineer. They also seem to actively position themselves as the gatekeepers of the software release decision, apparently blissfully unaware that it’s a lose/lose situation for someone with the word ‘quality’ in their title to be attached to. If they say no to a release, they’re either overridden by the people with real power (and who probably have a better business sense of what needs to occur), or they’re seen as the ones holding everything up. If a release goes out and something screws up in production, they’re the ones who get fingers pointed at them and asked questions like ‘Why did you let that bug out?’
I’ve seen on testing forums questions like ‘We had some bugs go to production. My manager is asking me why. Can someone give me some excuses I can tell them?’ Wow, just wow. The level of non-comprehension about one’s own job that this question requires is mind boggling.
The sadness doesn’t end there though. Not only do the confused make their own life hard, but they like to make life harder for their non-testing peers also. Things like testing entry and exit criteria, based on arbitrary bug counts of varying severity (e.g. no more than 1 severity 1 bug and 5 severity 2) tend to make people’s life unnecessarily difficult.
A variant on the confused, these guys perform ritual testing. It’s testing theatre in much the same way that the TSA do airport security theatre. It may find some stuff, it may not. It gets applied to everything in the same way because that’s how it has to be done. It’s their religion. This is the way testing must be, for this is the one true way of testing. I’m not sure, but they may be an evolution of the template weenie, like some mutant fucking pokemon. Fortunately I haven’t encountered too many of these.
The horde probably resembles their traditional zombie counterpart more closely than any other zombie type. Although they are a large group, They share nothing more than proximity and brain death. A website (or app or other software) will be left out in the open like a sacrificial virgin. The horde descends upon this website under the guise of crowdsourced testing whereupon individuals compete with the rest of the group in order to find something vaguely bug shaped upon the surface, like little zombie rhesus monkeys.They are paid by the bug, so when you take their bug away from them well, have you ever tried taking food away from a rhesus monkey? It’s a bit like that.
There are no doubt more types of Zombie out there, but these are the ones I have encountered on my travels. There seems to be a common thread amongst zombie testers – the complete lack of desire to do anything differently to how they are doing it now. In a role that demands that we rapidly respond to a frequently changing environment, that seems antithetical to how a tester should operate.
In the next post I’ll talk about why zombie testing is a problem for thinking testers and what we can do about it.
This year’s CAST was a little different for me than the ones I’ve attended before. I didn’t get to see as much of CAST as I have in years gone by. I presented 3 times on day one. First up was ‘The Testing Dead’, followed by an emerging topics talk with Chris Blain ‘A transpection session between thinking testers’ and finally a session that Chris and I also co-presented ‘Letters to a Young Tester’. This didn’t really leave me with a lot of time to see other presentations, but I did have some good hallway conversations. Many of them involved scotch
Rather than crap on about my CAST experience, I’ll simply post the slides from my presentations and link to posts by other attendees who saw more of the content than I managed.
The Testing Dead (PDF)
What others had to say about CAST2012
(More to come here. If you’ve blogged about CAST 2012, ping me and I’ll add your post here)
So you’re new to testing.
Let me give you some friendly advice to help you become the power tester you want to be. I’ll get the boot camp drill sergeant stuff out of the way first.
If you’re anything like the vast majority of new testers I’ve encountered, you’re full of questions. Probably a lot of questions that start with ‘what’s the best way to…‘ or ‘what is the best practice for…‘
Take that combination of words and remove it from your vocab. When I see questions like this, I cannot help but think that the person who asked it is incapable of free thought. That may not be the case, but those questions translate in my head as ‘Please spoonfeed me an answer so I don’t have to think. Please just tell me what to do. Give me a recipe that I can apply wholesale without consideration of any other factors whatsoever’.
Sounds fucking stupid, doesn’t it? Yes it does. Because it is.
Imagine if someone asked you ‘What’s the best way for solving conflict in the Middle East?’ That’s basically what’s happening. Hey, let me ask you for a simple answer to an incredibly complex question without giving you any context whatsoever as to how it applies to me.
Same thing goes for asking about pre-written test cases, answers to interview questions, what the best testing tool is. That’s sheer laziness. Don’t do it. You’ll see lots of other people doing it. Lots. If you do the same thing as everyone else, then you’re no different from anyone else. You’re a commodity and ultimately expendible.
Want to know how to distinguish yourself from the hordes of zombie testers out there? Don’t do what they do. Don’t be like them. If you want to be just another minimum-wage meatbot then fine, just find a different career.
If you want to be good at testing – hell, if you want to be even a competent tester, critical thinking is a skill you’re going to need to practice. I realize that might come as a shock if you thought testing is about following test cases (that’s not really testing btw, but that’s a discussion for another time). The habits you learned in grade school – memorization and subsequent regurgitation of the right answers – that’s not thinking. That stuff doesn’t work for testing.
Testing isn’t about pass or fail. It isn’t about getting the correct answer and turning it in to the teacher for a pat on the head. Testing is about asking questions about software and its artefacts and its people to find out information for the people that matter. It’s about maintaining your sense of uncertainty when everyone else is losing theirs. It’s about exploring issues of risk and the tradeoffs you make between making something better and the cost involved in doing so. It’s about seeing what’s in the gaps. What do people say they want? What do they actually want? What do they say they did? What did they actually do? What does this component connect to? What does it not connect to that it should (or vice versa) – are these the sorts of questions you ask when you test?
How do you know that a bug is a bug? (You might like to read up on oracles) How do you convince other people that a bug is a bug in a way that is tactful and persuasive? (You might like to read up on bug advocacy)
What else can you do to become an awesome tester? Want to know how other awesome testers do their testing? Do testing with them. Have you heard about Weekend Testing? (Yeah there are people who use their spare time to get better at testing, how crazy is that?) Even if you don’t decide to test with them, you can read the transcripts of the testing they did and their testing notes. You can learn from people of all sorts of experience levels.
There is no shortage of excellent testing blogs out there. There are ten times as many that are garbage, but if you’re here, then that’s a start. Any of the links in my blog roll and any of the links in theirs should have more than enough material to keep a new tester’s brain occupied for a very long time indeed.
Still reading? Well, if you haven’t been scared off yet then you might actually be serious about becoming a good tester. Read this stuff. Practice this stuff. Find anyone that knows software testing and learn from them – by which I mean question them. Don’t take anything that anyone tells you as gospel truth. Examine it. Turn it over. Poke holes in it. Good testers welcome challenge and criticism. It’s what helps them become better testers.
There are testers out there that will coach you. They’re good at it too. Contact them. Ask for their help, but understand that the onus is on you to do the hard work.
Becoming a skilled tester isn’t an easy path, but it is a very rewarding one. In the time I’ve been a tester, I’ve met amazing people from around the world and formed a network of peers I can go to when I have questions. I love the work that I do and I get to work with some amazing minds. I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities had I not made the choice to make myself the best tester I could be.
If you’re a new tester and you want to be a good tester, then you have work to do. Best get to it.
Here’s another post along similar lines. Well worth reading:
Becoming a World Class Tester – Ilari Henrik Aegerter
So it looks like I’ve had two proposals accepted for CAST2012 (Conference of the Association for Software Testing) in San Jose this July. I’ll be flying solo for the first one and co-presenting with the multi-talented and incredibly fucking smart Chris Blain for the second. Looking forward to it.
If you haven’t registered for CAST yet, the early bird pricing finishes at the end of February. Get on it.