Category Archives: Story telling

Can you picture that?

Recurring situation in my family.
“Where is dad?”
“He is taking a picture.”
Moments later:
“What did you see?”
“I saw something funny.”

In my previous blog post I wrote about Fieldstones. Jerry Weinberg used the metaphor of building a wall using Fieldstones to describe the writing of a story. I have to be mindful about my environment and then … I notice something. That can be told as a single story or part of a story. I just wonder and make a note.

At the moment I am trying to find the right pictures for my workshop at TestBash Netherlands. My basic idea was to use sketchnotes as Fieldstones. But the pictures in my notes had to be visualised.
O yeah, I’ve got a camera in my smartphone.

I thought about a Dutch windmill, so I had to cycle through the polder to make a nice picture. It required some timing from my side: with a full workweek and less sun every day I had to do it in the weekend.

All the elements of a typical Dutch landscape were present:
a windmill, a polder, and a nice greeny dike
photographed by a Chinese on a bike.

What makes a good conversation starter? In my case it is a good story about visuals. It can be the awkward use of words. I can tell for minutes, but making a picture stops or slows down my flow. It gives my listener a moment of rest to reflect on my message.

A picture can also give another view on a situation. As a tester I make models of programs, so I can perform better tests. There are words to describe them: test techniques and heuristics.

Which ones do I use? Most of the time it boils down to a small set. Once in a while the same tools are used too often. A simple statement of the end user can make me aware of what I am missing. Then I have to adopt: choose another way of testing or extend my test technique or heuristic. That is the most important part of my workshop.

Is there a way to determine, whether I use the right way of modelling? Maybe if I find bugs. Or when a content customer calls.

Until I will stop with testing, I have to observe and ponder upon my way of testing. This requires Continuous thinking about what can be improved in this context.

 

I think: “I just wrote another Fieldstone.”

Blimey, I intended to write about using funny pictures in my slides, but this Fieldstone was shaped in another way.

Can you picture that?

Free Gift as a Service

A few months ago Jokin Aspaziu gave a gift to the Test Community. He added Spanish subtitles to an online video. Testinsane.com is doing the same with a big set of mind maps. On a Saturday someone placed a question on a forum about a checklist for testing. I just referred to this big set of mind maps.

So here is my gift, which costed me more than 100 hours of work in my free time (and another 4 hours for blogging this). I am sharing this for free by giving multiple views on a software test exercise. After all it is my way to put my thoughts on the web.

The exercise

[Preparation teacher:
Explore the program extensively yourself before using the exercise.
Be sure, that there are enough smartphones (iPhones are not supported :( ) and laptops plus wifi for the exercise.]

“You have to test a multiplication. You have 5 minutes to prepare. I am the PO or Product Owner. You can ask me any question.”

[My observations for this and similar exercises:
Two things can happen:

  1. Attendees are writing a lot of test cases.
  2. Attendees ask a lot of questions.

FAQ teacher
Q: why do we need to test a multiplication?
A: this is written in a new programming language.

Q: what can be multiplied?
A: all kind of numbers.

Q: are real numbers supported?
A: yes.

Some advices:

  • Give only information, when asked.
  • Act, if you know everything.
  • Tell a consistent story.]

[After the five minutes]
“What are you going to do?”
Or “What did you find out?”

[In case of silence or answers about test cases you can ask the attendees:

  • What is your mission?
  • What are you going to test?
  • What are the priorities in testing?
  • Etc.]

“You have 10 minutes to test the application. Here is the link to the application: 2015.mindfultester.com/test_this.html”

[Additional information:
Give only information when asked.

Depending on the purpose of the context of the exercise you can encourage people to make notes.

In the past there were several reasons why I had to part from my smartphone:

  • It does not operate on an iPhone.
  • The battery of an attendee’s phone is low.]

[After 10 minutes of testing]
“Time is over. I want you to form pairs and debrief each other.”

[In case of uneven number of attendees let one attendee debrief to you.]

After the debriefing
“What were your experiences?”

[If people continue to talk about bugs, you can ask about exploring or notes. Did you accomplish your mission?

Other question:
“I was the PO. Why did you not ask me about [program]?”]

A workshop

The reader is of course advised to embed the exercise in a workshop. A good example is note taking during testing as subject. What must be noted during testing?

The first part could be focused on personal experiences and information from bug registration tools. An overhead projector can be used to show some notes as used in practice.
Let people voice their opinions and let them discuss the options.

In the second part theory could be presented like ET templates. ET is short for Exploratory Testing and not for a cute little stranded traveller looking for a roof and candy.

The last part is the exercise. As described above.

Tooling

I was looking for a way to engage all attendees at the same time. It would be great, if they could do the exercise at their own pace. Not everyone has a laptop, but smartphones are quite common these days.

So I wanted to have a tool to make an app for mobile phones. The development environment and deployment of the application for workshop should be free and it should be able to support more than 20 attendees at the same time. Hum, these sentences sound like requirements.

I looked to different tools. There were a lot of cloud based tools, but they had restrictions on users or mobile platforms. Also had time consuming pitfalls like learning to code. I try to avoid proprietary code.

Then I noticed Twine. This tool had a similar interface of a CMS or Content Management System for web sites. It was free and simple to use. Twine is used to tell a story with branches. So I could add several happy endings. Or in the case of a bug a bad ending.
It can even be used for a RPG or Role Playing Game: please enter the room. Hit the baddies and take the loot. Cheers. Have another healing potion. Rinse & repeat.

Then the painful embedding of Twine html in my web site started. It looked bad. Some forums did not have proper information, so I had to place it outside this blog space.

But I had still more than enough Mb left over in my hosting space. So I cruised through my personal Command and Control Centre of my hosting provider and discovered that I could use subdomains. That sounded pretty cool. 2015.mindfultester.com was born.

The next step was to move the file to the internet. I used ftp. Very primitive, but good enough.

Another speed limit was imposed by the awkward URL. That is a lot of typing. On Twitter I discovered, that bit.ly is used frequently. It reduced the number of characters to be entered after the slash to a reasonable digit. I looked on the web site. It was free. What was the business model? Marketing could use the information of the click behaviour. Rather useful for keeping tracks of campaigns. Only this information would cost money.

A similar tool is the QR code. The user needs a QR reader or a photo to URL converter on his smartphone. On the Internet I found several QR code generators for free use.

Programming

The difficulty with bugs is, that they are small and sometimes hard to detect. With a high reproducibility bug reports I had to investigate a lot. The consequence was that programmers got a reproduction path with more than 10 steps. From me.

My basic idea was to make a calculator with buttons for digits and a lot more. I first tried a rough version to explore the possibilities; it worked and I was happy for a short time. A calculator lookalike would cost me lots of work, so I skipped it. So the prototype slowly evolved in the program of the featured exercise.

How would I be able to keep track of the right state of the program? A state transition diagram offered a simple way to design it. Then a new proof of concept or PoC was needed to verify, whether I could program it. Then I PoCed again and again.

My auto generated html file looked good on a desktop. There were some drawbacks on a mobile phone: small characters and difficult to manoeuvre. So I added some space to handle big finger tips.

History

In 2014 I was invited to give a 2 hour workshop for the Let’s Test conference. In the last years I had developed a strong preference for a work and learn experience. So I wanted to have some exercises, which could be done by the participants. The featured exercise is one of the three.

When I read the blog posts of previous conferences, I noticed a pattern. Surprisingly not every tester at this context driven test conference was extrovert. So the exercises should be done by introvert testers. At their own pace in their own Circle of Comfort.
Then I used all my humour to convince them to come to my workshop.

On the first day of the test conference I met a shy tester. She was looking for an interesting talk or workshop. I suppressed the urge to mention my workshop. This would not be consistent with my blog post and invitation for introvert testers.

In hindsight the exercise was out of place. With all the hours spent I did not consider to drop it. What were the bad signs?

  • I flipped through the slides, until I discovered that I had to do two exercises in succession. So there was no good mental hook for this exercise.
  • The exercise was linked to the message: little tricks lead to nice combinations. Were the actions of the attendees really tricks? On a high level of abstraction maybe.
  • I ran over my 45 minutes limit with 100 %. The exercise was one of the causes of this time expenditure.

Another observation was, that the QR code and bit.ly did not accelerate the start of the actual testing.

Related posts

For the testing of this exercise I used different people.

My last upload before my workshop was for me another exercise in exploration. The actual exercise was not completely smooth.

Just for fun

Why is it not possible to explore outside the domain of software testing and make decent notes?
And make a smile on the face of the reader?
Just by breaking a bike lock.

Special mentions

The one, who inspired to write this blog post, is Matthew Middleton. He asked a puzzle for testing on a forum.

In order to get so many views on the exercise I used a variation of the Rule of Three. This rule basically states, that there are at least three questions to be asked. Why not views?

Have another one. Take a health potion mind map.

Mindmap of this blog post

Hit the baddies road and take the loot exercise. Cheers.

I want to thank Michael Bolton for experiencing his calculator exercise. Thanks for Carsten Feilberg for his workshop about Exploratory Testing at Tasting Let’s Test NL. Also thanks for Elisabeth Hendrickson for writing about her experiences with ET and Jean Paul Varwijk for putting ET templates on line (arborosa.org). And finally special thanks for Ray Oei for making me rethink testing.

Afterthought

I can make a test scenario with 100 % coverage of the shown tests and only good positives. Some might call it checking.

I can make a test scenario with more variations in state transitions, which leads to some good negatives. Some might call it testing.

Some people would love to automate tests.

Story delivery

“The judge will also take delivery in consideration: the way you tell it.”
A colleague about a game.

Do you understand?

“Do you know how they work at Toyota?” I asked a manager.
After a remarkable silence he responded carefully with:
“They keep their inventory low.” Then he continued to talk about it.
I nodded. “They also use Andon.”
“Andon?”
I told him, that every employee in the company was entitled to stop the process in order to improve it. Then I spoke about the benefits.
“I feel comfortable to tell you, what I think.” I added.
“I like to hear that”, he responded.

As a tester I frequently have to tell people, that something needs to be fixed. It is hard.

Why do people fail to deliver a good story outside their own company? Specifically at test conferences.

Whom did you choose?
In this paragraph I try to answer the question:
How is a good speaker selected for a test conference?

If there are two candidates with the same experience, it might be prudent to choose the one with confidence.
He is introvert, so…
So the next time there is huge chance, that the same person is chosen. He has more experience and more confidence.

Another way to create a bias in speaker selection is to use a proposal. I agree with people, that a good summary can be a good indicator for a good talk. I also want to write, that a talk is spoken and not written.
Yes, it is OK to read this blog post.
No, it is NOK to read the slides aloud.

If there is a woman eager to speak, then another bias might pop up. Most testers are men, so…

I once did an audition for a talk using my smartphone. It was a bad idea: I constantly look at the screen like child, who awkwardly observed a mirror for the first time. If I got a little help from a professional camera team, I would increase my odds twentyfold.
(But I am Dutch, so  …)

Another coloured opinion.
He has a Chinese name, but most testers I know, are white and male. So…

I am totally aware, that this is an unbalanced view of conferences.  There are test conferences, which actively promote diversity on their web sites or have a proper woman man ratio for speakers.
Last year I, a yellow male speaker, was greeted by an African European test conference organiser.
Last year I saw a conference adjusting his acceptance process within weeks.
This year a major test conference will have two female keynote speakers after a decent increase of 2.

Things are changing.  For better. Diversity.

Did you consider this?
A week after the Dutch Student Championships I had karate fight in the dojo. My opponent was better than me. He beated me all the time. I was in the student team, he not. So the best are not always in the spotlights.

Last year I asked a good tester, whether he would go to a specific conference. He answered with: “The usual suspects.”
BTW it is not the movie and I did not have to translate this from Dutch to English.

At the beginning of this century I heard a story about a famous tester. He knew how to be accepted at major test events. But
“He is telling the same stuff over and over again.”

Let’s agree about a few facts:

  • There are females.
  • There are people, who use the systems you test.

Suppose you want to have some small talk with the end users. With men it looks simple: drink a pint of beer in a pub. With female end users?

Back to work. How do you know, when female users are not pleased with the application under test? For agile methodologies this is important. Let me substitute “agile” by “all”.
That sounds much better.

According to the independent Central Bureau for Statistics (www.cbs.nl) roughly the half of the Dutch population is female in 2015. So the chance, that the gender of a common Dutch computer program user is female, is 50%. Probably getting close to 95 % for an embroidery app. That’s my best guess.

As a Chinese I belong to a minority. Only 1 of 5 people on this very planet is Chinese. Even a small percentage of more than 1 billion people can be a nice niche market.(I also heard stories about companies having a hard time in China. Maybe I am also hampered with a confirmation bias. :(
I am Chinese, so…

In 2000 I had to switch planes in New York. At the airport the signs were written in 2 languages: English and Spanish.

Who can help me?

For a hesitant speaker it looks difficult to change this process. There are ways for reverse selection.

Conferences are trying to find new voices for their stages. On a regular basis I get kind requests to send in proposals. Sometimes they are personalised. Years ago I had submitted several proposals to conferences and they didn’t forget me. I don’t mind this.

There are even special speaker slots for beginning speakers. This spring I surprised my colleagues, that I was not accepted: I was too experienced.

In April one test conference teamed up with experienced female testers to increase the influx of speakers of the same gender. Twitter showed a nice increase of proposals of the targeted speaker population.

TechVoices is one of my favourite things. [Update: TechVoices was formerly known as Speak Easy.] It is focused on diversity. Redirecting attention to experienced female speakers. Supporting wannabe speakers with crafting abstracts and talks. Securing speaker slots for newbie speakers. The mentors have a lot of experience, which can benefit first time speakers and conferences as well.

Where can I get practice?

Did you ever speak with friends, family members, colleagues, peers, delegates of a conference, attendees of meetups, or members of Special Interest Groups about testing? Or with total strangers? That can be scary.

There is no straight stairway to practice delivery of a story, but there are ample opportunities.

Some tips

  • My father told me, that I should learn to tell a good joke. For me it was a way to start.
  • Use a diary.
  • Talk with your spouse or friend about the funniest thing that happened today. Preferably with complete transcriptions of the dialogue complemented with the right tone and faces.
  • Write spoken language next to written language.
  • Learn to ask (obnoxious) questions.
  • More and more conferences ask for twitter handles, blog posts, and other on line pieces of evidence proving, that candidate speakers can engage people. And touch them.

Related posts

Teaching = Learning
The need for new speakers
Safety first
Do you want to talk about it?
In Case of Emergency Press 1

PS the picture at the beginning of this post is nothing special. I could make it a cliff hanger for the next blog post. That is not a good idea.

Some readers would like to prod me for the special cut technique I used to split the apple. The brand of the knife or the way I hold the fruit in my hand. The next obvious step would be to practice the cut for the next hours and then taking bets from ignorant friends.
[I already hear the sound of glasses, which are filled with cool refreshing amber coloured fruit juice.]

You’re still there.
Are you ready to read further?

You’re sure?

Okay. Here you go.

I was just lucky to slice the apple in this way and mindful enough to take a picture.

I wrote you: it was not special.

Story delivery is not about the package. It is all about the content and the story teller’s view.

A stoic view on the Circle of Influence

This is a story, which matured over the years. Lingering in my thoughts waiting to be told.
So behold.
(Yes, it is time for a rhyme.)

Circle of Concern

At the end of the workshop Introduction Mind Mapping I told, that I was working on a workshop about ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Two young colleagues reacted immediately. All smiles and eagerness.
“I want to come. Where is it?”
This announcement was a typical case of skin in the game. I could not stop now.

I kindly informed the programme committee about my intentions. Also now I had strong reactions: offices were fighting for my workshop. I picked the first office, which had reacted. After the announcement other consult giving colleagues on projects reacted with:
“Are you willing to give the workshop in the evening?”

During my time as a consultant I visited the office regularly between projects. People had finally time to wind down after a busy period. There was also time to study books. The book of Covey was an intriguing one. It was hard to grasp and it was a must read. This was a real dilemma.

The first time I told about my plans. A friend reacted with:
“You are all smiling.”

During the first day of the workshop I introduced the Circle of Concern.
“The Circle of Concern contains things you bother about.”
A compelling example was easily chosen: that very evening a manager might call team members, that they were fired.

Circle of Influence

I also pointed out, that not everyone or everything in the Circle of Concern could be influenced. So I signed a Circle of Influence inside the Circle of Concern.
“Can you call some persons you cannot influence?”
After a suggestion I placed a dot with Manager inside the Circle of Concern, but outside the Circle of Influence. More options were discussed and more dots placed.
Particularly in the Circle of Influence.

On my way home I received a call from my emotional manager:
“I have to call you, because you are fired.”
I protested formally and the call ended.

That very evening I  concerned people by phoning them, that I was fired. Looking back at this period my wife said:
“You were really confident to get a new job.”
Due to the exercise I knew exactly what to do. There was no grief, only determination.

Interlude

In the days after the dreadful call I was kindly requested to stop all my activities including the workshop 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Attendees protested to no avail. What I had planned as a viral workshop, was put on hold.

Looking back to this course of circumstances I might challenge the reader to point out a Circle of Concern and a Circle of Influence. There are multiple. What I want to write, is to give a philosophical view of the story.

Stoicism as a Service

I still remember the discussed options in my Circle of Influence. They gave me a direction to move. There were no emotions at that moment.

While writing this article I somehow became emotional. I tried to trace it back to its roots: I was reflecting the emotions of my manager and my co-workers.

Once I heard a family member quoting, that being fired is one of the most emotional things that can happen to people. The actual message of the firing did not influence my emotions. I somehow reflected the negative wave.

Until a week ago I did not give much thought about it. A common thought would be:
“I take this as a grown up. I won’t budge. No cry.”
But then I had no superman feelings at all.

Some people might say that I was past the denial phase. Or was it “Walk your talk”?

I was rational at that moment. Bad thoughts were not bugging me. I had a stoic attitude during those days. I viewed the loss of a job as a broken shoestring. I just needed a new 1.

Is a stoic approach not a bad way of living? A denial of emotions and focusing on the current steps. I once read a book about stoicism and one of the lessons was to shield myself against negative thoughts and let the positive feelings in.

I still remember that great feeling, when my young co-workers were excited about announcement of the workshop 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Or feel the excitement of my colleagues on projects. Or that warm smile of me, when I heard “You are all smiling.”, when I told my plan to a friend.

Does this Circle of Influence make me bullet proof against bad feelings? No.
During the writing of this blog post I felt the loss of my former manager and the disappointment of my colleagues. As a tester I am still busy to keep my emotions under control. And I think, that it can be useful to show, that I am not pleased with a particular situation.

I am a testing human being, not a testing robot.

Teaching = Learning

This week I sent 2 proposals for the Spring Event to TestNet, the Dutch Special Interest Group in Software Testing. One was for a presentation for 3 quarters of an hour, the other one for a workshop of 1 and a 1/2 hour. The process of writing proposals was time consuming and intense. My proposals will be rated and then ranked against the other proposals. Finally I will be notified, whether I have a speaker slot.

In 1992 I went to my first Dutch Juggling Convention. I was thrilled; I would be performing in the Public Show. It had taken me months to acquire the Blow Off Your Socks level of juggling. (I still dropped my juggling prop though.) The first part of the convention was a long warming up for my act.

On the first day I walked in the gym. I noticed a few people juggling, but a big white paper sheet drew my attention. It was a table. On one side time slots were mentioned, on the other workshop areas. 2 or 3 workshops had been filled in.  A marker was hanging on a string.

I am still amused, how simple it is to book a workshop for myself on a juggling convention. No rating, no ranking. Just write down my name, juggling prop, and level. Or one name and two nouns. (The only exception I experienced is an International Juggling Association convention, but that is another story.)

There are many possible reasons, why I signed up to give a workshop. I only wanted to share knowledge about juggling. My favourite juggling prop is the devilstick. Wouldn’t it be great, if there were more good jugglers with a devilstick? So this workshop was not planned. A coincidence to happen.

If there is a huge juggling convention which cannot be ignored by a mainstream juggler, then it is the European one. My first European Juggling Convention was in Leeds. This time I came fully prepared. I had rehearsed two workshops for devilsticking in English, which definitely differs from my native language Dutch. The schedule of each workshop I had written down and memorised. And the tricks and combinations were still evolving during my preparations. The most difficult part was to locate the workshop schedule. You still remember that big white thing on the wall attached to a marker. I had planned two workshops, but gave a total of 3 workshops. Good response can be a nudge in the right direction.

Looking back I notice exciting patterns:

  • Determine the biggest step people can take and still follow me.
    [Blank faces.]
  • Discover and share new tricks and combinations, because attendees love them.
    “Did you write a book?”

The most important thing I learned was to observe the attendees. A struggle with the devilstick triggered the reaction: I had either been unclear or combined too many movements. So their struggle became my struggle. By dissecting my juggling tricks for my workshop pupils I learned more than I imagined. I determined the elementary movements to make more combinations.

Once a young woman was impressed by my flurry of movements of the devilstick. Then a man remarked dryly: “He is just combining a few little tricks.”

Let’s go back to testing. It is my way to earn my living after all. In one consultancy company I had to earn my place as a teacher or workshop leader. I spoke with several colleagues about test courses. Yes, they were looking for new teachers. My pitch was: “I have more than 15 year of experience with giving workshops in juggling.”

In the meantime I started to teach mind mapping to my colleagues. The whole process of dissection repeated for me: why do you add branches clockwise? What is a fast way to make a mind map? A lot of questions, which bothered the attendees. I learned to mind map according to the rules, but also using mind map programs working around their restrictions.
BTW I wrote this post using a mind map program while commuting. I moved and added branches to make this a compelling story. Hopefully.

My pitch became: “I have experience with teaching mind maps to colleagues in our company. These are my scores from their feedback.”

Once I had a funny insight to illustrate testing Virtual Reality with juggling. I had one brilliant test idea to start with. My colleagues were supportive and a Bit sceptic (with a capital B). To everyone’s surprise my proposal was accepted in 2008. The preparation gave me lots of energy and inspiration. What is a good test idea and why? Let me break it down for you and show it to you with Real Life juggling.

Then I noticed that there were more people willing to speak than available speaker slots in a test conference. As you might have guessed: I did not speak at many test conferences.

I started to miss the thoughts in my head breaking down my testing examples and improving them. So I began to experiment on my work, but that was not enough.

Why not start a blog and write about mind mapping, SFDIPOT, and 2 screens?  Wouldn’t it be great, if there are more good testers? So this blog post was not planned. A coincidence to happen.