Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Of Rifles and Shotguns: Understanding Our Tools

One of the conversations that has been bandied around a lot is how relevant a particular tool is to a testers arsenal. During last night’s debate, Phil Kirkham to add some levity, but to also make a point “asked ‘Should QTP die?’, which relates to commentary written by Paul Hammant at his Inversionism blog. My answer was that we need to somehow get beyond the mysticism of tools and see them for what they are, means to an end, and not wrap so much expectation around what tools people use.

I say this now because I’ve had to shift the tools I’ve used over the past six to nine months. In my previous job, we used a lot of NUnit and TestComplete was the tool that I used to do the automated testing that I did do (which admittedly was not very much). In my current environment, I am learning the various intersections of Selenium, WebDriver and Capybara, and how to effectively interact with them using Ruby, RSpec and Cucumber. Which is better? Which would I defend to the death? Well, neither, really. They are tools, and they have a purpose for their environment. One grouping would not work as well in the other environment and vice versa. My suggestion is to use the tools that are best suited for the task at hand, and to understand when each is required, more than getting hung up on the tool used.

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to bring my Scout Troop up to the Los Altos Rod and Gun Club. This is an area up on Skyline Boulevard between Saratoga and Boulder Creek. It’s up in the mountains, well away from eyes and ears. An ideal place to shoot guns of varying types. This day, we came up with several .22 caliber rifles, 2 .12 gauge shotguns one .20 gauge shotgun, and a few handguns, including a friends Smith and Wesson .41 Magnum (which I’ll talk about more later on ;) ).

As we were cleaning and preparing the equipment to shoot, I noticed that some boys who were good with the shotgun were not so good with the rifle, and vice versa. What was also apparent was that, those boys who did better at one type of shooting ended up spending most of their time doing that particular kind of shooting. Rifle aficionados who had trouble getting the shotgun to do what they wanted felt frustrated. Shotgun aficionados were having trouble aiming the rifle precisely. Both, I think, neglected to realize that their respective tools required different levels of thinking about how to use them. I demonstrated to one of the boys that, if they understood the tools they had, both their abilities as well as their limitations, they would be able to use them effectively. To illustrate this, I asked them if they’d watch me for awhile and see how I react. I had never shot a shotgun prior to this trip. If fired rifles and handguns, and have a personal love for the art of black powder rifles and muskets of yesteryear, but a shotgun was a new experience for me. As I tried to get the feel of a few guns, I noticed that the smaller 20 gauge was difficult for me to look down and aim, so after a few shots, I put it down and focused on another shotgun, one of the .12 gauges. At first, I was not hitting any of the clay targets as they were being launched, and part of me was getting frustrated. I was waiting for the target to get to where I had lined up my aim, and I pulled my trigger at the right time, but no dice, the target wasn’t being hit.

As I looked at the shotgun and the cartridge, I came to a conclusion… I was treating the shotgun like a rifle. A rifle and a projectile fired from a rifle can be likened to a bolt of lightning. It’s precise, it’s targeted, and when it hits, it hits one place. That’s not at all how a shotgun works. Instead of a bullet, it fires lots of little beads and the beads spread in a broad area. In short, the “shot” of a shotgun is more akin to a cyclone, and the area a cyclone hits doesn’t have to be precise. It just has to be in the general area to feel its effect. With that, I changed tactics, not necessarily worrying about taking exact aim at the target, but following the target and then, without waiting too long, shooting. This change went from me hitting few targets to hitting every single one of them. At one stage, I went 24/24 (I mention this merely because the Boy Scout merit badge requirement states that a shooter much hit 12 out of 24 targets two times to qualify for the badge. It felt good to show my scouts that not only did I hit more than 12 our of 24, but that I did a perfect round, and I did it by understanding the way the shotgun worked and using it to its full advantage.

Our tools are not what define us as test craftsmen. They are aids in that process of definition, to be sure, but they alone will not make us great testers. They may well not even make us decent automators, either. By looking at the job at hand, and by actively focusing on what we need to do, and what the testing tool is actually capable of doing, rather than how we wish we could do it, then we will be able to get beyond the tool story and focus more on the purpose of the tool, which is to get the cumbersome work out of our way and allow us to focus our attention on more pressing testing matters and skills.

Oh, and as to that Smith and Wesson .41 Magnum handgun? First off, man that sucker has a kick like you wouldn't believe, and it is very loud, louder than any gun I've ever personally shot! It disavows you right quick of the television productions that show people coolly and easily holding a revolver with one hand and just casually shooting and hitting their mark. No way; without considerable control and balance, the shooter in questions will have a hard time controlling the shot, and might even find themselves being knocked over! Which also goes to show, tools and their hype may not be all that they seem :).

1 comment:

Phil said...

I'd also read the 'Quality Centre Must Die' blog from Paul Carvalho - http://swtester.blogspot.com/2011/07/quality-center-must-die.html

Nice post