08 October, 2012

Blog moved

I might have forgotten to mention this, but a couple of months back I moved my blog to Wordpress: http://christintesting.wordpress.com Please visit me there!

13 January, 2012

Call me...Software Tester!

A little while ago I got an e-mail from Karen N Johnson, asking if I would mind replying to her survey on job titles. I never say no to a chance to express my opinion, especially not if someone might actually pay attention, so here is my post.

The problem with picking a job title for myself is of course that I do not get to pick what that title will mean to others. A specific title might seem appropriate to me, but yet send all the wrong messages to someone else. In life in general people are unfortunately prone to making assumptions without asking "What do you mean by...?". This goes for titles, testing, relationships and most other things I can think of. At the same time, assumptions help keep us alive. If a bear charges at you it is reasonable to assume it might hurt you, and asking questions about its intentions is probably not the way to go.

So what do I want to be called? I like to be called "Tester", or possibly "Software Tester". It is nicely vague and non-descript and gives me plenty of opportunity to explain what I do, whether I am being asked or not. It is also true - I test software. In order to do a good job testing I do a lot of other things too, but the end-goal is to test a software product.

What I do for a living is to collect, process, evaluate and present information. That is what I see as my job. I am driven by curiousity - I want to find out how things work, and I have a never-ending need to just learn: to increase and refine my knowledge base. I think the title "Information Collector and Evaluator" - ICE (appropriately enough the international abbreviation of In Case of Emergency) - has a nice ring to it.

Personally, I prefer to avoid all titles with the words "Quality" and/or "Assurance" in them. I present information, I do not decide how it should be used, and I do not have the power or possibility to assure quality. You cannot assure quality by finding out how something works, you can only point out behaviours you have noticed that might reduce the quality perceived by people.

So, what do I want to be called? I stick with "Software Tester", a title that is at least more understandable to people in general than a lot of other titles, and leaves the least room for misinterpretation.

For the record, my official title is "Senior Tester" at PQA in Vancouver, Canada, a title which has the word "Tester" in it that I like so much, as well as the word "Senior" which is just irresistable. And I am the kind of person who cares more about what people do than what they are called.

16 December, 2011

BBST Test Design

Short summary for the restless and easily bored:

Take all courses that the Association for Software Testing (AST) are offering, they are worth every minute and cent you spend on them. Just trust me on this.

For those of you with too much time and nothing better to do:

I feel a deep respect for people who are good at what they do, and take pride in their work. Exactly what they do is irrelevant (as long as it is legal), but I enjoy watching a skilled worker do a good job. In fact, I like it just as much as I dislike watching an unskilled or uninterested person do a lousy job. Of course pride and skill go together - how can you fell pride unless you do a good job? And in order to do a good job I think two things are more important than anything else: a genuine interest and a strive to constantly progress and improve.

I am very interested in software testing, and I always want to do a good job. I take pride in what I do, and I constantly try to learn more and get better by reading, writing, listening, talking and discussing. And by taking courses.

I recently took the AST course BBST (Black-Box Software Testing) Test Design, which was the best software testing course I have ever taken. Why?

To start with I like the format of the BBST courses. Taking the courses online means I can do the work when it fits my schedule, and also when I am the most focused and effective. Furthermore, the BBST courses are very interactive, which is crucial for my (and most other people's) learning. I especially like that all courses include peer review. Having to review the work of a fellow student means that you need to know the topic well yourself and be able to go beyond reciting the lecture notes. And, you always learn something (usually a lot) by how someone else answered a question or solved an assignment.

Test Design is a topic I have given courses on myself, and care very much about. It seems that in general, focus is often on test execution, whereas test design is sometimes, unfortunately, neglected. The BBST Test Design course gives the best overview of test techniques that I have ever encountered, and a lot of concepts that used to be vague to me have now been sorted out and clearly defined. I enjoyed how the course presented a great variety of techniques, but focused on a few and really went through them in detail with hands-on exercises. The beauty of the course is that is gives a skill set that is ready to be applied immediately. I learnt practical things that I will start using right now.

I am also impressed by the course material, which is extensive, well structured and of very high quality. Knowing how much work developing a course is, I am humbled.

As with all other BBST courses I have taken, a bonus is the other students. Having so many smart, interested and enthusiastic testers with such different backgrounds to discuss testing with is a rare pleasure.

In short, I enjoyed the course and learnt a lot and I recommand that you take BBST Test Design too.

10 November, 2011

Follow-up on xBTM


At STARWest 2011, I gave a talk about xBTM together with Michael Albrecht. Jon Bach was in the audience, and he gave us some very valuable feedback on our idea and how we presented it. This blog post is a follow-up on our conversation in Anaheim.

Recently I was testing version 1.5 of AddQ's SBTM reporting tool SBTExecute. The team wanted to release the new version as soon as possible, and I was travelling so there was not so much time for testing. We agreed that I would spend one morning - four hours - testing the final version. My method of choice was of course xBTM. In this blog post I will go through how I spent those four hours, and what was the outcome. For more background on xBTM and the tool, please refer to my earlier post.

Test plan

My initial step was to make a mind map test plan. My preferred (free) mind mapping tool is XMind. I opened a new mind map and placed my application under test (SBTExecute) as the central topic. Next I identified my key areas (also known as function areas). I spent a couple of minutes thinking about some obvious groups and came up with:
  • Configuration
  • Documentation
  • Running tool
  • Import
  • Generation
  • Report
I added these six key areas as subtopics in the mind map. Then I decided I also wanted to some stress testing and added that as a subtopic too. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Mind map test plan. The central topic (SBTExecute 1.5) is the software under test. The subtopics are key areas, or test techniques, and grouped under the key areas are the test threads.
Then I spent about twenty minutes thinking about test ideas, or test threads, and writing them down in the mind map under the appropriate key area. Since this was not the first time I tested the tool, I already had some ideas of things to test. After a total of maybe half an hour or less, I had my test plan, see Figure 1.


I decided to start by testing Import, since that is the key feature of the tool, if you cannot import data from the session reports nothing else is really worth testing. I looked at the threads I had listed under the import node and figured that I could probably test all of them in one 45 min session. To show this in the mind map, I changed the colour of all those threads to blue, see Figure 2.

Figure 2: Testing all threads under the key area Import in one session.
I write my session reports using the SBTExecute Excel template, and I use the mind map note functionality to connect the session report to the mind map. The yellow paper icon on the subtopic Import shows that there is a note, which can be viewed and edited by clicking the icon, see Figure 3.

Figure 3: Adding notes in the mind map program. The note refers to the corresponding session report.
I ran the session, making notes in the session report. When I felt I was "done" testing a specific thread in that session, I visualised that in the mind map by adding a green check icon to that thread. Once in session, I realised that I didn't really want to test the thread Incorrect data, since there is data validation in the Excel template. I decided to pause that thread for now, and maybe come back to it later if I had time. Hence I added the pause icon to that thread. I also added some notes on why I paused the thread, see Figure 4.

Figure 4: Pausing the thread Incorrect data.
Then I realised I had forgotten to prioritise the key areas, so I did that using the colourful number icons in the mind map program. The highest priority is 1 and the lowest 6. See Figure 5.

Figure 5: Adding priority.
It turned out that the tool only reads files in xlsx format, and not old xls files. I wasn't sure if this was a feature or a bug, so I marked the thread with a question mark and made a note of it, see Figure 6.

Figure 6:  When there are questions, the thread is marked with a question mark and a note is added.
I ended the session, but the fact that xls files were not read made me curious so instead of starting a new session I decided to look at the configuration key area for a while. I spent a few minutes trying to create session reports in Office 97-2003 and Open Office and have the tool read them. These two threads were tested as threads rather than in a session. I only spent a few minutes on them since it was a low-priority area, made a short note, then paused the threads and decided to come back later. If I were to resume these threads (in the end I never did), I would keep making notes in the notes window, see Figure 7.

Figure 7: Testing two threads for a short time, then pausing them.
Next I decided to test all threads under the key area Generation in a session, the same way as I did with Import, see Figure 8.

Figure 8: Testing all threads under the key area Generation in a session.
Here I found a few defects, which is illustrated by the red X in the mind map. Whenever I found a bug, I made a note in the mind map of the ID number and added a short description. Of course this information was also added to the session report, see Figure 9.

Figure 9: Defects found are marked by a red X, and a note of the ID number is added.
After completing the Generation session, I started looking at the Report key area. Here I decided that the two threads Iteration Reports and Summary Reports were extensive enough to make up a session, see Figure 10.

Figure 10: Testing two threads in a session.
After running three sessions, and testing two threads seperately I had the following status in my mind map, see Figure 11.

Figure 11: Test status after running three sessions and testing two threads seperately.
The documentation for the tool consists of three manuals, and I felt they were best tested as threads. At this point I was running out of time, and decided to simply quickly skim through the manuals. I used the partially filled square icons to visualise how far I felt I had gotten with the manuals and made short notes in the mind map (no session report since I tested them as threads). The final couple of minutes I decided to spend on testing running the tool with correct parameters, which I also tested as a thread since there was not enough time for a session, see Figure 12.

Figure 12: Testing threads, using the partially filled squares to visualize progress.
Test report

Finally my four hours were up and I stopped all testing activities. At this stage I had a test report in the shape of the latest version of the mind map, see Figure 13.

Figure 13: Test report.
I also had three session reports (Import, Generation and Report) and an error list.

Given more time, I would have returned to the paused or partially tested threads and continued, adding notes in the notes window. I would also have spent some time on the previously untouched threads. Due to the very limited time in this case, the above story is not a very good example of thread-based testing, but I hope to have one soon.

08 November, 2011

The Return Of Dendrograms

What is Dendrogram-Based Testing? Well, what is a dendrogram to start with?

A dendrogram is a tree diagram that visualises hierarchical clustering. If that didn't help, a dendrogram basically groups objects in a tree view based on how similar they are. The closer the objects are drawn, the more similar they are.

Thanks for the maths lesson, but how is that useful in testing?

Good question. I'll come back with a final conclusion later in this post, but I can think of two uses for dendrograms:

Clustering defects: Visually show how similar the defects previously found are.

Clustering test charters (test cases): Visually show how similar planned test charters (or test cases) are.

In order to create dendrograms we need the objects, e.g. defects, to have such properties that we can measure distances between them. This is where it starts getting tricky - how do we measure the distance between two defects? The simplest thing to do is to think of properties we believe to be important and then assign them numeric values.

One example could be the property "User" (P1) and we could assign a defect a value between 0 and 5 for this property depending on how affected we think the user is by this bug. Another property could be "Performance" (P2) or "Business" (P3). Imagine we are testing a web shop and have two defects:

B1:The "This is a gift" checkbox is missing in the GUI.
B2:Memory issue that slows shopping down when you have more than 10 items in your cart.

Each of the two bugs have the properties P1, P2 and P3, and we might to assign values as follows:

B1: P1=5, P2=0, P3=2
(the user is affected, the performance is not but the business flow is also affected)
B2: P1=3, P2=5, P3=0
(some users will be affected, the performance is affected, the business flow is not affected)

Based on these properties we can now see how similar the defects are in a dendrogram. In my earlier post I explained how to create a defect dendrogram with simple example, and I'm not going to repeat that.

Similarily we can assign test charters or test cases properties and create dendrograms. Here properties could be which actors, functions or areas that are involved, and the dendrogram shows a kind of test coverage. If all test charters are grouped together, they test very similar things.

So how do we base our testing on dendrograms?

A defect dendrogram would of course be used to decide where to focus testing. I think isolated defects would be my priority. A single defect far away from all other defects seems too unlikely, maybe there are more hiding that need to be discovered. Then again, if a large number of defects are very similar there is reason to believe that area requires special attention.

A test charter dendrogram would of course be used to help decide which charters to add. A single isolated test charter might be ok for a low-risk area, but might also be a warning flag.

Is this useful?

I have some serious doubts. Firstly, we need to find useful properties and assign them subjective values. The dendrogram will be based on those values and nothing else, so there is a huge risk of bias. Secondly, I have yet to find a good tool to use to draw dendrograms. With more than three variables (defects/test charters) and two or more properties it cannot be done by hand. Of course, writing your own tool would not be too complicated.

Right now I don't think the value gained outweighs the effort needed. I'm very interesting in hearing arguments that I'm wrong though.

23 August, 2011

Schools of testing?

CAST 2011 hosted an interesting debate between Doug Hoffman and James Bach on the topic of schools of software testing. The question under discussion was not whether there are different schools of thought within the testing community or not, but rather whether naming the schools and associating people with them is a good - or really bad - idea.

The debate was energetic, and clearly provoked a strong reaction in a lot of the attendees, which was only expected. The core issue is of course if it is ok to categorize people without bothering with their opinion. Most people categorize others, but hate when they themselves are put in a category that they do not approve of, or think they should belong to. It is a very touchy subject.

Personally, I like it.

To me, the fact that someone is associated with a school of thought corresponds to me being provided with a table of contents of a book. Let me try to explain. If person A says to me "- Person B belongs to the XYZ school", it provides me with a limited amount of information about person B, just like browsing a table of contents tells me something, but not everything, about the book. Immediately - without having to read the whole book (i.e. without having to have a deep discussion with the person) - I get a rough idea of the contents (i.e. the person's views and ideas). The same way I do not mind being associated with a school, or associating myself with a school. I find it helpful because I do not have to explain my general views over and over again, I just need to state which school(s) I consider myself belonging to. Sometimes I will disagree when others associate me with a certain school, but  that on the other hand gives me valuable clues as to how I am perceived. And it might even make me change my behaviour.

However, I do assume that people are mature and intelligent enough to realize that a table of contents can be misleading, and in order to get the full story you actually have to read the book. You cannot know a person without having talked to them and having formed your own opinion.

I think the concept of schools of testing is helpful, and in all honesty - even if it was rejected people would still categorize each other 'secretly'. I would rather have it done openly so you at least can have a discussion.

18 August, 2011

CAST 2011

I'm back from CAST 2011, and I've had some time to digest the experience and think about what thoughts I want to share. There have been many excellent write-ups that give detailed account of what transpired at the conference, and there is no need for another (worse) one. Instead, I'll make some short remarks on my impressions.

I had very high expectations, but I'm still amazed.

What drives me in life in general and as a tester in particular is a continuous strive forwards and a desire to learn and progress. I have no sympathy whatsoever for people who seem to consider testing to be nothing more than a way to pass time and earn your paycheck. What made CAST 2011 such a fantastic experience was that it was a gathering of enthusiastic, engaged, creative and ambitious testers. All willing both to learn and to teach. Everyone was friendly and approachable and willing to share. I was in awe of all the experience and knowledge that was surrounding me.

Even though there were of course different opinions on various topics on a smaller scale, it was fantastic to see such a large body of people all strive in the same general direction, sharing the same goal. And I find it very comforting to see people (testers) take such pride in their work.

I learned a lot and got a bunch of new ideas to try out, but mainly I was just soaking up the joy and energy. Thank you everyone who attended and thereby contributed to making CAST 2011 one of the best conference I've ever been to.

I'm proud to be a tester.