Friday, September 17, 2010

Fish baking story ...

This was a story that came to my mail box.

A little girl was watching her mother prepare a fish for dinner. Her mother cut the head and tail off the fish and then placed it into a baking pan. The little girl asked her mother why she cut the Shead and tail off the fish. Her mother thought for a while and then said, "I've always done it that way - that's how grandma did it." The girl was not satisfied with the answer, and went to visit her grandma to find out why she cut the head and tail off the fish before baking it. Grandma thought for a while and replied, "I don't know. My mother always did it that way." So the little girl and the grandma went to visit great grandma to find ask if she knew the answer. Great grandma thought for a while and said, “Because my Grandma told once that the baking pan was too small to fit in the whole fish”.

In most cases we fail to challenge belief systems and assumptions.

This is true about many ritual centric processes that we are asked to do in testing today. If you dig deeper, you would be surprised like this little girl. There are no real reasons to do certain things. Typical answers might be “my boss wants it that way”, “this is how our clients want” or “this is how I have done it always” or “this is in that book” or “this is how the consultant who we hired told us” or “this is how it always appear to work”.

One trademark quality of a skilled tester is skepticism and ability to think beyond rituals – ask “why I am doing what I am doing”.

Are you asking this question frequently in your job as tester?


Thursday, August 05, 2010

How can Mathematics be the Language of Nature?

I am reading this wonderful book about Physics (and history and philosophy of Physics) "Tao of Physics" by my all-time favorite Physicist and author Dr. Fritjof Capra, a contemporary of Werner Heisenberg. Incidentally, Dr. Capra's other famous book "Turning point" has really introduced me to the concept "systems thinking" while I struggled to grasp the subject by reading another influential legend and Guru of software (testing) Jerry Weinberg. James Bach and Michael Bolton introduced me to the subject of "systems thinking" as science of complexity.

Well... coming to the point, this post is not about system thinking but about a paragraph from the book "Tao of Physics". Here goes the text ...

"... The words of our language are thus not clearly defined... Science, on the other hand aims for clear definitions and unambiguous connections. Therefore, it abstracts the language further by limiting the meaning of its words and by standardizing its structure in accordance with the rules of logic. The ultimate abstraction takes place in mathematics where words are replaced by symbols... In this way scientists can condense information into one equation, into one single line of symbols. The view that mathematics is nothing but extremely abstracted and compressed language does not go unchallenged...mathematics not just a language to describe nature but is inherent in nature itself. Originator of this belief was Pythagoras, who made famous statement - "All things are numbers" …

This puzzles me ... considering(or conceding) that mathematics is an abstract language used by scientists to represent theories, models and scientific thought in a precise and unambiguous way, how can such an abstract language be suitable to describe nature (even in parts) ?

Nature is live, rich and multi dimensional where as mathematics is at other end of the spectrum - abstract, precise and single dimensional. Did Pythagoras and for that matter Galileo make mistake by saying "book of nature is written in the language of mathematics". I am certain that mathematics does not be to be interpreted where as nature and its manifestations need to be. Am I making sense?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Nature of Problem(s), we testers (should) investigate (or solve)

I am puzzled about the nature of problems that software testers, today are juggling with or should be losing their sleep over - more than the problems themselves. As humans, we love simplicity (not sure about about other species - not sure if there is any way to check if they love simplicity too). In every walk of life, we seek and embrace simplicity. Many experts tell the stories about how they have solved mysteries of the world through and give us the tools, techniques to conquer/dominate the world around us. We now have quantum computers even though there is barely anyone who has fully understood Quantum theory. We can make machines, apply our partial knowledge but make a mistake of claiming glory of scientific knowledge saying “this theory is true as I have experimentally verified it and there are practical applications”. The mistake that we make is about “completeness of knowledge” – making a machine based on a theory does not amount to complete understanding of the theory.

Alfred North Whitehead, the famous English mathematician and Philosopher warned us “Seek simplicity and learn to distrust it”. Simplicity is so tempting that it fools our minds and thinking and makes us glued to it. It appears to me that we have not learnt to distrust simplicity at all – worst many even does not know that we should “doubt” it. There is “banana” principle, attributed to Jerry Weinberg. For many things like simplicity, we have only learnt how to start but have horrible lost the trick “when to stop”.

Many in software world believe that software testers are expected to answer questions that, simply lead to “pass” or “fail”, “works” or “does not work”. These questions are like asking “is 4+4 =8? Is this an isosceles triangle? Is the temperature of this body 86 degree centigrade? What is National Stock market Index today?” Engineering, mathematical and scientific questions right?

In our software profession, we love to pose “engineering/scientific” questions that lead to binary answers. After all we are software ENGINEERS and software is ENGINEERED. Hence I started this post with simplicity and our obsession with simple models of complex things. What is the true nature of questions/problems that software testers investigate and solve? Let me make a bold conjecture here. I think they are similar to the questions that we pose in the realm of social sciences. For example, questions like “Is homosexuality linked to or mainly due to some mental illness?” or “Should burqa be banned in public places” or “Is there a God”. These questions are asked in a broad social setup and are linked various material practices of the people in the society, about their culture, history etc. Much in a similar way, software operates in a social context and people are mainly concerned about how software alters their day-today work. The nature of questions/problems requires non-binary, qualitative answers and solutions. The questions about quality are based on emotional, subjective feelings (there is no binary 0 or 1 about software quality).

As Michael Bolton says “decisions about quality are always emotional and political”. How can there be binary mathematics in emotions and politics? That is the point these software engineers and process people miss and insist on quantified definitions of quality and other abstract entities associated with Software. It appears to me that they are constantly conditioned by the business environment to believe so. Coming back to simplicity, software engineers (process/CMMI/Six Sigma) people definitely think that the problems that software testers/engineers solve (investigate- actually) are purely engineering/mathematical in nature. Hence they believe in absolute answers, causality, objectivity and certainty.

I think they are wrong !!!! When do we learn when to stop saying “banananananana..?” While you are reading this and interested in debating about “nature of testing problems”, many budding software testers are happily busy in churning out hundreds and thousands of test cases and blissfully shouting “pass” or “Fail”. Well, you might say do they have options … I am sure they do.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

A movement called weekend testing – What it can do to you and your testing career?

An extremely contiguous phenomenon is sweeping in some circles, communities of software testing; it is called Weekend testing (twitter @weekendtesting). Presumably, born out of few young minds (Ajay Balamurugadas, Parimala Shankariah, Sharath Byregowda, Manoj Nair ) and influenced by context driven software testing philosophy. In a short span of time, it has traveled from Bangalore (the home of Weekend testing) to Europe and the US. So it is globalized movement. As testimony of its popularity and the value, who's-who in global testing community have acknowledged it

It is hard for anyone who is a passionate/skilled software tester not to be associated with it. Once you are in, you keep going and loop in others. Such is the power of the concept and the way weekend testing works. I would probably equate (not mathematical sense) weekend testing to open source software development. What drives these movements? Passion, Desire to learn, Demonstrate skills in the real time "On Demand". The last point is something that is more apparent in weekend testing movement.

What makes weekend testing - a movement or a revolution in its infancy?

The objective:
Practice testing (or software testing) in real time with like minded (I wish if some dis-like minded folks join it – we need fight confirmation bias always as testers. Being vigilant about fallacies of "you will see what you want to see or you will fall in love with that which confirms what you know").

This objective is very powerful and has enormous potential to grow big. Keywords here are "practice" and "real time". Now you can see testers saying "I was practicing testing" just like a musician doing is "Riaz" or the sportsman sweating it out on the ground. A manager would call few of his low performing testers and say "Go and get some practice of testing in week end testing sessions". While his testers are training, the manager can check their progress by viewing the session transcripts and related blogs posted elsewhere. Transparency to the core!!!

The structure

Here is a generic format of how a weekend testing session is arranged – more detailed description can be found here

A group of testers sign-on to Skype or Google talk and get started with their testing at a specified time as announced on the weekend testing website. One of the testers assumes the role of facilitator giving the mission for the session and moderates the whole thing. Mission of the session is itself tested first – meaning it is scrutinized for possible ambiguities and a refined one is adopted. Testing starts bugs, issues are logged in an open source bug database and followed by a debrief session. The session transcript is posted with results for everyone to see and learn further. It is almost free for those that have computers and internet connection. Weekend testing thrives on usage of open source/free tools. It is more or less self-driven – all that was required to set up an initial structure for testers to get started and posting the results and transcripts of the sessions.

It is a terrific place to learn With so many willing, skilled and available testers and coaches around what you are learn is nearly unlimited. With a wide variety of products to test, variety of testing missions to try out – there is something new to learn in every session. With people across the globe participating, you get access to an interesting cross section of skills, cultural legacies to learn from. You can improve your communication, writing skills in a friendly yet mildly critical environment. People here tend to me cooperative and more interested in seeing everyone succeed. It is the genuine interest in other's growth and improvement that makes weekend testing a unique platform for greenhorns to gaze around.

It promotes "community" certification/acknowledge - not given by any "standards" like bodies. Needless to say the people associated with the movement are known for their "critical thinking" and would go to any extent to be "open for scrutiny/challenge any time anywhere". That makes this movement strong and really unbeatable.

It makes testing demonstrable in its deepest details possible. For long, people influenced by context driven testing have struggled to explain the power of exploratory testing. They have been trying to argue for skill in testing as opposed to so called best practices and process driven testing. And there "test cases" the ubiquitous building blocks of testing and the questions that were often asked "how can you do testing without test cases, How can you repeat testing? How will client accept that we tested?" Now we have a proof in a public movement and "open for scrutiny anyone anytime" – You can literally see testing happening in front of your eyes. What more evidence you need?

The People

The founding members of this movement are, at the core, very dedicated, passionate software testers whose sole distinguishing qualification is their appetite for learning and become skilled software testers. That drives them to do things that they do. They are constantly building their reputation through demonstrating their skill and learning constantly. So, hanging around with these people can be very dangerous. They will make you like them. The weekend community is very aptly mentored, coached and supported by people like Michael Bolton (no… not the singer or the "officespace" character), James Bach, Cem Kaner, Pradeep Soundararajan, Matt Heusser, Jerry Weinberg, just to name a few.

We (notice, I am using this "we" after a long hesitation as I have not contributed enough to include myself in this movement) are thankful to these leading lights for encouraging the movement and advertizing it.

The Future of weekend testing – The way I see it.

Few thoughts …

  • There will be many chapters of weekend testing all over the world. There will be weekend testing conferences to the scale of STAR conferences in the US.
  • Big universities teaching software engineering will recognize this movement and will have representatives from them
  • Commercial product companies will engage weekend testing folks to test their products. With the support of crowd sourcing companies like utest, week end testing will gain authenticity and grow.
  • Weekend testing will then get into weekdays as people want more of it – we then have to look for another name to call and identify ourselves … But that is an interesting problem to solve

I am looking forward to participate and contribute this movement …

Update (10th March 2010)

Parimala Shankariah has brought my notice that Santhosh Tuppad, yet another promising testing star in the indian software testing horizon, who was recently featured on utest - has been a very contributing member of this movement. Thanks Parimala for point this out ....

Santosh ... nice to know about your contributions.. Keep going... Look forward to participate in sessions with you.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Man and the machine ....

Can a software be produced and maintained using a machines in a factory … like Google does?

Notice, with their machinery and factory setup, they have been able to cut down the testing cycle to 4 minutes... Sounds unbelievable .. I think it is ..

Google produces Innovation machines and IT vendors set up factories… So back to Factories and start oiling machines. Probably we should change IT designations to map roles on assembly line shop floor … - foreman, supervisor (this is there already in some sense), operator, inventory manager, assembler…. As few expect, IT work will eventually be a factory job. For one, my wife and kids would be happy. I can then work in shifts and come back home at sharp, say 5:30.

It is interesting to watch what Google is doing ….though their innovation factory recently had an outage…. With “Buzz” having “bugs” related to privacy...

You know what … as a tester, bugs make me happy… that is an eccentric , one sided view …especially with those who boast “machines and factories” of software. After all we are very far from the day when truly software will be produced in machines, requirements will be read from humans through bar-code type readers, we would be able recall software as cars (instead of sending a patch) and there would software garages.

Dreaming …!!! Someone woke me up... It is a brand new Monday….


Monday, February 15, 2010

I’m blocked… but why?

"There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough." American Poet William Stafford

I am blocked from doing any interesting writing for over 2 month or so. And this post is all about the condition of being blocked in writing.

As paradoxical as it sounds, I have not been able to write anything to my satisfaction so that I can publish. In the world of writing, they say it is a condition called "writer's block". It's a terrible feeling for me as block keeps haunting on every attempt to complete a half finished work or a new one. Here I am sitting with over a dozen of unfinished posts, like a kid confused about which toy to pick and play. It is funny that not long ago, I was chatting with Parimala Shankaraiah, a (or the?) curious tester about this condition called "writer's block". I suggested to her that when blocked, try writing about it. That is what I am exactly doing now. To illustrate the influence of WB on me, I am planning to keep this post small and focused on the topic and close it as soon as possible.

For non starters, WB is a temporary mental condition of extreme self censorship leading to rejection of semi finished parts of writing as this reference suggests. Keyword here is self imposed censorship. Those getting stuck in WB, can take conform in William Stafford's statement consoling themselves with pat on their backs for their high standards of writing.

Why I am blocked on writing?

While I am not short of ideas to write, when I pick up something to write after writing few paragraphs, I start getting a strange feeling that I am repeating or the plot of writing is hypnotically drawn into a predetermined destiny. That is where I stop writing. Not sure what is happening.

WB, like inattentional blindness appears to occur when you are ultra/super focused on a topic so that you literally stop thinking. I am not sure, my state of WB has anything to do my focus (or lack of it) on writing. As defocusing tactic, I switched to twitter and tried my hand there sufficiently enough to get an attention from none other than Jon Bach. That still leaves me high and dry and I am back to WB. Another thing that I suggested to self – stop writing but speak (do pod casts) or draw/paint (cartoons etc). I need to try these channels to see if they help. I think what happens in WB is one (of several) channels of expression of thought gets blocked while keeping others intact.

One thing is sure; I am under pressure of not being able to write even though I have many "good" ideas to write. Some say WB leads to lack of motivation or happens due to lack of motivation. I am pretty sure that is not the case with me. Anxiety, fear of being ignored or failure certainly is back of my mind.

Aiming for High standards? High degree of censorship? Yes, that appears to be the case. I reject lots of writing (pile of trashed pieces of writing) as they don't qualify my own criteria to be good enough to be posted.

I don't agree to generic prescriptions like Lack of preparation, reading, and picking up boring topic leads to WB. My experience of WB is that I am blocked on those topics I deeply interested in and dying to writing something significant, lack of preparation/reading might be an issue in some cases but the in case of the ideas that are pretty original, I often avoid reading to get my flow of my "unbiased" ideas.

Well, now I am suddenly realized that I am supposed to suffering from WB…let me abruptly end this post and start mulling over the cures for WB.

Oh!!! What a relief. This post comes to an end. Have I overcome writers block? Over to you…dear reader!!!

Note: I am surprised to note that there are other types of writer's blocks such as this and this. Here the word block is intended as "collection" or "store" of useful writer tools. Same name different connotation.