insight software testing

I am the Queen of Defocus

I remember the day I earned the self acclaimed title of Queen of Defocus. I had been testing for about 3 years and had been hired as the *only* tester in an R&D lab of about thirty engineers. I also happened to be the only female engineer at the time, so I was Queen of the Lab regardless.
But I become Queen of Defocus when one day I was working on creating a test strategy for a Nationwide Freephone service that was to be designed and built in our lab. I had earlier cottoned on to the idea of white boarding the service and grabbing poor unsuspecting engineers as they passed by to help me figure out how the service worked. This helped me understand the service better and also on occasion I saw engineers go quiet as they realised through my questions that they had overlooked something in their design. (I later discovered James Bach calls this Inside-Out Analysis)

One day, as I was applying this approach I had a gestalt moment. I realised that I was really really good at  asking pertinent questions. Questions not necessarily about the service itself (though I did ask those) but also about how the service was going to be used, deployed, tested, maintained and operated. But what made these questions so valuable? Why were *my* questions seemingly able to discover problems other engineers failed to think of?

What exactly was I doing?

I decided it was the ability to grasp an answer from one question and allow it to connect to some other seemingly significant piece of information to generate another question. To do that, I had to let the information go for a wander in my mind until it connected to another piece of information. I had this visual idea of information wandering through my brain, seeking a neuron to bond with. However it happened it was working.

So I became Queen of Defocus partly because of this gift I had to make connections, but also because everyone else was so focused. By focusing so well (and they were some of the brightest engineers in the country) my defocusing ability was allowed to really shine. I was the ying to their yang.

Years have flown by (literally, I traveled overseas to Dublin for 2 years) and testers still comment on my ability to hit any situation, ask pertinent questions and make connections. Richard Robinson watched me pull an admin guy’s strategy apart, leaving him with a notepad full of questions to find answers for.

But being Queen of Defocus has its downside, it can if your not careful make you sloppy and shallow in your work. I know this because I’ve fallen into this trap of not paying sufficient attention to detail. I watch out for it now. I’ve learned that not knowing facts can be really embarrassing and I try to avoid that.

But mostly, I’m pretty happy letting my mind wander and reflect and ponder on why sun streaming through the window on an Autumn day fills me with joy. I store these moments away open to the possibility that they may prove helpful one day. On days like this, a bit of defocus is bliss!






coaching insight software testing

Mary Mary Quite Contrary…

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Its an old english rhyme that goes eons back. In fact, its actual meaning is disputed over time. Meaning change over time, don’t they? A bit like quality I guess.

Closer to today, in the early 1990’s people so enamoured with the concept of a *mobile* phone ignored the fact that half the time calls dropped out. After all, compared to a fixed line, the freedom was incomparable  so why not put up with being cut off through a tunnel?

Roll forward twenty years later, and Vodafone lost a plethora of customers due to call drops outs. Why? We as customers have changed our concept of quality. What people viewed as acceptable soon became intolerant.

Testers need to be aware of this. In particular when they focus on regression testing. Do your old tests actually add value? Have stakeholder opinions changed over time?

Testers also face a problem that Mary didn’t have to deal with. For Mary, everything was laid out in row, nicely lined up, easy to count.

But bugs don’t do that, do they? They grumpy, recalcitrant and downright impossible to find. Thats why we as testers can’t rely on the expected, the norm, the process. We need to be clever. We need to be sleuths. We are the Sherlock Holmes of the IT world, finding clues where no-one thought to look.  We need to think harder, deeper and broader than everyone else on the team. We need to catch the peices others haven’t thought of.

Here’s my 21st century version of the poem.

Mary Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow
Until the testers have a look,
To be honest, I really don’t know.