Are You a Software Explorer?
Exploratory testing is an art.
For some it is a passion, and the only way to do testing critically, skillfully, and effectively. It is an opportunity to use your brain, not only in day-to-day life, but also at work (imagine!).
…To be paid for questioning and thinking, not to blindly do what someone else said should be done.
…To feel alive!
After being introduced to exploratory testing by Michael Bolton several years ago, I never looked back. It supported all the feelings I had about the dire write-tests-run-tests-ho-hum-drudgery I found myself in early in my career in testing software.
In those days I believed there was a better way to do testing, and so I did it amongst the management-mandated ‘test plans’ (word documents with lists of test cases to be executed). I explored the software, aiming to find the next bug all on my own, using my wits and smarts.
I never knew that others were doing this too. I never knew that other people were alive on the high of being software detectives just as I was; that they were hunting down the elusive bugs that everyone knew existed, but only a small few could find.
I especially did not know that people like James Bach and Michael Bolton had put a name to the testing I enjoyed – Exploratory Testing. How wonderful it was to discover that a revolution was afoot!
I was even more excited when I discovered that James had created something called Session-Based Test Management (SBTM) to help manage the exploratory testing that people did for a project. Wow! It was exactly what I needed at the time to take exploratory testing into the main stream in my department. It created an opportunity to work with team members to more formally and effectively coach on and track the work we were doing and the coverage we were obtaining. It was just enough data collection to satisfy management, yet not so much that it was seen as unruly overhead for the testers.
In the years since, I have moved away from doing a lot of hands-on testing myself.
Thinking RFID by Jacob Boetter
Instead I have enabled dozens of people to become skilled testers, and transitioned several departments over to using exploratory testing (for small projects through to large programs).
I have found ways to meld the management of exploratory testing into uber-SBTM spreadsheets, home-grown applications created by co-op students, small test management applications, and even popular large scale test management programs.
I have continued to coach and teach testers to think, to be critical, to question, to become skilled at a variety of test techniques, and to find passion in their work (or find it elsewhere!). And I have learned so much from each of these people along the way.
I did all this by working and collaborating extensively with a number of equally passionate, skilled, questioning, and thinking testers. I feel privileged to have worked with so many talented people.
While I love the work that I have done, and am doing now, I admit that I sometimes miss the thrill of the hunt.
- I miss tracking the scent of a bug, and the thrill of a capture.
- I miss solving the riddles of elusive bugs that are so challenging to locate that it takes a collaboration of several people to figure it out.
- I miss the quiet satisfaction in unearthing a problem that is both disturbing and unexpected, where team members stand in awe of your accomplishment.
- Most of all, I miss the day-to-day collaboration and learning from other testers while working together on the latest and greatest software.
But I love what I do, and I am passionate about my work. I am an explorer by nature, yet there are more technically capable testers out there than I. So instead, I am fortunate in being able to enable their abilities as skilled, thinking, exploring, questioning, passionate testers.
So now I ask you…. Are you a software explorer yet?
If not, what are you waiting for?!
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*Note: This post is a carryover from an old blog, posted 12/16/09 at selenadelesie.com. I’m reposting in it’s original form, as it may be of interest to some people.
Comments from the original post
Melissa Copley December 16th, 2009 at 11:39 am
YES! I am an explorer and I LOVE IT. It is very much a part of my personality — occasionally to the point of annoyance for my husband.
I work at Atomic Object and we’re starting to make this part of our new projects. It compliments our TDD practices and supports our large automated test suites with real user interaction examination and exposes subjective issues as well as all kinds of weird & crazy interaction issues. No project should be exposed to end users without someone exploring it and evaluating how the user is going to perceive (and break) the software. For this reason I find that personas are one of my favorite resources for creating test paths from. They bring me all those things you listed as currently missing about not being “on the hunt”. It’s so thrilling!
Thanks for writing so passionately about such an valuable practice. It really does need more exposure than it’s currently getting. I’m glad to hear you’re out there promoting and teaching it.