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Here’s the story behind the testing dashboard tweets

Low-Tech Dashboard in Confluence

I can’t believe just how hungry testers are for the low-tech testing dashboard.  It’s a great illustration of how we are evolving in our desire for tools that do not push us around or deign to tell us how we should be testing.

At my last job, I ditched Quality Center for a test-cycle and decided to use James Bach’s low-tech testing dashboard with my team’s incredibly un-sophisticated dokuwiki.  There was nothing expensive involved and certainly no rules… just enough structure and more creativity in my testing.  I loved it!  By getting rid of Quality Center, I made my testing activities much more visible to the rest of my team not to mention more creative in terms of exploratory testing.

I’ve been tweeting about it because we’re starting to use it for Confluence testing efforts.  The reason why I haven’t blogged it yet it is because I’m putting it in a paper for this year’s CAST. Those of you attending CAST will have the opportunity to see my full presentation.  Because of the overwhelming interest, I thought I’d give y’all a few tidbits and a push in the right direction.  If I get permission, I’ll be post the full paper.  If my arm is gently twisted, I might add a few more tidbits.

This is very easy to put together, can be free (as in beer) and is 115% customizable.

The ingredients:

A whiteboard or a wiki (I like Confluence and I’m not biased AT ALL.)

The low-tech testing dashboard pdf

Some idea of what *you* want to track in *your* testing

The most challenging aspect of using this dashboard is in deciding what you want to track.  My co-worker and I discussed it for a while and are still undecided on a few points.  Although the pdf suggests that putting this online is less than optimal, I think a wiki is a perfect leap.  I link all of my test objective pages to the components I list in the dashboard.  I also link important issues in the comments section. Thus, a wiki is shallow enough but has the ability to give added depth when and where it is necessary.

Mr. Bach’s dashboard is 11 years old, and thus, is a bit weathered but still very good stuff.  It’s ripe for a bit of botox here and there.  Those of you who decide to take this and “make it your own” are welcome to share how you’ve made changes or which areas of the dashboard could use a bit of tweaking in your environment.  I hope to see some dashboard photos on twitter. (There’s a meatloaf joke in there somewhere.)

Being a writer makes me a better tester

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Image by fritzmb via Flickr

This weekend, I’ve left the kangaroos and beaches behind for the mountains and red rock of Durango, Colorado.  I’m participating in the Writing-About-Testing peer conference being organized by Chris McMahon. In an effort to keep the organization cost and logistics light & easy, there are only 15 people.  We all write a blog or write presentations for conferences and are software testers.

At the beginning of this year, one of my predictions for 2010 was that software testers would begin to take writing skills more seriously.  I hope that this conference is a means to that end goal.  One of the unspoken skills in testing is our power to communicate.  I can spend all day long finding problems with an application, but what happens if I don’t have the skills to let someone know or clue someone in as to why they need to care?  Testers need good writing skills because:

  • We must be able to concisely state what is going wrong in a defect report, especially in the summary line.  I’ve been reading the book, “Don’t Make Me Think” which is about usability testing, but one of the points rang true for writing defects:  humans like to scan.  This makes defect titles especially important.  I’ve actually blogged this point before because I liked what the book How We Test Software At Microsoft had to say about the subject
  • We use persuasive writing anytime we’re writing a communication to developers in an effort to convince them of the need to fix something we feel is especially important.  Persuasive writing is a skill unto itself.  My father is an attorney and has made a career out of persuasive writing.
  • Writing out tests or explaining how we’ve tested is an especially difficult and necessary task.  If you work in an environment where you are testing something that is under intense scrutiny, then this must be doubly important.  I consider writing tests adjacent to technical writing because we have to explain in very specific terms what we are trying to do, what happens when we do it and why we are trying to do that in the first place.

My writing experience at work involves each of the three points above and more.  If you’d like to see some examples of my writing, you can check out the Atlassian bug reports I’ve written thus far.

Although I keep time constraints in mind, I agonize over the title of every single bug and the repro steps I record probably much more than I should.  When I am describing my tests or writing test objectives, I make every effort to be extremely precise.  My bonus for this effort is that I am always finding new words I can use to describe the features I am testing and the testing that I do.   Am I a nerd if this makes me happy?  I frakking hope so!

Here’s a little known fact about myself:  I competed in a spelling bee for charity when I was in my twenties.  I participated with some co-workers from my job.  I remember that my team took home a ribbon other than first, but I don’t remember exactly what our placement was.  I do remember a conversation that I had with someone else on my team.  We must have spent 20 minutes or so talking about words that we like.  My challenge to every reader of this blog whether you are involved in testing or not:  find a new word and use it to make your own daily writing more descriptive and informative.

If I’m lucky you’ll leave me a comment and tell me about it.  I want to know about your new word, because I’d also like to use it ;)

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A Visualization of Comments from Jira and Confluence

A FedEx Express Airbus A310 taxis for takeoff ...
Image via Wikipedia

Last week, I happily participated in my first FedEx at Atlassian.

FedEx is a quarterly competition held by the company in an effort to keep it’s staff feeling creative and hopefully produce some exciting new functionality for Atlassian’s products. Pairing is also encouraged for this so I worked with Confluence developer, Anna Katrina Dominguez.

We produced a network visualization that shows where users of Confluence and Jira have left comments. I found something similar (and maybe a bit more, ahem, polished) in this blog post of Jeffrey Heer’s about his project Exploring Enron. He visualized which members of Enron’s staff had been sending each other emails.  My post from a few days ago explains why I chose this for my FedEx project.

I’ve done a write up of our project on Atlassian’s web-site. It also includes a pdf of the visualization. The colors are pretty bad and the UI designer was just in agony that we weren’t able to remove the outline around each shape. Since we went from having 0 lines of code and a vague idea of what we were doing to a simple implementation of a semantic triple store and a visualization that does have some meaning in 24 hours, I’d say we did ok.

Python, and Anna’s skill at writing Python were impressive. Python is so well-suited to this type of project that I’m not looking forward to going back and re-doing some of this in Java. I want to though, because I like the idea of building up some classes that handle semantic data. I’ve noticed that Python is frequently mentioned as one of the best languages for getting data together and now I know why. We didn’t have to waste any lines of code setting up containers and the data we got out of our test instances of Confluence and Jira was easier to process.

The one disappointment, aside from our My Little Pony colors, was REST. We didn’t get very far with using it and ended up grabbing data through xml-rpc instead. I couldn’t figure out if this was because we just haven’t used it that much or we couldn’t get the data we wanted with it. It’s clear that I need to do some more poking at REST. I’ve got some links and Atlassian’s technical docs on REST + O’Reilly Safari at my disposal. Looks like I might do some blogging about this.

If you’d like to see a few more of the FedEx projects from this round, you can look through the deliveries on this page.

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Owning My Celeb-u-tester

Nada Surf taught me all I need to know about being Popular

I wrote this blog for quite a while with the attitude of, “I know know that no one is reading my blog…whoopee!”   It’s a very special feeling, being able to post whatever you want and knowing that no one is reading.  My first posts were written as part of my independent study of the semantic web/web 2.0 and morphed into posts reviewing games as part of my summer semester video games class.  (Hell yeah, I know you’re jealous!)  After that the blog languished as I slogged through a project management class that nearly killed me.

Something happened in that semester of project management.  I attended GTAC, and the blog turned into something real.  I met David Burns who writes The Automated Tester and is doing great things with Selenium and .NET.  I was so impressed with how seriously he was involved with his blog.  It rubbed off and when I returned, I started thinking of how I could get more serious about my own blog.

I knew that I wanted a new job and not in the city where I was currently residing.  I also knew that, unfortunately, my school has negative street credibility outside of Atlanta, GA.  If you want to debate me on that point, just ask the people around you, if anyone has heard of Southern Polytechnic State University. You won’t see very many hands.

I decided to blog everything that I did in school.  At least I would be able to say, “Hi prospective employer x.  I’ve done really great things at school, here they are on my blog.”  As part of this whole, getting-more-serious-thing I moved my blog from blogger to wordpress. I still had that “whoopee” feeling that no one was reading my blog.  I just thought that people would be reading it later.

I kept working my way through classes, having fun with visualization and writing my thesis.   My advisor pushed me to submit my thesis to PNSQC.  I was very shocked when it was accepted.  I had no idea it would be chosen.  I honestly thought I would get the “thanks, but no thanks” email.  It made me nervous to think about presenting my work, but I figured I would just stand up in some tiny back, basement room filled with 2 people and stumble through some slides.  Then this post of Alan Page’s happened.

At this point, I had read most of Alan’s book, (no small feat considering I had classes requiring lots of attention) and decided it was my FAVE-O-RITE testing book.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this book.  I actually did a report on Equivalence class partitioning as part of my Formal Methods class.  There is no way I can possibly overestimate how important this book was/is for me.  In fact, I was unable to post a review of it because the one I wrote was just so Fangirl it even made me want to barf.  To have one of the authors saying that he couldn’t wait to see MY presentation at PNSQC was enough to make me hyperventilate.  If your favorite tester called you up and told you how much they liked what you were doing, how would you feel?

I felt watched.  I couldn’t write for a week.  I jumped at every noise and kept turning around because I could feel someone behind me.  I was spooked.

Here’s the thing about knowing that people read your blog…you KNOW people are reading your blog.  I know that when I go into work tomorrow, my boss, several co-workers and my former neighbor will have read this post.

How would you feel if you felt your every word being read by someone who mattered to you in real time as you wrote them down?  Are you spooked yet?
I got over it which is a good thing because, at this point, not only have I appeared on Alan’s blog, I’ve made an appearance on Matt Heusser’s blog, Chris McMahon’s blog and had James Bach and Mike Kelly make comments on my posts.  I’ve even appeared in the Carnival of Testing a couple of times.  It was pointed out to me recently that my blog is number 38 on a list of software testing blogs.
So I now have an admission to make that might sound callous but is, in reality, very difficult for me:  People read my blog.  Not only do people read my blog, they like it! When my post shows up in their reader they actually take time out of their day to process what I’ve written.  They give me comments, they tweet about it, they write about it.  They tell other people to read what I’ve written.
My reaction to this has continuously been a huge forehead smack and a very loud, “WHO KNEW!!!!”  After PNSQC, I totally lost control and had a big, fat, happy cry about it over pancakes at Lowell’s in Pike Place Market as I watched the ferries chug past the window.  I mean, my make-up was smeared and everything.  I just couldn’t help it.
So what have I done with this success?  I could have tried getting a job at Microsoft or Google, but instead, I chose to take a job with Atlassian, a company I want to see succeed on a grand scale.  What does that mean?
I’ve moved.  To A-U-S-T-R-A-L-I-A.
This move has forced me to sit up and take notice of my own involvement in a community of well-known software testing bloggers.  In the past week, I’ve been reading about what I’ve missed:
It’s time for me to acknowledge my own role as a voice in the testing community.  I’ve ignored it and tried to pretend that no one reads my blog. I guess this was an effort to persist in the state of “whoopee!” but I’m at a point where I’m not sure that’s the most appropriate way to live my life as a blogger anymore.  I’m not an oracle or a buzzword-inducing, testing savant, but I seem to have a voice that people enjoy hearing.  The challenge, at this point, is for me to stay true to myself and understand where I fit in this mix of testing, technology and visualization.
That also means I need to recognize the gift I’ve been given and find a way to participate despite the distance I’ve created between myself and my fellow von Testerbloggers.  This wasn’t a challenge I anticipated I would be creating for myself when I moved, but it’s proving to be a tough one.  I had no intention of crumpling up all of the relationships I’ve developed over the past year or two and tossing them into the Tasman Sea, but I feel like that’s exactly what I’ve done.
Networks:  the best ones do not involve business cards and, once cultivated, are worth the effort in maintaining.
I’ve got no idea how I will make this work, but I’m committed to meeting this challenge I’ve created for myself, and I know that I can do it.

Putting Pieces Together: The Semantic Web & Data Visualization

NodeXL Twitter Network Graphs: CHI2010
Image by Marc_Smith via Flickr

Disclosure: I wrote this in February, but never posted it.  It’s one of those pieces I just sort of coughed up in 10 minutes and forgot about.  This past week, I’ve been rolling around in semantic web concepts.  I feel like writing about them but don’t want to leave y’all wondering what I’m talking about.

Twitter has become such a part of my professional life. It’s also extremely difficult to filter. Everyone who uses twitter has some algorithm for deciding when to follow, not follow or unfollow someone.

Since my blog template now includes the nifty little blue button up there in the top left corner, I’ve been getting followers from my blog. If this is how you decided to follow me on twitter…welcome to the party :)

Currently, when someone follows me on twitter, I have to go through a really awful, dis-combobulated process of deciding 1) are they a spammer? 2)should I follow them back. The process of having to figure these 2 is one manifestation that our regularly scheduled internetz is not working anymore. We need the semantic web and we need it now. We need data visualization and we need it now. We need the two to work together like peanut butter and chocolate and we needed it yesterday.

The Semantic Web:

I always link to this youTube of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It’s for a reason, so if you haven’t watched yet, please have a look (I just watched it again). It is the vision of the semantic web. The reason why this particular problem can, I believe, only be solved by a semantic search is because judging someone on twitter is so freaking hard. It’s not just who they know. It’s about their interests, it’s about what they are working on, it’s about how much they tweet and what they tweet about.

I am a tester, but I follow developers too. I enjoy following testers who are local but I also enjoy following testers who live in other parts of the world. I’ve got a few friends on twitter who I know in real life. The only celebrities I currently follow are celeb-u-testers, but I won’t embarrass them by calling them out here. In fact, there’s one guy I follow just because he’s an uber-nerd who is always tweeting about uber-nerd types of things. Much of it is over my head, but I find it’s a great way to keep my eye on the pulse of tech emanating San Francisco.

What do these people have in common? Maybe some of them have a few things in common, some of them have a lot in common and some of them have nothing in common with each other but there is something about them that interests me.

Data visualization

At this point a network visualization would really be helpful. If you’ve ever looked at a family tree, that is very similar to a network graph. Network graphs are all about showing and judging relationships.

A love match:

In this case, when I am notified of a new follower on twitter, I would really like to see that person’s network graph in relation to my own. However, and this is where it gets interesting, I don’t want the network graph to ONLY consist of people. I don’t just want to see who, I want to see why. Do people work in the same place? Do we share an interest in a computer language even if I am a tester and the other person is dev? Were we both residents of Haus Berlin in Wuerzburg, Germany from Fall 1994 to Summer 1995? Does this person tweet when their nose hairs grow an inch (which, btw, is a really gross thing to tweet ) or do they only ever tweet when they write a new blog post? (In which case they are probably already in my reader so I don’t need to follow them either.)

The 17 twitter visualizations summarized by Nathan Yau on his Flowing Data blog dance all around the big picture of visualizing twitter. Most of them show network relationships between people, some of them show locality, some show the volume of tweets per hashtag, but none of them has found a way to integrate all of this information. The team that accomplishes this will be making a huge breakthrough.

This is a new level of complexity for me, and I’m guessing, many others as well. Unfortunately, these are not problems that can be solved with an email and a pie chart.  I’ve started working on using pieces that go into a semantic web application.  I’ve done this partly because I feel there is promise for testing here.  If you see me posting about non-testy stuff like REST or RDF or, it’s because these are my attempts to fully understand how I can engage semantic web concepts for testing.  Exploratory testing through exploratory data analysis:  bring it!

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Bugs 30% Off!!!

Update: If you’re in reader, the formatting just crapped out on me this time.  Click through and it looks much better.

Seeing a sign that says 30% off in a store might make me stop and take a look.  Of course, it depends on the store.   I am much more likely to stop and look if the store is Target vs. oh, let’s say, Versace.  Why is that?  Because I already know that anything Versace has on 30% probably started out at thousands of dollars.

Look at the pie chart on the right.  Aside from the fact that it’s adding up to more than 100%, how many people were involved in the survey? It could have been 3 or it could have been 300.
How is this relevant for testing?  Let’s look at some bugs.  30% of them are user interface bugs.  Are you thinking this is good or bad?  Actually, it doesn’t tell you much of anything at all.  Why?  Because, for starters, there’s no way to tell how many bugs we are talking about.
If there are 9 bugs total, that means 3 of them are user interface bugs.  In this case, the percentage doesn’t mean very much because the number is so small.   You can make a fancy pie chart out of that (it’s more likely your boss will) but it will be a meaningless pie chart that wastes everyone’s time.   If you’ve got a number that’s lower than about 30, there’s no point in using a percentage at all.  Just use a table.  There won’t be any flash, but your data will be clear.
But that’s not the only problem in this scenario.  The larger problem is that 30% says nothing about the size or complexity of:
-each bug
-the application
-the testing effort
What if I’ve got 49 bugs that are cosmetic and 1 bug that is causing memory, leaks, data loss or volcanic eruptions in Iceland?  (Think of the children!!!!!)
A percentage about a count that is too small is unnecessary and a percentage used to obscure large numbers deserving of attention in and of themselves is an oversimplification.  I’ve been seeing a lot of percentages lately when the count is really low or when there is no count at all. When I see this I immediately mis-trust any other data included with the percentage.
Percentages are still very useful, but they must be used with care.  Just because they are highly scannable and easily processed by the human brain, doesn’t give them any meaning.  I think I once read a blogpost or something of James Bach’s where he was referring to testcases as a briefcase.  It might be big or small but there’s really no way to tell what’s inside.  The same can be said for percentages.

Testing Alert:  WTANZ is here!

Fish!  I seez dem.
Image by Marlena Compton via Flickr

It’s been nearly a month since my post on testing in Australia.  I’ve settled into my job at Atlassian (who are still looking for testers), moved into an apartment that I suspect was once a stable and with the help of others, put together a Weekend Testing Chapter for Australia and New Zealand.

Uh-huh.  That’s right…


No longer will testers in these time zones have to ponder whether they should participate with Bangalore on Saturday night or Europe at um…2:30 am Sundays.

The first Weekend Testing session will take place this Sunday, April 18 at 4:30 Sydney time/6:30 New Zealand time.  The first session will be jointly facilitated by New Zealand’s Oliver Erlewein and Bangalore’s Parimala Shankaraiah.

In recognition of the respect held by Australians and New Zealander’s for work-life balance, WTANZ will be held every other week instead of every week.

For those who are curious:  each meeting takes place online and lasts 2 hours.  In the first hour, the system-under-test is revealed and you are given a mission.  You test until the hour is up.  At the end of the hour, the group has a facilitated discussion about was learned, etc.

How to participate:

1.    Register at the Weekend Testing web-site

2.     Register for the Weekend Testing Bug Repository at

3.    Send an email with your Skype ID to with WTANZ Session 01 in the subject.

4.     If you have a googlewave account, let us know.  We have plans ;)

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Is this the Bermuda Triangle?

Square root of two as the hypotenuse of a righ...
Image via Wikipedia

I used to hate math. I could feel it stalking me whenever I had to look at percentages or do arithmetic in my head. (Think fast: 7 x 8). Binary numbers? You want me to remember converting from decimal to binary and binary to hex? What about logarithms and big-o?

Is your heart racing? Do you feel like less of a nerd? You shouldn’t.

Math used to scare the hell out of me on a daily basis. It began in the third grade when a really awful substitute teacher felt compelled to teach me division with remainders. At this point, it’s obvious to me that she didn’t know what she was doing. All I remember is being screamed at for hours and told how stupid I was. My math grades were never the same after that.

This is just one way that a math phobia can start. It typically has very little to do with your actual ability and everything to do with anxiety and confidence. At this point, I divide people into two groups when it comes to math: those who are scared of their own shadow, and those who are not. Those of you who absolutely love numbers and have never had a problem working with them…good for you! I hope you love, cherish, and appreciate your gift while also having tolerance for those of us intimidated into doing without.

It has taken me years, to live with and even find enjoyment in math. Much of this is because I eventually found a calculus teacher who showed me that I am, indeed, not stupid when it comes to math. How did she do this? She taught me a few tricks that have helped me feel more confident:

1. Review is the key. It is math. You will forget things. You will forget things you have studied several times. When you come across something like the Pythagorean theorem, for example, there is a very good chance that you won’t remember it. Not if, but when that happens, it’s ok to say, “It’s been a while since I used this so it’s time to review.” This is normal and perfectly acceptable.

2. The best mathematicians SUCK at arithmetic. I didn’t just hear this from my calculus teacher but also from my discrete math teacher. When was the last time your life depended on 15223 / 48? Does it pay your bills? I mean, let’s keep life in perspective. My feeling is, as long as you can make change and count your money…WHO CARES! (Good for the people that do…it’s time to quit worrying if you don’t.)

3. There are people who are born not sucking at arithmetic. I admire them, but I don’t beat myself up because I can’t do what they do. To extend this, I don’t beat myself up when I have to use the calculator or excel for decimal to binary or hex. Life’s too short for me to care.

4. Pictures and colors are your best friend. Math class never came alive for me until my calculus teacher drew graphs and equations on the board in color. She wouldn’t work without it. I found myself understanding concepts that had confounded me in my previous 2 (yes, TWO) attempts at calculus. It was as if I was learning a different subject entirely.

This is not to diminish the importance of math skills. I’ve just seen too many people get upset with themselves for something that a) is not their fault b) is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Testers need to know math. In particular, testers need to be familiar with statistical concepts. I’ve seen rampant mis-use of percentages (and testers aren’t alone in this, devs do it too. Saw it at work last week). My personal theory, based on no science whatever, is that not all, but many testers like using bug counts because they don’t know anything else.

Are you feeling scared? Don’t worry. We’re all in this together. I have to review my statistics as well, and I plan on doing it here. The book I’ll be using is Head First Statistics. Another good book that I had to give away before my move was the Manga Guide to Statistics. You see, learning math isn’t the same as it used to be. There’s no need to be scared anymore.

When I was cleaning out a bunch of old papers in my file cabinet before the move to Oz, I came across an old IQ test that I took in the third grade. My math skills were rated “superior.” I chucked it with a bunch of other crap I just didn’t need anymore.

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Testing in Australia

Sydney Opera House Close up HDR Sydney Australia
Image by Linh_rOm via Flickr

My plane landed on Friday and I’m finally over the jet lag. The past month or so has been nothing but packing, packing, PACKING. I’m over it and ready do some testing.

In the brief survey of the OZ testing landscape I’ve been able make, I’m finding that Australia has a really great testing community.

Before I arrived, I’d been having some great fun conversing with testers and developers in OZ including @erik_petersen (Melbourne) ,@alisterscott (Brisbane), @jmajma (Sydney), @deancornish (Melbourne) and @sherifmansour (Sydney). They made me feel welcome before I even showed up for work.

When I wrote up my predictions for this year, one of them was that Weekend Testing would spread. It’s been my intention all year to participate in Weekend Testing as much as possible, and with my move out of the way, I’m ready to step up my commitment. Since I’m now located in Australia, I’d like to see what the testers here, including myself, can put together.

So what is weekend testing? It’s a bottom-up way of bettering yourself as a tester. A weekend testing session lasts for 2 hours. The first hour is spent testing something, sometime in pairs. The second hour is spent discussing what you learned while you were testing. Yes, it really is that simple.

Why do I love this concept so much? This is an empowering way to learn. So much time in testing is spent in justifying our choices and double-checking that what we have found really is broken. If we don’t find something, we’ve got customers to whom we must answer. The weekend testing approach removes these high stakes, in essence, unburdening the tester and placing an emphasis on just trying to break stuff. I know that I need to learn more of this. I suspect that there are other testers in Australia who feel the same way I do.

The first goal I’ve set for myself here in Sydney is to work on my own testing skills through Weekend Testing and to see what I can do about getting others here interested.

Here is the WT web-site. I encourage testers in Australia or elsewhere who are unfamiliar with WT to do some exploring and look over some of the experience reports to get an idea of what happens. This is not about hubris, it’s about having a safe space to try stuff in testing without fear of reprimand or backstabbing.

If you’re in Australia, and you would like to participate in either a European or Indian weekend testing session, Europe testing sessions occur on Saturdays from 3-5 pm…in Europe. For Sydneysiders, this means Sundays from 2:00 am to 4:00 am. Indian testing sessions are a bit more realistic. If you are in Australia these happen from approximately 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

I plan to be in touch with the Weekend Testers over the next few weeks to see what we can get together for Australia. Please check out the web-site and see what you think.

Btw…the US is seriously lagging behind in the adoption of WT. What up with that??

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Where’s Ur Data?

[Hat Tip: Chris McMahon for pointing out this awesome video.]

The response I’ve gotten from the tiny bit of work I’ve done with software testing and visualization has changed the direction of my life and shown me that I am not the only visual thinker in software/software testing.  We don’t want to look at tables any more…we want pictures!  We want line and color!  We don’t want to be limited by text in our exploration and creation of software.

So where’s our visual jet-pack?  I mean, I might do crazy viz stuff at home, but at work, I’m still analyzing tables, bug counts and raw data every day.  What gives?

Unfortunately, the only answer I have to this question is another question.  Where is your data?  How do you access information about your tests?  In my experience, most of the data I’ve seen has been in a spreadsheet or on a screen, as in, “Hey you!  You want a piece of me, girlie, you gotta copy and paste!”

In his recent interview on the blog, Indirect Collaboration, Shawn Allen of Stamen Design was asked about the challenges of working with data.  His response rang so true, that it’s the main point of this blog post.  For Mr. Allen, “just getting the data in the first place is the most difficult part of the process, regardless of the source.”

Amen!  Hosannah!  Bravo! and Thx, dude!!!

Every visualization I’ve worked on has included significant challenge in just the beginning step of gathering the data.  If you are working with one table or with tables that play nice, u r lucky. More often than not, the interesting stories are teased from disparate sources in disparate formats.  In general, there is nothing pretty at all about the raw data used in some of the most intriguing visualizations.

Mr. Allen goes on to say that in the case of Stamen’s Crimespotting project, this challenge was overcome by being provided with a KML feed.  The keyword here is feed.

Do you have a feed for your defects?  I know I didn’t have one at my last job, and wouldn’t have known what to do if one had hit me on the head.  This is, however, the world we live in.  When I gave my talk on “Visualizing Software Quality” at Microsoft, one of the comments I got was that my work did not include any type of real-time feed.  It was a wake-up call for me and a challenge I’m working on.

Part of this challenge lies in learning to work with standard formats for data.  Allen mentions KML.  There is also XML and JSON.  I have heard testers bemoaning the “pointy things” of XML, and I hope that we’re past the kvetching.  I’ll admit that I’ve mostly used tab or comma delimited data for my work, but I’m REALLY over them.  Just because I know enough about regular expressions to wear the XKCD t-shirt doesn’t mean I want to spend my life parsing data with them.

If we are ever to be successful at visualizing software quality, we must have feeds from our tests, defects and even the code we are testing.  I don’t want to spend my time figuring out how to get my testing meta-data to play nice.  I would much rather spend my time figuring out which data belongs together and understanding the story it tells.  After all, that is the real value in visualization, no matter what type of picture we create at the end.

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