Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ethics 3 - Ethics for testers at KWST2

Looking back at my two stories before going on to discuss KWST2 (Kiwi Workshop on Software Testing), it's interesting to see my different take on two similar tales ...

In Wernher, I'm overall sympathetic to Wernher von Braun as a man in a difficult place under the Nazis, just trying to get through the war. In The Man On The Cutting Room Floor though I feel there's an element of relish and karma in the fact that Nikolai Sevnik suffers the same fate as those who he's helped to paint out of history.

There's probably something desperately unfair about that – in a way there are many parallels between the two stories, with both Wernher and Nikolai,
  • living under difficult and brutal regimes
  • both dreaming of something better – Wernher through rocket exploration, Nikolai through art
  • both men though knowing of the atrocities of the regime they live in, they both do work that is complicit in supporting it

The very act of reading through, much like reading Winston Smiths tale in Nineteen Eighty-Four, we realise how difficult their choices are and empathise to some extent with them. Even though we know how these people act and their choices are not ones we'd readily make in the society we live in.

That is the benefit of “experience reports” or “war stories” which a conference like KWST2 bring out. Much like my two stories, it allows you to walk in the difficult shoes of another person. This is why the choice of “ethical choices in the workplace” turned out to be such a great one.

Some of the stories we heard during our sessions were about

A bad tester and a bad role model”

If someone is visibly seen to be associated with testing, but you feel their ideas and values they put out are to the detriment of the testing community – how do you challenge that? Do you seek to confront them, to educate them or do you try and distance yourself?

This initially seemed a little judgemental. But when you introduce yourself to a new team member as “hi I'm a tester” and they roll their eyes and go “oh not one of those people” then your profession and by association yourself have been affected and corrupted by the expectation and press these “bad testers” can cause.

My last tester gave me the metrics I wanted”

Following on from that was a tale about how these “bad testers” could cause expectations which could be detrimental to people's expectations. One of the most contested metrics in use is “percentage tests completed”. The ISTQB and several “experts” like the story above referred to will tell all and sundry that this is a good metric to monitor testing and regularly report to management.

Most good testers will know a problem from the off. You can refer to “percentage test cases passed”, but the tester themselves know that some of those tests are 5 minutes long, and some of those tests are 3 hours long. It's like following the advice of “eat 5 pieces of fruit a day and stay healthy” so you eat 5 currents, whilst your friend eats 5 apples.

For a number to be a metric, it must be just that, a measurement. That this scenario … I have 10 tests to run,
  • 4 should take 15 minutes to run if there are no issues
  • 2 should take 30 minutes to run if there are no issues
  • 3 should take an hour
  • 1 should take 3 hours

At the end of day one, I report I am 50% through. So how long will it take me to run the other 50%? Will I be done by tomorrow?

This is the problem with metrics, and this metric in particular. If can be manipulated to tell almost any story. The peer conference was not against reporting progress to management, on the contrary there was a feeling of obligation to tell project management on what testing was achieving and the milestones it was reaching. But more through collected defect reports and progress on areas of functionality tested, not through vague and potentially misleading numbers.

Who steers the test community?”

So there is a group of testers with certain practices, and maybe certificates to prove they belong together. And over in a different area there are some more testers who have a different set of practices. So who are the better testers with the better practices with the right to call themselves “the test community”?

What became apparent through conversation was that no-one testing thought leader has the right, no matter what their credentials to declare themselves “The Test King” and demand the community bow down to them. Instead by building reputation, groups of testers should be able to cluster together, exchange ideas (much as was done over KWST2) and reach consensus. And that way the community would move forward as a group and not as a cult.

Senior testers and leaders needed to understand their ideas would have to be challenged – this was a form of empirical testing to work out the value of the ideas. This could feel a brutal system at times (I can vouch for that personally), however this is how community advanced. There was a great quote that we're all on an airliner, and we have a habit of deferring to the Captains authority (our thought leaders) at all times, but the truth is most of us have a pilots license ourselves, and we won't learn from the Captain unless we occasionally question their actions. What's more those Captains need us to question their actions to stop them from doing something really dumb when they're not paying attention – because even Captains are fallible.

In science, theories are often put forward, often causing uproar as they challenged what was seen as accepted theory and truth of the time. Both Galileo and Darwin put off releasing their ideas of 'the Earth moving around the Sun' and of evolution, because of fear of ridicule and persecution. But overall we benefited from their perseverance.

Community cannot always move forward together. In an ideal world the whole world of testers would move forward together as a mass movement. But the nature of free will, and the way we see different values in different aspects of testing, there will always be some element of fraction over ideas. And sadly sometimes those fractions cannot be band-aided. However we can't stay stuck in the past thinking the Sun moves round the Earth. Some ideas are so powerful they have to be explored – nothing should be seen as untouchable or sacred in testing.

I'm watching you … always watching you”

When a co-worked does something which you feel is wrong, what action should you take? Do you just straight go up and report them to management? Do you give them the benefit of the doubt and just keep an eye on them? Do you try and discuss directly with them?

On the topic of just reporting people– we started by talking about 1984 regimes of monitoring. I lived for a while in East Germany as a student, and the stories of the Stasi secret police keeping notes and tabs on people was deeply unpleasant. Everyone distrusted everyone, and it created a climate of fear and distrust. And so I find the idea of a project full of people reporting each other to management for the slightest infraction as really the kind of place I would not want to work.

I'd like to think I'd always want to get involved and coach the individual back into line as best I could, in fact I've done that myself several times. Often the individual had been upset or just not thought something through, and what they'd done had a minimal and fairly unseen impact. When it comes to reporting someone to a manager it just feels to me like I've failed (but sometimes it's a resort you have to sadly take). But as the stories of Wernher and Nikolai have shown, the difficulty with ethics it's sometimes all too easy to say “well I wouldn't do that” and pass judgement on another's actions. It's all too easy to be judgemental, yet your co-worker may have laboured in a difficult ethical battle of their own before taking that action. This is the importance of “walking in another's shoes” first, and in my opinion engaging with that person wherever possible before escalation.

Yet in saying that, I've also known co-workers who were caught using their work account for the most horrific acts (two members of a past company were discovered using their work machines to distribute child pornography). There are some things which are inexcusable and criminal, in such cases had I known I'd have had to report them, as they'd crossed a line that trying to talk and engage with them would not help.

Just do what you're told”

Variations on this theme came around again and again in experience reports. The scenarios involved a non-tester (often management) giving explicit instructions to a test team on what they should and shouldn't do. So in a powerful example we explored, a project manager tells the test team, “look we're going to ship this product in two weeks as is. We want you to continue testing – but any more defects, we don't want to hear about them”.

What do you do? The point of testing is to confirm behaviour, and where it deviates from expectations, report bugs. If you can't report a bug, what's the point of testing?

If you follow to the letter what you've been told, then what you're doing is acting unprofessionally – what James Bach calls “malicious compliance”, letting something fail because “I was only obeying orders”.

But what do you do? This is where the theme of “who does testing serve?” came about – do we serve the project management or do we champion customers and end users? In actual fact we're in many ways answerable to both. This was why many felt that the test team needed in some respects to be slightly independent of the rest of the project so it can make it's own calls on such doctrine. It's a good point, although the power of having the testing team under the project umbrella is the feeling of “we're all in this together” and there's much more sharing with testers than the suspicion testing's just coming in to audit software.

Strategies for dealing with this request involved a level of disobedience which attempted to honour the intent of the request, but also continue to work in a professional manner. And so bugs encountered would still be noted, but use of the company official bug tracking tool would be avoided.

If a defect was a high impact one, someone would try and talk to the manager and developers with “look, I know we're not supposed to find any more bugs … but we found a big one”. It might be that the project manager only said that comment in a moment of frustration about not reporting any more bugs – we've all heard variations of “this project would be fine if only testers didn't find any more bugs” as if it's the testers who put the bugs in there (testers don't break code, it arrives to us already broken to quote Jerry Weinberg) – and in truth this project manager despite saying “don't tell us about more bugs” would actually be pretty peeved if people followed his instructions and failed to tell him something critical about his product.

To sum up …

An amazing couple of days. I originally felt the format too confrontational on day one, but by day two where consensus was coming about, it felt like a course of therapy where we'd made real progress and got to learn more about each other, and find a lot of common ground. Just as importantly I felt the two days had taken some peers, and forged some important friendships from our shared experiences.

It's with great pleasure I've heard that several people behind the event are launching a regular WeTest meetup in Wellington, which I'm already looking forward to …

A couple of snaps I've stolen from David Greenlees (who had the honour of being sung a variation of Greensleeves to by James Bach during the event) ...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ethics 2 - The Man On The Cutting Room Floor

Foreword - A word of warning

Nothing has so divided me as the question of whether to include this short story or not on my blog. As mentioned previously, it is a short story written before this blog began and deals with something wholly unpleasant.

I like to consider this blog is overall fun and positive. The story that follows is by necessity neither, and quite dark throughout.

The story came about as I wanted to write a companion piece to my story on Wernher von Braun by talking about the life of Sergei Korolev, his Soviet rival. However I soon realised it was going to be just too similar, and I'd “been there, done that”.

One detail of Sergei's life which fascinated me was about his time in the Russian gulag. At the time, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had just died, and so it led me to do a lot of research around them. I was shocked at how brutal they were, they were essentially death camps almost on a par with the concentration camps of the Nazis (they didn't have the mass exterminations, but life expectancy was still brutally short).

I'd also seen a documentary about Joseph Stalin, talking about the terror and censorship during his reign, and how anyone he felt threatened by would be written and painted out of history, and sent to either the gulag prison camps or the firing squad. George Orwells world of Nineteen Eighty-Four would have a similar concept called “vapourising” where traitors became an “unperson”, written out of history.

And so the idea came about for a story about an artist who'd censored and written so many faces finding themselves in the gulag, waiting their turn to be written out of history ...

The Man On The Cutting Room Floor

The bitter wind rattled and spat through the gaps in the wooden walls. The hut they lived in was poorly put together, but what else could Siberian slaves expect? They weren’t here to be comfortable, but to be punished and through their suffering redeem their crimes by making glorious State strong.

Welcome to the gulags of Siberia.

Nikolai Sevnik, scuttled across the room of the slave barracks like a rat, looking for his beloved loose floorboard. He found it, teased it up, and retrieved his personal possessions – a few scraps of paper and the smallest remainder of a pencil. It had been another exhausting day.

He pocketed his possessions and took his food into a corner to eat. It had been a bad day in the mines, and he’d failed to collect his quota of ore. This was punishable in the gulags with half rations. That was a joke, as at the best of time a full ration was never enough to combat the hunger after a twelve hour shift in the mines.

It had been a bad day indeed – three of the fingers of his left hand had been broken in a rockslide, and yet he’d been the lucky one. A couple of other slaves had been caught underneath and had been instantly crushed – no-one had tried to rescue them, it was not the Siberian way. A doctor who’d reeked of vodka had inspected him, tied dirty cloth around his hand and told him “you are healthy, go back to work”.

Nikolai had tried to complain about his rations, saying about the landslide and how hard it had been to work with a broken hand. One of the guards jammed the but of his rifle into Nikolai’s stomach, then kicked him in the head as Nikolai bend over in pain.

“You lazy Trotskist. You want to eat you must work first!” The guard had spat at him. Nikolai shouldn’t have been surprised. Mercy and compassion were in short enough supply in Russia in these days of Stalin. But in the Siberia workcamps, they were non-existent.

Nikolai started into his food. The small chunk of bread was black and stale, and he had a small dish of watered down porridge. Nikola had lost many of his teeth since his arrival at Dzhezkazgan, so dunked his bread into his porridge, hoping to soften it a little before chewing it.

He took up the pencil in his good hand. His handwriting wasn’t as steady as it once was, the constant use of a pick these last 18 months caused constant tremors in his hand. Every night he wrote a little – it was his only way to remember that he’d had a life outside of Dzhezkazgan, a life outside the slave camp with it’s barbed wire, sentry towers and harsh weather.

He’d fallen from grace – so many here had. Before this, he’d been an artist in Lenningrad, a good one. But his skills had caught the eye of important members of the Communist party. They needed good artists to tell the bold story of how comrade Stalin was changing Russia for the better. People needed to understand how much their government were doing for them. The Communist party needed bold art, posters, postcards, books to help teach and indoctrinate the people.

In the past, Nikolai had always struggled as an artist, having to supplement it with work in various factories when needed. But for the first time he had found himself comfortable with regular work. It had been a happy time – he, his wife and their little girl Ania had moved into a decent apartment.

Then came the first of the “special assignments”. His work was always brought over to his apartment come studio by his party handler Sergei. Nikolai never learned his last name – but he was a powerful figure in the Communist party, that much he knew.

Sergei had arrived, and seemed unusually reticent to hand over the wrapped assignment.

“What is it comrade?” Asked Nikolai. Sergei’s nervous disposition had piqued Nikolai’s curiousity. Sergei fumbled hesitantly with his moustache whilst Nikolai tore open the brown paper – this was something new … a large photograph of an open air speech. “I see it’s comrade Lenin”, he observed.

“Yes, yes …” Muttered Sergei, as if trying to put something delicately which could be a matter of life and death. “Lenin is giving a rousing speech to the troops in 1920. It’s an important photograph for the state … the problem is that man!” He pointed nervously to a face nearby Lenin, Nikolai recognised it. “The traitor Trotski”, explained Sergei.

“Yes the traitor.” Mused Nikolai half-heartedly. How quickly times change. Under the days of Lenin, Trotski had been his right hand man and natural successor to his legacy. But since the death of Lenin and the rise of Stalin, Trotski had been denounced a traitor of the revolution, and had fled in fear of retribution from Stalin’s regime.

“It’s a great shame he’s there …” Sergei continued in a fake empathic voice. Nikolai felt himself being slowly and skilfully backed into the corner. “The presence of such a traitor in such a historic picture. It undermines not only Lenin, but the whole Revolution. If only he could be … removed from it?”.

Nikolai knew where this was going. He carried it over to the window where he could get a better look, and held it close to his face. “It would be difficult … “

“But can it be done?”

“I don’t see why not. Might take some time though …”

Sergei gave out a huge sigh of relief like a condemned man just pardoned. “Thank you comrade … the People will not forget this”.

It wasn’t something Nikolai had tried before – canvas and paper had been his usual medium. He managed to get some other photographs to experiment with, calling in a few favours with a friend who developed photographs in his apartment. He tried using brushes, but the brushwork was always too obvious. It was only with airbrushing in subtle, small jets that the work appeared seamless. It was almost fascinating how in little puffs the face of the traitor slowly fade away, until at last hidden from the eyes of history.

Nikolai managed it, and a week later was handing over a new, airbrushed copy of the same photo, sanitised for the good of the Revolution. Sergei was pleased “this is quite an achievement, you have the thanks of the State for this” he beamed, it will not be forgotten.

And that was that thought Nikoli. He was sure it would be a one-off. But he was soon to be proved wrong. It the purges and the terror, it became a mini-industry. More were to follow, others Nikoli had never heard of. So many criminals and traitors to the state, and he removed them one by one from history. He called them the men on the cutting room floor, edited from the film reel of history.

It got that he barely was surprised anymore. One week he’d be reading about one man’s heroics in Pravda, and then airbrushing him from history barely a month later. You couldn’t help but be cynical about it, but Nikolai knew to voice it would be a death sentence. It was almost impossible to keep up with who was hero and who was traitor at any given moment.

And the crimes of these people. One person was charged and sent to Siberia for burning down a State building a month ago. Yet Nikolai had passed that very same building to find it very much standing and unscathed.

It was like insanity – just an accusation was enough. There was never any shortage of crimes you could be charged with. And evidence was never really an issue, everyone who appeared in the court was always found guilty.

Every other week you heard of another traitor being denounced in Lenningrad. It felt almost like a quarter of the city had been shipped off now, so many windows boarded up. Everyone was terrified of their neighbour, and quick to denounce them as a traitor before they themselves were accused.

One week, a new handler arrived to meet Nikolai, explaining “What a terrible business about comrade Sergei”. It came as no surprise. Nikolai did not even bother to ask the man’s name or the fate of his old handler.

Yet somehow he thought if he remained useful and kept quiet, he’d be safe from the terror sweeping the country. He was wrong.

They came for him in the night, and they didn’t just take him. They took them all, him, his wife, his daughter. He had stood before the judge the next morning charged with manufacturing Troskist propaganda. He’d argued his loyalty was unswerving, and he’d been working tirelessly for the state.

His first commission was brought out. He was charged with doctoring a photo of Lennin talking to the troops, and doctoring it to look like the traitor Trotsky was present. Nikolai had tried in vain to argue that was the original photograph. But the judges had already made up their mind – 20 years in Siberia for him, and all the traitors in his family who’d conspired with him.

He never even got to see his wife or his little 13 year old Ania at the trial. They were kept elsewhere. He was loaded on a train for Siberia that very afternoon. A train of the doomed traitors. So many of them crammed in there, it was crushing, the air was foul and there was no water. Half of them died on the way, and only at their destination had the living been separated from the dead.

They’d been made to carry out the dead, and pile their bodies up. Some of the guards looted through the pockets of the dead, looking for anything of value. And then at gunpoint the living prisoners buried the dead.

Nikolai remembered how nervous he’d felt working at gunpoint. It was amazing how quickly you got used to it. These days you’d hear a gunshot, and hold your breath, and if you were okay you wouldn’t even look around to see who’d aroused the anger of the guards. You kept your head down, and tried to not be noticed.

Life in Lennongrad wasn’t always roses – there’d been times when work was scarce and food was scarer they’d starved. His first child, a son was stillborn. He’d known his share of misery. But it was nothing to the misery of the gulags.

Each day they were marched to the copper mines in the morning. It paid not to be the last or to stumble in the word party, as the guards would often shoot anyone who lagged. Then someone in the work detail would be chosen to bury the dead.

There was no empathy left now, you had to survive, each time a gun went off, you just thanked that it wasn’t you. You carried on. Nikolai hated being chosen to bury the dead. It meant he’d be late to the mines. You only got full food rations when you achieved your quota, and that was difficult enough. When you’d started the day digging a grave through the frozen mud, you were already behind.

The sheds in which they were kept offered poor protection against the Siberian winters, they were more to confine the prisoners than offer luxury. There was little fuel, and the blankets thin, threadbare and lice ridden. You only had the clothes you arrived with. Sometimes if you were lucky you’d be asked to bury someone with better shoes than you, and you could swap as long as you were quick about it. But generally they weren’t. Your clothes would tear and reek, but you’d go on as best you could. You couldn’t complain, because there was no-one here who cared.

Going on as best you could was all you could hope for. 20 years in Siberia when you’re slowly being starved. Everyone knew it would be a death sentence. You knew that after your first week.

There were few things in life to look forward to. But at least there were women here. They would arrive separately from the men – he’d never seen his wife or little Ania arrive, and in his heart he hoped they’d died on the train rather than endure this living hell. Being reduced to little than an unwelcome rat in a farmhouse, scurrying, always scurrying and trying to avoid being exterminated at any moment.

The women would arrive and be stripped naked, paraded for the attentions of the guards. Any they liked the look of would be assigned “special duties”. Sometimes the guards would feel the need to inspect any woman who took their liking, handling them roughly like a buyer at a cattle market inspects a potential buy. The women were all new, not knowing the way of the gulag life. Occasionally one would resist this treatment. When this would happen, the bullet the guards would put in her head acted as a warning to the others. You never saw another women resist the guards once they knew where it got them.

As a man, if you worked well and met your quotas, you were allowed “personal time” with a woman once a month. It’d been four months since Nikolai had last earned that privilege. She’d been a young girl, no more than the age of Ania. Nikolai never spoke to her as he used his privileges with her, her trembling skeletal form beneath him as he excised his lust. There was no tenderness between them or any of the women – how could there be in this savage place.

These days he didn’t even have enough energy to think of being aroused. Lust, love, comfort, they were almost forgotten things, like something in a tale that happened to another people.

The lamps were doused for the evening, and one by one the prisoners settled for the night, knowing another brutal day waited for them tomorrow. Nikolai hid his possessions back under the floorboard, and tried to sleep as best he could, but the pain in his fingers was too much for even his exhaustion. He woke to see his fingers in his dirty bandages nothing more than dirty black swollen sausages, that he could barely move.

His work detail were collected, and he grabbed his tools, but his left hand could not hold them, and they kept slipping from his grasp. One last time he bent down to pick them up, watching the others walk away to the mine.

It was just no use. He was falling behind. It was his time, and there was no use fighting it any more.

He heard the guard behind him, heard them cock their rifle.

He closed his eyes and whispered to himself “I’m coming home Ania”.

He never heard the shot that followed.

A prisoner was fetched to bury the mornings dawdler. He’d seen the dead man around, but didn’t know his name. Would it make any difference if he did? He was disappointed that the dead mans clothes were too worn to salvage, and his shoes no better.

He lowered the dead man into the grave, and shovel by shovel, obscuring the face and identity of whoever this was. As Nikolai had buried the faces in photographs, erasing them with his airbrush, now it was Nikolai’s turn to become the man on the cutting room floor, his name and story obscured for all history.

For when their names have been removed from all records, when their faces have been painted over and their family and friends killed in obscurity. When all this is done, who remembers the men on the cutting room floor?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ethics 1 - Wernher

Rubbing his eyes, Wernher von Braun decided to call it a night. Gathering and collecting his papers together on his desk into meticulous order, he looked at his study clock – it was past one o’clock in the morning– far too late. His wife Maria had already turned in, but he knew it was pointless. He’d had a several disturbed nights recently, and felt that tonight would probably end up much the same.

He leaned back on his chair, sighed and took a moment to look around his study filled with memorabilia from his long career in rockets. Pictures of his achievements, of him with world leaders and celebrities, and of course his beloved model rockets were everywhere. Almost every rocket he’d worked on was here - they were his legacy. However there was one that was conspicuous by its absence.

His study reflected his life now in America – but it was a sanitised version of his life. Looking around there wasn’t a single reminder to him or any visitor of his past in Germany so long ago now. No mention of his A-4 rocket that had made him such a prize to world government. To him it was always the A-4 rocket, though to Hitler it was the Vengeance weapon of the German nation, and to many a frightened European city resident looking to the skies in terror it was the V-2.

Rockets had been his passion since he was a boy. He remembered all too well trying to set a speed record by connecting a toy car to a lit firework back in Berlin when he was twelve. He couldn’t help but smile looking back at the memories of the panic it’d caused in a nearby crowd and the trouble with the Police he’d gotten into. It seemed so innocent now.

But that passion never died as the young boy became a man, driving him to study rocket engineering at the University of Berlin. Under the Weimer Republic which ruled Germany at the time, there was open research into scientific methods for space flight, but as the madness of Hitler’s National Socialism took over the country such ideas were slowly smothered. Rockets were needed by the Fatherland, but rockets for the military not rockets for space exploration.

With no other options open to pursue his chosen field, Wernher had made a deal with the devil - he realised that now - and joined the military rocket research team at Peenemünde. The country was stuck with Nazi fever and no one dared antagonise the new masters of Germany. So to secure his position he became a member of the Nazi party to fit in. And why not? Everyone else seemed to be doing it. It would only be years later he would learn the true horror and the deepest shame of what being a Nazi meant.

It was the mid-30s, and Germany prepared for a war with Britain and France that seemed inevitable. The finished technology of the A-4 was still some way off and not perfected. But the potential – to deliver huge bomb payloads without need of airplane bombers could reshape the way air forces worked, render airplanes obsolete within years. Head of the SS Heinrick Himmler himself wanted to control the technology, to earn the gratitude of the Fuhrer himself if it were successful, and took a personal interest in the project.

Wernher could not stand the man; he was like an opportunistic weasel, always interfering with the work at Peenemünde. Never the less he was a weasel with a ruthless reputation, and when Himler offered Wernher an officers commission in the SS, it was an offer Wernher dared not refuse. He only wore that uniform the once, on receiving his commission, but it was once to often for Wernher’s liking and it still was an unpleasant memory.

As the inevitable World War began and gathered pace, so did the research at Peenemünde, and a working version of the A-4 rocket was completed in 1942. A single working rocket would not win the war by itself, it needed to be mass produced at a factory with adequate power, material and workers. Peenemünde was not suitable for such a factory, so a production site was set up far away at Mittelwerk, in an abandoned mine which was converted into a rocket production facility almost a mile in length deep underground, utilising a mixture of skilled German and unskilled slave workers from a nearby concentration camp.

At the time he had no idea what depravity hid behind the term “slave workers from a concentration camp” meant. Few in Germany really did. Hitler had come to power promising to eradicate the menace of the Jews, and he was true to his word. Should the German people have expected anything else? And yet for many a card carrying Nazi it all happened so out of sight and out of mind, it was easy for many to turn a blind eye and deny responsibility later.

But not for Wernher, his first visit to Mittelwerk had removed the scales from his eyes, and he had seen some of the horrors of the Nazi regime at first hand. His first memory was watching a cart being removed from the factory floor. It was filled with perhaps a dozen corpses of Jewish slaves in their telltale-striped uniform. The bodies inside barely looked human, they looked more like skeletons wrapped in a last piece of loose fitting flesh, faces grey and sunken seemingly trapped forever in a silent scream. Wernher felt physically sick, and the smell, oh my God the smell, and the flies it would haunt him forever!

The SS guard who escorted him around the premises spat at the trolley of corpses as it passed. “Damn Jews!” He cursed as they passed him, then after taking in Wernher’s pale complexion laughed saying. “Don’t worry there’s plenty more to work on you precious rockets.”

The factory floor was indeed a Cathedral to rocketry, like some underground seventh wonder. Gantries towered high up in the roof, rockets lay in parts as far as the eye could see in different levels of completion, and the flashing arc of welding threw out sparks intermittently, lighting it all like some lair of ancient legend. But Wernher soon realised his heaven was other peoples hell. For if the dead were being carted out, then he could see that inside the living dead toiled in misery in their thousands. Ghoulish, barely human, these wretches watched and stared at Wernher. It was a stare like a muffled cry of agony and despair. It was a stare that made Wernher ashamed to be German, ashamed to be human. It was a stare he could not return

“Why doesn’t someone do something for these people?” Wernher had blurted out to his guard in disbelief at what he was seeing.

“I’d be careful my friend about that sort of talk – unless you want to join them.” The SS guard had said coldly, his steel blue eye fixing Wernher with absolute contempt before he muttered. “Damn Jew sympathiser.”

That was the first and last time he raised his voice over the subject, under the Nazis you were lucky to even get a warning. Fear kept him silent from then on. Back at Peenemünde, he was asked by his colleagues how things were going at Mittelwerk – how could he reply truthfully to that?

The conspiracy of silence. It haunted Wernher still to this day. To see wrong on such a grand scale and not speak of it and not challenge it, was to lose a piece of your humanity. Germany was at war, the facilities at Peenemünde were targeted and bombed regularly, and he lost many a friend to such action by the Allies. But he kept moving courageously on in the face of the enemy, refusing to be defeated or broken. But in the face of his own country and the administration that was running it, he felt guilty of the worst kind of cowardice.

It wasn’t long before he realised how difficult and perilous the tightrope he walked with the Nazis truly was. Perhaps his SS Guard at Mittelwerk had reported him to his superiors, but he’d caught the attention of the Gestapo and one day they came for him, bundling him away in the dead of night. Two weeks he’d been trapped in that vile cell in March 1944, not knowing if tomorrow he’d face torture, slave labour or a firing squad. He’d heard that if you had really displeased Hitler, you were garrotted by piano wire, and your execution filmed for the Fuhrer’s pleasure. It was an unpleasant thought.

Luckily for Wernher, the A-4 rocket program had stalled without him, and Hitler himself had called for Wernher release and immunity from prosecution for now “so long as he was indispensable”. The command had a chilling ring to it.

8th September 1944 – a dark day for Wernher, tinged with shame. The first A-4 rockets were launched in anger; one at Paris, two at London. The A-4 was now indeed Hitlers Vengeance weapon, raining destruction on far off cities. To Wernher it was the worst day of his life. His work and dreams had become the tools to kill indiscriminately.

The weapon was never as reliable or effective as hoped by the Nazi elite, but it was well named Vengeance. It could not hope to bring victory to the Nazis, just help them in their final death throes to inflict more misery upon the peoples of Europe. The Allied forces who had advanced ever closer since the Normany Landings of June 1944, were unhindered by the attacks, and the Russians were closing in on the East unchecked. It was only the innocent who suffered.

It surely seemed only a matter of time before Germany fell, though all talk of defeat had to be conducted in the most intimate of circles. Even in it’s death throes, the Nazi order was something to be feared – defeatism was a crime punishable by a brutal death as a warning to others. The SS “guarded” the Peenemünde rocket team, moving them back as the Russians slowly advanced into Germany.

Wernher learned that his guard’s orders from the Fuhrer himself were to kill them all rather than see them captured by the Allies. Wernher felt like there should be outrage at such a set of orders; after all his team’s loyalty to the Fatherland, it seemed so unfair, so barbaric. But with shame he conceded why should he be so surprised? What had he done with his outrage after seeing the slaves of Mittelwerk. Had he helped a single one of them? Why should he expect that he deserved any better fate?

Knowing they could rely on no-one else, his team secretly planned it’s defection to the Americans. The Russians were much closer, but surrender to them was unthinkable – Russia had been ravaged by the Nazis, and rumour was that the Red Army was inflicting a brutal revenge on German prisoners as they closed in on Berlin. Somehow the plan had worked – the SS had spread the team out fearing losing them all in bombing raids, but leaving them relatively lightly guarded. His team secretly slipped their rabid SS guard dogs in the dead of night – not easy considering Wernher had suffered a compound fracture to his arm weeks before, and was not at his most mobile – and they handed themselves over to the first American column they came to. Within a month of the end of the war, Wernher, his team, their plans and material were being shipped out to America.

There were high hopes with war over that the era of space flight rocketry would be ushered in. But there was no such change in direction, rockets were still in the military arena. The A-4 rockets were to be rebuilt and test firing continued to reproduce the technology for their new American masters. Thankfully this time without the slave labour and the human targets.

Of course there were many questions asked of him and his staff. Were they still Nazis? How involved had they been in the slave camp at Mittelwerk? Had they any idea how many thousands of slaves had died there? Why had he accepted a rank in the SS? How do you explain the madness of those years to someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to fear his own Government, who doesn’t know what it’s like to have to censor every word you utter in case the secret police or an informer are listening? He’d been around America enough to notice that those who most violently accused him of being a Nazi didn’t notice segregation and prejudice in their own country. He’d seen the signs saying “No Coloreds” and “White Only” – Wernher dared not mention that the root of so much evil in his own country had started with similar signs saying “Not For Jews”.

Despite the accusations which seemed never far away, it seemed that in America as with Nazi Germeny, he would be immune to prosecution “so long as he was indespensible”. The new direction of his work soon became clear – the war had brought into being two weapons of awesome potential – the German A-4 rocket, and the American atomic bomb. The American Pentagon wanted them in one package, an atomic weapon capable of being fired from hundreds of miles away. The result was the Redstone rockets, the lovechild of the geniuses of Oppenheimer and von Braun. It would be the world’s first ballistic nuclear missile and certainly not it’s last.

With the Redstone rocket a success, Wernher had hoped to get rocketry back on course for his dream of space exploration, but it met once again with nothing more than frustration - his project was ordered to restrict themselves with respect to it’s space aspirations. The Government wanted to put a satellite into space using American technology from American engineers, and launched Project Vanguard, not wanting to be seen by the American people as still dependant on Nazi know-how.

Wernher’s participation in the space travel may well have never happened had it not been for the events of 4th October 1957, and he had a Russian to thank for it all. That was the day that Russia launched what would be known as the Space Race by sending the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. There was an uproar about it, everyone wanting to know how the Russians had beaten the Americans into space.

It transpired that America hadn’t been the only one to find plans and potential in Germany’s A-4 rockets after the war, and von Braun’s work had been reverse engineered and refined by a Russian whose identity was revealed only as “the Chief Designer”. Wernher admired the Chief Designer’s obvious genius, and feel envious of the support the man must have from the Russian government. Was it to much to hope that they were kindred spirits sharing the same passion and goal, but separated by the iron curtain between their chosen countries?

Wernher felt frustration as he could only watch as America tried to save face by launching it’s first satellite from a Vanguard rocket – the rocket blew up on the launch pad in front of a live TV audience. It was a humiliation for the country, and the President eager to save face soon turned to Wernher and his team. It was the opportunity Wernher had waited eagerly his whole life for, and he did not disappoint.

On 31st January 1958, his Explorer 1, a modification of his Redstone rocket, blasted successfully into orbit, and America finally entered it’s reply to the Space Race. It was a poor response, the satellite barely a quarter of the size of the Russians. But the competition was now underway. It sent shock waves through to country, and the Government soon decided to coordinate the nations efforts under a single organisation, and NASA - the National Aeronautic and Space Administration - was formed. Having provided America with the space flight success it so yearned for, Wernher and his team now had now earned his place at the heart of America’s fledgling organisation.

The Space Race. It was all about being first - first satellite in space, first animal in space, first man in space, first woman in space, first manned spacewalk – Russia seemed to claim it all in what seemed a juggernaut of one success after another, with America coming second best.

It frustrated the American people to always come runner-up, but it was a more personal grievance to Wernher. His team and America had the lead in rocketry after the war, but the time had been whittled away on other projects.

He’d felt at times as watched and mistrusted by his adopted country as he had ever felt back in Germany, though thankfully there was no Gestapo to answer to here. He had been repeatedly hounded by some quarters about his past - he knew what some were saying about him. He’d heard people curse him as “that Kraut, “that Nazi”, “that murderer”. Some even said to his face people like him should have been hung with the other Nazis at Nuremberg.

He’d not dared retaliate or justify himself to many who had spoken thus to him – how can you open a dialogue with such people and their prejudices? How could you explain the madness of living under the Nazis to anyone who hadn’t been there? It was easy to read a newspaper report, and sit in your chair in America, and say you’d have behaved differently. No newspaper report or book or film could ready you for the daily routine of living under the terror of the Nazis. Perhaps that’s why he tried to keep as much of his old team together, because to them you didn’t have to explain yourself, they knew, they accepted, and they moved on – they were perhaps closer than any family given the trials they’d experienced together.

There was never any doubt about the ultimate prize in the Space Race – to be the first to get a man on the Moon. But the road to the Moon was a path lined with tragedy, the Gods of Rocketry seemed to always demand their blood sacrifices. The chief advocate of the Moon program, President Kennedy was assassinated, and the Apollo program he’d instigated continued as his legacy to his country. Meanwhile over in Russia, his opposite number, the “Chief Designer” Sergey Pavlovich Korolyov, died from complications due to overwork, leaving no clear successor to his legacy. And with his loss, the lack of his genius and vision, Russia’s race to the Moon stalled.

Wernher had met many great and famous people – leaders, politicians, film stars. But he’d never met, Korolyov, his opposite number. Wernher often wondered about that. He’d been allowed to read a security file on the “Chief Designer” after his death. A Ukrainian by birth, Korolyov had originally been an aircraft designer rather than a rocket scientist. He’d also been a victim of Stalin’s Purges, spending six months in slave labour camp in Siberia which caused him health problems for the rest of his life. He was only “released” from there because Russia needed his expertise to design new aircraft, as the war between Russian and Germany gathered pace. At the war’s end, he was hand picked to inspect and evaluate what little the Americans had left of the A-4 technology at Mittelwerk when the Russian army had taken ownership of the facilities.

There was so much Wernher could identify with this man, like an echo of his own life. Living under a Nazi or a Communist regime, it all seemed equally brutal. Would Wernher and Korolyov have been able to understand and respect wach other, what they had suffered for their persuit of space? Would they have been friends or distrustful rivals if they’d met? Wernher hoped inside that as engineers with the same dream there would have been respect and (dare he even think the word) comradeship. But of course he would never know. However when the history of the Space Race was written, Wernher mused, the name “von Braun” would always be mentioned next to the name “Korolyov”. Wernher smiled at that, geography and politics might have kept them apart, but history would put them together.

Even without the Russians out of the race for the Moon, the timeline for Apollo though was ambitious, too ambitious, and it meant many corners were being cut in an attempt to meet deadlines. The schedule was exhausting for everyone – long hours, working at the weekend, there seemed no break from it. For Wernher it was a tiring schedule – not since his days in Peenemünde had Wernher consistently had to put in such long hours, and it was all too clear to him, that he wasn’t as young as he once was. It was little wonder overwork had it’s hand in the death of Korolyov.

The Apollo program; from the mighty Saturn V rocket which would be the most powerful rocket ever launched to the Apollo capsule which would take the astronauts from the Earth to the Moon and back, it was all new technology. An order of magnitude more advanced and complex than anything NASA had launched thus far. Everything was being rushed – mistakes and miscommunication happened in any project, but with Apollo, they were going unnoticed in the breakneck pace to try to deliver. The inevitable catastrophe happened in January 1967 - the launchpad fire of Apollo 1 in a routine test, American astronauts "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee, all dead.

Wernher had known death all too well during the war, it was something you almost became blinkered to when it was going on all around you. But this was something different, something avoidable. Was it avoidable though? There was a hush silence and whispered introspection amongst those involved with the program. Everyone had been working at such great pace, in an attempt to reach the Kennedy’s milestone of landing on the Moon by the end of the decade. But it took a tragedy like this to pull people back and realise the mistakes they’d compounded in their haste. Would a lone voice of reason have been listened to before then?

NASA after the Apollo 1 tragedy did not fare well, it’s whole manned mission stalled in the repercussions of that disaster. It had been a sobering lesson. The causes of the accident were rigorously scrutinised, everyone took part in the investigation. Everything was examined and redesigned, checked and double checked. Piece by piece, each mission element was tested and flown. With lives on the line, there could be no more mistakes. The next manned mission, Apollo 7, went flawlessly.

It paid off for America, and on 21st July 1969 – in an event watched world-wide - Neil Armstrong step from the Apollo 11 lunar landscape onto the surface of another world. Man had landed on the Moon – it was indeed a giant leap for mankind. Telegrams of congratulation came from around from the globe. The day was a mixed one for Wernher, he’d reached his dreams of going into space, but in a way knew this would be the beginning of the end.

Despite the monumental achievement, the public soon lost interest in landing on the Moon. The Apollo Project was rescaled, with three of the planned landings cancelled. America had won the Space Race by reaching the Moon first, but seemed little interested in continuing now National Pride had been satisfied.

Wernher fought hard to try to keep the momentum of the Space Race alive, but it was in vain. The Russians without their genius Chief Designer had given up on the race to the Moon, and without the competition, America seemed little interested setting new goals. Wernher left NASA soon afterwards amidst the budgetry cutbacks at NASA, as so many projects were wound down. The Apollo project had taken a huge commitment from the American people. Wernher wondered if perhaps it was unfair for him to expect it to continue. But with barely 10 years between Explorer 1 and Apollo 11, imagine where mankind could be in another 10, 20, 30 years time …

However Wernher accepted now he would never see another Moon landing in his lifetime. The grim truth was he’d recently been diagnosed with cancer within his kidney, and several operations to remove it had failed. A slow death sentence gave a man a different perspective on life and the world. Perhaps that’s why he was sleeping so badly now, does a condemned man always muse on the mistakes of his life whilst waiting for the end?

The fate of mankind and rockets were now intertwined. That was his legacy, his mark on the world.

On the one hand the Apollo rockets had allowed mankind to reach out into space for the first time, and land on another body other than the Earth. The dream of so many civilisations since mankind began, to be able to look down on the Earth from another world, had been realised. Perhaps mankinds future lay out there amongst the planets and stars beyond, a new era of exploration and colonisation lying ahead.

On the other hand, there was the latest generation of the Vengeance rockets which were now called Inter-Contental Ballistic Missiles. Both Russia and America had them. Nuclear weapons with such range as they could now strike anywhere on the planet at the touch of the button. The whole world now lived and cowered under their threat – they were Vengeance weapons indeed. And unlike the Apollo rockets, Governments could not fund and make enough of these. Why have enough nuclear warheads to destroy the world three times over, when you could have enough to destroy it four times over? And they called it a deterrent – Wernher had hoped that with the fall of Hitler and the Nazis the world would be freed from such madness.

To the stars or to oblivion, which was mankind’s destiny?

Wernher retired to his bedroom, switched on a bedroom lamp, and changed into his pyjamas. What made him uneasy was that whether rockets lead mankind to greatness or genocide, he had played an equal part in both destinies. Would future generations see him as a saviour, as a monster, or perhaps as just a man? Time would decide.

Food For Thought ...

This short story although about Wernher von Braun, is a partly fictionalised account of his life. I’ve strived to be historically accurate as possible throughout, however no-one can really know his exact thoughts on the events he was part of.

Wernher lived through difficult times. It’s easy to criticise his part in Nazi Germany, the main desire to write this story came from asking myself “but could I have done any better had it been me?”. I think the answer is sadly no. Many Germans did try to stand up, and the Gestapo erased them from history. Wernher’s behaviour during the war isn’t heroic, but perhaps very human.

We was a Nazi, and a member of the SS. But he was also arrested and threatened for his defeatist attitude and desire to develop rockets not for the military but for space flight.

If it’s made you ask yourself if you’d what you’d have done in his place, then perhaps it’s succeeded in it’s purpose.

And now for something a completely different ... ethics!

Back in June this year I was very honoured to be invited to the Kiwi Workshop on Software Testing peer conference on ethics that was hosted by James Bach.

Many of my own peers asked me "can a conference on ethics be relevant to software testing".  And I will admit I had my own doubts.  But I was proved wrong.

Following up on this subject, I've decided to raid some of my old material.  Before blogging about software testing I wanted to be a fiction writer, and would write quite a few short stories which my friend Violet would review and give support for.

There follows a couple of examples of historical fiction, which I'll be picking up on the ethical themes of later ...