Category: Training (page 1 of 2)

Does certification have value or not?

I read a blogpost in Dutch named “Does certification have value or not?” by Jan Jaap Cannegieter. I wanted to reply, but there was no option to reply, so I decided to turn my comments into a blogpost. Since the original blogpost is in Dutch I have translated it here.

The proponents claim that you prove to have a foundation in testing with certification, you possess certain knowledge and it supports education.” (text in blue is from the blogpost, translated by me).

Three things are said here:

  1. prove to have foundation
    Foundation? What foundation? You learn a few terms/definitions and an over-simplified “standard” process? And how important is this anyway? Also the argument of an common language is nicely debunked by Michael Bolton here: “Common languages aint so common
  2. possess certain knowledge
    When passing an exam, you indicate to be able to remember certain things. It doesn’t prove you can apply that knowledge. And is that knowledge really important in our craft? I think knowledge is over appreciated and skills are undervalued. I’d rather have someone who has the skills to play football well instead of somebody who knows the rules. From a foundation training, wouldn’t you at least expect to learn the basic testing skills? In no ISTQB training, students use a computer. Imagine giving someone a driver’s license without having ever sat in a car …
  3. supports education
    Really? Can you tell me how? I think the opposite is true! As an experienced teacher (I also did my share of certification training in the past), my experience is that there is too much focus on passing the exam rather than learning useful skills. Unfortunately, preparing the students for the exam takes a lot of time and focus away from the stuff that really matters. Time I would rather use differently.

Learning & tacit knowledge

So how do people learn skills? There are many resources I could point to. Try these:

In his wonderful book “The psychology of software testing” John Stevenson talks about learning op page 49:

The “sit back and listen” approach can be effective in acquiring information but appears to be very poor in the development of thinking skills or acquiring the necessary knowledge to apply what has been explained. The majority of trainers have come to realise the importance of hands on training “Learn by doing” or “experiential learning”.

John points to resources like: and the book “Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development” by David Kolb. Also Jerry Weinberg has written books on experiential learning.

The resources on learning skills mentioned by me earlier, will tell you that experienced people know what is relevant and how things are related. Also practice, experimentation and reflection are important parts of learning. Learning of a skill  depends heavily on tacit knowledge. On page 50 in his book John Stevenson writes:

Pakivi Tynjaklak makes an interesting comment in the International Journal of Educational research: “The key to professional development is making explicit that which has earlier been tacit and implicit, and thus opening it to critical reflection and transformation” – This means that what we learn may not be something we can explain easily (tacit) and that as we learn we try to find ways to make it explicit. This is the key to understanding and knowledge when we take something which is implicit and make it explicit. Therefore, able to reflect on what is learned and explaining our understanding.

And since testing is collecting information or learning about a product, the importance of tacit knowledge also applies to testing: John writes in his book on page 197:

However testing is about testing the information we do not know or cannot explain (the hidden stuff). To do this we have to use tacit knowledge (skills, experience, thinking) and we need to experience it to be able to work it out. This is what is meant by tacit knowledge“.

Back to the blogpost:

The opponents say certification only shows that you’ve learned a particular book well, it says nothing about the tester’s ability and can be counterproductive because the tester is trained to a standard tester.

  • Learned a particular book
    Agree, see arguments 1 and 2 above.
  • it says nothing about the tester’s ability
    Agree, see my argumentation on skills in point 2 above: “knowledge is over appreciated and skills are undervalued”. To learn we need practice and reflection. Also tacit knowledge is an important part of learning.
  • Trained to a standard tester
    Agree. No testing that I know of, is standard. Testing is driven by context. And testers with excellent skills have the ability to work in any context without using standards or templates. Have a look at the Ted Talk by Dr. Derek Cabrera “How Thinking Works“. He explains that critical thinking is a skill that is extremely important. Schools (and training providers)  nowadays are over-engineering the content curriculum: students do not learn to think, they learn to memorize stuff. Students are learned to follow instructions, like painting by the numbers or fill in templates. To fix this, we need to learn how to think better! Learning to paint by numbers is exactly what certification based on knowledge does with testers! Read more about learning, thinking and how to become an excellent tester in one of my earlier blogpost: “a road to awesomeness“.

Comparison with driving license
Does a driving license show anything? Well, at least you have studied the traffic rules well and know them. And, while driving, it is quite useful if we all use the same rules. If you doubt that, you should drive a couple of rounds in Mumbai.

In testing we should NEVER use the same rules as a starting point. “The value depends on the context!” . Driving in Mumbai or anywhere by strictly adhering to the rules, will result in accidents and will get you killed. You need skills to drive a car and be able to anticipate, observe, respond to unexpected behaviour of others, etc. This is what will keep you out of trouble while driving.

As I explained earlier on the TestNet website: this comparison is wrong in many ways. For a driver’s license, you must do a practical exam. And to pass the practice exam, most people will take lessons! You will be driving for at least 20 hours before your exam. And the exam is not a laboratory: it means you go on the (real) road with a real car. A multiple-choice exam does not even remotely resemble a real situation. That’s also how pointless ISTQB or TMap certificates are. Nowhere in the training or the exam, the student uses software nor does the the student has to test anything!

This is the heart of the problem! People do not learn how to test, but they learn to memorize outdated theory about testing. Unfortunately in many companies new and inexperienced testers are left unattended in complex environments without the right supervision and support!

So what would you prefer in your project: someone who can drive a car (someone who has the basic skills to test software), or someone knows the rules (someone who knows all the process steps and definitions by heart?). In addition, ISTQB states that the training is intended for people with 6 months of experience here.  So how are new testers going to learn the first 6 months?

The foundation for a tester?

The argument that the ISTQB foundation training provides a basis for a beginner to start is nonsense! It teaches the students a number of terms and a practically unusable standard process. In addition, there is a lot of theory about test techniques and approaches, but the practical implementation is lacking. There are many better alternatives as described in the resources earlier in this blogpost: learning by doing! Of course with the right guidance, support and supervision. Teach beginners the skills to do their work, as we learn the skills to drive a car in driving lessons. In a safe environment with an experienced driver next to us. Until we are skilled enough to do it without supervision. Sure, theory and explicit knowledge are important, but skills are much more important! And we need tacit knowledge to apply the explicit knowledge in our work.

So please stop stating that foundation training like TMap and ISTQB are a good start for people to learn about testing. There aren’t. Learning to drive a car starts with practicing actually driving the car.

Jan Jaap states he thinks a tester should be certified: “And what about testers? I think that they should also be certified. From someone who calls himself a professional tester we may expect some basic knowledge and knowledge about certain methods?“.
I think we may expect professional testers to have expertise in different methods. They should be able to do their job, which demands skills and knowledge. We may expect a bit more from professional testers than only some basic knowledge and knowledge about methods.

Many of the well-known certification programs originated when IT projects looked very different and, in my view, these programs did not grow with the developments. So they train for the old world

Absolutely true.

Another point where the opponents have a point is the value purchasing departments or intermediaries attach to certificates. In many of the purchasing departments and intermediaries, the attitude seems that if someone has a certificate, it is also a good tester. And to say that, more is needed.

It is indeed very sad that this is the main reason why certificates are popular. Many people get certificated because of the popular demand of organisations who do not recognise the true value of these certificates. Organisations are often not able (or do not what to spend the time needed) to recognise real professional testers and so they rely on certificates. On how to solve this problem I did a webinar “Tips, Tricks & Lessons Learned for Hiring Professional Testers” and wrote an article about it for Testing Circus.

Learning goals & value

On the ISTQB website I found the Foundation Level learning goals. Let’s have a look at them. Quotes from the website are in purple.

Foundation Level professionals should be able to:

  • Use a common language for efficient and effective communication with other testers and project stakeholders.
    Okay, we can check if the student knows how ISTQB defines stuff with an exam. However, understanding what it means or how to deal with it in a daily practice is very different. Also, again, common language is a myth.
  • Understand established testing concepts, the fundamental test process, test approaches, and principles to support test objectives.
    Concepts and test process: okay, you can check if a student remembers these. However, the content is old and outdated and in many places incorrect! I think understanding approaches cannot be checked in a (multiple-choice) exam. Maybe some definitions, but how to apply them? No way.
  • Design and prioritize tests by using established techniques; analyze both functional and non-functional specifications (such as performance and usability) at all test levels for systems with a low to medium level of complexity.
    Design and prioritize tests? Interesting. Where is this trained? Or being tested in the exam? Analyse specifications? That is not even part of the training. Applying some techniques is, but there is a lot more to designing and prioritize tests and analysing specifications.
  • Execute tests according to agreed test plans, and analyze and report on the results of tests.
    Execution of tests nor analysis or reporting of test results is part of the exam. In class only the theory about test reporting is discussed but never practiced.
  • Write clear and understandable incident reports.
    How do you check this with a multiple choice exam? And how you train this skill without actually testing software in class? No exercises in class that actually ask you to write such reports.
  • Effectively participate in reviews of small to medium-sized projects.
    The theory about reviews is part of the class. To effectively participate in reviews, you need to do it and learn from experience.
  • Be familiar with different types of testing tools and their uses; assist in the selection and implementation process.
    Some tools and their goals and uses are mentioned in class. So I will agree with the first part. But to assist in selection and implementation, again you need skills.

So looking at the learning goals above, I doubt if the current classes teach this. The exam for sure doesn’t prove that a foundation level professionals is be able to do this things. A lot of promises that are just wrong! Certificate training like ISTQB-F and TMap as they are now are simply not worth the money! The training and exam are mostly 3 days and cost around 1.700 euro in the Netherlands. I think that is a crazy investment for what you get in return… There are better ways to invest that money, time and effort!

I think that a more valuable 3 day foundation training is doable. But surely not the way it is done now by TMap or ISTQB. I’ve written a blog post about it years ago: “What they teach us in TMap Class and why it is wrong!“.

More blogs / presentations about certification:

A Road to Awesomeness

At TestBash Manchester I did a presentation titled “A road to awesomeness”. In this talk I tried to explain how testers can become awesome. I talked about learning and testing skills. To prepare this talk I created a mind map to list skills and ways to learn. The mind map is here and will be continuously updated in the future. Let me know if you have things to add.

The 4-hour tester

In another talk at TestBash Manchester Helena Jeret-Mäe and Joep Schuurkes talked about the 4-hour Tester Experiment.  They took the the challenge of teaching new testers useful skills in only 4 hours. They focus on 5 skills:

  • Interpretation
  • Modeling
  • Test design
  • Note taking
  • Bug reporting

Their experiment is an interesting try to teach software testers essential skills in only 4 hours. Of course it is impossible to teach anyone to test in 4 hours.  But the 4-hour tester has simple exercises that take at most one hour to complete. Interesting approach to help inexperienced testers to get started.


To become awesome, you have to learn a lot. But how do we learn? I like the 10/20/70 model: 70 percent of learning comes form job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others, and 10 percent from formal educational. So training is only a small part of a learning journey. Interaction with others, like communities and networking, coaching and mentoring are a part of it as well. But the biggest part of learning takes place from work related experience. This doesn’t mean just working. Many years of working doesn’t let you necessarily learn effective if you do not get feedback, reflect on what you do in the right environment. Doing the same work for 10 years doesn’t give you 10 years of useful experience. If you never retrospect, reflect or get any feedback, I’d say you have 10 times 1 year of experience. To make learning effective in your job you need:

  • Concrete, challenging and achievable tasks
  • Realistic application of skills, processing and reflection
  • Personal interpretation, exchange with others and constructive feedback
  • A safe environment to experiment and make mistakes

But there is more to learning. In her TED Talk “Learning how to learn” Barbara Oakley talks about two fundamental learninglearning-how-to-learn modes of our brain: focused mode and the more relaxed diffused mode. When your are learning, you want to go back and forth between these two modes. When you are stuck, you defocus going into the diffused mode, generating new ideas. If you want to learn more about this, I recommend the coursera MOOC “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects“. Two of the things I took from that course is that active listening (e.g. by asking questions) is far more effective. Also learning by doing is a great way to learn fast.

Learning is the most important skill for a tester. And learning is closely related to thinking skills. I’ll come to that later.

What makes an awesome tester?

An awesome testers has many skills. In my blogpost “Heuristics for recognizing professional testers” I described 18 heuristics to recognize professional testers. This was the starting point for my talk at TestBash Manchester. The first steps to help me think about aspects to become awesome, was creating a mind map with a couple of things to focus on: what makes an awesome tester: who (characteristics), what (skills) and how (ways to learn and how to become an expert).

awesome-testers-mapThere are many skills that make an awesome tester. I think the most important skill is the ability to learn! Remember the definition of testing we use in Rapid Software Testing: “Testing is evaluating a product by learning about it through exploration and experimentation”. Besides learning I identified  5 categories of skills testers need:

  • Thinking skills
  • Testing skills
  • Technical skills
  • Domain skills
  • Soft skills

And of course there are many, many skills that make these categories. Have a look at the mind map to learn more about these skills. It is very important to recognise what skills are involved in being a great tester. If you want to learn, you need to know what to focus on. Not knowing which skill to train, will result in unfocussed and ineffective learning. I see many testers apply test techniques without knowing what skills are used and which methods are underneath the technique. This makes them apply techniques as recipes or trick. Being able to apply approaches, tactics and techniques effectively in any situation requires the right skills.

Thinking skills

Learning and thinking are closely related. While researching thinking and thinking skills, I stumbled upon a great TED talk by Dr. Derek Cabrera called ”How Thinking Works”. He talks the schooling system teaching about 4 universal thinking skills. Schools nowadays are over-engineering the content curriculum: students do not learn to think, they learn to memorize stuff. Kids are learned to follow instructions, like painting by the numbers. To fix this, we need to learn how to think better and for that he suggests four thinking skills: DSRP. A simple set of rules to become better in systems thinking.

  • Making Distinctions – Any idea or thing can be distinguished from other ideas or things
  • Organizing Systems – Any ideas or thing can be split into parts or lumped into a whole
  • Recognizing Relationships – Any idea or thing can relate to other ideas or thing
  • Taking Perspectives – Any idea or thing can be the point or the view of a perspective

In his book “Systems thinking made simple“, Dr. Cabrera talks metacognition. “Systems thinking is a particular type of metacognition that focuses on and attempts to reconcile the mismatch between one’s mental models and how the real world works”, he continues to describe acts of metacognition: “Awareness that everything you experience is a mental model that approximates (either poorly or well) the real world”, “The ability to distinguish among cognition (thinking), emotion (feelings), and conation (motivations) and the awareness of how these different human capacities influence our mental models and behavior”. Recognizing that models are a big part of our thinking makes you a better tester. But also that your biases and emotions influence your thinking are great insights we have to take into account in our testing.

A second TED talk I recommend is “How to think, not what to think” by Jesse Richardson. He says: “The way we approach education needs to adapt! What’s different in teaching children how to think, we are involving them in the process of their own learning. Instead of just telling them to memorize the right answer, we ask them to engage their own minds, their own awareness by questioning things, attaining understanding not just knowledge. And that involvement, that engagement, is so important, because it keeps the spark of curiosity alive.”

He mentions the famous TED Talk by Ken Robinson: “Do schools kill creativity?“. One of my all time favorites.

Activities in testing
To fully understand what skills we use in testing, I made a list of testing activities. In Rapid Software Testing we teach the 9 Elements of testing and I took these as a starting point.

  1. Model the test space and risks
  2. Determine coverage
  3. Determine oracles
  4. Determine test procedures
  5. Configure the test system
  6. Operate the test system
  7. Observe the test system
  8. Evaluate the test results
  9. Report test results

The next step was to zoom in on the different elements in the list. Zooming in on “Model the test space and risks” we can distinguish:

  • Context Analysis
  • Creating a product Coverage Outline
  • Test Plan
  • Test scope
  • Risk & Value Analysis

I did this with all 9 elements and came to a pretty long list of activities. Maybe you can think of more activities testers do, let me know if you do.

This (making distinctions or factoring) exercise resulted in a huge list of things we do in testing and products we make. The next step was to lists the skills that we use, doing these activities. Obviously the first thing I thought of was learning and thinking. Researching this, I stumbled upon a lot of interesting stuff, of which part I have described earlier. But there was more, way more as you can see in my mind map. And this mind map expands every time I visit it.  Factoring the activities and skills helps me to see what is really going on while we are testing.

So how do you become awesome?

So now we have a map of activities and skills. But how do we learn them? And where do we start?

The most important part of becoming awesome is knowing what to learn and how. The first step is to know what to learn and focus on that. Stop trying to learn 10 things at the same time, it doesn’t work! A way to get to know what you want to learn is writing a Personal Development Plan answering 5 simple questions: Who am I? What are my skills? What do I want? What do I need?  How do I get there? This can give you great insight in your skills, ambition and learning needs. The second step is to find mentors who can help you and give you feedback. After that it is “just” a matter of doing it and practice!

I learned to be awesome by doing many things:

  • Observing others and myself: by becoming manager and a coach I found out that observing others gives you great insight in how testing is done and what the common problems are for people who are learning how to test. Observing myself, which is quite difficult in the beginning, I learned what I was doing and I found out that this was a big eye-opener and learning enabler. Using a journal a writing down stuff every day on my way home, gave me great insights in what my problems were. Knowing your problems, is the first step to solving them.
  • Explaining, presenting, teaching & coaching: by explaining stuff to others, you learn to structure your thoughts. To be able to present or  teach you really have to know your stuff. And still every time I teach, I learn new things about what I teach. New examples, new problems, new ways of doing things. Also answering difficult questions is very helpful learn deeply about topics. That is way I think we should encourage debate and questioning at conference way more.
  • Pairing: pairing is a fun and nice way to learn from others. Seeing how others do things is helpful and has many learning opportunities. Also the feedback you get from your pairing-partner is valuable.
  • Writing my blog: same thing as explaining and teaching. Writing this blog post made me think about what o write and how to explain. I needed to structure my thoughts. Great exercise.
  • Keeping a journal: see observing other and myself.
  • Always having a notebook with me: to practice note taking and it also helps me not to forget interesting stuff that others tell me. It is great to read back notes from conferences and courses from way back. It refreshes my memory and I often see new insights I didn’t see before.
  • Discussing & debating testing: see explaining.
  • Trying new stuff: experimenting is fun and also a way to learn about new techniques, tools, approaches, etc.
  • My coaches and mentors: I have had and still have many mentors. All these people help me to become better every day. It is great to have many mentors, each with their own expertise and specialties. I have a big international network of people I know and who I work with. So many sources of knowledge and skill help me quickly find an answer to almost every difficult testing problem I have.

My advise is to try the same exercise I did creating the mind map. Create your own model of test activities and skills. Observe what you do, how you do it and make your own mind map (or any other way you would like to model it). Come back and compare yours to my mind map.

So why is this important?

I see may similarities with the problems in the current schooling system and in testing:  over-engineering the content curriculum, students do not learn to think, they learn to memorize stuff and to follow instructions (like painting by the numbers). In most testing classes testers learn tricks, procedures and the use of template like approaches in stead of the required skills to do an excellent job. In Rapid Software Testing (RST) we teach thinking skills. We learn testers how to effectively think and solve problems instead of using tricks, templates and standards to do their work. By learning to think better, you learn better. And isn’t testing all about learning? Also, if you are able to think, you are able to do better work, apply your skills in the right way. Adapt to changing context, find your own solution to problems that occur. We also teach testers to dynamically manage their focus: focus/defocus is similar to fundamental learning modes Prof. Dr. Barbara Oakley talks about in her TED Talk.

The DSRP model (distinctions, systems, relationships, perspectives) is very useful in testing. In RST we talk about models and learn our students how to model (distinctions, systems and relationships) and to think from different perspectives using a diverse strategy using heuristics. Great to see that the stuff we teach is actually backed up by scientists who study metacognition (thinking about thinking) and epistemology (the study of knowledge). Making a product coverage outline for instance helps you see distinctions and relations and helps systems thinking.

Good luck on your journey to awesomeness!


The slides I used in Manchester are here: slideshare.
The updated slides are here: pdf.

All talks at TestBash are recorded. My talk is here.

How I became a Rapid Software Testing trainer

TestingTrapeze2015OctoberIn the October edition of Testing Trapeze my experience report “How I became a rapid software testing trainer” is published. It has been an amazing journey! When I started this journey, I thought it would be much easier. It was a lot of hard work, a struggle sometimes, but it was totally worth it! A journey in which I learned a lot about myself and the testing craft. I am looking forward teaching the next class in December in the Netherlands this year! See you there?

Testing Trapeze is a free high quality testing magazine from Australia and New Zealand, advocating good testing practices.



A new level of testing?

Yesterday I saw this awesome video of Lars Andersen: a new level of archery. It is going viral on the web being watched over 11 million times within 48 hours. Now watch this movie carefully…

The first time I watched this movie, I was impressed. Having tried archery several times, I know how hard it is to do. Remember Legolas from the Lord of Rings movie? I thought that was “only” a movie and his shooting speed was greatly exaggerated. But it turns out Lars Andersen is faster than Legolas. My colleague Sander send me an email telling me about the movie I just watched saying this was an excellent example of craftsmanship, something we have been discussing earlier this week. So I watched the movie again…

Also read what Lars has to say in the comments on YouTube and make sure you read his press release.

This movie is exemplar for the importance of practice and skills! This movie explains archery in a way a context-driven tester would explain his testing…

0:06 These skills have been long since been forgotten. But master archer Lars Andersen is trying to reinvent was has been lost…

Skills are the backbone of everything being done well. So in testing skills are essential too. I’ll come back to that later on. And the word reinvent triggers me as well. Every tester should reinvent his own testing. Only by going very deep, understand every single bit, practice and practice more, you will truly know how to be an excellent tester.

0:32 This is the best type of shooting and there is nothing beyond it in power or accuracy. Using this technique Larsen set several speed shooting records and he shoots more than twice as fast as his closest competitors…

Excellent testers are faster and better. Last week I heard professor Chris Verhoef speak about skills in IT and he mentioned that he has seen a factor 200 in productivity difference between excellent programmers and bad programmers (he called them “Timber Smurf” or “Knutselsmurf” in Dutch).

0:42 … being able to shoot fast is only one of the benefits of the method

Faster testing! Isn’t that what we are after?

0:55 Surprisingly the quiver turned out to be useless when it comes to moving fast. The back quiver was a Hollywood Myth…

The back quiver is a Hollywood myth. It looks cool and may look handy on first sight, since you can put a lot of arrows in it. Doesn’t this sound like certificates and document-heavy test approaches? The certificates looks good on your resume and the artifacts look convenient to help you structure your testing… But turn out to be worthless when it comes to test fast.

1:03 Why? Because modern archers do not move. They stand still firing at a target board.

I see a parallel here with old school testing: testers had a lot of time to prepare in the waterfall projects. The basic assumption was that target wasn’t moving, so it was like shooting at a target board.  Although the target proved always to be moving, the testing methods are designed for target boards.

1:27 Placing the arrow left around the bow is not good while you are in motion. By placing your hand on the left side, your hand is on the wrong side of the string. So you need several movements before you can actually shoot..

Making a ton of documentation before starting to test is like several movements before you can actually test.

1:35 From studying old pictures of archers, Lars discovered that some historical archers held their arrow on the right side of the bow. This means that the arrow can be fired in one single motion. Both faster and better!

Research and study is what is lacking in testing for many. There is much we can learn from the past, but also from social science, measurement, designing experiments, etc.

1:56 If he wanted to learn to shoot like the master archers of old, he had to unlearn what he had learned…

Learning new stuff, learning how to use heuristics and train real skills, needs testers to unlearn APPLYING techniques.

2:07: When archery was simpler and more natural, exactly like throwing a ball. In essence making archery as simple as possible. It’s harder how to learn to shoot this way, but it gives more options and ultimately it is also more fun.

It is hard to learn and it takes a lot of practice to learn to do stuff in the most efficient en effective way. Context-driven testing sounds difficult, but in essence it makes testing as simple as possible. That means it becomes harder to learn because it removes all the methodical stuff that slows us down. These instrumental approaches trying to put everything in a recipe so it can be applied by people who do not want to practice, make testing slow and ineffective.

2:21 A war archer must have total control over his bow in all situations! He must be able to handle his bow and arrows in a controlled way, under the most varied of circumstances.

Lesson 272 in the book Lessons Learned in Software Testing: “If you can get a black belt in only two weeks, avoid fights”. You have to learn and practice a lot to have total control! That is what we mean by excellent testing: being able to do testing in a controlled way, under the most varied of circumstances. Doesn’t that sound like Rapid Software Testing? RST is the skill of testing any software, any time, under any conditions, such that your work stands up to scrutiny. This is how RST differs from normal software testing.

2:36 … master archers can shoot the bow with both hands. And still hit the target. So he began practicing…

Being able to do the same thing in different ways is a big advantage. Also in testing we should learn to test in as many different ways as possible.

3:15 perhaps more importantly: modern slow archery has led people to believe that war archers only shot at long distances. However, Lars found that they can shoot at any distance. Even up close. This does require the ability to fire fast though.

Modern slow testing has led to believe that professional testers always need test cases. However, some testers found that they could work without heavyweight test documentation and test cases. Even on very complex or critical systems also in a regulated environment. This does require the ability to test fast though.

Lars Andersen: a new level of archery3:34 In the beginning archers probably drew arrows from quivers or belts. But since then they started holding the arrows in the bow hand. And later in the draw hand. Taking it to this third level. That of holding the arrows in the bow hand, requires immense practice and skill and only professional archers, hunters and so on would have had the time for it. … and the only reason Lars is able to do it, is he has been years of practicing intensely.

Practice, practice, practice. And this really makes the difference. I hear people say that context-driven is not for everybody. We have to accept that some testing professional only want to work 9 to 5. This makes me mad!

I think professional excellence can and should be for everyone! And sure you need to put a lot of work in it! Compare it to football (or any other good thing you want to be in like solving crossword puzzles, drawing, chess or … archery). It takes a lot of practice to play football in the Premiership or the Champions League. I am convinced that anyone can be a professional football player. But it doesn’t come easily. It demands a lot of effort in learning, drive (intrinsic motivation, passion), the right mindset and choosing the right mentors/teachers. Talent maybe helps, and perhaps you need some talent to be the very best, like Lionel Messie But dedication, learning and practice will take you a long way. We are professionals! So that subset of testers who do not want to practice and work hard, in football they will soon end up on the bench,  won’t get a new contract and soon disappear to the amateurs.

Lars Andersen: a new level of archery4:06 The hard part is not how to hold the arrows, but learning how to handle them properly. And draw and fire in one single motion not matter what methods is used.

Diversity has been key in context-driven testing for many years. As testers we need to learn how to properly use many different skills, approaches, techniques, heuristics…

4:12 It works in all positions and while in motion…

… so we can use then in all situations even when we are under great pressure, we have to deal with huge complexity, confusion, changes, new insights and half answers. 

5:17 While speed is important, hitting the target is essential.

Fast testing is great, doing the right thing, like hitting the target is essential. Context-driven testers know how to analyze and model their context to determine what the problem is that needs to be solved. Knowing the context is essential to do the right things to discover the status of the product and any threats to its value effectively, so that ultimately our clients can make informed decisions about it. Context analysis and modelling are some of the essential skills for testers!

There are probably more parallels to testing. Please let me know if you see any more.


”Many people have accused me of being fake or have theories on how there’s cheating involved. I’ve always found it fascinating how human it is, to want to disbelieve anything that goes against our world view – even when it’s about something as relatively neutral as archery.” (Lars Andersen)

DEWT4 sketchnotes

This are my sketchnotes from DEWT4. The central theme of the fourth DEWT peer conference was “Teaching Software Testing”.

Click the images to view them full size.

My Tools

Experiential learning: learning from experience

This blog post was originally written as an column for (English) and (Dutch).

Unfortunately last year AYE (Amplifying Your Effectiveness) was organized for the last time. AYE was a conference in Albuquerque in the U.S. hosted by Jerry Weinberg, Esther Derby, Johanna Rothman and Don Gray. I have never been there and very much wanted to go. But alas: too late!

What appeals to me most in this conference is the focus on experiential learning. They want no powerpoints presentations with barely any room for questions. They want participants who will participate, ask questions, share their experiences, be part of experiential exercises and contribute to the session designs and content.

Fiona Charles does a lot of workshops in this way. Last year I attended Let’s Test conference near Stockholm where I experienced a workshop “Inspiring Test Leadership”. Not been in or done, but experienced! Let me give you a brief report of the workshop. We were with a group of 25-30 people, we sat in a circle and we introduced ourselves briefly. Everyone gave their motivation for being in this workshop. Upon hearing the wide variety of reasons for choosing this particular session, I asked myself just how Fiona could give us all what we were looking for…

During the day, we did a number of interesting exercises in groups. All exercises were discussed and debriefed extensively. During those debriefs Fiona keeps asking the questions. These questions helped us to tell our story about what happened, how we experienced it and why we did what we did. Others are encouraged to respond with their own stories. Meanwhile Fiona facilitates the discussion with questions like “do you know why that happened?” or “how would you use it?”.

In one of the exercises we were divided into two groups. Each group was given 45 minutes time to create a leadership challenge for the other group. After that both groups got 45 minutes to solve the problem. A very interesting exercise it was! You experience the group process while generating ideas under time pressure. After 45 minutes you have to deliver something to work with enabling the other group to get started. It is basically an exercise in an exercise! You learn to think about leadership and it’s challenges. But the process itself is also very interesting and instructive. Leaders step forward, group dynamics occur and all sort of things happen. You do not learn about aspects of leadership, you are the object of the exercise! Did everyone get what they were looking for? No idea, I think so. That’s the beauty of this teaching method: all participants take away what is in there for them. Each participant is responsible for their own learning.

After EuroSTAR, on the way to the hotel, I discussed experiential learning with Fiona. EuroSTAR was great and there is more and more room for workshops and hands-on stuff. While walking Fiona told me that she has an idea to organize a conference with only experiential workshops inspired by the AYE conferences. I was excited immediately. Currently Fiona and I are brainstorming about the possibilities for such a conference, specifically aimed at testers.

What do you think? Would you participate? Who has experience with experiential learning? And what are your experiences? What would you want to learn in such workshops? I’m curious about your reactions.

Basic training for software testers must change

This blog post was originally written as an column for (English) and (Dutch).

On this blog I recently wrote about my meeting with James Bach with the provocative title: “What they teach us in TMap Class and why it is wrong“. Mid July I go to San Jose for the CAST conference. During the weekend preceding I participate in Test Coach Camp. The title of the post is the title of a proposal that I submitted to discuss at Test Coach Camp.

In the past I have been a trainer for quite a few ISTQB and TMAP courses. The groups attending the training were often a mix of inexperienced and experienced testers. The courses cover topics like: the reason for testing, what is testing, the (fundamental) processes, the products that testers create, test levels, test techniques, etc. In these three-day courses all exercises are done on paper. Throughout the whole training not once actual software is tested!? I wonder if courses for developers exist where no single line of code is written.

In San Jose at Test Coach Camp I want to discuss the approach of these courses with my peers. How can we improve them? I feel these courses are not designed to prepare testers to test well. Let alone to encourage testers to become excellent in their craft.

During my dinner with James, I asked him what he would do if he would train novices to become good testers. He replied that he would let them test some software from the start. He would certainly not start with lectures on processes, test definitions and vocabulary. During a session the student will (unknowingly) use several techniques that will be named and can be further explained when stumbled upon. A beautiful exploratory approach I would like to try myself: learning by doing! But there are many more opportunities to improve testing courses. People learn by making mistakes, by trying new things. Testing is much more about skills than about knowledge. Imagine a carpenter doing a basic training. His training will mainly consist of exercises! My neighbour is doing a course to become furniture maker. She is learning the craft by many hours of practice creating work pieces. Practice is the biggest part of her training!

One of the comments on my blog opposed to the suggestion by James Bach. Peter says: “I have been both a tester and trainer in ISTQB and TMap. Yes we can make testing fun but without a method that testing has no structure and more importantly has no measurable completion. How will those new people on “more practical” course know when they have finished? What tests did they do? What did they forget? What defect types did they target? Which ones did they not look for? What is the risk to the system? My view after 40 years as a developer and tester is that this idea might be fun but is not just WRONG but so dangerously wrong that I am sad that no one else has seen it.”

What do you think?

What they teach us in TMap Class and why it is wrong!

Yesterday I had diner with James Bach, Pascal Dufour and my testing buddy Jean-Paul. After picking James up from Schiphol airport, we took him to his hotel and after that we had diner. An enjoyable evening with great conversations and some testing challenges.

Pascal went home with this challenge: “Apply the Constructal Law to improve testing.” This challenge James gave himself since he is reading this book. Jean-Paul asked for a challenge via twitter and got this one: “Explain dendogram-based testing”. Since I start with BBST tomorrow, I didn’t ask for one.

We discussed a lot of topics, one of them was coaching. In July I go to Test Coach Camp in San Jose the weekend before CAST 2012. I told James I had an idea for a session at Test Coach Camp: “What they teach us in TMap Class and why it is wrong”. I think he likes it 😉 I asked James what he would do if he had to train newbies to be testers. He answered that he would have them test something. He certainly wouldn’t start with lectures about processes, definitions and testing vocabulary. During the testing session the aspirant-tester will do stuff that can be named. They will (ignorant) use all kinds of techniques that can be further explained and explored while they pop-up.

James also gave an interesting insight: the way testing is often trained and implemented results in dull testing jobs where most of the great people (who could be excellent testers) will run away from. I have to chew on that a little more, but I think this might be true. It definitely rings a bell.

Today I created a first draft for the proposal for Test Coach Camp:

“What they teach us in TMap Class and why it is wrong”

In my former job I have been an instructor/trainer for ISTQB and TMap classes. This was before I saw the Context-Driven light 😉 I trained ISTQB and TMap to people new to testing and also lots of experienced testers. I also was an instructor for all kinds of other training courses. These training courses are not focussing on the right things and are not preparing testers to do proper testing. Let alone that they encourage testers to become excellent their profession. For example: in these 3 day courses, all exercises are done on paper without actually testing software. This makes me wonder if there are classes where developers are trained without actually coding.

In this session I would like to point out the structure and content of a typical TMap (or ISTQB) class and the method/approach used. In the discussion later in the session the group collaborates in listing what is wrong with this approach and what can be done to improve it. This creates an insight in what is wrong with the majority of training courses in my country (and probably also around Europe and the rest of the world). This insight can help us create training courses to properly train people in testing, but also improve existing classes.

Let me know what you think and please share your experiences.

Testing Dojo

Last week I organized a Testing Dojo. I wanted to try a dojo for a long time and I was quite disappointed that Markus Gärtner was ill at Agile Testing Days so the testing dojos were cancelled. What do you do when you want to experience a testing dojo? Right! You just get a bunch of people in a room and try it yourself! To make this dojo a success I read the website from start to finish and scanned for a good challenge. I also skyped with Markus for an hour to discuss the dojo. For me the goals of the dojo were:

  • Experience what a testing dojo is (useful? fun?)
  • Learn from group
  • Practice stuff we learned in RST last year

At our dojo 20 people showed up: mostly testers but also a business analysts and a developer. After ordering pizza for all, I did a short intro presentation. I explained what a testing dojo is, what the rules are for the dojo and the mission for the evening. I wrote down the rules on a flip-over and put that on the wall:

  • Work in pairs
  • We recognize 3 roles:
    1. Driver / tester
    2. Recorder / note taker
    3. Observers (audience)
  • Switch roles after 5 minutes:
    1. Tester –> audience
    2. Recorder –> tester
    3. Audience –> recorder
  • Everybody in audience (observers) take notes using checklist
  • Audience does not interfere with testing, unless they are asked

Test parking calculator Gerald R.Ford International Airport using SFDPOT and the Test Heuristic Cheat Sheet.

Observer checklist:

  • What happened?
    • Testing
    • Communication
    • Collaboration
  • How do they communicate?
  • Are they listening to each other?
  • Who is in charge?
  • Also note emotions
  • What path do the testers take?
    • depth
    • breadth
    • Explore first: what do we have?
    • When does what happen
    • What happens if they find a bug?

I gave the group a sneak preview of the parking calculator. I also showed them the webpage with the information on the car parking and the parking rates. While preparing the dojo I thought the participants would like to do some preparation while eating pizza. I figured they could think about their approach and maybe write down some test ideas or other stuff they thought that could be useful. But the group wanted to start right away. There were some questions about the exact purpose of testing this application. I told the group, while playing the role of product owner, the goal is to inform me if this calculator needs adjustments.

In the room the participants were sitting in a u-shape all facing the screen were the beamer projected the display of the laptop in front of the room. The pair behind the laptop was facing the group. I think it’s not easy to test when 20 people are watching you and you are sitting in front of the room. In the back of the room were 2 flip overs with the parking rates. We decided that everybody would have 3 minutes of testing time and after 3 minuted we would switch roles. After three pairs had finished their testing we stopped for a short retrospective to discuss the progress so far. We noticed that nobody was in charge really and communication between the pairs was minimal. They were trying stuff, without having a clear strategy or approach. The first pair could get away by telling they were exploring the application to see what they had in front of them, what it could do, etc. The other pairs had some sort of strategy but couldn’t explain. A discussion on the further approach took place and the group decided to create a list on a flip over with items that needed testing. I noticed that SFDPOT wasn’t used explicitly and the strategy followed by the group was almost fully focussed on testing functionality.

After a flip over with the “test strategy” was created by one of the participants, testing was more focussed. But still I noticed that it was difficult for the participants to test in pairs (communication) and keep focussed without scripted tests (structure). None of the pairs debriefed or communicated with the next group. To fill this “gap” I asked every pair after their time was up, if I could “tick off” one of the items from the test strategy. One of the participants created a list of test ideas before he took his place behind the laptop. It was fun to see a lot of different styles and approaches. I also noticed that being observer is a rather difficult job. Not a lot of notes were taken on observations despite the checklist on the wall. Most of the participants focussed their observations on the testing and the application being tested, rather then on the people testing and their communication and collaboration.

After all pairs had their go testing, we did a retrospective. Below the feedback from the group.

Lessons learned:

  • Group was too big, a group of up to 10 people is better.
  • More time to test: with a smaller group it’s probably better.
  • Give the group a bit more structure. It is helpful when the starting point is clear.
  • Stop more often to evaluate. Idea: 1. Mission – 2. Test – 3. Self debrief – 4. Group feedback – 5. Test again

It was a great evening, although it didn’t went as smoothly as I hoped. But we learned a lot about testing dojos and I think it was a successful evening. I hope the attendees went home with the same feeling. In a small group we discussed the dojo somewhat further and the reactions were enthusiastic. There is still enough room for improvement, as always: practice makes perfect! For a first time I think this was quite a successful evening. A second dojo is already planned. I am looking forward to it.

Other notes made during the test dojo:


Happy New Year! Busy New Year!

I know, I am way too late to wish you a happy new year. But I wish you a very happy new year anyway! This year will be a very busy one for me. To create some overview for myself, I created a mindmap of my testing ambitions for 2012…

This truely will become a magnifiant year! Busy but awesome for sure. Some highlights:

And another DEWT peer conference to look forward to! A lot of testing, conferencing, meeting and learning to do!

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