Saturday, August 1, 2015

Teaching Testing to Programmers - Live from #TestRetreat

We hear a lot about teaching software testers how to program, but do we hear the converse? Why don't we ever hear about software testers teaching programmers how to test? Jesse Alford thinks this deserves to be a two way street and that there's a lot of opportunity to have engineers pick up exploratory testing skills to support the team in growing and learning.

One thing that should be mentioned is that Jessie works with Pivotal Labs, and Pivotal is a pretty awesome team with a lot of high functioning people on their team, and also have a fairly good number of engineers who are well versed in software testing methodologies.

There are a number of games that we use as testers that are well known. We use The Dice Game, we use The Pyramid Game, we use James Lyndsey's Black Box Puzzles, and we use simple games like "The Pen Test" that can be infuriating, but can teach us how we model problems and apply testing principles to those games.

A phrase that Scott Allman shared, and I like a great deal, is that  "our job as testers is to discover laws that have been smuggled into the model universe that the programmers didn't know about". Having the opportunity to share some of these exercises allows us to share this mindset with programmers in an area that is separate from their core experience.

One suggestion that Jessie encourages is to have two people be part of the game, especially when the game in question has a "find the rule" element to it (Dice Game, Zendo, Pen Test, etc.). One person runs the game, i.e. they know the rule and the aspect that makes the game relevant. Another participant is there to help coach the person playing the game, but they don't know what the game rule is. they are familiar with the game itself, but they don't specifically know what the particular rule for that game is. that way, the coach is also operating from a level of not knowing the specific answer, but still being able to coach the participant in how they might go about solving the problem. One point that Jesse made that makes the games themselves at times less effective is the "all knowing" game master. The coaching the game master provides turns into maddening hints, coming from the person who knows what the game is. By having a third person who doesn't know the rule, the feedback on trying to solve the problem is less biased and less of that "knowing glance".

Another way that I personally would encourage having a programmer get involved with testing is to have them participate in a few Weekend Testing sessions. These are great training grounds for session based testing, as well as to explore some interesting avenues for software testing via individual topics. The cool thing about doing these sessions is that a lot of them are focused on black box skills, and they allow everyone to discuss what they are working on and learning in the process.

It's fun to take the chance to learn from each other, and testing games are an easy way to get programmers to see what it is we do and how we do it.

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