Look Up, Don’t Look Down: Testing in 2010

Goodbye Blue Sky
Image by -Alina- via Flickr

This post reflects what I’d like to see for software testing in 2010.  It is a purely selfish list.  Most of what I’ve written about below will find its way into my blog over the next year.  The list is not in a particular order, that’s why I excluded numbers for each item.  I’m just so damn excited about all of it. (and yes, I stole the title from TonchiDot)Btw, I’ve changed my template, my “about” page and my blogroll.

How does my list compare with what you would like to see?

Testers get fed up with their massive tables of data and turn to visualization
Ok, so no surprise here, but I wouldn’t have picked it for a thesis if I didn’t think it was important. Testing meta-data is all around us, and we’ve yet to fully make sense of it. What is it trying to tell us? If we don’t want to boil everything down to a metric number, that doesn’t mean that the meta-data or the secrets it keeps is going away. In reality, we will only have more meta-data. The challenge lies not only in getting our data into a visualization but also in knowing what and how to explore without wasting time. When should we use a scatterplot vs. treemap vs. plain-and-simple bar graph? This goes way beyond anything the Excel wizard will tell us, but that doesn’t mean we won’t need a little magic.

Functional Programming Shows Up on Our Doorstep
I’ve been seeing devs tweet about FP all year, and I’m quite jealous.  If a dev gave you unit tests written in Haskell or Erlang, what would you do?  Testers aren’t the only ones with meta-data overdrive.  Our massively connected world is producing too much info to be processed serially.  Get ready for an FP invasion.  Personally, I’m looking at Scala.

Weekend Testing Spreads
Indie rock fans will smell BS if they see an indie rock countdown for 2009 without Grizzly Bear (had to work it in somehow).  Weekend Testing is obviously the Grizzly Bear of Software Testing for 2009 and their momentum sets a blistering pace.  Markus Gaertner has just announced that it’s expanding to Europe and I’m certain it will spread across the Pacific as well.  This is a bottom up method for learning how to test, and I hope that instructors of testing take note.  I am no expert at testing and want to do whatever I can to set the bar as high as possible.  Hey Weekend Testers, count me in!

Testers who don’t blog start to care about their writing skills
With an emphasis on tools that get software process out of our frakking way, we’ll be left with our writing. Ouch. What’s a comma splice? Hey, I’m going for my Strunk & White. All the great collaboration tools in the world aren’t going to help us if our writing skills suck.

Links Between the Arts and Software Testing Will Be Strengthened
Chris McMahon started us off with his chapter in Beautiful Testing. Shrini Kulkarni blogged about learning the power of observation by looking at art. I’ve been reading about exploratory analysis using data and visualization. By the end of the year, I want software testers besides those of us who self-identify as arty or musical to be talking about why arts education is vital for being a good software tester.

More testers start to care about understanding the fundamentals of measurement and the basics of statistics
Think fast: What is the difference between ratio and proportion? When does the mean not tell an accurate story about a set of numbers? It’s very clear that there are some serious pitfalls in the usage of metrics. What I haven’t seen is lots of testers that have a thorough understanding of basics such as levels of measurement or what a distribution will tell you. I wonder how many testers back away from using these because they don’t understand exactly how they can be harmful or because they just don’t understand exactly how they work in the first place. One assignment I’ve given my blog for the year, is to tackle some basics as applied to testing. Rejecting metrics because you see how they can harm is one thing, rejecting metrics because you don’t understand them is unfortunate. If you count yourself as a tester who is not totally comfortable with math, you’re not alone and, believe me, I understand how you feel.

Collective Intelligence Comes into Play
If I had my way, this list would be vote-able and each reader would have the ability to vote items to the top or bottom. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Unfortunately, I don’t have that…today ;o) But we’re so close! If we’ve got the technology together to analyze the hell out of our blogs through web analytics, what about our tests? I’m picturing myself writing out tests in a wiki with a zemanta-like tool suggesting tests from similar stories that have previously caught bugs. I might not always use these suggested tests, but it would be a great help for brainstorming.

I’ll have an Open Source Project Up and Running for Visualizations to be Used with Testing
This is not a resolution, it’s something I didn’t finish from last year. I am just so late on this. Oh well, giving myself a conduct cut. Seems I had a little conference talk to deal with which quickly morphed into a little talk at Adobe, followed by a little talk at Microsoft. Needless to say, I’ve got some unfinished business that has to do with treemaps. The PNSQC experience was a semester in and of itself. Time to get back into the visualizations.

It’s not lost on me that my last few posts have been sort of personal and high-level. I’ve had big changes and events happening in my life, which has made maintaining focus, well, difficult. You’ll hear all about it soon enough. Trust me, it’ll be good.

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5 thoughts on “Look Up, Don’t Look Down: Testing in 2010”

  1. For the collective competence you may want to take a look into the work from Thomas Zimmermann and his colleagues. He did some work in datamining of bug databases and feeding back the information into the development by marking up change risky patterns of code directly in the IDE. Search for the paper “When Do Changes induce fixed? On Fridays” to get an entry point.

  2. Hi Marlena Compton,

    Thanks for the encouraging words on Weekend Testing. We need more testers like you to participate in the testing sessions and share knowledge & experience.

    To wrap up 2009, I put up a short blog post on how I spent my time for testing.

    Having a list for the new year is a good idea to maintain a tester’s focus on the things ahead.

    Wishing you all the best for the new year and expecting your participation in Weekend Testing sessions.

    Regards,
    Ajay Balamurugadas

  3. @Markus Download and will read. This type of thing is really fascinating.

    @Ajay Looking forward to that :)

  4. Hello Marlena,

    I just started following your blog late in 2009. You express a very thoughtful, intelligent attitude towards software testing that I, as a software engineer, find very refreshing. I especially liked your mention of art. I find that there is, or at least can be, art and beauty in the seemingly endless pages of source code I work with every day and I’m glad to hear that similar sentiments exist on the other side of the cubicle wall.

    Respectfully,
    Isaac

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