July 13th, 2009 | Published in Google Testing
There are two types of amnesia that plague software testers. We have team amnesia that causes us to forget our prior projects, our prior bugs, tests, failures and so forth. It’s time we developed a collective memory that will help us to stop repeating our mistakes. Every project is not a fresh start, it's only a new target for what is now a more experienced team. The star ship Enterprise keeps a ship's log. A diary that documents its crews’ adventures and that can be consulted for details that might help them out of some current jam. I'm not advocating a diary for test teams, but I do want a mechanism for knowledge retention. The point is that as a team we build on our collective knowledge and success. The longer the Enterprise crews' memory, the better their execution.
Quick, tell me about the last major failure of your teams’ product? Does your team have a collective memory of common bugs? Do you share good tests? If one person writes a test that verifies some functionality does everyone else know this so they can spend their time testing elsewhere? Do problems that break automation get documented so the painstaking analysis to fix them doesn’t have to be repeated? Does the team know what each other is doing so that their testing overlaps as little as possible? Is this accomplished organically with dashboards and ongoing communication or are the only sync points work-stopping, time-wasting meetings? Answer honestly. The first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem.
The second type of memory problem is industry amnesia. When I mentioned Boris Beizer and the pesticide paradox in my last post, how many of you had to look it up? And those who did know about it, how's your AJAX skills? Be honest...there are folks with both a historical perspective and modern skills but they are far too rare. Our knowledge, it seems, isn’t collective, it’s situational. Those who remember Beizer's insights worked in a world where AJAX didn’t exist, those who webspeak without trouble missed a lot of foundational thinking and wisdom. Remembering only what is in front of us is not really memory.
Industry amnesia is a real problem. Think about it this way: That testing problem in front of you right now (insert a problem that you are working on here) has been solved before. Are you testing an operating system? Someone has, many of them. Web app? Yep, that’s been done. AJAX? Client-server? Cloud service? Yes, yes and yes. Chances are that what you are currently doing has been done before. There are some new testing problems but chances are the one in front of you now isn’t one of them. Too bad the collective memory of the industry is so bad or it would be easy to reach out for help.
Let me end this column by pointing my finger inward: How will we (Google) test the newly announced Chrome operating system? How much collective knowledge have we developed from Chrome and Android? How much of what we learned testing Android will help? How much of it will be reusable? How easily will the Chrome and Andriod test teams adapt to this new challenge? Certainly many test problems are ones we've faced before.
Will we remember?