Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It's here ... Post 100!

Are we really on post 100 already?  How did we get here?

I started blogging in 2010 because I found myself during a period “on the bench” between assignments wanting to write up what I knew about testing.  Instead I have found that over the course of 100 posts it’s been very much about not just talking about what I knew, but exploring possibilities beyond my testing comfort zone.

Over the last few weeks I’ve looked through some of my older posts – some I’m really tempted to revisit or rewrite.  This is good, because it means that I’ve grown not just in my writing style but also in my knowledge.  If I had looked at my blog and felt “well my knowledge has been static over 100 blog posts” I would have to question what I was getting out of it.

I’ve said before, and will say it again here, the main person I write my blog for is myself, it’s almost like finding my inner voice on subjects and exploring them in the company of myself.  That said, I’m thrilled that others are reading my pieces, and excited by every bit of feedback I get.

I’ve tried to investigate testing – along the way I’ve learned that a heck of a lot of testing is about what I call “human factors” - our mindset, our relationships with other people, our psychology.  This came out in posts where we explored death in “the problems we can’t fix”, and touched on dysfunctional office relationships in “the Kobayashi Maru of office relationships”.

In terms of testing, we’ve explored around the subject of understanding giving meaningful reporting in “the metrics of destination”, looked into how the different testing activities link together, used a summary dashboard to plan testing, and used testing personas to help us imagine new tests and how our customers may perceive bugs.

On the way I’ve found myself telling personal stories I could not have imagined covering when I originally started the blog, in pieces like the tribute to my friend Violet (who is someone I find myself returning to talk about time and again) and my own brush with death in “the saga of the stone”.  As I got to write more about testing, so I learned more and more the core part of being a tester is the idea of courage, something I talked more about in “the ethics of my father” in Testing Circus.

It’s thus somewhat apt that post 99 was perhaps the most emotive, discussing my time in old East Germany, and my brush with several members of a Neo-Nazi group in “the road not travelled”.

This week whilst tidying the study, I picked out a book on Taoism I have on my shelves, and opened the covers.  I never really got on well with this book at the time, but the words from the introduction really leapt out at me,

“Tao encompasses a message of balance and proportion- you must seek to avoid discord and to find harmony by finding the middle way between two extremes”

That Taoist theme has been repeated again and again, and has been very much the heart of this blog.  In first seeking to understand two differing positions, to analyse their strengths and the limitations they thrust upon you, and to explore the dangerous ground in-between.

Thanks for walking that minefield with me …

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Road Not Travelled

I think everyone will have had a similar tale of someone who they admired or had a crush on in their youth, but never quite had the courage to break the ice with from sheer awkwardness.  As age creeps in, it’s easy to play the “what if” game about “the one you let get away”, wondering who they were and what would life be like.  This is the disturbing tale of one such crush of mine, and the revelation of the last week.

Let me take you back in time to 1995.  I was studying for a Masters degree in “the physics of laser communications”, it was a course ran partly at the University of Essex, and ran in partnership with a number of foreign Universities as an exchange program.  I was feeling somewhat bored with life in the UK, and the idea of study abroad seemed an exciting adventure not to be missed.

I also had substantial chip on my shoulder from school –I’d bombed out of my German language exam with a “U” grade for “Ungradable” (really, really bad).  So when the opportunity came up for study in Jena, Germany at the Friedrich-Schiller-University, this was my chance to revisit this failure – after all some German would be better than none, and how could I fail to be fluent if I immersed myself in the language?  “Besides”, people kept telling me, “everyone in Germany speaks great English, you’ll get on fine”.

The other thing people kept telling me was a recurring prophecy that “you’ll probably meet some German girl, and never want to come home”.  Part of this was due to me going through a particularly bad break-up recently, which to be honest was part of the allure of getting as far away from the UK as possible.

Arriving in Jena it turned out that the “everyone speaks English” myth about Germany was spot on … for West Germany.  Unfortunately I was going to the part which until 1990 was part of “The Old East” under the thumb of a brutal Communist regime that had the gall to describe itself as the “German Democratic Republic”.

Jena in 1995 was only a few of years into reunification.  It was part of a country struggling to find a new identity, whilst reconciling it’s past.  Even in our time we were told at the Institute of Applied Optics how a few members of staff were being “asked to leave” after accusations that they had been “too friendly” with the old Communist regime, especially the dreaded Stasi, the East German Secret Police.

The people had lived under a regime which had taught them to distrust each other, but especially to distrust foreigners.  Whilst many we met relished the freedom the fall of the Communism had brought, and rejected these old values, amongst a few, that attitude had prevailed.  I remember being shocked at an altercation on a late night bus where someone had taken great offence that a black guy had boarded a bus holding hands with a white girl.  I remember me and fellow student Donnacha being one of the many on that bus forming a wall between the racist thug who wanted to get violent with this interracial couple.  And I remember the man who stood up to this thug and told him to his face how out of line his behaviour was.

It was a rude awakening.  And this was the country people told me I’d be falling in love with?

As students we lived in Lobeda – a small district 5 km outside of Jena where we studied.  Getting to and from town, we all travelled the commuter bus.  Buses being probably one of the few things East Germany got right.

Although Lobeda had a few historic and “quaint” buildings, most of it consisted of massive, ugly, run down accommodation blocks.  The Communist government had designated it a suburb, and hastily thrown up a wall of concrete apartments – each with a now boarded up office in the foyer, where (it was explained to me) a representative of the Stasi would clock people in and out of the building, as well as regularly turn over people’s apartments looking for anything suspicious.  The Communists may have left, but the still suburb had all the charm of a high security prison.

Every day was a shuffle back and forth between Lobeda and Jena on the bus network – as a young student you got to notice familiar faces.  Especially female ones.  I never knew her as anything else than “the Lobeda bus girl”, but I’d see her most days.  I thought as she got off at the same stop, she was another student.  She was pretty, but I never got the nerve up to ever speak to her properly – with my poor German, it’d be a struggle to communicate, and she seemed surly a lot of the time.  But then at the time I was a recovering Smiths fan, and I didn't really do “happy” much myself.  My lab partner Donnacha was totally different - with his Irish charm and non-existent German, he was still able through sheer Irish bravado get results in breaking the language barrier by just speaking very loud in English and laughing a lot – whilst I never really had the knack of breaking the awkwardness of introducing myself to someone who didn't understand me.

I met “the Lobeda bus girl” a couple of times around Jena.  I’d learned to stay close to Donnacha, as it seems an Irishman in East Germany was a novelty, and a lot of German girls would come over just to hear him speak.  Staying friends with Donnacha, you’d always be invited to the best parties.  Beate was friends with one of the girls who was entranced with the Irish rogue, and Beate would always tag along.  We would exchange half-smiles – Beate was the quiet friend to her excitable German friend as I was the quiet friend to Donnacha.  Half smiles and looks was all I think was all the language we managed to communicate in.

She was hard to forget – it was a long, hot summer in Germany.  The boys wore shorts and T-shirts all the time, and the women too wore minimal attire – and I was young, hormonal and disastrously single.  Yes, she burned herself into my memory.  So that’s my tale – the tale of “the Lobeda bus girl”, one of many “what if” scenarios which play through my head.  One of the many “what ifs” we all have running and meshing through our lives.

That was until this week, when I read the story of Beate Zschaepe in the news.

The news described her as "the lone survivor" of a criminal neo-Nazi gang called the NSU (National Socialist Movement).  The other two male members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe B√∂hnhardt, had committed suicide after a botched bank raid, and Beate handed herself into the Police in Jena after destroying her apartment in Zwichen..  As a gang, the NSU are suspected of being involved in the murder of at least 10 people (mainly Turkish immigrants) in Germany, as well as responsible for a series of bombings in migrant areas and a string of violent bank robberies.

This was horrific stuff, but the face of Beate Zschaepe was just too familiar, and looking up details of Beate’s life, there is was clearly – the old photos, the details of her past living in a studio flat in Lobeda in the 1990s.  The chance of it being someone who just looked like “the Lobeda bus girl” dwindled to almost nil.

It was unsettling – a rose coloured piece of my past, tainted. That attractive girl, who seemed one of the few highlights of the drab and oppressing urban landscape of Lobeda had been exposed as something disturbing and horrifying.

It was chilling.  We’re too used to watching films and seeing the villain signposted.  Some actors are typecast now as playing villains – Sean Bean just has to walk into a scene and I’m sure he’s the one behind it all (bit of a shock when Game Of Thrones played out the way it did, I can assure you).  Yet every day there’s another tale of a serial killer unmasked, a teen who goes on a shooting spree or person found to be behind a terrorist attack.  And almost all the time the story is the same “they seemed like a nice person … just normal”.  Seeing her on the bus, Beate was an “object of affection” who looked like she might be a student protester who wanted to hug trees and save whales.  But she wasn’t, she was engaged - even at the time – in something truly evil, and was on the run soon afterwards being implicated in bomb making and bomb threats.  But when I saw her on the bus or with her friend, there was no warning placard above her, she didn’t sneer or laugh like a witch – to be honest she seemed more normal than me.

So on the one hand there’s the memory of that pretty (if surly and quiet) twenty year old girl, who seemed to traipse around Jena during a hot summer braless (I noticed) in baggy T-shirts and the shortest of shorts.  It’s hard not to have very strong and sensual youthful memories of her.  But on the other hand there’s the tale of the 38 year old handing herself into the Police for her involvement with a terrorist movement motivated by hatred to perform a series of sick crimes.  It’s difficult to reconcile that these two Beates are one and the same.

A friend of mine noted “she’s still a bit of a looker” after seeing her court appearance, though failing to grasp the fact that though she was the girl I once thought cute and desirable, there’s nothing attractive about hatred.  And through her involvement with the NSU she has committed her life to that hatred.  I’ve spent years judging that particular book by it’s cover – and where I saw a hopefully erotic romance, someone else opened the pages to find only Mein Kampf inside.

Maybe the game of “what if” in our past makes us forget to be thankful for the gifts we truly have in the here and now.

The pictures of a a girl who I guess I'll always have trouble "seeing that way" (the evil way she really was) from how I knew her ...


There is an eerie after word, which perhaps serves as this saga’s only uplifting piece.  In looking through the old photographs of the NSU, I came across this picture below, a series of pictures circa 1996

The man in the middle is named Uwe Boehnhardt, one of the double suicides of the NSU after that failed bank raid.  And he, like Beate, has a face that is disturbingly familiar.  After almost 18 years, it’s impossible to be certain, but he looks distinctly like the “bus racist” who I spoke about earlier.

It was the last bus from Jena to Lobeda on a Friday night – a bunch of us had been drinking in town, and Uwe was at the back, when an interracial couple came on the bus, hand in hand.  Uwe was immediately agitated, shouting abuse in a language that both myself and Donnacha had trouble understanding.  But when he got up aggressively and started walking down the bus at the couple, his violent meaning was plain.

I wasn’t the first person to act, and I don’t know who did.  But someone got out of their seat to block the bus walkway from Uwe so he could not pass.  Once one person did it, it’s as if we all did it in unison – including me and Donnacha – it was a true “I’m Sparticus” move of solidarity and defiance.

At this point, his violent intentions were frustrated, and there was no way for him to go through us, when a middle aged man got out of his seat, slapping Uwe around the head.  The man looked like a Germanic version of Ray Winstone – a tough, hard man who’d be able to have most people in a fight.  Yet when he spoke he spoke, he did so emotionally, almost in tears talking about “schade” or “shame”.

Uwe reluctantly got back to his seat.  When the interracial couple got off the bus, Uwe tried to as well, with the intention of following them – however the other passengers wouldn't let him get off for another two stops.

Germany gets a raw deal - because of World War Two, they are often portrayed in popular culture as Nazis or people “only obeying orders”.  But Germany is so much more than that.  Germans, especially East Germans have experience the harshness of first Fascism and then Communism, regimes that promised much, but turned out to be more brutal than the problems they vowed to solve.

Over the next few months there will be a lot of talk about the NSU, of Beate Zschape or Uwe Boehnhardt and of their victims.  But no-one will hear the tale of the last bus from Jena.  The people on that bus could have ignored what was going on – they could have looked the other way in case Uwe turned on them.  But they didn’t.  Because one person found the courage to make a stand, countless others, including myself also found that same courage, and found that we were not alone.  And one remarkable man, who I’ll never know his name, stood up to a bully and a murderer and said “this is not right, this is wrong, and what you do brings shame to us all”.

Prejudice is ugly, and it comes in all shapes and sizes – against colour, against gender, against sexuality.  If there is a lesson from the last bus from Jena against all the murder and hatred of the NSU, it’s this, make a stand.  Make a stand, you won’t be alone.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Test Plan Dashboard

This week I needed help develop a test plan for use in another area in the business, and found myself digging out my tried-and trusted Test Plan Dashboard (TPD) template.

The TPD is something I developed back at Kiwibank (through the suggestion of my line manager, Matt Winter), to have a simple, A3 sheet way of displaying what was planned for testing, in order to share with stakeholders and project managers.

I previously talked a little bit about it back in 2011 under Communication – Better Ways Of Doing It, however never showed the final version of what I used.

Anyway, here it is, filled out for a totally fictional project, the “Paint Mixer 2000” (by the way, if you're wondering, Mitre 10 is a New Zealand hardware chain),

I’ve found it to be an invaluable resource to help me fill out the big questions around the testing project.  Questions which of course all testers will be familiar with,

  • Introduction – what is the project all about?
  • In-Scope – what will we be testing?
  • Out-Of-Scope – what won’t we be testing?
  • Entry Conditions – when can we start?
  • Exit Conditions – when can say we’re done?
  • Timescales – how long do we think it’ll take?
  • People – who’ll be working on the project?
  • Test Environment – where will we best testing on?
  • Risks – what could go wrong?

Put it to the test now.  Enlarge the image of the Paint Mixer 2000 TPD picture, and see if in just a few minutes you feel comfortable about what the product is, and what will be tested.

I’ve had phenomenal feedback from the TPD.  Originally designed as a tool to summarise a test plan, I’ve actually used it to revise the way I approach test planning over the years.  Instead of being derived from the test plan, I now use it as a consulting tool to help me build a test plan/strategy on medium to large projects, or as a substitute for a large plan on much smaller projects.

When I was on huge integration projects with a lot of testing elements (many of which you can't hope to be an expert in), I would take a blank copy around all the testing sections (including those external areas) and talk with the experienced testers there in that field or on that technology, and together we’d fill in and scope out what their testing phase would look like.

If you sit together with the experts, you can fill it in on your laptop within about 15-30 minutes, but rather than asking for a test plan at a later date and reviewing, the session is interactive and you can make enquiries of them, adding elements to either the In-Scope or Out-Of-Scope as you go.

Go around each section, and put a whole group of these together, which can be posted on the wall.  It’s like putting together pieces of a testing jigsaw.  Now when you’re looking at creating your master test plan, you can try to draw up who will be focusing on what – you may find there are some elements which simply don’t have a home, and maybe you need to negotiate to get them tested in a certain phase by yourself or an outside party.  It’s a great tool for building a big picture.

And as I learned from the BAs who I worked alongside with at Kiwibank, and used similar tools - it's about harnessing together a collaborated plan, which everyone feels listened to and ownership of, and harnesses everyone's expertise

Last year when I was working on the Building A Test Culture article that was published in the Testing Circus magazine, I was struck by something Janet Gregory said about “make testing visible”.  It’s a comment that gripped me from the moment I read it, and still does.

There is a lot of mystery around testing – much of this leads to misunderstanding.  That makes many testers understandably annoyed.  However for us as testers, the ball is squarely in our court to try and remove that.  I think the TPD is one way to do just that, because it’s a very visual way to look at what our testing charter and constraints are, and unlike a plan that’s kept in a draw, this can be kept on a wall, on display for all to see.  But not just for project managers and business owners – it should be visible for all testers as well, so they are comfortable about what they are testing to, and what the project goals are.

So have a go at making your own, play with it, get feedback and see if it helps to make testing more visible for you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Who's testing? Or everything I learned as a child about testing from Doctor Who ...

This year celebrates a remarkable 50 years of one of my favourite TV programs, Doctor Who.  For many testers, fiction in the form of Doctor Who, Star Trek and I, Robot were our staple diet as children, and in many cases form a good education for testers-in-training.

Many stories deal with technology-gone-wrong, that's exploited through the application of logic.  Perhaps no more that the Doctor who has faced many computerised and mechanised foes. The Doctor defeates his enemies not by use of brute force, but by studying and then exploiting their weaknesses.  Truly a model warrior-tester for us all.

Here are captured some of my favourite quotes from the series (not every one is attributed to the Doctor) that every tester should be aware of ....

The First Doctor - William Hartnell

"I know these Earth people better than you, their minds reject things they don't understand."
Pretty much the same way many people are caught out by testing bugs they can't imagine/believe being a problem or worth investigating.

"I don't believe that man was made to be controlled by machines. Machines can make laws, but they can not preserve justice. Only human beings can do that."
Remember, at the heart of any automation or computer system, there will always be a human being.

Ian: Doctor, why do you always show the greatest interest in the least important things?
The Doctor: The least important things, sometimes, my dear boy, lead to the greatest discoveries.
How many Exploratory Testers will testify to this?

The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

"I am not a student of human nature. I am a professor of a far wider academy of which human nature is merely a part."
As testers, understanding how people behave when using (or perhaps more accurately, misusing) a system and respond to issues is an important part of our understanding.

Eric Klieg: Doctor, you seem to be very familiar with this place.
The Doctor: Oh no, not really, um, it's all based on symbolic logic, the same as you use in computers. The opening mechanism to this door, an or-gate you call it.
Eric Klieg: Yes yes, I can see that, but how did you know in the first place?
The Doctor: Oh, I used my own special technique.
Eric Klieg: Oh really Doctor, and may we know what that is?
The Doctor: Keeping my eyes open and my mouth shut.
You can give it fancy names, but in a nutshell, this is the core of testing.

"The best thing about a machine that makes sense is you can very easily make it turn out nonsense."
Whoops ... says every testers who've ever found ways to do this.  Hint - if you've never found a way to do this, try Elisabeth Hendrickson's Cheat Sheet!

The Doctor: In 2 minutes 38 seconds, you're going to have an almighty explosion! The readings say so!
Clent: Well how can you possibly know that? I haven't even -- I haven't even processed them through the computer yet!
The Doctor: I don't need a computer.
[After handing out instructions and averting the disaster]
The Doctor: Yes, that should hold it steady. It's not a perfect job, mind you. You ought to get an expert in, you know.
Clent: How did you -- it was all a bluff, wasn't it, that 2 minutes 38 seconds to danger.
The Doctor: Oh no, it was near enough correct. Give or take a second.
Clent: Rubbish.
The Doctor: Check it on your precious computer then.
Clent: Miss Garrett, do so.
Garret [reads to computer]: Ioniser fall rate, 7 2.4. Ion compensator, minus 1 7 degrees. Ion flow rate, 1 3 7 9. Assessment please.
Computer: Immediate emergency. In two minutes thirty seven seconds, the reactor will explode.
The Doctor: Well, a second out. We can't all be perfect.
Don't trust so much in computer prediction over human experience.

"People spend all their time making nice things and then other people come along and break them!"
As you make a developer cry ...

"I hate computers and refuse to be bullied by them!"
Words every tester should live by.  Do not be intimidated by the very machines you're there to test ...

"Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority."
Although logic is a good start point for testing, it only allows you to test models you expect. Sometimes problems happen outside those models, because of things you don't understand or expect.  It's not that you're stupid, it's just that something else is happening, more than you'd expect ...

The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee

"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting."
Sounds like an exploratory tester ...

The Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker

"Well, of course I'm being childish! There's no point being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes."
If you're not enjoying testing, perhaps you're doing it wrong.

Brigadier: Believe me, Doctor, the place is impregnable!
The Doctor: Never cared much for the word 'impregnable.' Sounds a bit too much like 'unsinkable.'
Harry Sullivan: What's wrong with unsinkable?
The Doctor: 'Nothing,' as the iceberg said to the Titanic!
Don't believe the hype.  Everything has a weakness...

"The trouble with computers, of course, is that they're very sophisticated idiots. They do exactly what you tell them at amazing speed. Even if you order them to kill you. So if you do happen to change your mind, it's very difficult to stop them from obeying the original order. [stops computer from destroying Earth] But not impossible."
This covers something that a lot of people forget about computers.  People see them being smarter and more foolproof than humans.  They do some tasks incredibly well, but so far although computers can remember and calculate things so much faster than us, so far in many fields they don't even come close.  As such with automation in testing, there are some things they do amazingly well, but many other things they function much poorer than we're led to believe.

"The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering."
Testing is a very misunderstood discipline, many find that people seem to "bend the facts to fit their view".  As a tester you have to champion the art constantly from people who think "testers put those bugs in there".

 "Answers are easy. It's asking the right questions which is hard."
And of course what elevates people to being "great testers".

The Doctor: Have a go at this Davros: All elephants are pink, Nellie is an elephant, therefore Nellie is pink. Logical?
Davros: Perfectly.
The Doctor: You know what a human would say to that?
Tyssan: Elephants aren't pink.
Davros: Humans don't understand logic.
Romana II: They are not slaves to it, like the Daleks and the Movelans.
The Doctor implies a form of Black Swan problem ...

The Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison

"You know how it is; you put things off for a day and next thing you know, it's a hundred years later."
Like that process improvement you were planning to do ...

The Sixth Doctor - Colin Baker

"Malfunctioning? MALFUNCTIONING!? After all the work I've done on it!?"
Many developers will sympathise.

The Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoy

John: Sugar?
Doctor: Ah. A decision... Would it make any difference?
John: Would make your tea sweet.
Doctor: Yes, but beyond the confines of my taste buds, would it make any difference?
John: Not really.
Doctor: But what if I could control people's taste buds? What if I decided that no one would take sugar? That'd make a difference to those who sell the sugar and those who cut the cane.
John: My father, he was a cane cutter!
Doctor: Exactly. Now if no one had used sugar, your father wouldn't have been a cane cutter.
John: If this sugar thing had never started, my great grandfather wouldn't have been kidnapped, chained up and sold in Kingston in the first place. I'd be a African.
Doctor: Every great decision creates ripples. Like a huge boulder dropping in a lake. The ripples merge and rebound off the banks in unforseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.
John: Life's like that. Best thing is just to get on with it.
Testing like life is full of uncertainties.  The best thing to do is to "get on with it" and deal with problems as and if they arise.