On being context-driven

This is the transcript/elaboration of a lightning talk I did at the Context-Driven theme night organised by TestNet in cooperation with our Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing (DEWT).

The hardest part

There comes a moment in the career of a context-driven tester where he is bound to have a sobering epiphany: for every situation where he knows the right approach, for every situation where he knows the perfect tools for the job, he comes to realize that there are numerous contexts where that approach isn’t the most appropriate one, where his ‘best practices’ are not usable. Or maybe they *are* usable, but they lead to suboptimal results.

Maybe I shouldn’t generalize. This is how it happened to me at least, and that was the moment when I became aware of the main principle of Context-Driven Testing: how you approach things is driven by the context of your project, not by your process. That is also the main difference with the common methodologies that try to replicate the same process over multiple contexts.

I admit that was a source of frustration for me. Going context-driven is certainly not taking the easy road – it would be much easier to implement the same processes everywhere I go. But none of that. Luckily, it happens to be the most exciting and challenging road I know.

Knowledge and awareness

What can we do to arm us against all these different changing contexts we find ourselves in? Gather knowledge, get experience, learn. Make your tester toolkit – with all your techniques and tips and tricks in there – as big as possible . That way you’ll be able to pick the right approach at the right moment.

Talk to fellow testers as much as possible. Grab every opportunity to network with them. Twitter is a blessing for these things – it has rocked my world and continues to do so. Conferences are hotspots for fascinating people, national and international alike. Events like this Testnet theme night are golden, they really are. Learn and read continuously. About testing, for sure, but also about other disciplines. I think there are many lessons to be learned from eg. psychology, sociology, philosophy and science. Some of the sharpest testers I know are physicists and philosophers!

Try out new ideas, new stuff, new approaches that you haven’t tried before. Apart from it being more fun, Marie Pasinski (staff neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital) recently wrote  that studies have shown that engaging in novel, stimulating activities promotes the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus (1). Putting this to work in your everyday life can be as simple as trying out a new recipe, taking a different route to work, reading up on the newest technology trends, or meeting new people.

Widen your awareness. Keep eyes and ears open, at all times. Absorb everything, as if you were a sponge. Are you familiar with the phenomenon where you happen upon some obscure piece of information – often an unfamiliar word or name – and soon afterwards encounter the same subject again, often repeatedly? It sure has happened to me, and it has a name as well: the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. However strange it may seem, it is not that illogical. It just proves that our brains are fantastic pattern recognition engines. This is a characteristic that is highly useful for learning and I think we can use this to our advantage. The more we are aware of things surrounding us, the more we absorb knowledge, the higher the chance that it will keep lingering in our subconscious, and the likelier that a piece of knowledge will surface – and will stick in memory – when we need it.

The importance of knowledge in the context-driven community cannot be overestimated. That is the reason why there are so many initiatives for sharing that knowledge: free coaching by experts, peer workshops (DEWT, anyone?), tester meet-ups, weekend testing, Pair / Learn / Present, blogs, lots and lots of course materials available online…

The context-driven community is a very open community that focuses on sharing. If you are curious and want to know more, do get in touch. We’re more than willing to help where we can. 

(1) Marie Pasinski – Beautiful Brain Beautiful You, 2011

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Innovate & Renovate: Evolving Testing

Test Side Sorry

I know it’s been quiet here lately. A big Test Side Sorry for that. A lot has happened the last months, and many things occupy my mind and time.

Eurostar 2011

One of these is Eurostar, Europe’s largest testing conference which took place in Manchester in november. I had a great time meeting new people and catching up with others. Finally meeting people from twitter in person is one of the best side-effects from conferences I know. It feels like meeting old acquaintances, in a way. 

The test lab vibe was great, as always. I saw some great track sessions, and there were loads of things happening behind the scenes as well: video tapings, special and fun sessions that will be published the coming months. I even spotted a smoke machine or two on a Thin Lizzy soundtrack. The conferring didn’t stop at 6 pm – Manchester pubs were test-infected for a while.

At the gala awards dinner, in the magnificent setting of the Manchester Monastery, Julian Harty received the Testing Excellence award. Geoff Thompson also revealed next year’s programme chair.

Eurostar 2012

Rewind three weeks. Lorraine – Eurostar’s conference manager – calls me during my daily commute to inquire if I would be interested in becoming the programme chair for 2012. I barely manage to steer clear of a ditch. And I apologize to that old lady I almost ran into. Back to the call. I hesitate at first, ask some time to think it through. Seconds later I realize: “wait a minute, what was I thinking? Of course I’ll do it! Yes, there will be work involved. But it’s all good.

Eurostar will turn twenty in november 2012. I will be the host of this special edition, taking place from november 5-8 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Twenty years, that is quite something. No longer a teenager, and old enough to party.

My partners in crime for this conference are James Lyndsay, Julian Harty and Shmuel Gershon, and I can’t stress enough how honored I feel that they accepted to be on the team. Our first task was to come up with a theme. Since our aim is to craft a learning conference, focusing on innovation, renovation and creativity in testing, we decided on:

Innovate & Renovate: Evolving Testing

The call for submissions is now open, by the way. I look forward to receiving your ideas.