Sunday, November 6, 2011

I may call it the Bolton heuristic

This is jolted down rather quickly and I will revisit it and edit it later. It's one in the morning here so it is what it is. This is an idea and we'll see where  it goes.

Michael Bolton tweeted about how he discovered that he had missed out on how his mother had been promoting the use of mind mapping for years. These things happen, and they probably happen to most of us sometime. I started to relate this to test and saw how it could help me see things I might otherwise miss. This is how my thinking goes. I like to look at the big picture and remind myself of looking up and try seeing a bit further. This is a good thing, I believe, since at least I need to be reminded of this every now and then. A problem might be that I forget to look right in front me and assess whatever it is that is close, right there. So what do I mean by close and right in front of me? Well, I call it close if one aspect is close. For example it may be close emotionally but far away physically or it might be close physically but emotionally distant or intellectually close but emotionally and physically distant. This way I get several ways to look at close and several ways to assess the close things. It will also be helpful to me to shift focus from the larger picture and scale to the near and close. This is just the first thoughts on what I right now call the Bolton heuristic and I'm sure I'll get back to re-work it later. It's inspired by Michael Bolton and without him I would not have thought about this at this time or in this way, so thank you Mr. Bolton.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Off-Shore? What?

Today I more or less lost it when I got tired of hearing people referring to off-shore. Yes, I know what they mean and I know that money talks and I understand that. But we’re not talking about some undefined place or undefined people. Of course the ones talking about off-shore here and off-shore that generally don’t talk about people either. It’s all about resources to them. 

I don’t use the word resources about people. I think it’s disrespectful and I feel like live stock or office furniture or a server rack when people call me a resource. It can get worse, and it does occasionally, and you are referred to as unit. Well, people, I am not a resource, I can be resourceful but that’s something else, and I’m definitely not a unit! I am, believe it or not, a human being, a person, a tester. So, can I do anything about it? Can you? Yes we can, as someone said. We can stop referring to people as resources and we can stop referring to India, the Philippines and other places as off-shore. We are talking about countries and people in those countries. Sure it’s easy to keep going until some new buzz word shows up but like a wise man said: You must be the change you want to see in the world. He was an off-shore resource in philosophical and political thought.

I will not use off-shore anymore; I will say India, Estonia, the Philippines or whatever country I mean.  I can do it if I remind myself often enough to do it and make it a habit. That’s a change I want to see.

As a student of psychology I don’t think it’s strange in any way that we do this, use a label that gives us a bit of distance from the complexities of dealing with other people. It’s a very natural thing to do. That doesn’t make it right, in an ethical sense, and it also leads us towards stereotyping. That’s also an easy trap to fall into and I haven’t seen anything good come out of that behavior either. Yes, I am opinionated and I believe in my convictions and I will let you test them if you please.

Does it really matter what words we use? Of course it does. We are human beings all of us and emotional and sapient beings. I described earlier one kind of reaction to being called a unit or a resource. I tend to get mad also. I respond emotionally to the words used to describe me. Since I don’t think I’m all that different from other people I will not refer to them as units or resources either. If it hurts me it may hurt them to. It also serves another purpose. It’s a way for me to try and describe the complexity of the world. It’s easier to make it look easy and simple when you just use vague description like “off-shore”. It’s easy to forget and be blind to the fact that working with distributed teams has its own set of challenges and they are a bit different than the challenges of working with a team where everyone is in the same building. I enjoy working in distributed teams because I like working in new constellations and I learn a lot from working with new people. There are all sorts of good things that can come from working in teams that distributed around the world just as a lot of good things can come from forming a great team where everyone is situated in one place. It all comes down to people and how we interact. I believe that using the right names for people and places is a good start to getting a good start when forming teams. It’s easier to get off on the right foot, as it where, if we start with this pretty easy way of showing each other some respect.

These are my opinions and I stand by them. You may disagree and that's fine to, it means you also have strong opinions and that's a good thing in itself. It's when we don't care that we stop learning and stop evolving.

(This post was also published on the EuroSTAR blog)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The certification experience

I have always taken pride in the fact that I have no degrees and no certifications since leaving high school many years ago. I must confess that it hurt my self image and my rebel heart when I agreed to get a certification. My manager, who ranks at the very top as far as managers I've had goes, wanted me to get the ISTQB Foundation certificate. I agreed to do it. Why? There are several reasons for this decision.

  • I felt that it was OK to agree to it since I only started at this job a few months ago. But I also let my manager know that she'll owe me for this.
  • I was curious about how this would be taught and what exactly was in the test.
  • I wanted first hand experience so that I could criticize it and know what I'm talking about when I do.
  • I'd get a chance to meet some more people working in test. Networking is always a priority for me.
  • Probably the most important reason was this: I saw an opportunity to question the stuff being taught and hopefully that would get the other participants thinking and questioning as well.

There are many reasons for doing this but as you may have noticed I didn't expect any amazing revelations and I didn't expect to learn some new amazing skill I could use in testing. That would have been to naive I think.

The first day of the three day course started interestingly since the teacher agreed with me that there are no best practices. I liked hearing that but throughout the three days there were many occasions when I could see and hear how he tried hard to stay away from the best practice traps I tried to lay. I questioned a lot of process stuff and asked if one step was deemed better and more valuable than others. The material implied that the more "formal" a technique was, according to the syllabus, the more valuable it was and the better it was. I questioned this and pointed out this implication and the fact that this could easily overturn your test effort. I didn't get an answer about whether more "formal" was better or not, or considered better. I could see the teacher, or ISTQB-dude as I referred to him while tweeting about it, biting his lip and try hard not to fall in that "best practice trap".

It was obvious that what ISTQB called more formal meant better, to ISTQB. The problem here is that when ISTQB says more formal it includes heaps of documentation and meetings and in my world that means less time to actually test. It also, in most cases, contradict my belief that in order to discover things we need to explore and we cannot predict what we will learn. We cannot identify risks without first considering the context, or rather contexts. Without identifying the risks, and contexts, we cannot make any form of decision about what to test first or where to put in the biggest test effort. In order to succeed I must start with context in order to determine the proper course of actions.

I did manage to get the teacher to admit that we were learning this stuff for the exam. He did say exactly that. Sure, we do learn this for the exam and that means that since there is very little substantial stuff that can be useful in practice that statement in it self meant that three days doing this was truly a waste of out time. Personally I learn more useful stuff any three days of any year than I did doing this.

Models? Oh yes, there were many models presented to us. No new revolutionary models, I didn't expect that anyway, but some well known ones like state transition models etc. Now personally I don't have any problems with models and I think models can be useful. In the right context. With the right information to the people the models are presented to. The primary piece of information, for me, is the reminder that a model is just a model. It's not the whole picture and it never can be. It's just a model. When using a model it's imperative that all that are presented with the model are aware that it is just that. A model. It can be useful to spark new test ideas. Any state transition model would likely give you many new test ideas. The same goes for equivalence partitioning. It can show you a small part of what needs to be tested in an area of the system but don't fool yourself that it will provide you with all data you need to test that area. It's just a model. It can give you ideas about what to test and how to test. In many cases, in my experience, creating a model may take more time to do than simply consulting my own experience and thinking. Many times that will produce the same test ideas that a model will and it will do it faster. Sometimes starting on a model may be all that is needed to get the test ideas. If that helps, do it! To me there is no value in completing a model unless I intend to use it for communication or I believe it will help me get more test ideas. Simply completing it for its own sake has no value to me.

The main thing I will remember about this experience is when the teacher, the ISTQB-dude, admitted that we learn this for the exam and thereby implying that it's not learning to be better testers that is the point. I knew that going in but it's nice to hear a "believer" admit that it is so.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

SWET2 - A great way to spend a weekend

Back home again, tired and inspired, after a weekend of test talk outside Göteborg. The second installment of SWET, SWET2, with 15 testers. This was my first peer conference and I hope there'll be more to come. The format was great and we had some very inspired, and inspiring, discussions. I come back with a bunch of new thoughts and ideas that I will try to mold into something I can use, when the opportunity arises.

Thanks to Rikard, Martin and Henrik for arranging a great gathering.

The delegates were: Christin Wiedemann, Torbjörn Ryber, Azin Bergman, Fredrik Scheja, Henrik Andersson, Johan Jonasson, Ola Hyltén, Sigge Birgisson, Simon Morley, Rikard Edgren, Henrik Emilsson, Martin Jansson, Steve Öberg, Robert Bergqvist, Saam Koororian. All contributed to a great weekend!

The tweets from SWET2 might tell you something about the discussions that went on

Friday, March 25, 2011

There's hope for the future

Yesterday I was talking to my oldest daughter, 9 years old, when we were driving home from her school, like I do every day, and she told me they'd had a test/exam during the day. Nothing strange in that since they are in the middle of a period when they have their first "real test/exams". It's a set of national tests that all 3'rd graders take in Sweden. I was curious about how she had experienced that and what the test was about. I've hear her teacher talk about how it works and they do some things in groups and some individual tasks and not everything at once but it can start one afternoon one week and be continued next week or the next day. Some of the tests are connected so that the results, and learnings, from one test is the starting point of another. All in all I was impressed with the development since this is nothing like it was when I was at school.

I asked her what the subject was, what the test was about, and I got the answer: I'm not sure. That sparked my curiosity and I asked her to describe what they'd been doing. To say the least I was pleasantly surprised. She told me that they had to solve a mathematical problem and then describe how they had solved it. They were free to use written language, mathematical language (her words) or images and diagrams to describe the process. I had a big smile on face the rest of the drive home and we talked more about it. She had mixed written language and math and imagery and I said -That's great. find it easier to understand how someone else has thought if I get different types of information about it. We talked about the use of imagery and how the combination of different ways of communication can make it easier to understand another person.

I was impressed that this had been implemented in the tests and exams and it raised my hopes for the future. I do believe that all is not as bad as I had feared in the school system in Sweden today. We are moving forward and I hope that most, if not all, teachers use this approach in the class room. Letting the kids think for themselves and use different means of communication to explain what they've learned.