Test’s Role is Evolving – Big Ideas from Testbash Manchester 2017

Third in a series of thinkings, learnings and ramblings on this year’s Testbash Manchester

So I’ve had a couple of days to process this year’s event, and I’m still chewing through some of the major themes of Testbash. There was a lot more on the psychological side than people might expect from a testing conference, and a great deal of analysis of the role and future of test as a discipline. Whilst I’m sure more thoughts will follow, I’m ready to give some digest analysis of the biggest ideas I’ve brought home.

This is the second in a series of three posts summarising my thoughts. Part 1 is here and part 3 will follow soon. Stay tuned…

2. Test’s Role is Evolving
(Anne-Marie Charrett, Martin Hynie, Michael Bolton)

A number of talks coming from “big names” in the testing field had a similar message – that the role of test is changing, as it always has, in a fairly clear direction. Testing is becoming a more dynamic process, applies more widely in the business than just validating software works OK and identifying bugs. Quality is a broader topic than test, just as test is broader than a few step by step test scripts. But no longer are we clinging to the “good-bad” dichotomies of old, and instead we can take a more open minded view. In short… through its constant evolutions, test is maturing.

Anne-Marie Charrett – Quality != Software Testing

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Anne-Marie Charrett was a tough act to follow!

Anne-Marie Charrett’s talk opened the conference day, and dove straight into this topic. Quality is not Testing, as her title declares, and indeed quality is not limited to conventional narratives of “the end user”. I was really taken with her notion of other consumers in the business having distinct measures of quality – for example, what does quality look like to your ops team? Is it a shiny new feature, or is it a supportable one? What does quality look like to services? To support, for whom the ability to recover from changes is more important than a new feature shipping? To sales? To your PO? These are all people who will consume your end product and having a wider view of quality can really help build something which works for more than just those traditional “end users” – it can build a better, more sustainable and more successful business, too.

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There’s more to a quality product than the buttons working properly.

A key observation within this… what does a quality product look like FOR the test team? Are stories being split in such a way that they are easily (or sensibly) testable, or is the focus more on splitting obvious features or areas of code? We consume the product and our role is important. Without the right quality mindset we may be hindering our own work.

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Anne-Marie’s message was one of gradual, incremental change. Sounds pretty agile to me…

I was very taken with Anne-Marie’s talk, not least regarding her quite off-hand comment in response to an audience question at the end – that she is director of software for her team (or at least words to that effect). It’s the first time I’ve encountered a test-focused person in this role and the more I think about it, the more ingenious I find it. Who better to corral the coders than someone who is used to communicating improvements to them? Who better to collaborate and build a strong team than “team glue”, the tester? I found this brief mention incredibly inspiring and will continue to think about it as I progress in my career.

Martin Hynie – The Lost Art of the Journeyman

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A master? Or an eternal apprentice? The dilemma of the journeyman

Another heavy hitter in the testing game, Martin Hynie told a fascinating story of his journey as a tester, from the early days working with recent graduates to getting time with some of the biggest and best known thinkers in our industry, and indeed in the software industry as a whole. Martin’s topic was the journeyman, traditionally someone who goes out into the world to learn their trade/craft before returning a master, to train the next generation.

Martin mentioned the baggage which comes along with the term “testing”, not only from our industry but from the common conception(s) of what it means to test something. He did not suggest an alternative for the industry but showed ways in which we can better represent the value we add to our businesses, describing himself as an “Integrator” (this resonated with me and my work), a kind of “master of none” whose mastery was in collaborating, bringing the right people and ideas together. I like this, I think as a tester so much of our creative work is essentially throwaway or transitory (the awesome test I design to handle an incomplete system… then never ever need to use again once the system is completed) we can forget that there’s value in the skillset we bring to bear on our own work. But as Martin suggests, we are well placed to do much more than this – to be communicators, to check understanding, to ask the right questions.

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Martin bagged some of the biggest laughs of the conference with his dry delivery

I felt there was perhaps a more “meta” interpretation of Martin’s talk, that of testing really only approaching mastery of itself in recent years. Certainly, since the integration of more exploratory modes of testing, a maturation of functional automation alongside it and the death of the “automation is replacing testing” mindset we were all afraid of some years ago, testing seems to have come full circle and is now re-examining some of the earlier answers it had taken as givens in the past. We see a relaxation of all the “you musts” and “you must nots”, and instead an acceptance that all test techniques, heuristics and oracles are free to be used, at the discretion of the tester and their relevance to the context.

Michael Bolton – Where Do You Want To Go Today? – No More Exploratory Testing

Michael’s talk was a long walk through the history of exploratory testing, and a glimpse at where it’s going next. Michael is one of the true giants of our industry and listening to his engaging, funny and enlightening talk it’s clear to see why. I’ll be honest and say, as I was preparing for my 99 second talk I probably didn’t get the best of it, and for that I apologise!

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Michael Bolton was treated to the full “Some say…” The Stig intro from Leigh

The essential evolution and reason I have included Michael’s talk in this post, is that in the last decade we have seen the promotion of exploratory testing to simply “testing” and the demotion of scripted testing to “checking”. Michael pointed out the flaw in this: there can be value in scripted tests, just as there can be value in unscripted ones. But ALL testing is exploratory in some way. The process of designing scripted tests is hugely exploratory – just because we write it down doesn’t change the fact we’ve had to work out how we’re going to do the work of testing. Had to learn how the system works (or should work). How it is to use the software. Any number of things.

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I like this term, the “arc of ideas”. The coming full circle, the reevaluating.

This feels, as I mentioned in the section on Martin’s talk, like a maturation into something more like a full understanding and acceptance of test’s role in the industry. We have a huge paintbox – why limit ourselves to one or two colours? There is clearly value in mixing up our approach. Test needn’t be uncomfortable about where it’s come from, throwing away the old ways. Instead it can embrace both old and new and find something altogether more powerful.

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5 ISTQB points, gratis

That synthesis of old and new was neatly embodied in Michael’s, ahem, rap. Recounting the similarly relevant example of Hamilton, which takes the story of America’s founding fathers and tells it to a hiphop beat, Michael treated us to a 5 minute rap about exploratory testing. It was… something. Unfortunately a video has not surfaced yet (I’m guessing people were too busy picking their jaws off the floor to actually record it…), but… ya man’s got skills.

Do you agree test is maturing?
What does testing still need to tackle, before the “second round”?
In what ways is the Arc of Ideas represented in your own experience as a tester?
Let me know in the comments!


Part 3 ft Bas Dijkstra and Göran Kero follow tomorrow…

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