Saturday, December 28, 2013

Are you exploring?

The following is a write up of a talk I gave at the Christmas Wellington Test Professionals Network ...

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably have noticed I have a deep passion in history, which comes across in the sheer volume of history related facts that I retweet.  I'm not alone in this passion, as indeed my son shares the same interest.  He loves to read about it, to visit exhibits, but most of all to “experience” it.

He’s sometimes a bit disappointed with moving to New Zealand – England after all has history going back thousands of years, there are battlefields galore, and sites dating back to Roman or Norman times.  New Zealand in contrast was only colonised a few hundred years ago by Maori pioneers, with colonial Britain arriving in the 19th Century.

But when he heard that there was a World War II bunker at Baring Hill, near where we live in Wainuiomata, he knew he wanted to visit it.  We knew it was there, there’s a basic website warning us it’s a moderately difficult walk.  However there's no real information on the bunker itself, and Google doesn’t really provide us with much more to go on.

England itself is filled with remnants of fortifications thrown together to defend the country in a war that (thankfully) never came.  Likewise the Baring Hill bunker doesn't exist in history books because no documented history ever happened there, and yet it still existed in some form never the less.

This meant we just simply didn't know what to expect.  We still had images in our mind from our educated guesses.  We knew there was a lot of fear during World War II of invasion from Japan, and looking at a map, the position would overlook Wellington's harbour.  Thus we expected,
•    it to be the site of a giant fortification like those used by Germany to make “Fortress Europe”.
•    it was probably the site of a gun station – we didn't expect to see a cannon still there, but maybe some fixtures / turntable to show it was once there.
•    soldiers (maybe some form of home guard) would drive to the bunker to “do a shift” and then return home at the end of it

In other words, something a bit like this,

Our expectations

All the information we had to go on ...

What did we actually find?

Well, we had been warned – but indeed it was quite a walk up there.  In fact such a walk, that we began to ask “would you really trek all this way to keep a bunker in such a remote position supplied with ammunition”.  One of the key lessons in warfare is the longer and more difficult your supply lines, the weaker your ability to commit to war.  [That said, the army do love to throw human muscle at any problem]

Quite remote - and we'd just started out ...

Onwards and upwards ...

Probably our first surprise when we did actually reach the bunker was it was facing the wrong way – not looking over Wellington harbour at all, and a lot smaller than we’d imagined, with no sign of any gun emplacement at all, but instead looked out towards the Pacific.

Nice view - but it's in an unexpected direction!

The harbour itself turned out to be far further away than we’d imagined ...

Hardly overlooking the harbour in a defensible position as we believed it would.

This wasn't a fortification for Wellington, but a lookout post!

The other key thing we noticed was that this wasn't just a lookout, but there was a collection of buildings at the site, and through observation, we could guess some of their function,

  • Quarters
  • Water tower/well
  • Wash house (it seemed to have brackets suitable for basins and was ajoined to the water tower/well)
  • Kitchen (it had a chimney)

All this unsurprisingly pointed to people not just coming here for a single shift, but staying on site for an extended period of time.  Once people were here, they were here for a while, not a shift.  This kind of made sense – even today it’s a 30 minute drive from Wainuiomata, and back then not only were cars slower, but the road was gravel, with a sizable climb afterwards.

An important thing happened though – Cameron found what he first thought were railway tracks, and pointed them out to me.  I’d seen some scuffs and ruts in the ground, but in a classic display of inattentional blindness, paid no attention to them, considering the buildings more important.

Easy to miss - but so important for determining a lot of the function to the site and it's buildings

But on inspection they weren't railway tracks, but instead water pipes from what we guessed was a water tower.  Wellington is a quake prone area, so the quakes in the last 70 years must have slowly forced the pipes up in areas.  They were important as they let us understand more of the layout of the site by paying attention to them, the direction they were going, and how they linked between buildings together.

On the way down, we came across a place called “the old pump house”.  Unlike the ruins at the bunker, this was fully restored.  Cameron thought it might be linked, but my thinking was “surely if this was created with the lookout, then it’d be left to deteriorate to the same condition”.  It just didn't look anything like the buildings we’d seen up there, so why would it be linked?

The old pump house - in a very different condition to the other buildings we encountered.

But despite this, Cameron had the courage to point out two ruts in the hill behind, which with the aid of binoculars were long straight lines, of rusted metal.  Yes, there were pipes from here going towards the lookout station – the two places did indeed seem to be linked!

To me the whole thing had been educational – not just about the site, but the way we set out on any journey with expectations, and explore them.

I'm often asked “how do you train someone to be a tester”.  Often it seems to be more “a knack” than anything.  I can’t give you a definitive list and say “if you always follow this list of actions, you’ll make a brilliant tester”.

What our exploratory excursion taught me though is that there are always things “that we expect” when we plan our trip and “what we find” when we get there.  What we find when we go out looking will always be bigger than what we expect, and it will always surprise us in ways we just can’t try to plan ahead of time.

With my son’s many observations, what’s key in unlocking the past, as with testing is to have an open mind, and to give room to make observations – about the water tower, to point out the pipes, and to champion the connection with the pump house.  If people feel comfortable to make such observations, they’ll surprise you.  Even myself I “saw something on the ground” regarding those pipes but needed someone to MAKE me look at them to take notice.  Even a trained mind can be blind to the most compelling evidence that lies at their feet.

I know I have a reputation for taking off-field ideas, and seeing how they fit into testing.  It makes me sound eccentric at times, but I genuinely believe there are analogous areas we can look at how we approach and ask ourselves “should we change the way we approach testing based on this”, what are the parallels?

If we don’t do this once in a while, we tend to get stuck in a rut of approaching everything from a very process driven methodology, and to be honest, we don’t really know what that process is supposed to achieve, except that “we've always done it that way” (and the world hasn't ended yet).

Don't be a sheep and just follow the flock ...

If we were planning a trip to a location like Highclere Castle (the location used in Downton Abbey), would we plan to get there, and time box how long we stayed, and some bullet points of things we don’t want to miss?  Or would we book a time and create a checklist that included every piece and place that we desperately wanted to see in minute detail, but leave some room for "wow, this is interesting, what's this"?

I'm hoping like me, you’d give yourself some time to explore and ask questions ...

The Papa Smurf of Testing strikes again ...


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  2. The pumphouse was indeed for the World War II bunker - to pump water from the river. It was restored by Friends of Baring Head, and is now used as a shelter for visitors. The Friends are now working on restoration of the lighthouse complex.

  3. I'am glad to read the whole content of this blog and am very excited.Thank you.