Friday, 9 December 2011

Apprenticeship schemes at Test Conferences

A quick blog on a thought I have had.

I read an article today about how we could try and fix the IT skills gap that exists within the UK, this may also apply around the world, by getting young adults into apprenticeships. I have a view that for some people academia study is not for them and they would better suited to a vocational training course instead of a university degree. I never went to university and as such I do not have a degree. Do I feel as if I have missed out? I do not think so but I have not experienced university life so cannot be sure if I missed out something I may have liked.

I think within our profession of testing we have an opportunity to mentor and help create the next generation of testers (not discounting coders, architects) and allowing them to build their skills and knowledge up by learning from experience rather than studying non relevant subjects at university (How many universities do testing as a degree?) As Nassim Nicholas Taleb has said we as human beings are far better at learning from doing rather than from books. I have over the past year been mentoring two people in our craft of testing one is still on-going the other has managed to secure a tester role within a company, neither have been involved in testing beforehand. I feel we within our community should be trying to do this and encourage young adults by maybe taking them under our tutorage, it does not require a large amount of personal investment, a few hours per week. Or maybe within our companies we should all start looking at trying to introduce apprenticeship schemes, let’s try to tap into this vast resource who in my opinion feels they have been abandoned by the educational system.

On the other side I want to call out to those who run conferences, EuroSTAR, CAST, Lets test, UNICOM and say let’s advertise for young adults who may have an interest to come along as an apprentice for the length of the conference. They would not pay a fee but would be expected to produce a report on their thoughts and what actions they intend to take away for the future. I am have not finalized these thoughts but it would give these young adults to get engagement in a craft which I myself feel very passionate about.

Maybe the organizations that run the conferences could look at running an apprenticeship competition, vetting process. I am sure there are many vocational colleges (Both UK and around the world) who would be willing to get involved in this. It has the added effect that it will start to raise in the minds of the next generation of influential people the value of testing and put testing out there as a forwarding thinking craft that people want to get involved with.

What do others think?

I would especially love some feedback from conference organizers to see how feasible these ideas are.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Recipe Knowledge

This is my response to an blog article written by Paul Gerrard.

I was going to post this as a comment but thought it would be better as a separate blog article

.I am not sure if I agree with entirely what Paul was saying but that is the point of the good blog article. I will say I do entirely agree with his conclusion that we have to have our eyes open and your brain switched on. There are methods that can be used to prevent the ‘quitting’ process and the rambling around in the dark approach to exploratory testing but I think that would be an entirely different article.

However I would suggest people try searching for article on avoiding (or being aware of) bias, cognitive research methods, focusing and defocusing skills. Another one to look at is Air Traffic Control work patterns; they work in time boxed shifts is this similar to session based testing?The point I want to make is the issue Pauls makes about domain knowledge and the usefulness that scripts may bring is an important one.

I am not in the camp that we should abandoned scripts and a lot of the people I communicate with are not saying that either. I feel there are a lot of Chinese whispers with regards to views of some people on the use of scripted tests. I cannot recall anyone saying to me that we must abandon scripts in favour of just doing exploratory testing (Is that a bias and I am deliberately missing or not noticing information?) We also can train ourselves not to quit using a variety of cognitive processes especially the use of checklists and heuristics. These ‘tools’ enable us to counter the quitting instinct but triggering new paths, observations and comparisons.

Testing is not just about finding things it is about asking questions and forming theories based on the answers (evidence) given while experiencing the software. This may lead to more questions and further evaluation and even more re-evaluation of what you already thought debunking and disproving your theories. Finding bugs is a side effect of this approach, a very useful side effect but it is not the sole purpose of testing.

There is a term used within society (especially the social science community) which is ‘recipe’ knowledge, this is often devalued by academics since it is a step by step instruction for learning something. In the everyday world context recipes tell you what to use, what you will need (ingredients) and exactly what procedures to follow, this sound familiar to scripts in the testing world. These recipes can provide important foundations for acquiring or developing skills or as we would say in the software development world learning domain knowledge? People using a recipe as we know may not follow it exactly, they may taste the product and adjust it for their own personal taste so the will move away from the script. However we should not pretend that learning a recipe is the same as learning a skill.

If we for example look at baking, this requires a ‘knack’ which can only come from experience (if you have tried baking bread you will understand this) like qualitative analysis, baking also permits creativity and the development of your own styles.

The skilled tester at some point, like the experienced chef, may stop using the recipe book and start to experiment and explore different tastes and ways to discover more and hopeful improve their skills. At the same time the recipe (script) remains a useful tutorial for the newcomer to the art.

Some of the content used here is taken from the following book:

Qualitative Data Analysis: A User-friendly Guide for Social Scientists - Ian Dey

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A ‘title’ is of value to someone who matters

Recently I attended the Eurostar Testing Conference in Manchester and came away with some mixed messages and thoughts about the content of the conference. Some of the presentations and tracks were really good whilst others appeared to repeat the same old information. I hope to write a few blog articles on some of the positive messages I got from the conference along with lots of ideas I have with regards to social science and how it can be used within testing, these may have to wait until after the holiday period.

The reason for writing this blog post is due to the, what appeared to be a negative, message coming from some of the key note presentations, this is my opinion and how I understood the messages in the context of my views on testing and testers. The one point I wish to raise (and maybe rant) is one of the messages that James Whittaker made.

“at Google ‘Tester’ has disappeared from people’s job titles. People who were ‘testers’ are now ‘developers’ and are expected to code regularly”

Now my thoughts on this may be taking the point James was making out of context however I am not sure in what other context this could be made.

James during the presentation made the point that testers should be part of the team and not get bogged down in who has what role and I whole hearty agree with that.

However from a social and status perspective people need to be able to identify with a title and there has been a lot of talk within the development community about removing titles especially the title of tester. Take the following scenario:

You go out on a social evening with a group of friends and their partners would you work with a project manager, a developer, a business analyst and a tester, As the evening proceeds each person is asked by a non-team member what they do at work.

The developer could reply: I write code and create applications

The tester could reply that they test to ensure the system works

The project manager could reply that they make sure everyone knows what target they have to meet

The Business analyst could say they provide information on what the customers who will use the application need

Each person answering this question I would say would be proud of their job title and what they do.

So my take on making a statement in which we say get rid of the of the title of tester and call everyone a developer is a little insulting and makes me personally feel unappreciated and unvalued. I feel I have been working as a tester for a long period of time now and whilst I can understand that within a team people can have a variety of roles and responsibilities why should I have to give up something that I feel passionate about? I wonder what would be said if at a developers conference everyone is now going to be called a business analyst since we all provide something that the customer wants.

Why does everyone have to be a developer within a project? My concern is why has the word ‘tester’ become such a dirty word? It is if we should be ashamed of what we are and what our title is.