Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Test Design Pilot Comes to an End

It's been an adventurous six weeks, to say the least.

While Saturday marked the official end of AST's latest Black Box Software Testing class, Test Design, I've been frantically reading, comparing, rereading, and grading exams. As the class has now wound down, and the last details related to announcing completion of the course to the participants, it's time to reflect on what I've been through for the past six weeks (that includes setting up the Moodle environment, populating the quizzes, the forums, and a lot of administrivia type stuff that I have dealt with here and there, but never quite to this scale. It was indeed enlightening.

So what is Test Design? Well, it's the third and final of the original sequence of classes that makes up the core Black Box Software Testing curriculum. If you were to combine all three courses together (Foundations, Bug Advocacy and Test Design) you would have a full university semester course worth of material on Software Testing. That was the point from the outset, and now it's all here, under one roof, and able to be taken by those who sign up and commit to participate. Of course, you can always watch the materials and do the coursework on your own time for free, but some amazing interactions happen within the structured, facilitated course. For that reason alone, I'd suggest coming in and participating.

Test Design is a massive survey course. It deals with a tremendous amount of information at a breakneck speed. "Drinking from a firehouse" is a quaint figurative turn of a phrase, but in this case, I believe it is 100% appropriate. There is just so much information and not a lot of time to digest it all. As Cem states in the lectures in the first couple of minutes, you're not expected to absorb it all, nor are you expected to absorb it all on multiple viewings. Over time, as you practice and consider the techniques, and apply them, you will get better and understand which ones work best where.

If there's one specific gem above any others I would suggest as a reason to get familiar with this material, it would be the Heuristic Testing Strategy Model (HTSM). This is an excellent framework in which to hang testing of any software component, ranging from a single function to an entire system. It's huge, and there's a lot of questions that you can ask of a product, and each question can help guide to to more questions and more exploration. It's not a true "map" to testing, but it's a nice encapsulation of a bunch of different techniques, domains and areas where testing can be applied. Not all pieces will be relevant all the time, but it's amazing how much this one item of the course adds to an overall testing strategy.

The labs for this class range from very basic to significant involvement. Unlike in previous courses, group work is not as emphasized, though the option to pair on most assignments is there. The Exam Cram forum, from which the final exam is drawn, is double the length of Foundations and Bug Advocacy. This means a lot of questions to answer, but also a lot of different parameters to consider, with a lot of tips and techniques to apply immediately to your workplace environments.

Are those dreaded quizzes still there? Well, yes, although interestingly, I think that the quizzes this time, while structured in the longer, less prone to guessing right answers format, I felt the quizzes were more straightforward than in the previous two classes. I think that may be because this was the class I came in with the least preconceived notions of what the answers should be; I hit a lot of "first time material" in this course, at least first time for me, and interestingly, I think that was a help. I didn't have what I felt were "gut answers" that felt right, but were wrong on further reflection. I actually scored beter on these quizzes than I did on Foundations and Bug Advocacy. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

I say a lot of this with a tremendously heavy amount of bias; I help teach these classes of course. Were you to take my recommendations with a hefty grain of salt, I'd totally understand. Having said that, though, I absolutely feel this is a worthwhile class. It's challenging, it will be hard to manage, it will overwhelm you, and I think you'll be really happy that you went through it regardless of all that :). The Pilot is over, but there's still time to get in on the next class. It will be offered again in March, 2012, and Cem and I will be the instructors again (plus others, I'm sure :) ). If you've completed both Foundations and Bug Advocacy, and want to take it to the next level, here's a golden opportunity to participate in a challenge that will make you stretch and grow... in good ways, I promise!


Matt_Middleton said...

Do you know if the Test Design course will be offered later in 2012?

Michael Larsen said...

Hi Matt. As of right now, we are looking to see how the rest of the year shapes up, but there's a good chance we will be offering Test Design later in 2012. A lot depends on the Bug Advocacy completions, as it is a prerequisite to taking the Test Design class.