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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5 thoughts on “On being context-driven”

  1. +1 on building community, relationships, knowledge & skills via Twitter, Weekend Testing, conferences, meetups and the like. This isn’t only for the “context-driven community”! :-> I would prefer if we were all just one big testing community. Because none of us can actually work without context.

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by. You are right, I think that every tester would benefit from the tips/actions I describe, not only context-driven ones. I listed these things mainly as pointers that could help people overwhelmed by all those different contexts. The sharing and acquisition of knowledge is not owned by or limited to CDT, but they happen to tremendously value these things, and I can identify with that.
      It would indeed be nice if there were no “schools” in testing and everyone just spoke the same testing language. This young profession still has some miles to go 🙂

  2. Agree with Lisa’s comment that it would be great if *all* testers were doing this – and agree with your sentiments that there is a wealth of opportunities to learn out there

    Question: How do you get testers enthused to follow some of the opportunities you outline here ?

    1. Hi Phil, thanks for commenting.

      “Question: How do you get testers enthused to follow some of the opportunities you outline here?”

      I think that you can only ignite a spark in people, get them interested. But it has to come from within themselves. It won’t work if they’re not interested, or if you’re inflicting stuff upon them.

      Once they’re interested, it is up to them to set their own learning path – every person is different in terms of rhythm of learning.

      Question remains: how to light that spark in people? Ahhh, if I only knew 🙂

      –Z

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