Monday, February 17, 2014

Fishing for defects with Rob Sabourin

Having met Rob Sabourin at STANZ 2013, I was really pleased to hear he was returning to New Zealand to teach Software Education's Testing Mobile Applications course, which I've got one of my team on.  Rob is a great, very charismatic speaker - if you ever get the opportunity, I really recommend hearing him speak, you'll not be disappointed.

Fortunately for Datacom, it turned out that Rob had a free day, and asking around I managed to get enough interest across the company to bring him in to run his one day "Just In Time" workshop, that focuses on managing your time and resources to perform risk based testing.

Unfortunately for me, this is the second course I've organised that, much as I'd love, I couldn't justify sending myself on.  [Organising courses for your company doesn't mean you just put yourself forward for all the cool stuff, that would be a bit greedy]

However, I managed the next best thing, which was taking Rob to lunch, and getting to talk to him.  I love catching up with other testers, whether famous speakers like Rob, people from WeTest workshops or colleagues within Datacom.  Networking, and sharing your experiences and approaches with other testers is such a great way to grow your experience, as well as find allies and kindred spirits.

So we talked testing, Canada, snow (somehow the topic always turns to snow when you're talking to a Canadian), and before I knew it, fish.  I started to gather fishing gear and giving fishing a go last year after being encouraged by one of my BA's at Kiwibank.  I have to say sadly, I'm pretty rotten.

But for Rob, fishing in a passion - he showed me pictures barely a week apart where he'd been ice fishing, and where he'd been fishing off Florida.  Ice fishing was certainly the most interesting - he's allowed to have 10 fishing rods per person in his party, and they'll sit in a heated hut, and watch their rods (because more people = more rods, he's always keen to have company when fishing it seems).  With limited rods, he has to think about how he spaces them - if he gets a lot of bites, he's developed a knack for knowing if he thinks he's exhausting the fish in that part of the ice (they're getting wise, and moving elsewhere), or if it's worth to move more rods nearby.

Obviously that has all kinds of parallels with testing - we only have limited time and resources to test, and we have to make choices about where we put our rods under the software ice to fish for problems.  Some areas we can choose to space out a lot, some we focus a lot more resources on.  But the trick is to make an estimation, make it clear your reasoning to the rest of your fishing party, and go for it ...

Of course this brings me to another point - fishermen's tales!  Rob never once talked about a fishing trip where he talked about the number of fish he brought in.  Fishermen don't seem to count.

Fishermen don't tell you the number of fish they landed, they tend to tell you about one or two, but they typically have one or two things going for them - usually it's because they're a particularly rare fish, or because it was the biggest fish they'd caught that trip.  No, fishermen don't tend to tell you how many sardines they land - the talk is about tuna, kingfish, marlin.

Even that, Rob tells me (I'm a rubbish fisherman remember), is a choice.  If you go fishing and you want big fish, you have to make a choice, you choose the bait and hook to catch big fish - little fish will slip right through.

I was lucky to catch the last 15 minutes of this workshop - even though I thought I was experienced enough in the area Rob was talking about, he presented a few ideas and techniques which I went "ooh - never thought of doing it like that".  I'm glad to have had a couple of my team on there, which means they might well get the opportunity to champion with me some new ways of doing things - it's always exciting to have the team feeling engaged and excited about new ideas!

So my takeaways for the day were without a doubt that when you know time and resources are constrained,

  • think about where you want to concentrate and priorities your efforts
  • don't communicate by counting all your defects, talk about the individual biggest issues you have
  • don't go out fishing for sardines on day one - look for the big fish.  Worry about the smaller defects when you've overfished the big ones

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