Visionary Testing: When Blogs Collide

Esther before Ahasuerus
Esther before Ahasuerus

What the hell does some ancient chick in a dress have to do with software testing? I’m not paid to look at artsy-fartsy pictures! I’m paid to break stuff and pass it on to the devs to figure out!

Is that so?

How many times have devs come back to you for clarification on a bug report you’ve written? How much does the testing you do depend on your ability to notice not only the functionality of an application but the relationships among different functionalities? You see the chick in the dress? She was painted by Artemisia Gentileschi, another chick in a dress who was fairly bitter about life in general, and with good reason. Paintings hide plenty of secrets, just like software applications hide plenty of bugs. As software testers, sometimes we have prior knowledge of the story and sometimes we don’t. Regardless, our task is to ensure that the story makes sense for users, and when it doesn’t we have to report to the developers what is not making sense.

Three of the blogs in my testing blog folder on google reader(the blog roll posted here needs an update) contained posts this week that fit together incredibly well. I think they fit together because they highlight the need in software testing for observation and communication skills.

The first is Shrini K’s blog, Thinking Tester. Shrini blogged about “Necessary Tester Skills” and included this link to an article on the Smithsonian Magazine’s web-site. It’s about police officers in New York City taking a class about observation taught by an Art History scholar, and is a very rewarding read. What these officers are getting out of their trip to the Met is a lesson in how an effective description can radically change outside perception. That’s all I’m gonna say because I think you should read it.

The second post was written by Catherine Powell on her blog, Abakas. Catherine is writing about “Magic Words” in testing. I’ve seen this stuff defined in my metrics textbook and other various places, but what Catherine adds is her $2.00 on how these words are generally perceived.

Put these together with Elisabeth Hendrikson’s astounding post on Test Case Management systems, and I see the writing on the wall, or ahem, wiki. Why shouldn’t we eventually communicate our test efforts by writing down, in a somewhat domain-specific language what we see an application doing? If we are writing in a domain specific language and we have semantic web “stuff” at work, behind-the-scenes, why wouldn’t our stream-of-consciousness writing turn into tests and defects? Having a language, however, won’t matter at all if we lack the ability to employ careful observation in our testing.

I have a challenge for you. There’s no prize involved, but you might find yourself feeling rewarded. I challenge you to find a work of art be it a painting, sculpture, installation or anything you deem “art-worthy” and study it. This can be in a museum, a coffee house or your mom’s living room. Once you feel you have an understanding of what you are looking at, try to communicate your understanding with words. Extra points to you if you can also communicate what you’ve written in a language other than your own. Did you write about events taking place or where you describing some objects on a table? Were you thinking about light and shadow or did the materials used in the art catch your eye? If you are describing a portrait, does the painting possibly capture more of the person’s spirit than a photograph?

Is this really so different from trying to communicate what you’ve noticed in a test?

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