Friday, December 3, 2010

Jam session / Test session

I try to relate all sorts of different experiences and events that take place in everyday life to testing. It helps me remember and it lights up new perspectives on testing. Maybe most importantly I think it's a fun exercise to do. Keeps me thinking of testing, and other things, in new ways and that helps me stay creative and passionate about it. That's my opinion and it works for me.

One thing that comes up every now and then is jam sessions and performance or rehearsal of music. There are several things that relate to testing. The common way to stand/sit in a jam session is in i circle so that everyone can see each other. Body language, eye contact and, depending on if anyone cranked up his/her amplifier to 11, some spoken or shouted word. The most common use of the spoken word in communication during a jam session is usually changing key or moving to a new harmony progression. In these cases it's very short. "F" may be all that is said and when the next bar is reached everyone, hopefully, changes to F. You can change in the middle of a bar of course but changing at the start of the next bar is an example. Rhythm and speed may vary and usually starts with one or two persons picking up on each others playing and creating something new. new progressions may be created this way to. In a good jam there is evolution and learning happening. Is this starting to sound familiar? I think it was Miles Davies who said that he had only gotten better by always playing with musicians that were better than he was. Not extremely better but better. That way he pushed himself, learned more, and became better.

To me jam sessions has always been great opportunities to learn and develop my own skills as a musician. How does this relate to testing? I think a lot is pretty obvious to you by now. Working in a team will help testers to learn more, faster. Do pair testing to help less experienced tester learn from a more experienced tester. Like a good jam exploratory testing will make the tester learn and hone his/her skills during a testing session at the same time that he/she learns more about the software being tested. Change key or move to a new harmonic progression is the charter and it will give ideas for a charter for the next jam, the next session. Changes during a jam is exploring musically in the same way as we explore when we test. We see something that catches our attention or we apply a heuristic that we dig up that we believe is useful here and now. It's like coming up with a riff during a jam that may or may not work in the current context. I guess all musicians carry around an ever growing set of riffs and lick that have been picked up and developed over the years. It's the same thing we do as testers. We develop our tools every time we use them. We can do that if we are aware and think. We don't always have the luxury of being able to pair up with another tester but if you get the chance take it. Go for it! Grab the opportunity. You'll learn something and the other tester will learn from you.

Managing a jam session usually comes down to providing a place to be, maybe set up some amps, drums, keyboards and a PA. Making coffee, provide a sofa and some chairs are good things too. It's pretty much very basic facilitation that we're talking about. It's not about controlling every move of the participants, maybe throw in a first idea of a place to start. More experienced participants will come up with something on there own and agree to start off there. To me this relates very much to testing sessions and the test managers role. If you have the opportunity be a hands on guy and team up with one of your testers and learn something new and help your tester learn as well. Facilitate. Make sure the testers have what they need. Access to oracles identified before starting the session. Coffee! Make sure they get left to do there job and that they are not interrupted. As the test manager be a blocker and let the testers test.

The debriefing at a jam session is either non existent or it's very informal. Usually there will be a few words exchanged when a jam ends, at least if we've found something good and it has rocked in some way. The less successful attempts usually are ignored and you just sit down and let someone else play. That luxury is rarely available in a work situation with deadlines but sometimes it's a good idea to take an early lunch, just take a walk outside and think of something else or, one of my favorites from Brian Eno, "Do nothing for as long as possible." If you try it you'll find how hard it is to do absolutely nothing. It's a fun exercise and not as easy as it sounds.

The inspiration for this came from many discussions and talks at EuroSTAR 2010. Thanks to Lynn McKee, Michael Bolton, Rob Lambert, John Stevenson, Markus Gärtner and many more.

This is the first of my posts that were inspired at EuroSTAR 2010. There were many interesting discussions and a lot of ideas came out of various talks. I will be writing more soon.

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