June 22nd, 2009 | Published in Google Testing
The Plague of Aimlessness
Lore. It’s more than just a cool word. It conjures up a sorcerous image in one’s mind of ancient spell books and learned wizards with arcane and perilously attained knowledge.
And it’s exactly what we lack in software testing. Testing lore? Are you kidding me? Where is it? Who’s bogarting it? Can I have a hit?
The software testing industry is infected with the plague of aimlessness. We lack lore; we lack a body of knowledge that is passed from wizard to apprentice and written down in spell books for the industrious to study. Our apprentices are without their masters. We must all reinvent the wheel in the privacy of our offices only to have other testers the world over reinvent it in theirs.
I suggest we stop this nonsense. Testing is far too aimless. We test because we must or our manager tells us to do so. We automate because we can or because we know how to, not because it is part of some specific and proven strategy and certainly not because our lore dictates it. Is there a plan or some documented wisdom that guides our testing or are we just banging on the keyboard hoping something will fail? Where are the testing spell books? Surely the perilously attained knowledge of our tester forebears is something that we can access in this age of readily available information?
When a hunter makes a kill, they remember the terrain and circumstances. They pass this knowledge on to their successors. Over time they understand the habits of their prey and the collective knowledge of many hunters makes the job of future hunters far easier. When you see this terrain, you can expect game to behave in this manner. Can we say the same of testing? How well do we learn from each other? Do our ‘eureka moments’ get codified so that future testers will not have to suffer the aimless thrashing that we suffered? Can we say when you see functionality like that, the best way to test it is like this?
The plague of aimlessness is widespread. The need for testing lore is acute. Nike tells us to ‘just do it’ but what applies to exercise is not good advice for software testing. The next time you find yourself ‘just doing’ testing, pause for a moment and ask yourself ‘what is my goal?’ and ‘is there a purpose to this test?’ If the answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, you’re aimless, just doing it, and relying on luck and the sheer force of effort to find your quarry.
Luck has no place in sorcery or hunting and it has no place in testing. Luck is a nice happenstance, but it cannot be our plan A. Watch for the plague of aimlessness. Document your successes, scrutinize your failures and make sure you pass on what you learn from this introspection to your colleagues.
Be their wizard. Build a testing spell book and share it with others on your team. Over time you’ll banish the plague of aimlessness.