Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Exploratory Testing - collected stuff

tl;dr: lots about Exploratory Testing

A colleague asked me if I had written articles or blogs about Exploratory Testing. Why yes, I have. It looks like it's time to share them more prominently.

Exploratory Testing is a crucial element that is often poorly integrated, so when I write about testing, I tend to make reference to Exploratory Testing. However, I don't particularly think of ET as the only interesting game in town, so when I write about it, I hope I put it in a relatively rational, consistent and practical testing landscape. Hence this feels like the first time I have consciously made an inventory of the stuff I've written about ET.

Here goes:

Of my long-form ET stuff, the paper that gets the most citations is 'Adventures in Session-Based Testing', which is about managing ET. I wrote it around ten years ago with the very brilliant Niel van Eeden. It won 'Best Paper' at EuroSTAR and STARWest. I updated it, so it occasionally gets called 'Further Adventures...'

The one I'm most fond of is 'Four Exercises for Teaching Exploratory Testing',* but although it went to the Workshop on Teaching Software Testing 5 back in 2006 and should have been part of the online materials, it vanished instead into online limbo. Astonishingly, when I searched just now, it's finally there - but orphaned from the rest of the site. If you can find a path to it from http://www.testingeducation.org/ I'll give you a hug.

You might already recognise the Black Box machines, which get plenty of attention, and are the single biggest cause of random strangers saying hello at conferences. Occasionally someone on a train (typically to or from Paddington) will say "aren't you... didn't you...", which is odd, but nice**. I know of a dozen or so people and organisations who use them for recruitment purposes – so let's call them my attempt at a balance to the useless five years I spent trying to nudge the ISEB exam marginally closer to fit for purpose.

Agile people tend to have come across Elisabeth Hendrickson's excellent Test Heuristics Cheat Sheet, which has my name on it. I contributed when she and I put our Exploratory Testing classes together for a (very enjoyable) 2-hander that we ran in London and in California.

There's plenty of other papers available at http://www.workroom-productions.com/papers.html, and many have related material. A Positive View of Negative Testing has more on techniques, Things Testers Miss is on bug stories, Testing in an Agile Environment covers my experiences of the fit (and friction) of testers - often using ET - on agile projects. In my most recent long-form paper, The Irrational Tester, I appropriated some fashionable ideas from behavioural economics, and I hope not only gave them testing context, but enabled more substantial exploration by drilling back from the pop science to the original research. That one got another 'Best Paper', this time from STAREast.

On that same 'papers' page, you'll find a short series of more conversational short-form things under the heading 'Exploratory Testing Notes'. They go with my Getting a Grip on Exploratory Testing workshop - they're not carefully-checked whitepapers, but nor are they short sharp blog postings. There's yet more that goes with the course, but it changes pretty much every time I do the thing.

As for blog postings, well, you're here - but Blogger is, ironically, a rotten thing for searching.
This is an entry on tools for ET http://workroomprds.blogspot.com/2008/06/tools-for-exploratory-testing.html ,
and this for assurance http://workroomprds.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-to-assure-exploratory-testing.html ,
and two together that may be of interest http://workroomprds.blogspot.com/2008_11_01_archive.html .

Reading this, it's obvious (to me) that lots of the other ET-related stuff I've written over the years has slipped away. That's the problem with the internet - ephemera are eternal, but useful stuff gets drowned. I'll fish some out and post them over the next few weeks.

Finally - I run a workshop from time to time called Getting a Grip on Exploratory Testing. It's all hands-on, and is limited to 12 people. I'm running a public class in Oxford on 25-27 January. Lots of friendly testers have twittered about it, and some (who have been on the thing) have recommended it. You'll need to look now, and book quickly, to get to the early-bird discount by the end of the week.

* Two things to note: firstly, the exercises describes are software, and available to all. Contact me and I'll send you them - plenty of people do, and they're used all over the world. Secondly, they're deep enough exercises to still be part of my workshop. By all means have a play, but if you're thinking of coming on my workshop, be aware that novelty is important to exploration and you won't get as much from the workshop. That said, I always have alternatives available if someone turns out to be familiar with the exercises.
** Sometimes they just want me to sing a song, which is still odd, kind-of-nice, and tends to mean they're a Bulgarian. Once, someone on a train was both a tester and a Bulgarian. We had lots to talk about. I should call him and arrange lunch.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bias: Illusions and corruption

tl;dr we're all nuts

Two recent articles tickled my interest in bias.

In The Observer (How cognitive illusions blind us to reason, an extract from Thinking, Fast and Slow) Daniel Kahneman reminds us that cognitive illusions are stubborn, particularly when one is exercising hard-won, high-level skills. He illustrates this using stock traders, saying that their skill in evaluating the business prospects of a firm is serious work that requires extensive training. "Unfortunately, [this skill] is not sufficient for successful stock trading, where the key question is whether the information about the firm is already incorporated in the price of its stock."

In The Economist, All power tends to corrupt is subheaded "But power without status corrupts absolutely". It describes an experiment in which subjects were asked to select tasks for a colleague to perform. Some of the tasks were demeaning. Before they made their selection, they were given a job they might respect or look down on (the descriptions read a little like fun vs dull testing roles) and a sense of whether they or their colleague had more influence. Those put into the position of having influence but no respect chose significantly more demeaning tasks for their colleague.

Some testers tell me that they do a skilled and difficult job, but don't get much respect. I believe them – and I've found that the articles above have helped me understand my own behaviour a little more clearly.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Byalo Rade - new track from the London Bulgarian Choir

I don't usually do this, but apparently you're interested...

Here's a track from the London Bulgarian Choir's new album, Goro Le Goro. The album will be released on November 26th, with a big gig and party in London. I'll be wearing my furry hat, but you'll need to buy a ticket.

White Rada is sweeping her yard, her slender figure swaying, her arms like pale wings. As she sings, pearls flow from her mouth. ‘Beautiful Rada, my daughter, don’t leave your yard, don’t lift your eyes, don’t give your flower away.'

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Something for the Weekend? 005 - Patterns and evolution

Catherine Young sees plenty in clouds.
(which reminds me: Q: what is the sky? A: all of the above from @gimboland/@posh_somme )

I've had a huge print of this sequence over my desk for years. Every time I actually raise my eyes and look at it, I think of change, excellence, strangeness, practice, talent, choice and stopping. Or something. Hope you've had a lovely weekend. Picasso's Bull suite.