Pinpointing & iphone mindfulness

About pinpointing a bug on the iphone and mindfulness.

Two months ago my trusted smartphone started failing on me on an intermittent basis. In mid-conversation, people stopped hearing me, resulting in lots of confused hellos on the other end and eventually a whole lot of lost connectons too.

At first I was thinking along the lines of a hardware defect. My phone did end up on the ground a couple of times, and I thought that caused my microphone or antenna to be a bit dodgy. I decided to roam the internet in search of an explanation. That resource never failed me so far and I thought that with a little patience and well-chosen search terms I would be able to find some Slovakian or Belarusian forum-guy experiencing exactly the same problem. Well, none of that. I did encounter a lot of nationalities, and some of them I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell correctly. I also met a couple of Mac-savvy gurus with too much time on their hands, but no one recognized my problem or was able to help me.

I was puzzled. I had recently upgraded from version 2.2 to 3.0 – did the upgrade go awry? The problems started appearing around that time. Some more googling ensued. I got lost on strange webpages with flashing banners indicating I was visitor nr. 100,000. Another banner told me I had just won the green card lottery for a US visa – without even entering.  Miracles do exist. I got heavily distracted by ugly first-generation websites and decided to stop using the internet as my oracle.

I started doubting my googling and pinpointing skills, I even started questioning my phoning skills. How hard could it be to find the cause of a problem that is so easy to reproduce? I just needed to call someone or be called and within 5 minutes, people would stop hearing me. One hundred percent reproducible.

I was stuck here, so I decided not to think about it for a while to get a fresh angle on the problem. A couple of days later I noticed by chance that the problem didn’t occur when calling hands-free in the car over bluetooth. Wait, did the problem just solve itself, “automagically”? I called from my car again. No problem. I switched off the bluetooth setting and called manually. The problem re-occurred. Bingo!

Apparently it had something to with my phone-handling. As far as I knew I didn’t change the way I used my phone, but something was definitely different. I decided to be very conscious while calling, aware of every action I normally perform instinctively. Mindfulness for the iphone, but unfortunately without reaching the path to liberation and enlightenment. It must have looked rather strange to bystanders, but it eventually paid off. By using the phone in a kind of slow-motion way, I noticed that something was wrong with the light detection mechanism. The iphone is designed so that when you put the phone to your ear, the screen goes black to conserve power and to make it insensitive to touching. In this case it was the other way around: when I put the phone to my ears during a call, it went black but not much later turned back to an active, touch-sensitive state – something you normally don’t notice while being on the phone. Then I wondered… which options are active while making a call? And which one of these options would cause the problem of people not hearing me anymore, while I could still hear them?

I felt a little bit silly after realizing that I had been hitting the mute button with my cheek for two months without noticing.

This iphone incident taught me a valuable lesson about testing too. All too often, we do things instinctively, without really thinking. Or we think we are thinking, but our minds are actually on autopilot, and we’re just going through the motions. Becoming very conscious about what you are doing will improve our noticing skills. Noticing is a core testing skill that helps us reveal information about our environment, our actions, ourselves and the product we are testing. When we become more mindful, aware of what we are doing – focus on the current moment – we might become better testers, too.

All this learning thanks to a faulty iphone, you just gotta love Apple!

Through the looking-glass, and what testers found there – EWT05

Today it was weekend testing time again, and things got pretty crowded with a pleiad of international testers: facilitators Anna Baik and Markus Gärtner, !ndra from Hyderabad, Shiva Shankari, Krishnaveni K, Nagashree Manjunath, Jeroen RosinkAjay BalamurugadasJassi and myself.

The target today was Virtual Magnifying Glass, an open source screen magnifier for Windows, Linux, FreeBSD and Mac OS X.

The mission was basically: “Test this!”. Although a mission like that is way too vague to start from, it *is* a mission that we all encounter once in a while. It is our job to ask questions to make sure we understand what is needed.  So I wondered… do they just need bugs? Or an advice? Or information about how the application works? Ajay also went in questioning mode: “Test : create test ideas, hunt for bugs, compare with a different product, learn the product, so many things? What exactly is required?”. So with a little help of Ajay, the mission was rephrased to “Find quality related valuable information about the product”.

So far so good. I wanted to try pair testing over skype and Ajay was willing to team up with me. We set up a call and were soon discussing in person which approach to take. Although we encountered connection problems later on, it was a good experience that bears repeating.

Lessons learned:

  • It’s easy to feel frustrated because time is too short. After a round of introductions, some explanation and a discussion about the mission, there’s less than 30 minutes left to explore the software. Even for seasoned Rapid Testers this would be an uncomfortably short timebox. Avoid frustration by setting realistic goals for yourself.
  • When pairing, you’re not starting testing right away. There’s some discussion first, some setting up needs to be done too. Pairing is probably more beneficial when there is more time to test, so there’s plenty of time to talk things through. Now I felt a bit rushed because the clock was ticking.
  • Read-me files are a good place to start when exploring an unknown piece of software. In this case, they provided me with a good model of the software, a good basis to start exploring from.
  • Logging bugs takes time. Time not being spent testing. An issue also addressed in the “Why is testing taking so long (part1)(part2)” blogposts by Michael Bolton. 

Some nice, thought-worthy quotes were dropped during the debriefing too:

  • “Clearing traps is a skill. Recognizing traps is a bigger skill”
    Ajay Balamuragadas (c) 2010
  • “Minds are shaped when guided under pressure in a certain direction trying to maintain vision and control” 
    Jeroen Rosink (c) 2010
  • “Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow” 
    Frank Zappa (c) 1974

Well… I guess all that snow is finally getting to me. Frank never made it to this European Weekend Testing session. He wasn’t much of a tester either. But he sure knew how to play that guitar. And I think he would have been a great explorer, having fun all the way.

Behold, the “better Tester”

Reaction to a discussion in the “Software Testing & Quality Assurance” LinkedIn-group

There are some strange and intriguing questions being posed in the Software Testing & Quality Assurance LinkedIn group lately. “Who are Testing Criminals?“, “Who should take the blame for defects in production software ? ” or “Test Plan ! Do we really follow it ! ” (an awful lot of exclamation marks for a question, if you ask me) to name but a few. I read them through, bit my tongue, controlled my breathing and managed to ignore them in the end. 

But two days ago, another gem was posted:

Who is better Tester?

@Who finds highest defects..?
@Who can say in 100% confidence that this product\application is BUG\DEFECTS free..?
@Who creates highest testing scenarios,Testcases,etc..?
@Who has as many as software testing certifications like ISTQB or something like that…?

Mmm… I thought about Pradeep Soundararajan’s blog post about the infamous Black Viper Testing Technique as a provoking response to another discussion in that same group, and decided to react.

Who is the better tester? Well… None of them, actually.

  • “Highest number of defects”
    What does that tell you, out of context? Maybe the person that found the highest number of defects has tested more hours than the rest. Maybe he tested a buggy part of the product, while others were concentrating on a more “mature” part. Maybe he only found “low priority” bugs, while others – with less bugs on their list – found more severe showstoppers. Which tester would you prefer?
  • “100% Bug free”
    I wouldn’t hire a tester that dares to make claims such as “this software is 100% bug free”. It isn’t. It can’t be. If you continue testing, more bugs will be found. This is the catch-22 of testing. We stop testing when we’re finished, but we’re never finished. So we stop testing because of other reasons.
  • “Highest number of test cases/scenarios”
    Again, without context, this is a worthless statement. Maybe he works faster, but more sloppy. Maybe the other testers were investigating bugs they found while scripting. Time spent hunting/pinpointing bugs is valuable, and if testers are asked to engage in that, they’re also not “writing tests”. Maybe other people are designing tests in a slower pace because they tend to talk to stakeholders about the requirements first, to be sure that they understand what is really going on. The person with the highest test case count may be designing tests badly, or testing things the wrong way. Or maybe he’s just testing the wrong things. The productivity of a tester can/may never be measured in number of test cases, but this seems to happen all too often.
  • “Number of certifications”.
    What do certifications tell you? That a tester was able to sit through a short course and was able to score +28 out of 40 on a multiple choice exam? Does certification actually tell you anything about the real skills the tester possesses? Is he able to think critically, to question the product in order to evaluate it?

I would say the better tester is the one that adds the most value with his testing, one that is able to explore the software and recognizes problems. A good tester doesn’t just ask ‘Pass or Fail?’. A good tester asks ‘Is there a problem here?’ (props to Michael Bolton for that one).

There. I said it. I actually felt relieved after writing that down. Who is better Self-therapist?

C is for Conferring

On conferences and how to keep it cheap

The blogosphere is pregnant with conference posts these days. And good ones too I might add.
  • In his blogpost conferences on the cheap, Matt Heusser gives some helpful tips on keeping the cost of attending testing conferences down in these difficult times.
  • Matt also created a conference wiki where everyone can add any kind of testing event or conference that is taking place. A great source of information, that is still expanding as we speak. If you know of any noteworthy events that are not yet listed, feel free to add them. 
  • Very recently, the Software Testing Club spawned an interesting testing conference discussion whether or not people are paying for conferences out of their own pocket. 

I think being at conferences is great fun. You meet peers. You talk and share ideas. And get ideas, as well. Occasionally, you attend a track that makes you go “what was that all about?!”, but in general I get tremendously inspired. Not only from the track sessions – most of the time the hallway discussions provide some decent food for thought as well. Of course these benefits aren’t always very measurable, but conferences are doing their very best to provide attendees with ways to convince their managers and prove the added value. Eurostar even provides a justification kit and a Conference Evaluation & ROI Worksheet for reporting on the ROI back home.

But there’s always other ways: 

  • You can get in for free as a speaker, but in that case there’s some effort involved. Writing abstracts, papers, making a presentation. Can be quite a hassle – tit for tat. And you have to get selected of course.
  • Some conferences give away conference tickets in lotteries. Slim chance, but you never know.
  • Step out of the dark side and show your face to the community
    – be a video star. Are you ready for your close-up, <insert name here>?

The ongoing weekend testing adventure – EWT03

A write-up of European Weekend Testing session 3 – EWT03

I had to skip the previous weekend testing session involving Bing maps (which was a pity – I absolutely adore map applications), but today I was able to participate in EWT03. It was again an interesting experience. Not too many participants this time, which made for a more cozy atmosphere. Today’s testers were Marlena Compton, Anna Baik, Markus Gärtner and myself.

The Mission: You work in a small-medium company, and your manager has been asked to evaluate switching the company over to using Google calendar. He needs a quick assessment from you before his conference call this afternoon. Use the FCC CUTS VIDS touring heuristic to guide you.

We started firing off a bunch of questions at the boss, but he was in a hurry and kind of unresponsive – something about an important golf game he had to attend. He just wanted a quick assessment of  the tool, he apparently wasn’t into answering today. So much for questioning – we were on our own pretty soon. I wonder if there’s any way to keep an imaginary boss from leaving a virtual meeting. Still not sure about that.

We decided to divide the coverage since we started late and there was less than half an hour of testing time left. We ended up cutting the FCC CUTS VIDS into – surprise! – FCC, CUTS and VIDS (yes, sometimes you just go for the obvious). I settled for the VIDS:

  • Variability tour: look for things you can change in the application – and then you try to change them.
  • Interopeability tour: what does this application interact with?
  • Data tour: identify the major data elements of the application.
  • Structure tour : find everything you can about what comprises the physical product (code, interfaces, hardware, files, etc…)

In the meanwhile the boss had magically reappeared to give us a quarter of an hour extra – he probably forgot his bag of golf clubs. But I quickly realised that time would still be way too short to look at all aspects and concentrated on variability and interoperability – and on a list of existing bugs as well, something I remembered from the first session. In my quest for things that can be changed in the application, I settled for the system date, not really a part of the application but still something that can change while you’re using it. Some interesting bugs ensued, including a very severe one in Skype group chat – not really part of the mission. I thought I had lost connection but it turned out that the order of the chat messages was totally messed up. It took a while before I realised what had happened and lost a good deal of time because of that. Later on, I switched to interoperability but I also lost my internet connection for for a while, which was annoying but in retrospect also pointed me to a synchronisation bug.

The debriefing, moderated by Anna, revealed some good points from the other participants. Marlena covered the FCC (feature, complexity, claims) part and did a feature tour first, which proved very helpful. She explored all functionalities to get more familiar with them before she went off to investigate other areas. She wondered how the rest of us could start testing without doing such a feature tour/exploration first. But in fact, I think we all started with a bit of general exploration. I know I did. It feels kind of natural, probing around the surface for a while before before diving into the abyss of detail. Concerning the splitting up of the heuristic among several testers, this turned out to be a bit distracting, confusing and counter-productive. There is quite some overlap between the different areas and sticking to only some of them might mean that you’re missing out on otherwise obvious problems. This led us to the use of sapience in testing, being able to picking the heuristics that are useful for the given features.

We didn’t get to brief the boss in the end, so you could say that our mission didn’t really succeed. But hey, some say that failure breeds success. Soon, things will be looking so bright we’ll have to wear shades.

Be careful about the claims you make

About heuristics and an unbreakable phone.

An oracle is a principle or a mechanism that helps us in recognizing if the software under test is working according to some criteria. A heuristic is a fallible way of solving a problem; it can also help us discover and explore. James Bach and Michael Bolton have provided us with a lot of helpful heuristics already. One of them is a consistency heuristic mnemonically called HICCUPPS. Michael wrote an article about his use of this particular heuristic here (pdf). The idea is that a product should be consistent with:
  • History (consistent with it’s past behavior)
  • Image (consistent with the image the organization wants to project)
  • Comparable Products (consistent with a similar product)
  • Claims (product behaves the way some document or person says it should – e.g. in advertisements)
  • User’s expectations (consistent with what user wants or expects from the product)
  • Product (behavior should be consistent throughout the whole product) 
  • Purpose (consistent with its apparent purpose)
  • Statutes (behaving in compliance with legal or regulatory requirements) 

Although this is all about hardware, I was reminded of the ‘Claims’-part of this heuristic when I recently saw a video of a BBC reporter at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) who broke the alledgedly unbreakable SONIM phone on his first attempt. Examples don’t come any clearer than this. Don’t go about telling that your product is unbreakable unless you’re 100% sure it is. Then again, how can you ever be 100% sure? When you put up a fish tank for everyone to use, expect the unexpected. That’s an open invitation for creative people to think ‘out of the tank’. I guess they’ll have to revise their marketing tagline. How about ‘Unbreakable by anything but edges of fish tanks’?.

* edited typo: ‘Statutes’ instead of ‘Statuses’

Weekend Testing hits Europe – EWT01

The first European Weekend Testing session (January 16, 2010)

Last saturday, weekend testing hit European ground. The Weekend testing phenomenon has been the talk of testingtown for a couple of months now. They originally started out as the Bangalore Weekend Testers and are gradually taking their brilliant mix of cybergathering / testing / learning / mentoring / communication / pairing to a higher level. I  became intrigued when I first heard about them through a column by Fiona Charles and some namedropping at Eurostar shortly after. I liked the idea of personal and professional development, while serving the open-source community as well. My first thoughts were “what a shame we don’t have this over here” and “wouldn’t European testers like this too?”.

They do, apparently.

Markus Gärtner and Anna Baik – whom I met online in the Software Testing Club, set up the first European chapter and planned the first session with the help of Ajay Balamurugadas, a weekend testing veteran from Bangalore. On saturday january 16, some great  testers – and me –  gathered online for a unique experience. Among the participants: Markus, Anna and Ajay of course, Phil Kirkham, Jeroen De Cock, Anne-Marie CharrettThomas Ponnet, Maik Nogens and Jassi.

After some initial babylonic confusion in a skype group call, we decided to settle for a group chat. There was a round of introductions first, during which everyone stated his name, experience and what he/she wanted to take away from this session. After that, Ajay (aka the great facilitator) revealed the mission and the target to us, whilst stating enigmatically “that there were traps”. Right then I knew that this wasn’t going to be just another round of testing. The target turned out to be a piece of open-source image-editing software by the name of Splashup. From that moment on, there was a lot of questioning going on – one of the most important testing skills. People explored, asked questions, gave feedback. Some started off on the wrong foot, but quickly recovered and learned from that. We made a lot of assumptions as well, and not always good ones. In the beginning I was a bit distracted by all the chat messages flying around while testing, but once I developed that second pair of eyes, it worked out just fine. The first hour flew by and everyone sent in their bug reports on time (yes, there *was* a deadline). Peer pressure, in a good way.

Next up was an interesting group discussion. Everyone shared their impressions, approaches, things they learned and the traps they fell into. Ajay did a great job in moderating this, and made sure all testers were involved. Here are a couple of things I took away from this first session:  

  • When confronted with testing within a really short timespan, it is good to quickly decide on your personal mission and focus, and stick to that. Try to stay focused on the areas you chose and don’t go wandering off, unless of course you accidentally open pandora’s box and bugs are thrown at you. I sticked to the file opening and saving functions – and there’s plenty to report about that. 
  • I think the way we start testing largely depends on our domain knowledge as well. When confronted with a completely new product, you probably start exploring in an attempt to primordially learn about the application first. Knowing the domain makes you less of an explorer – and more of a bug hunter, which may be dangerous – make sure you don’t block out the learning. I had worked with Splashup before, which gave me a (misplaced?) sense of ‘expertise’, so I dove in and went on an immediate bughunt.
  • Always question the mission you get. Question your assumptions about the mission. The main goal might not always be a mere bughunt.
  • There are some great exploratory testing tools out there. I used Session Tester, which allowed me to quickly generate an html-report at the end. It is great for notetaking too. I really like the ‘Prime Me’-function in there – great to get new testing ideas when you’re stuck. I didn’t have to use it this time – ideas galore.
  • When working with image editing programs, I immediately tend to go in that ‘comparable product’-mode and start comparing it with Photoshop. While that may be ok to have some idea of the expected behaviour of filters and effects, it might not be ideal for an open source application. It makes you expect too much. Free tools often cater for other needs – their users have different expectations.
  • Afterwards we all agreed that it was strange that we didn’t pair up while testing, or that we didn’t do a short ‘who will do what’-briefing before we started.  Divide and conquer, we didn’t. I think that was mainly due to the fact that it was all pretty new to us. This will be easier once we get to know eachother better. Another lesson learned in software testing.

As some scientist already pointed out (and actually proved too), time is relative. The planned two hours quickly became three. I have the impression that everyone was thrilled about this fresh kind of collaboration. Interacting with passionate fellow testers, talking to them, learning from them – it all made for a great experience. Sure, it is probably not always easy to attend the sessions, you actually have to plan for it – make sure the kids are entertained elsewhere. But the reward is significant.

People might argue “weekends, isn’t that supposed to be quality time away from work?” – I admit that this thought crossed my mind too. I now realise that this *is* quality time, and far away from work as well. Quality learning time. And fun fun fun – did I mention it’s lots of fun, too?

Parcel delivery frenzy

FedEx parcel delivery frenzy

When I stumbled upon this little FedEx-screenshot, I couldn’t help but wondering about the carbon footprint of the package involved. Sent from Ontario, California (yes, it’s actually the Fedex hub in California, not Ontario, Canada) with destination The Netherlands AN – crossing the Atlantic four times in the process.

As good software testers, we tend to ask ourselves “is there a problem here?”

Ambiguous country codes, for sure. The North-American branch probably interpreted Netherlands AN as The Netherlands while the European branch interpreted the code as The Netherlands Antilles, and after that some serious ping-ponging ensued. Actually, the real destination is in the Caribbean-  AN does stand for Antilles. Which makes me wonder: is there actual scanning of labels going on? If so, they better check their labeling/scanning/routing software.  Or are employees just interpreting and sorting the countries themselves? If so, they’d better teach them some basic geography – no rest for the geographically challenged! There could also be two packages circulating with the same label, but I guess in that case the date/time figures and locations wouldn’t make too much sense. Ah well… Maybe people should start thinking more about ways how programs could fail instead of just confirming the happy paths. But wait, let’s not only blame the testers, give the developers some credit as well – courtesy of Jerry Weinberg:

“If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.” 

Happy two thousand and System.NullreferenceException!

A comment on the Y2.01K bugs detected at Symantec and the DSVG bank group.

First of all, happy 2010 everyone!

And a happy new year for the German banks as well, althought it must have been a not-so-happy-one for the DSVG bank group. Yesterday, they issued a statement  that some 20 million debit cards issued by the banks belonging to the group were affected by a “millennium bug”-like problem. Apparently the problem stemmed from a chip on the cards which, due to a programming fault, wouldn’t correctly process the number 2010. The group said cash machines were adjusted hours after the problem emerged to ensure that customers can withdraw money, but there may still be problems using some debit-card terminals. Those should be fixed by Monday, it said.

Monday? Like in Monday, January 11th? Like in “almost a week from now”? In full winter sales period, with the number of payment transactions generally hitting historical highs (who’s paying in cash, nowadays?), that seems kind of disastrous to me.  

The same problem hit Symantec as well. The Symantec Endpoint Protection Manager (SEPM) server handled all dates greater than December 31, 2009 11:59pm as “out of date”.

Back in 1999, computer experts widely believed that hardware and software systems would fail as the clocks rolled over to the year 2000 because computers and other devices, which used only two digits to represent the year, would mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900. In the end, however, the so-called “millennium bug” caused few problems, because a lot of companies had anticipated the turn of the millennium with all possible resources. The computer software business was booming at the time. There were lots of new jobs. Granted, most of them were repetitive and rote programming and testing jobs, but jobs nontheless. Freshly graduated students were sent off to bootcamps to become ruthless programmers. I still dream about riding dinosaurs while yelling Cobol commands at them – but I digress. There also was a high demand for testers. A wide range of different people were transformed into software testers. Finally, companies were acknowledging the need for testing. Great! But apparently, not all testing (and programming, for that matter) was up to standard.

Now I don’t know the exact processing happening at Symantec or in the DSVG bank terminals, but this indeed looks like a sibling of that good old millennium bug. Maybe this was the result of a cheap and dirty Y2K bug fix where programmers put in a simple if <10 = 20xx otherwise the date is 19xx. In that case, this unwanted emergent behaviour doesn’t seem too hard to detect. Or does it? My 2 cent’s worth: this is what you get when performing scripted testing based on poorly thought-out boundary value analysis (aka domain testing) without exploring the software to know more about the risks. Or maybe they did explore, but they were only focused on that one known boundary called 2000. In both cases, testers failed to acknowledge other boundaries in the software that maybe simple talks with the developers would have detected anyhow. Michael Bolton talked about this in his Eurostar tutorial this year: the actual boundaries in a system may not be the ones we are told about – that’s why we need to explore. He also wrote this interesting article (pdf) on domain testing in Better Software magazine.

Eurostar 2009 – a week to remember

A write-up of the Eurostar 2009-conference in Stockholm

I absolutely *love* Stockholm in wintertime. Pepparkakor, glögg, gravad lax… and Eurostar too. People keep telling me that I would probably love it even more in summertime, but I’ll always associate those dark days with Eurostar. I presented my first Eurostar track there in 2007 – nothing but good memories – and I was selected this year as well. The Eurostar line-up is always pretty impressive, so it can be both intimidating and exciting to be a part of that. It’s just a matter of keeping the intimidation level below the excitement level, I guess. As a boyscout, good old Baden Powell always told me to “be prepared”. Now sometimes I wouldn’t recognize a life lesson if it punched me in the face, but here’s one that I did remember. So I found myself writing a paper and assembling a presentation during those hot holiday nights in Southwestern France. You just gotta love those early deadlines!

November 29

After an uneventful flight from Brussels to Arlanda, set foot on Swedish soil. Met up with fellow Belgian Mieke Gevers, a member of this year’s program committee and in charge of the track chairs as well. I helped her carry some excess bagagge that turned out to contain presents for the trackchairs – you can’t go wrong with Belgian chocolates and “jenever“. We took the Arlanda express (easy and quick) to Stockholm C and a cab to the Rica Talk hotel.

November 30 – Tutorial day

On monday I attended a full-day tutorial by Michael Bolton called “Exploratory Testing Masterclass” (slides available here). Two years ago I attended his tutorial on Rapid Software Testing, which I found very valuable. Michael Bolton is an engaging speaker and teacher who invites you to think, rather than just sit and absorb theoretical matter. There were lots of exercises, including one on factoring (identifying dimensions of interest in a product). We were asked to identify all dimensions of a wineglass that may be relevant to testing it, using the “San Francisco Depot” – heuristic (Structure, Functions, Data, Platform, Operations, Time) – not new to me but always worth repeating. A lot of mnemonic wizardry to be found here. What about that handy mnemonic for oracles – HICCUPPS/F (History, Image, Comparable product, Claims, User expectation, Product, Purpose, Statutes, Familiar problems) – never again say that you don’t know why something should be considered a bug. Care to take a ride on that test reporting heuristic called MCOASTER? Well I’ll see your CRUSSPIC STMPL, and raise it with a FCC CUTS VIDS (Mike Kelly’s application touring heuristic). Mnemomania!

Of course, there were plenty of other impressions that kept lingering for a while.

  • A quote by Jerry Weinberg: “A tester is someone who knows things can be different” – true.
  • “If it ain’t exploratory, it’s avoidatory” – made me laugh. 
  • “A good tester doesn’t just ask “Pass or Fail?”. A good tester asks “Is there a problem here?”.
  • CHECks are CHange detECtors, testing is exploring.
  • A complete debunking of some boundary value analysis truisms: it is generally accepted that the behaviour at boundaries is more likely to show erratic behaviour, but how do we know these boundaries? The actual boundaries in a system may not be the ones we are told about. That’s why we must explore.
  • Testing is “storytelling” – I liked that take on testing:

“You must tell a story about the product, about how it failed, and how it might fail – in ways that matter to your various clients. But you must also also tell a story about testing, how you configured, operated and observed it – about what you haven’t tested, yet… or won’t test, at all – and about why what you did was good enough.”

The end of the session was foreseen at 5 PM. The discussions kept going on until 5.45 PM. I think that says it all. Later that evening, an international amalgam of testers set out to explore the possibilities of finding food in Gamla Stan. Eventually we found an Indian restaurant using that good old I.NEWTON heuristic (Indian, Nearby, Edible, Welcoming, Tasty, Open, Not-too-expensive). The end of a great day. Had some nice conversations with Rikard Edgren, Tone Molyneux, Ray Arell and  John Watkins (my trackchair) as well.

December 1

The second day started with a tutorial as well, be it a half-day one: Managing Exploratory Testing by Jonathan Kohl. Of course there were a lot of similarities with the first tutorial, but this was more of a hands-on session, where we could put Michael Bolton’s concepts from the day before into practise. There was some theory about coverage models – SF Depot anyone? We ended up describing a whole bunch of characteristics of a table that we had never associated with an ordinary table before. Practical and fun. Certainly an eye-opener.

At that point I was still trying to get a hold of the person I was supposed to trackchair on wednesday. Originally I would be trackchairing my colleague Wim De Mey’s track about regression testing in a migration project, but Wim had to cancel his presentation at the very last moment because of unfortunate familial circumstances. A replacement was found in the person of Mika Katara, from Finland – but no sign of him, yet. Oh well, time for a quick lunch, a tour of the expo and the actual kick-off of the conference.  Dorothy Graham opened the 17th Eurostar conference in style. She introduced the program committee (Tone and Mieke made sure Isabel Evans was also represented by carrying an air-filled balloon with a face drawn on it – I’m not sure if Isabel would be too happy with the analogy 🙂 ) and set the scene for the first keynote speaker.

Lee Copeland started this very first talk of the conference about nine of the most important innovations in software testing: the context-driven school, test-first development, really good books, open source tools, session-based test management, testing workshops, freedom of the press, virtualization and “testing in the cloud”. Strange that he sees the context-driven school as an innovation – as far as I know it was founded in 1999; the first book that explicitly named it was already published in 2001. I agree with the freedom of the press thing. Testing blogs are appearing everywhere (guilty, your honour), twitter is on the rise. Lee is apparently not a fan of twitter. Neither was I – I always thought of it as encouraging the spreading of triviality, but I’m actually starting to come back from that. I noticed that a lot of people within the testing community are using it to share their ideas, give advice or call for help. And it gives a great deal of extra coverage to an event like this (see twitter.com/esconfs), so maybe I’ll give it a try. Later. 

The rest of the afternoon consisted of a series of  short 20-minute tracks, which is mostly just enough to launch some provoking ideas, but not really ideal for a lot of content. Johan Jonasson talked about how he managed to save a project with the introduction of a structured exploratory testing approach. This track would have benefited from a 45 minute timeslot – there was no time to go into detail, which I found a pity. Next up was Julian Harty, who explained the concept of “trinity testing”: short session of around 90 minutes per feature, where the feature owner, the developer and the test engineer work interactively through the software to share knowledge and ideas. Pretty interesting, since I also found out later that “the trinity test” was also the name of the very first nuclear test ever conducted, marking the very start of the nuclear age. Julian is probably aware of this – I didn’t hear him mentioning it, though.
Geoff Thompson then talked about reporting – “If only we could make them listen!”. Well actually, it’s more the communicator’s job to make sure he gets heard. It was a great talk – he was able to slip in the Challenger disaster and the Heathrow terminal 5 debacle as examples of how important messages were apparently not deemed important enough, with horrendous results. Knowing your recipients is key, and knowing what information they want as well. Noteworthy: a lot of people are color-blind. If you absolutely want to make sure that everyone understands your reports, shouldn’t you avoid the reds and greens?
Besides being a sapient testing evangelist, Michael Bolton is also a human quote machine. He did this cross between stand-up routine and  political televangelism called “Burning Issues of the Day” (available here). A lot of wisecracks and eye-openers, the funniest moment at Eurostar for me. He was even able to win a bet by slipping in a quote about agilists and sex:

“The agilistas did not discover pairing or test-first programming. They’re like teenagers who’ve just discovered sex. It IS great, but calm down”.

The last speaker of the day was the same as the first one. Jonathan Kohl talked about how our urge to be “Agile” can distract us from our mission to deliver software that our customers value, while supporting our team. Agile can distract from skill development too. The term “Agile” has become big business, and lost a great deal of it’s significance. So let’s stop worrying about whether what we do is “agile” or not, and go back to calling it “software development”. As far as I’m concerned, he hit the nail on head. I wouldn’t have minded him talking about this a little longer.

The day ended with drinks in the expo and my attempt at playing a memory game at one of the stands. I kept failing epically. While I was trying to get asleep I found the ideal excuse: my head was already full of things to remember – no room for these trivial button sequences.

December 2

Right before the first keynote of the day I finally met Mika, whom I was supposed to be trackchairing in the afternoon. He was invited as a backup speaker on friday to speak on wednesday, was able to make it, but had to leave immediately after his talk. A true case of hit-and-run guerilla presenting at Eurostar! Naomi Karten then delivered an interesting keynote about “changing how you manage and communicate change”. Her talk was built around the Satir change model. There’s an initial status quo, then a foreign change-inducing element causing a ‘POW’, then chaos, after that an adjustment and in the end a new status quo. When people are confronted with change, they are experiencing a loss of control, and they often react to that in an emotional way. Important: listen, be empathic, regularly communicate the status of the change, even when there is nothing to report. She also used a quote that I well certainly use myself when feeling cornered:  

Hofstadter’s Law: It always take longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”

By then it was time to pay a visit to the Test Lab that was set up by James Lyndsay and Bart Knaack. It was a Eurostar first, and I am actually wondering now why it took so long to have some actual “testing” going on at a testing conference. The software they were running was Open EMR, an open source patient management and appointment book system. What made it even more interesting for me is that I have been testing and working with a similar (not open source, though) system for a long time, so I more or less know what to expect (or what actual users of the software would expect). I paired up with Rikard for a while and found a whole bunch of issues by merely touring the application – we noted them for later reference. It is always nice to pair with fellow testers to see what they focus on, and what their reasoning is. The state of the software under test was something else. It showed some pretty alarming behaviour, and it was far from intuitive or user-friendly.

By then it was time for Eurostar veteran Erik Boelen, speaking at Eurostar for the fifth time already. I’ve known Erik for some time now, and his talks are always entertaining and relaxing in a way. “The power of risk” was his view on how to use a risk-based test strategy that “makes people talk”, like Läkerol. His main message was (apart from the implicit one that testing can be fun *and* will rule the world) that they defined all the risks and used them as entry paths for exploratory testing. For the highest and medium risks they documented their test cases, and for low risks they just reported the results.

After lunch I introduced Mika Katanen (from the university of Tampere in Finland) and his talk about Automatic GUI test generation for smartphone applications. I am totally new to model-based testing and I was impressed with the brief demo he showed. His track went well, and there were a lot of people approaching him for a chat at the end. I do hope that he was able to catch his plane on time. Parallel with this track, Shrini Kulkarni held his talk about software metrics which I was unable to attend. People said it was good – I hope I will be able to see him speak some place else in the future.

Remembering the memory game disaster from the day before, I decided to unfocus for a while – my mind was getting stuck again. I teamed up with some CTG colleagues plus a wildcard named Tom and enrolled ourselves for the quiz that was supposed to take place in the evening. We aptly named ourselves “The Handsome Oracles”, but it wasn’t meant to be. The quiz was canceled later on, so we weren’t able to put the money where our mouth was. We also worked out some testing limericks for the limerick competition – we didn’t win. I thought they were good, but that’s probably just another example of parents not recognizing the ugliness of their own babies. There’s a good joke and an interesting analogy about that hereGitte Ottosen ended the day with a talk about combining agile and maturity models which was chosen best presentation last year in The Hague. I had the impression she was a little nervous – which is completely understandable. I was telling to myself that delivering a keynote for a full auditorium like that sure looked like a daunting task – until I suddenly realised that I would be standing in that same room tomorrow. My unfocused mind started wandering off.

While the temperatures were taking a dive, the Handsome Oracles went into town for dinner. I returned a bit earlier than the rest to rehearse my talk and to get a good night’s sleep while the (by then just plain) Oracles went barhopping. Haha! Life’s good, but not fair at all. 

December 3

The last day of the conference, and people started looking weary. Ray Arell gave us a good wake-up call with his keynote on moving to an agile environment, based on his experiences at Intel. Ray’s a great speaker (and a fun guy too – I might add). He described his hits and misses; the ‘misses’ are often the most interesting parts of experience reports. Lot’s of good advice and some nice puns (Wagile, FRagile, Scrumfalls).

I stayed in the agile track in the big auditorium where John Watkins presented some material from his book on agile testing, aptly named “Agile Testing”. John had gathered case study material from twenty agile projects and proposed agile methods for small, medium, large, off-site, and even off-shore projects. Intriguing, but upon hearing the idea of “agile best practises”, my context-driven genes started to play up.

John was also my great trackchair and introduced me as “Filmstar, Rockstar, Tester!” At least, that was his own juicy summary after I mentioned to him that I had worked as a movie distributor before and had also played in a rock band. Granted, I also admitted playing a zombie once – a serious case of method acting. Anyway, his introduction loosened the audience a bit and I was able to present my track “A lucky shot at agile?” without any problems. I wanted to tell a testing story and I think it went well. I felt at ease (those wireless microphones are really great) and there were many questions afterwards. During the rest of the day people I didn’t know came up to me to congratulate me with the presentation, which was nice. I took a long lunch and had a walk around the expo. I went back to the Test Lab to report the bugs that we found earlier. I didn’t succeed in entering them all, which made me feel kind of guilty – I wished that I would have spent more time there. But I had a hard time choosing. It’s a pity that test labbing also meant skipping tracks as well.

The last regular talk of the conference was held by Rikard Edgren, who is also a Eurostar regular. I had seen his presentation on testing creativity (“Where testing creativity grows”) in 2007 and I liked it a lot, since it is also a subject that is dear to me. There’s far too many people that think that testing is not a creative or challenging activity. This time he talked about  “More and better test ideas“. He promoted the use of oneliners as test ideas – a brief statement of something that should be tested. These test ideas can then be used as a basis for test cases, or as a guideline for other types of testing, or even discarded when there irrelevant or when there is simply not enough time. I think Rikard’s subjects will always be a bit polarizing due to their innovative nature – you either like them or you don’t. I am a believer and it was a good way for me to finish the conference.

I missed the first part of the Test Lab result presentation since they changed the timing and I totally forgot about that. But I got the most important statistics. Over two and a half days, more than 50 bugs were found. My first reaction was: “Only 56? Man, there’s hundreds of them hiding in there”, but then I realised that people had been testing in the lab only for short periods, in between tracks, just as I did. I wonder what would have happened if hundreds of testers had a go at it, all at the same time. Bugfest!

After a short panel discussion with John Fodeh (next year’s programme chair), Geoff thompson, Tobias Fors and Nathalie Van Delft it was time for the award ceremony. Naomi Karten received the Best Tutorial Award and the European Testing Excellence Award went to Anne Mette Hass. In the meanwhile I was dozing off in my not-so-comfy chair – these 4 days of conferencing were finally getting to me. A friendly woman on the stage was mentioning someting about a longlist of papers, and a shortlist, and a final selection of three, containing two Dutch and one Belgian paper. Now wait a minute… how many Belgians sent in a paper? 1…2… before I could make the math, my name was announced as winner of the ENEA Best Paper Award. Two talks at Eurostar, two papers, two awards… what are the odds of that? I was absolutely flabbergasted. That’s actually three in a row for my company CTG, since Bert Jagers won the award last year in The Hague. The pressure is on for next year :-).

I spent the rest of the evening in the hotel bar, where all the testers with an early flight on friday morning were flocking. We ended the day singing an eclectic mix of Irish traditionals, Dylan, early Springsteen and – of course! – Abba, accompanied by a non-certified tester, who plays a mean mandolin. I love Stockholm in wintertime. It was a good Eurostar. Yes sirree.