Wednesday, October 29, 2008

BBST - Bug Advocacy

WOW, I just completed another amazing BBST course. It feels great. Why? Well, because it is one of the most challenging ways of learning I have yet to come across. There are a number of reasons for this and I talked about them in my first post on the Foundations course.

Bug advocacy covered:

  • Basic concepts
  • Anticipating and dealing with objections
  • Effective advocacy
  • Credibility and influence
  • Writing clear reports

Part of the course required us to register as testers for Open office and evaluate and improve on bugs that had been reported there on Open Office Impress. This was a whole new world and challenge for me. When I evaluate bugs on my projects it’s with a quite comprehensive knowledge of the domain and the applications within it. It comes almost naturally. Here, I had to first really try and understand what the person was reporting and try and recreate it. The bugs we were working on were also those that were unconfirmed. If they had been easy to reproduce, they would not be sitting in this queue very long.  For one of the assignments, I spent more than 4 hours just trying to find a bug I could vaguely understand and try and reproduce.

So - What was different from the first time?

I didn’t feel quite as nervous about what other people would think of me or what the instructors would think of me.
The fact that I knew what the pace would be like and how much work was involved meant that I planned a little better – although still not well enough. I still didn’t manage to do much on the exam cram and I should have.
I studied in a much more structured way this time for the exam. Went back to my old favourite – Mindmapping each section and learning it from the maps.
I was more familiar with evaluating other people’s work and what that entails. I think that my feedback may have improved a little… but still needs lots of work.

What do I still need to improve on for next time?

My planning needs to improve - I think next time, I am going to try and produce the Mindmaps with each section’s video session. And then (as suggested) try and answer the exam questions each week.
My feedback can always get better. I am going to practice a lot more in my everyday work and try and improve that way.

How have I used it?

I had a little “talk” last week with some of the team at my current project. I discussed some of the concepts and that way, re-enforced them for myself.
I have encouraged one of my mentees to use the evaluation techniques so that we can then discuss the process.
I have evaluated a number of bugs and practiced giving feedback.
I have logged some bugs recently with a whole new perspective.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. This to me is far more valuable learning than I would ever get paying thousands of Rands for a “certification”. I am really extremely grateful to all of those at AST and especially Cem Kaner for spending so much time and energy on improving us and thereby lifting our profession. It makes me want to do the same.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Resources to help you be a better tester...

A friend of mine sent me this mail today and I thought I would post my reply in a blog since it may be of interest to more people....

Hey Lou, how you doing?
I'm alright thanks. I was having a look at the AST web site and saw that you got recognition for your test report, well done!
So, in that regard, I was hoping you would be so kind as to tell me what you do to improve your self as a tester - what books do you read, web sites etc...
It is a broad request but if you could just give some of your favourite resources I would be most appreciative.

Hey R,

There are a few key areas that I focus on that I think hopefully make me a better tester:

There is one and only one conference for me... CAST! There is now a networking site around it.
For details on next years and previous years archives (there is some fantastic stuff in there)

Try and get to go to CAST - you get to network and you get inspired.
(I am also working on a ROI for your company sending you to CAST, and will hopefully share that soon on the blog as well).

Read read read - stuff about testing, stuff about people, stuff about psychology, stuff about business, stuff about learning...and by this I mean skim where necessary - you don't have to read every book cover to cover (something James taught me)

At the moment, I am reading:
Information dashboard design (Stephen Few)
The Fifth discipline (Peter Senge)
Perfect Software and other testing myths (one of the best books on testing... Gerry Weinberg)
The Black Swan – forget the author...
Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
Time to Think – Nancy Kline
I am also reading some of my dad's old textbooks on Organisational behaviour which are quite interesting
Then I never am without my trusty testing "bible" - Lesson's learned in Software Testing – Kaner, Bach and Pettichord.

When it comes to reading I also read a whole LOT of blogs - (see my blogroll) and I subscribe to (and read most of what goes on in) the software-testing newsgroup on yahoo.

I also read Stickyminds when I see something interesting or am searching for something specific, as well as Methods and Tools, Testing Experience, STPMAG (so not everything in these, but whenever something catches my eye).

The really important part of my further education as a tester is the BBST course run by AST.

I am busy with my second module - Bug Advocacy. Once again it has been a real challenge and I have just gotten so much out of it its scary. Some of the material that was used as a basis to form the course can also be downloaded for NOTHING!

Then there are my trusty gurus..
Cem Kaner - see articles and publications
James Bach - see all sections - especially download the Rapid Software testing course slides and appendices.
I read everything I can get my hands on by these guys.... normally a lot more than once.

I learn a lot from my colleagues and from my network (my CAST buddies)...... the key here is that you have to ask.... insightful questions.
I learn a lot from whenever I put together some training and give a course and then try and make it better the next time.
I learn a lot everytime I try a new concept, see how it works and refine it for next time.
I learn a lot whenever I have to think about why something works or why it doesn't or when I need to solve a problem and take enough time to really think about it....

And I have a couple of fantastic mentors that blow my mind on a regular basis with their insight and abilities.

Hope this helps!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

evolution of assessing

The testing industry in South Africa is one that has seen enormous growth over the last 5 years. As an example, when I joined my company 7.5 years ago, there were 6 of us in the organisation. We now have over 120 people working for us.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that we went from having very little interest in testing and not so many testing jobs available in SA, to the opposite situation really quickly. This in turn meant that suddenly, the amount of money you could earn as a tester went from almost nothing to quite reasonable salaries. So everyone decided to become a tester. We had to try and quickly train people to meet the demands of our clients and so a lot of organisations – ours included started graduate recruitment programs to train graduates in the basic concepts of testing. The bottom line is that we have ended up in a market where people are demanding high salaries but have very little skill and experience to match those salaries. (This I think is partly the reason for a lot of companies outsourcing to other countries but that is a whole other blog).

For a few years now, we have been trying to recruit only the best people to ensure that if we are going to pay a lot (and in turn bill a lot) for someone, they are indeed able to deliver to that salary. This is not an easy task. There are a number of steps to this process, and I just want to focus on one aspect that I am trying to refine.

Most of our clients are large financial institutions with heavy waterfall methods of development that rely a lot on specification driven testing. So one of the key skills that we need, is to be able to successfully analyse a specification and come up with tests or test ideas based not only on the specification, but also the things missing from the specification. To this end, I started to develop an assessment which gave people a specification (which I got as a sample off the internet) and asked some questions. This assessment has now been through a number of iterations and is still evolving. The areas it is evolving in are twofold. Firstly – the way I ask the questions. Secondly - my rubric for assessing the answers. The concept of the rubric was first introduced to me in the BBST Foundations course.

For an example developed by Cem Kaner you can go to

The evolution of the assessment thus far has been guided somewhat by the responses I get. This has led me to refine the questions and also try and ask myself what exactly gives me a happy / not happy feeling when I am looking at the response and why. (For me, it starts with an emotional reaction that I then need to analyse and put into critical thinking).

The iterations prior to the ones I am showing here are not worth seeing…(I had to use screenshots as I couldn't see another easier way in blogger to simply attach the files - if you know of one, please let me know :))

My first real iteration was simply a set of questions and an open section for my comments.

My second iteration, I changed the wording of the questions slightly and played around with a rubric but didn’t like the rubric as I felt it was too rigid in some ways and not specific enough in others. (I know – the role things are just crazy).

My third iteration played with the questions some more. And looked at some guidelines for marking.

My fourth iteration played with the questions a lot more and also added more of an outline for a rubric that I hope to evolve some more.

I am posting the evolution of the assessments with the hope that you may have some insights / suggestions for improvement, or questions that may guide my thinking in this area. I have left out the spec portion as to me it doesn’t matter – you could use any spec…as long as it wasn’t perfect and not too long. (I allocate 1.5 hours to the assessment).

p.s. you are welcome to re-use this if you find it useful