Context is king when it comes to how we test software

Big Thoughts

13 August 2013 • Written by Adam Howard

Adam Howard arrived in Sydney for Tasting Let’s Test last week feeling like a small town boy and left very much a part of the community…

As I write this, I am sitting – basking rather – in the unseasonal winter sun in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. The sky and sea are twinkling at each other and one feeling strikes me more than anything else – hunger. Let me explain.

I’d arrived in Sydney on Sunday evening and, despite my bravado, I felt like a small town boy alone in a big city. The customs official suspected me of smuggling, my taxi driver didn’t speak English and the hotel concierge sent me on a wild goose chase when I sought his help to recon the conference venue.

As ever though, a new day brought a fresh start and a powerful combination of eagerness and jetlag led me to be the conspicuous first guest to sign in for Tasting Let’s Test, a one-day teaser for the Context Driven Testing (CDT) conferences held for the past two years in Sweden, but which next year comes to Australia.

With the venue nestled on the charmingly named Cockle Bay Wharf, surrounded by the alluring scents of breakfast borne on a gentle harbour breeze from countless cafés and the hiss and clack of the conference’s dedicated barista tuning his life-support machine, the event was aptly named.

It wasn’t just the taste buds that were stimulated though. A wealth of knowledge and experienced testers had followed me through the doors and were gearing up to engage in this unique hands-on and interactive conference.

After the obligatory instruction to “Tweet everything!”, Rob Sabourin (@RobertASabourin) kicked things off with a great talk about ‘value sync’ – the idea that only by really connecting with our stakeholders (who are more varied and populous than we often realise) can we truly understand the context in which ‘value’ exists for a product.

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This reminder was accompanied by some useful experiential insights in achieving this sync, with the encouragement to develop a neologised ‘trading language’ to enable effective two-way communication being a particular gem which stood out among Rob’s fantastic sense of humour.

Next up was an introduction to the Exploratory Testing framework developed by Erik Petersen (@erik_petersen) who flaunted an impressive collection of flash-based clocks to demonstrate how the exploratory tester instinctively collates, prioritises, investigates and explores (acronymed as ‘CPIE’) his surroundings in the pursuit of knowledge.

It was an interesting notion and resonated with my own experience and instinctive techniques and the inclination to abstract oneself from the sub-conscious pursuit itself and to instead analyse, and perhaps hone its component parts individually, is a useful one.

However, a Let’s Test conference is nothing without a Test Lab. We paired up to put Erik’s framework to the test while exploring a “little used and unloved” feature of enterprise-wiki tool Confluence provided by Atlassian who had product owners on hand to advise.

Truth be told, it was a frantic and panicked half-hour – arguably the perfect small scale model of every project ever, with too much to test and not enough time to test it. The sense of competition was palpable with all teams throwing themselves at the challenge, so determined to find the bug to end all bugs that lunch was but a distraction to many.

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Ultimately, it was actually myself and partner-in-crime Kim Engel (@kengel100) who took out the overall prize for the challenge, perhaps because we best heeded the morning’s talks and focused less on trying to break everything and more on gaining insights from the product owners and then using this to prioritise our exploration and communicate back our findings.

With lunch devoured or ignored, Anne-Marie Charrett (@charrett) took to the stage to describe her vision of those building blocks that make up an effective context-driven tester and some methods for coaching these skills, while also stressing the importance of placing more emphasis on people than processes and tools – as only people can truly adapt to the ‘chaos’ that exists in software development.

I then returned to the Test Lab with a few fellow New Zealand-based testers to take on the Robot Testing challenge and we successfully managed to reverse engineer a user manual for a particular button by exploring and modeling the robot’s behaviour under different commands.

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It was a great way to experience working together on a practical problem, collaborating to gain insight and knowledge and to witness and learn from one another’s individual techniques.

And it was in moments like those that the conference really came alive and that was the true taste of Let’s Test.

Suddenly, I wasn’t alone in a big city any more. I was enveloped in a community of like-minded and passionate people and I felt entirely at home.

While the talks were excellent, with engaging speakers and interesting ideas, none of them inspired me so much as the discovery that I had stumbled into a genuine community, with testers from all over the world who share the same belief that context is king when it comes to how we test software.

This reminded me of a similar community to which I am also privileged to belong. A community whose goals and passions are essentially the same – to improve the way that we test and deliver software. A community called Assurity.

And yet, I came to Sydney feeling alone and unsure of myself in the context-driven world. It was only once I had travelled far that I experienced the full extent of the camaraderie, the spirit and the passion of the context-driven community that is embodied by Let’s Test.

So I sit here with the succulent scents of Darling Harbour’s many fine eateries tempting my senses and I feel a real sense of hunger. It is not the culinary delights I crave, but the sense of community, of opportunity, of potential, passion and excitement that I have tasted while I’ve been here.

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The real hunger I carry with me now though is to see these disparate communities become one.

Assurity gave me this opportunity and encouraged me to explore and discover new ideas. Now we must take them on board, embrace the knowledge and experience within the context-driven community and their willingness to share ideas and to actively confer with and learn from one another.

Our mission is to challenge conventional thinking around software development and testing and that is precisely what the context-driven community is doing. By engaging and uniting with this community and its spirit and ideals, we at Assurity can challenge our own status quo and extend and enhance our notions of how we can test smarter, better and faster.

I’ve tasted Let’s Test and I am hungry for more.

Follow Adam on Twitter at @adammhoward

 

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