Saturday, December 15, 2007

How Can I Become a Better Tester?

In all my blogging and participation, I have met many testers. One recently asked me "How can I become a better tester?" As I answered, I thought "Hmm - might be a good blog series!" So here we go. Most of this is aimed at beginning testers (1-3 years) although I have to admit I would benefit from some touch-up work in each of these areas!

I gave my friend four steps to take. I'm sure I'll come up with more, but let's look at these four briefly, and then I'll spend a blog or two on each as time goes by (hopefully I'll finish the last one sometime before the Rose Bowl).

  1. Become aware of quality - what is it, what does it look like, what does it feel like?
  2. Read - read everything you can get your hands out about quality. Start off with books about testing. I really don't even care about what testing methodology (agile, monolithic beastly projects, etc.), just read.
  3. Related somewhat to (1), recognize that quality means going beyond functional and business requirements. You need to think of yourself as the gateway to quality or, in an agile world, as the trustee for quality. Teach people about quality and manage up for quality.
  4. Find a great test lead, test manager, or test mentor to work with. If you can be employed on the same team, that's great. If you have to be in a less formal mentoring relationship, that's great. Learn from this person, everything you can.

First: become more conscious about quality. I actually gave my friend a homework assignment - as this person lives in India, I asked them to compare two vastly different automobiles: the Ambassador and the Skoda. Ironically, the Skoda is the butt of many a joke in Eastern Europe, but it's actually been taken over by VW/Audi and, internationally, is an incredible automobile. It competes with (and beats) Honda in India as the ultimate status car within reach of the rising middle class. The Ambassador? Well, it's truly the Indianized car--it's one of two cars mass-produced throughout India's history. When you compare the quality of the two, well, it's like comparing a Chevette to a Lexus in the US. Or, I suppose, a Trabbi to a Mercedes in Europe. No offense intended towards the Ambassador--it's just reality.

So I like to think about quality and compare products and services. If you live in the US, try this - go to Mervyns or Kohls to buy a suit. Then go to Nordstrom. The difference is beyond belief! If you don't think consciously about it, though, it's hard to put into words what the difference is. A good business analysis would miss the point either - consider the business requirements:

  • Stock on hand: variety of sizes, multiples of the most common sizes. Mervyns: check. Nordstrom: check.
  • Merchandise is on the rack, readily visible to the customer: Mervyns: check. Nordstrom: check.
  • Sales reps available to answer questions: Mervyns: check (you do have to seek them out). Nordstrom: check.
  • Someone who can ring up the transaction: Mervyns: check. Nordstrom: check.
  • Merchandise is priced right: Mervyns: check. Nordstrom: check.

A tester who focuses on only the business requirements here would say both companies are of equal quality. But think deeper - look at the experience in both situations. The Nordstrom experience is full of stuff that could be measured, but it's necessarily the first thing you think of. How friendly and helpful is the service? What is the atmosphere like? What's the merchandise like? Will it feel cool during summer and warm in winter? Is it scratchy? Is it comfortable overall?

So the purpose of the homework is to think deeper about quality. Is quality just meeting the requirements, or is there more? Is it about understanding the customer and knowing there are often unwritten requirements?

How would this apply in the real world? Well, I've already blogged about a huge data corruption issue that arose at a previous employer because the consulting firm running an implementation there insisted negative testing wasn't necessary. They focused (barely) on proving the software met requirements--since none of the requirements discussed issues like "the data needs to have integrity" or "the client must respond to and handle error messages from the server", no testing was done in that area. Thirteen million corrupt rows later, four workstreams came to a halt while the data team narrowed the issue and implemented a fix - oh, and fixed the corrupt rows.

Becoming aware of quality is the first step to contributing to quality. It's what helps us lift our eyes beyond requirements and to be stewards of quality.

17 comments:

  1. Hi John,

    Enjoy your article. I agree - its mindset (quality), its information gathering (read, read and more reading....asking questions...be involved)and finding that mentor who you can clicked with. Sometimes, when as a new tester, we can be blinded by the bias of that mentor so i would add - 'When you are 'ready' question yourself, your understanding, your toolbox and then define yourself in the testing space' - the trick is knowing when you are ready!
    When i first started testing i was sure that testing was ALL about test scripts, test documents, writing documents and more documents because that's how it was. Today, my thoughts and process have changed dramtically compared to when i first started testing but those earlier experiences shaped my thought processes today!
    Great blog John!

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Yup, I think we all go throughthose phaes. It's important to get through the 'exercise' portions of testing. But real quality isn't a numbers game--it requires digging deeper. Thanks for the comments BJ!

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  4. Hi, It is a really good article. But as a novice i have few problems understanding the concepts of testing processes. First i never get Requirement documents and not even usecases even though i have to test. I do that without a problem but i have got a feeling that i am missing something in my test cases. As till now i have not got any mentor i am all on my own for developing test cases. Please guide me

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  7. Hello ,,,

    Really it is an informative post and thats realy what i want and looking for
    i want to devlop my skills in testing , i'm a quality assurance since
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    I'll follow your post to know more about testing and i want your help really
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    thanks :)

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