maandag 28 november 2016

Scrum, burn-out and the Tai Chi-spective

(translated TestNet column)
According to research done by the Central Bureau of Statistics in the Netherlands and TNO, the percentage of IT-personnel that succumbs to burn-out is 17.2%. That is 3.2% higher than the national average. According to the investigation done, the causes are to be found in -amongst others- a higher work pressure and a higher emotional involvement for work.
During a workshop about absenteeism that I attended not so long ago the 'burn-out' was also discussed. One of the observations made in one of the discussions was that it seemed that especially in the younger population burn-out seemed to be increasing. We philosophized further on what could be the cause of this 'trend'. Was it the high work pressure? Was it the higher emotional involvement? We didn't thought this was the biggest issue. We made a link with the increase of working in an Agile way.
The Agile way of working, we were focussing on Scrum, is a way of working where the team is expected to have a high degree of (team)responsibility. The team as a whole is responsible for the results, and as a result one feels more involved. That is what makes working in a Scrum-team challenging and gives a high degree of autonomy. That autonomy is an important factor for motivation of employees, as various researches confirm. Thus far, there isn't any problem as it seems and one can safely conclude that working in a Scrum-team is both motivating and stimulating. Most employees will probably confirm that this is indeed the case, I'm convinced of this myself too.
But all that stimulation and performing can also have its downsides. Particularly, but not limited to, a young population. In the 'traditional project world' a 'youngster' was gradually introduced to the IT world by a test manager or test coordinator or mentor. Now these youngster are added to a Scrum-team where immediately the (team) responsibility for results count. Also 'oldies' experience this 'burden' in some cases, especially when they have worked in a micromanaged environments previously. Responsibility isn't a given fact, responsibility is something you have to dare to take, but sometimes you have to learn to take it.
Off course, one isn't responsible as an individual but as a team. But let's be honest, many teams perceive the new addition as a decrease of their velocity and this has to be brought up to speed as soon as possible. The expectancy is thus again relayed to the 'newbie' who, in all his or her enthusiasm and will to please excepts the challenge, not wanting to let the team down. The organisation asked for a sheep with five legs, excuse me- centipede- and the youngster is eager to comply. That can work out fine, but it can also backfire with absenteeism as a result. One has put his whole soul into his work, but loses his sanity in the process. When Vincent van Gogh stated this, he wasn't that crazy after all.
But I didn't get the 'aha-erlebnis' for this article by the 'burn-out-discussion' during that session about absenteeism, but during a course on Scaled Agile Framework. At a certain time there were a lot of references made on LEAN, KANBAN, Kaizens, GEMBA and what not more. I made a link with 'oriental' , and although Scrum hasn't got oriental roots, I noticed that a lot of Agile stuff has a link with the orient. I remembered the 'burn-out' discussion and the ((non)existing) relation with Scrum and made a connection.
A known concept in the orient is 'Yin and Yang'. These are Chinese concepts that refer to the opposing principles of forces in all aspects of life that permeate the universe. There in the Orient (yes, I'm generalizing now) people are more occupied with achieving the right balance and 'in the West' we tend to address this as 'hocus pocus'. There hardly arent any numbers on burn-out in the Orient, but if you search for researches done on the topic, burn-out is mostly seen in Western countries.
My argumentation: when developing in an approach with an oriental basis in a western country the chance of developing burn-out is bigger than in a country of oriental origin because apparently something is done differently.
What makes that difference? What doesn't one do, that is done in the Orient? I think it's because the awareness of the previously mentioned Yin and Yang and consciously being aware of these. When you walk through the average town in Asia and you pass a park or a square, you'll notice groups of people moving harmoniously. People charge themselves when they are tired, people take their rest when they are tired. People practice Tai Chi! which refers to a philosophy meaning one extreme (ultimate) and the other extreme (best) and refers thus to the philosophy of Yin and Yang.
So. My conclusion is that there is no other way than to add an extra ceremony in the Scrum-process to prevent imbalance and burn-out with employees; The Tai chi-spective (combination of Tai Chi and retrospective). I love to observe the teams and investigate what the effect will be!

donderdag 24 november 2016

Lullabies to Paralyze

For those of you who are expecting a blog about the 4th album by Queens of the Stone Age: I have to disappoint you. This blog has nothing to do with 'little sisters', 'broken boxes' or 'medication '. It has to do with testing, software testing that is.
I can no longer ignore some of the expectations and assumptions that are made about testing, I have to speak up. I have observed, for quite some time now, that testing service providers, independent testing professionals, testers, etc. etc. are advertising their activities in a way that I find is not what testing should be about and it worries me. It bugs me and as a tester I really dislike bugs...
I assume this advertising is done because companies who hire them (or the actually the people who hire them) have a soft spot for this kind of message. I find this alarming. Time for a wake-up call.
Slogans and sentences like: "Be Quality Re-assured", "we are testing so you don't have to lie awake at night...", "We will take your worries away", "hire us and you'll be certain and assured of...", they have one thing in common: they are lullabies that paralyze!
Testing should not be about taking worries away nor should it be about giving the customer a warm and cosy feeling. The customer on the other hand shouldn't be expecting this. They shouldn't assume that hiring testers or paying for testing(services) will suddenly make every worry go away nor should they think having 'testing' in place will abstain them from certain responsibilities.
Lots of testers (and/or companies) have taken up the role of pacifier, they are singing their lullabies and the client let's them sing. They feel comfortable, they don't have to worry and everything is alright.
People who know me a little, know I fancy a sturdy rock song. Maybe sometimes it's uncomfortable to listen to and a lot of lyrics are about ugly truths, but it certainly keeps me energized, aware and awake! Testing should be like a rock song, not the lullaby that features little white, fluffy sheep, soft and warm kittens and twinkling little stars...
Letting testing become the lullaby has its downsides. A lullaby has the goal of making you sleepy and that is exactly what I see happening in an alarming rate.
When you think everything is all right and warm and cosy, you won't be as receptive for dangers and risks.
Testing won't take away dangers or risks. Testing is about providing information, about providing insight on fitness for use, performance, security and what not more. But you'll have to act upon this information to actually mitigate dangers and risks and to address issues with performance, security and other things that testing will point out. That's not a responsibility of testing departments, testers or testing services; no matter what they tell you or what they promises.  That's the responsibility of the organization or team as a whole.
I think that as organisation you should be aware of testers (or services e.a.) that sing lullabies, that make you feel comfortable, that make you feel completely at ease and where you feel you haven't got a thing to worry about regarding your software and systems. Testers that 'Rock' are the ones you want. Testers that make you aware, energize you and wake you up. They make you think!
Organisations should also stop wanting to listen to those lullabies. I've got plenty of examples where the information provided by testing is ignored, because - like in a lot of rock songs- it contains some painful, ugly truths. If you don't want to listen to the songs, why buy the record? 
Thirdly I'd like testers, testing service providers etc. to stop lulling their customers into sleep. Besides the downsides I've already mentioned, they are also digging their own graves businesswise. Because when somebody feels very safe and has nothing to worry about, why would you pay for testers? Hey... no risk, no test right?
So from now on the only Lullabies to Paralyze you are listing to are those by The Queens of Stone Age J

maandag 3 oktober 2016

Bad-tester stamps, The why and Lingual Bias

Last week I saw a slide. The slide was posted on twitter.
Maybe the slide was pulled out of context (as many slides are that are posted from conferences), maybe the slide was made with the best intentions (aren't they the what pave the way to hell?) and maybe the message to be read (or understood) had more to it then met the eye (mostly slides accompany a spoken text).
But the slide did nevertheless anger me and the tweets and the blogs that followed didn't take away that anger (or maybe it's being annoyed that better fits the bill here). It bothered me, it still does.

I started reflecting what it exactly was that made me feel this way and I found that there are different things that have an influence. I decided I wanted to share them with you. Firstly because I felt I needed to 'justify' myself, maybe even find redemption of some sorts. Secondly because I think that something that I found, might help people in the testing community (or at least I like to think so).
Yes, this blog is self-centered. I hope in this way I can make some people understand why I do things the way I do them and I even hope some people can perhaps relate (or even identify themselves) and in this way I hope to create an understanding for those people as well as they might have the same way of coping with things. And yes; I also want to get some things off my chest, which is what I will start with.

Some years ago I was tagged a 'bad tester'. I was also told on another occasion that I wasn't a real tester and I was told that if I ever wanted to be a serious tester I could take a certain training. It didn't stay with one person stating this, it grew out of proportions. More people started to treat me as 'tainted goods'. I was shunned from and silences from a part of the testing world that I wanted to learn from and ask questions to. And all because I got this 'stamp' of no-good.

What that did to me, was triggering an older hurt. When one has been (extremely) bullied during their schooldays they know what it is I'm talking about. You want to learn and want to participate but not by becoming something you are not, it feels awful when you get locked out because of that.

I think I was tagged because of bad judgement and wrong assumptions that lead to prejudice. The first incident I remember is stating I was proud of my ISEB-P certificate. Although I left a wide opening to ask the question 'why', it wasn't asked. Instead it got me a load of scorn. I would have expected a bit more inquisitive behavior of people that value questioning and investigation with high regards, but that was apparently a stupid an naive assumption. For those of you that have made up their minds regarding this 'incident'. Here's the reason I'm proud of that certificate.

Most of you might not know this, but I have an extreme form of exam anxiety. Although my rationale is telling me otherwise, my body doesn't cooperate. My palms get sweaty, my face starts producing this minuscule drops of sweat, my mouth becomes as dry as the desert and my heart-rate goes up twice the normal beats and one of the really big downsides is that I black out. That is what happened the first attempt I went to the ISEB-P exam; I blacked out. I got to answering the first question of the three hour written exam and the next thing I know is that the supervisor is telling me that I only have a quarter left to finish. So I really prepared the next attempt. I got to specific therapy for the anxieties, I got some beta-blockers, learned (yes the theory!) my ass off and gathered as many practical cases and experience as I could so I could relate to the question. I went to the exam again and I managed to sit it through, despite the anxieties, and I passed. Not with brilliant figures, but I managed to cope with all the stress and I did it! So it's not the ISTQB/ ISEB stamp that makes me particular proud, it could have been any exam (although multiple choice is a bit easier for me), it's the victory on my exam anxiety that was the anwer to the 'why' that was never asked. Does that make me a bad tester? I believe this is not so.

Some of the people that shun me have strengthened their bias because I am involved in ISTQB via the BNTQB. Again, they have failed in asking the 'why' question. I believe, like lots of testers out there, that the ISTQB-F certificate particularly doesn't tell anything about skills. What is worse is that organizations value the certificate to be something it isn't. I joined the BNTQB because I wanted, and still want that to change. I want to at least make the attempt to add some skills to the foundation, to make it have some value. I want to make an effort on when that's not an option to at least inform organizations on what ISTQB-F actually is: a glossary of terms that can be learned  from a syllabus and doesn't say anything about the skills of the owner of that certificate. I also believe a learning program can have its benefits, but it has to be very clear what it embodies and what the value is. And yes; I have my doubt, as do others in the field, about the current curriculum of ISTQB, but I also know I can only take on so much at a time. Does that make me a bad tester? Does that make me a person not serious about the profession or a 'real tester', I think it doesn't.

Another thing that put another 'stamp' on me is my venture with the ISO29119. I was at the very start of the initiative; a workshop at EuroSTAR2006 and I got intrigued. Mind; I had only been in software testing for two years back then. The idea of a triptych that could serve as a guideline (book of knowledge) for testers worldwide was appealing to me. One part would be the document that would contain all the different (national) old standards, it would be complemented, updated with more recent stuff and be more broad then the 'component' testing focus it used to have. The romanticism of then has long gone, I got disappointed in what the document finally has become because of the 'standard for standards' of ISO. Is it a bad document?, I think it isn't, but it's important to value it for what it is and what it contains. It's important to inform (educate) organizations that aspire to use the ISO on the exact usage so they don't  'just apply' it without any thoughts and without context and adjustment, just to 'follow rules'. Do I advocate the usage? No I don't. Nor do I advocate the rejection of the standard. That doesn't make me a person who doesn't care, you retracts from responsibility. I just don't feel that its my place to advocate anything about this standard to a community or organisations.  And I certainly don't sign a petition just because someone says I have to. And that doesn't make me a tester who is not serious about the profession as was stated or a bad tester.

So far for the 'chest' part. Now back to the slide-thing and the blogging following that.
From one of the blogs I got that when we present on stage, keynote or not, that is an act of leadership and with that come responsibilities. I understand this. I also put as much as possible effort in thinking on how my actions help or hurt others. I also agree that we all have the right of response when a speaker takes a microphone to keynote (or otherwise have a presence) at a conference and I'm also a promoter of debate.

But I feel there is a catch here. I feel it's important to point this out. I feel this is something that I should share so that people in the community are aware of this. Maybe it will help in making things (feel) safer again. I just hope it helps.
I call it the lingual bias.
I'm as guilty in having it as I feel the native speaking English are guilty of it.
We take for granted that the English we use, in slides, during talks, on twitter, in debates is understood by others as we mean to communicate it. I also think native English speakers take for granted that - even more maybe because of that- the message that they send is understood as the way they intend them.
It is, I know from experience, not the reality of things.

When I 'go on stage', I prepare. Vigorously. It's necessary for me since I also get the reactions of the 'exam anxiety' when I have to speak (want to speak). I first type out the text in Dutch, then I translate it to English. I prepare for possible questions, I also find out the wording in English that might come in handy. I plan extra time for explanations and add extra examples to clarify. But you can only prepare so much.
One of the things that are very difficult, although I love a debate, discussions and dialogue, is the direct responses and dynamics.

The thing is: I'm not that good at spontaneous debates. I like to sculpt my answers, like the sculpture takes time to form his/her object. I want to think about answers, play with the thoughts in my minds before I can word them. That makes debating sometimes quite difficult, especially when emotions get involved. At more then one occasion after a debate I have thought of my answers and what I could have said or would have said would I have been given a bit more time. That is why I like dialogue and more paced discussions more then debates. Even more so because I feel in a debate with a native English speakers I'm already 3-0 behind, because of the language difference.
It happens on twitter too, although I can take my time composing answers and thinking about the answers, the lingual bias has more than once caused misunderstandings. Sometimes just a question, nothing more to it, was answered with a certain aggressiveness (perception by me, mind!), even blogs - as I'm certain this one will too- have the hindrance of the lingual bias.

The lingual bias, added with a sniff of prejudice it can make that you get a stamp that you feel you don't deserve, that you feel is unjustly put on you. The stamp also causes that answers are always read or perceived with a certain bias up front.  Sometimes even with broader consequences and it make you feel unsafe(r) to speak up. I certainly feel this way, hence my retracted behavior on different media to engage in debate. It's not that I don't care.
Maybe the question 'why' can help with the lingual bias or maybe it's a little bit more tolerance and kindness or compassion, maybe some like kindness...

just saying: in non-native English that is.

woensdag 24 augustus 2016

The sheep with five legs is dead, long live the centipede!

[This blog was originally published as Dutch article in TestNet Nieuws

In the past few months it has become clear to me that we, whether we are testers, quality directors or -engineers, T-shaped testers, qualisophes or whatever self-made variation of the validating- and falsifying professionals, must no longer advertise ourselves as the ‘sheep with five legs’ but as a genuine centipede,. By doing so, we also fully align with the latest trend of ‘meat’ being ‘out’ and insects are ‘the next thing’.

If I had to describe this centipede derived from all the articles, presentations and discussions it would be as follows:
The person has to be a male with a ‘feminine touch’ or a woman with a strong pair of ‘cojones’. He or she (for readability purposes I’ll use ‘he’ further on) has received a solid education, where he has cum-laude graduated from far ahead of schedule. The education distincts itself by having combined a sturdy practical approach common to higher professional education with the theoretical foundations of a university and a ‘school of life’ approach where it all depends on which context something will develop. This educational institute was also the only one providing the full testers curriculum developed by TestNet. He has done, purely out of personal interest, some extra modules that include technical informatics, creative education, didactic skills, psychology and multicultural communication. He also was able to attend two masterclasses at Nyenrode; the first on Sales and the second one on Consultancy. His parents brought him up bilingual; English and Dutch are his native language and during his studies he has been on several exchange programs in foreign countries, where he mastered German, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi, while not perfect in writing, he knows enough to express himself verbally sufficiently.  

The last ten years this person has been building experience within the testing profession in the broadest sense. He can excellently perform the role of test analyst but has no trouble at all to step into the shoes of a test manager of even expert where he can easily advise on strategic level. The ten years before he got involved in ‘testing’ he was employed in a diversity of non-testing roles, also managerial ones, with service providers in both private and public sectors where they developed financial products for non-profit organizations. He is truly a jack of all trades! He possesses the overview of the sector concerned and its developments, but also has a thorough knowledge of the domain specifically. He really is an IT-specialist but also a domain expert. In the last two years of his career he has been – besides engineer- the SCRUM-master in a high performing SCRUM-team.

The person has got a thorough knowledge of all testing methods, approaches and techniques. He is also an expert in SQL, XML, C++, JAVA, JAVAscript, Python, Ruby, .Net and he can use nine-out-of-ten test tools, like (but not exclusively) Jira, Visual Studio Test professional, HP Unified Functional Tester, Selenium and the Tricentis testsuite. He is also fairly knowledgeable on the topics testdatamanagement, security- and performance testing, test environment management and mobile testing. Prince II project management, SCRUM, LEAN, Kanban and TOGAF are also topics he has packed into his rucksack as test- and all-round IT professional. He is up-to-date with all the latest trends and has a very complete historical overview and accompanying historical awareness. When he lacks a certain piece of knowledge he finds it no problem to learn, he loves to learn after all! He is even willing to invest a large part himself in both time and money for the benefit of this expansion of knowledge and skills.
In the area of soft skills he has been able to build up a broad palette in the past years. Communication is by far his strongest competence. Negotiating techniques, conflict management and active listening are key-concepts that fit his personality. He is a great sparring partner for the business. He is highly emphatic and has a high organizational sensitivity.  He knows how to enthuse, stimulate and motivate others.
He is mentally strong and is also emotionally connected with his inner self. He is flexible, agile and
and able-bodied. He is a passionate professional but also a family man. The values of both his company and his family he holds in high regards. He has good work ethics, has integrity and is very honest. He knows to balance quality and speed. He finds intrinsic rewards much more important than extrinsic rewards. That’s also the reason why he works for a (minimum) wage where he can live from, but doesn’t pursue any luxury. He is both introvert as extrovert, depending on the situation at hand. He can be a leader but also a follower, a predictable and also surprising team player that is very able to do his work autonomously.  And… last but not leas: he is only 21 years old!

This description might look a bit far-fetched, but yet it is mostly what I have gathered from a diversity of published material (including real job adds) in only 3 months’ time enriched with some things that are generically said about the ‘ideal employee’.  And I also admit that some of the ads where for very specific vacancies that require very specific skills or knowledge and I díd incorporate them in the description anyway, like I did for ‘test automation expert’.
What I also noticed was that there was a lot of mentioning of that ‘every employee’ had to be fitted into a specific description (very generic) but that it also has to be a unique and authentic individual.

Anyway. The sheep with five legs doesn’t fit the bill anymore, but a genuine centipede has to fulfill the needs nowadays. Now I don’t know how it is with you, but in my vision the Human Centipede’ (= film) doesn’t reflect my image of the ‘ideal creature’ and isn’t that viable. I prefer being my good old self: human, with two legs on the ground, sturdy grounded and sometimes with both feet in the clay!

dinsdag 26 juli 2016

Ratting out the Loaded Term

In the last couple of years my job has shifted from 'hands-on' tester to a more advisory, coaching, leading and determining strategy kind of role. It has it's downsides of not experiencing the thrill of finding a serious bug as much any more and I miss the - almost Star Trekkian - feel of going where no (wo)man has gone before in different applications. 

The upside is that I think my work has become enriched with all kinds of other things that are affiliated with software- and system testing. When I think of talks like 'the tester is dead' or 'testing is dead' and the discussions that followed about the future of testing and the different roles in testing, I think one of the paths to grow to is becoming an adviser on how to gain insight and grip on risks in an organisation that flows from implementing new software- and system components but also to help organisations and the people in that organisation to be more efficient and effective in getting that insight, that can -but is not limited to- testing. Whether this is by coaching people, helping setup an automation framework or even teaching testing to non-testing personnel. 

But that is not what this blog is about. This blog is about something that I noticed during the years that I have been involved in testing, but is not necessarily a testing thing. My job involves a lot of explaining, clarifying and teaching. But also learning. Until recently I was unaware of this phenomenon that apparently has a big impact when trying to change things in an organisation; it's a thing called 'the loaded term'.  The skill that comes with it is a skill I call 'Ratting out the Loaded Term'. 

The loaded term is a term or a jargon that is or has already used in an organisation, group or team (etc.). This term is misused or doesn't have a particular positive vibe to it. When people speak of the term, they do that with a certain amount of cynicism. When you talk about this term with those people the body language shows 'anger', 'dislike', 'disgust' and sometimes a 'rolling eyes' movement is seen accompanied by a *sigh*. Sometimes somebody starts laughing, not because it's so funny, but because of pure contempt. This is the impact of the loaded term. Knowing about the loaded term is important when you want to get your message across, not knowing about the loaded term will let you fail in your endeavors. 

A loaded term in the testing community is for example 'best practice'. There's a whole group of testers that dislike, even scorn this term. Best practices don't exist; only good practices. The are dependent on the context. But an average person still uses the phrase 'best practice' without knowing this is a 'loaded term' within that group of testers. When that person would give a presentation in that group of testers a disaster is bound to happen.

I would argue that the group of testers in this case would be a bit lenient and would explain with a certain amount of patience and kindness to that person that there is no such thing as 'best practices'. I could also argue that the person in this case could also have done some research on this group of testers before doing the presentation; communication is a two-way-kind-of-thing, n'est çe pas? But is this to be expected of someone? Expectations and assumptions... well we know what we say about assumptions in the testing world!

In my own example the 'loaded term' was "expert lead" and also "thought leader". Apparently the terms were used once and they weren't perceived as positive roles. In the past it was a role people got reckoned on in their appraisals or expectancy of the organisation of those roles were not aligned. When trying to set up a sort of knowledge community this proved to be a problem for me, when encountering these loaded terms. I even found out that using affiliated terms were not-done. So what to do. I needed people, not necessarily the most knowledgeable on that specific topic, to be the 'go-to-person', a person that could get colleagues together to discuss a problem on a certain topic to come to a solution and to share that knowledge. I also needed a lead-of-leads, somebody that could help the leads to be able to organize and coach in their group of expertise (the go-to-for-help-and-coaching-person). 

During a meeting about this role (roles) I anxiously tried to avoid the term and became very focused to talk about the tasks and activities of the role. But nonetheless the question came; how do we call those people? The need to have a stamp (name) for the role was very real and not to be ignored. I confess: I "uhmmed" a bit here. 

But suddenly I said 'Mumsel'. Why I said *that* I don't know. It was a word from my imagination*. It sounded funny, it didn't have any meaning. And that was exactly the point!
So I started defining the 'mumsel' from scratch. The mumsel is an employee who independent of seniority has the task to be the single point of contact for a subjectmatter. When a question, problem of interesting topic around the subjectmatter arises. He/she has to organise a meeting (of some sorts) where the question, problem or topic can be tackled with all other personnel involved with the topic. This is for the benefit of sharing the knowledge directly with every person that is involved. If the topic, question or problem is too specific for the whole group, he/she might be able to help him/herself directly of to redirect to the right person in the organisation. 

What I'm advocating here is that it is important to be able to rat-out the loaded term. Pinpoint it, discuss it and - without ridiculing or creating a whole new organisational vocabulary - redefine or recreate the needed term. Be aware though that only so much terms can be imaginary, non existing phrases; it's has a low saturation threshold. Imagine coming into an organisation where mumsels are organizing a brainwave session to tackle a problem on a topical. One would think to have landed in a sanatorium instead of an organisation with loaded-term-issues... on a second thought.... :-)

(*note here; I did some afterward research and the term 'mumsel' is sometimes used in childsplay at summercamps where they have to find the 'mumsel' (person in disguise), sometimes used as another word for 'mademoiselle' and sometimes to be used as 'my love' :-))

dinsdag 31 mei 2016


[This blog was originally published as Dutch article in TestNet Nieuws 
I had a discussion with a colleague not long ago. He's an information analyst that has knowledge about both the (ancient) Greek language as Latin and who likes to get involved in a nice, bit philosophically substantiated conversation. That particular time we discussed one of my most favorite topics, namely, my profession: Testing.
The discussion started because I illustrated the V-model to another colleague on the whiteboard. I explained that the flow was not only downwards, but that there was also an upward stream so that it could be an iterative process. I illustrated the difference between verification and validation in the various steps. After the colleague had left the room, my information-Latin-colleague turned around and pointed at the Mappa Testi, that hung on the wall behind me. 
Now you have to know that the MappaTesti is a product derived from a meeting called the TestingRetreat, where we (I and the other testers that attended) were inspired after a visit to the MappaMundi in Hereford to make a similar map of how the software testing world would look like from our perspective in 2011. The MappaMundi is the oldest still existing medieval map of the world and as was customary in that time, the map was intended for topographic, religious and mythical display. It was also intend to awe the person who saw it. Hell, or the netherworld is displayed - for instance - at the bottom.

On my MappaTesti that hell is also at the bottom. With, as my colleague pointed out, written in dog-Latin 'Infernum Falsificatum Consequitur'. I meant to translate the phrase 'The hell of falsified results'. In other words: if you make yourself guilty of falsifying your results, you deserve to end up in hell!

My colleague changed that perspective in the light of the V-model discussion. He genuinely asked himself if 'falsification' in the software testing expertise wasn't allowed in relation to 'validation' and 'verification'. He had wondered for some time now, but now the opportunity arose to ask the question in the needed context.
After I explained to him that the phrase in the MappaTesti was meant differently as he had assumed, the fascination for the topic falsification remained though. Even more so after my colleague explained that with many a thesis, falsification is a form of providing evidence (anti-evidence actually). Isn't it the case that If you are a system- and software tester and you practice verification and validation, that you should also be practicing 'falsification'.  
So what is falsification actually? The word derives from the Latin word 'falsificatio' (late Latin) or 'falsificare' (ancient Latin). In short: demonstrating something by proving the opposite. The explanation on Wikipedia (mind you; for this article I used the Dutch one), has a nice explanation. Imagine that the theory states that all swans ar white. The opposite of this statement, also states the possible 'falsificator': there is at least one swan that isn't white' (also"there is at least one black swan"). If it is accepted (or proven) that this black swan exists, than the statement 'all swans are white' can be refuted.
The principle of demonstrating something by presenting the untruth, comes from a man named 'Karl Popper'. He was a philosopher of science and his opinion was that scientific theories could only be tested indirectly by testing their implications performing a crucial test. If the outcome was positive (or actually 'negative'; there isn't a black swan to be found), than that doesn't mean that this is verification; there's always the possiblity that a black swan might show up. Popper describes this as 'corrobation', what is best described as 'the probability of the statement being true is higher'.

The more you dig into the matter of philosophy behind science, the more fascinating it gets. Terms like 'inductive verification', 'deductive falsification' come by. For instance; there's also an assertion that a crucial test isn't possible at all and there's a shifting of paradigms. Also the - for some already known - epistemology came up during my search for knowledge.
What I was wondering particularly in this whole matter was: 'What is the significance of falsification within the software- and system testing craft?'
In practice I regularly get the goals for testing like:  'prove by executing a test that the system is fit for purpose' or 'prove by executing a test that the build functionality is as described'. Let us - for argument sake- leave these statements for what they are and if they are correct as goals for testing. By showing one single error, fault or failure in the system we demonstrate that the statement 'the system is free of faults, failures or errors' (bug free) can be accepted and thus we practice falsification and not validation. Bugs are in basic our falsificators.

Falsifying is an essential part of our craft, next to validation and verification. Though according to the Popperian principles the latter isn't ever possible! 

dinsdag 5 april 2016

We are the person of interest

Yesterday I read an article about the TV-series 'Person of Interest'. It was about the making of the final season (5) and how we in the Netherlands are currently at season 3. Something in there triggered me in writing this post. There was a paragraph in there that said the series had mostly become popular due to the fact that it seems that this fiction is happening right before reality catches up (which you obviously not notice when you are two seasons behind the current one). It was right before Snowden made his information public, that in the series already was mentioned that governments were collecting data about everyone. It made me aware again and I had the urge to make others aware too.

I like watching 'Person of Interest'. I think - for me- its like watching a sort of reality-horror/thriller show. It occurred to me that when you are open to pick up the signs you see things that aren't that far fetched at all. On the contrary: I find more and more things become more plausible every day and I even notice some of these things have become reality.

Most testers like being involved in the state-of-the-art and designy side of testing; mobile, test automation, usability... I see testers specialize in 'performance' and 'automation'. I see -alas- still only a small amount of testers that care about Business Intelligence, Big Data and Analytics and I see a growing interest in security testing. But.... it anybody giving it any thought WHAT data they are exactly protecting with these security tests? I don't think so. I don't think that testers (in general) are giving it a second thought that the data they are testing for is 'proper data' in the ethical sense of the word. We test data for correctness, we test if data has been processed correctly by the ETL layer, we test if data is in the right format so our systems can use it, we test the readability and meaning of data to our business. BUT WE DON'T TEST THE ETHICAL USE OF DATA!!! 

I think we should start caring about this! In a world where we become more and more dependent on information technology, where data AND predictive data is becoming more and more a factor in decisions of governments, society and companies to treat people in a certain way, in- and excluding them even. Think this is not going to happen because our societies aren't going to allow that? Guess again, read it and weep: 

We should, no we MUST make a difference. We as testers are -I think- most fit to check designs and data definitions on unethical use of data and information: we dare asking questions, are skeptical by nature, are curious and think like bad guys (girls) when we need to. We can make a difference when testing the software and systems, particularly databases and data warehouses, data mining software and other data processing systems, by checking them on compliance to data protection acts and that only data is collected  that is actually needed for providing the service etc. Which, I can tell you from experience, isn't the case. In each and every system that is being build right now and has been build in the past data is being collected and stored that isn't a necessity for the service being provided. The designers have just been THINKING LAZY in expense of a bit of privacy-loss.  Ever wondered why a bank needs your gender to conduct business? They don't.

So back to Person of interest. I know that at least a more than one person sees this show and thinks it's science fiction, just like StarWars is. But I'm telling you now: this is reality. current. This machine has been build and it's only a matter of time that the information collected is used in a way we as society might benefit form but also might find not so pleasant. The 'ordering pizza' example might be funny, but it's a genuine wake-up call. Time to act now!  For sure: 'you are being watched'!