Stealing from Science

The Helix Nebula is 700 light-years away from Earth, but screened before audience's eyes in reconstructed 3D in Hidden Universe, released in IMAX® theatres and giant-screen cinemas around the globe and produced by the Australian production company December Media in association with Film Victoria, Swinburne University of Technology, MacGillivray Freeman Films and ESO. The original image was taken by ESO's VISTA Telescope.

The Helix Nebula is 700 light-years away from Earth. The original image was taken by ESO’s VISTA Telescope.

I just finished the short but very powerful book A Briefer History of Time, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Space and how the universe works is something that has always fascinated me. I think it’s all the unanswered questions and the urge to understand what it ALL means, and the wonder of what may be out there.

A Briefer History of Time is a result of feedback about the original book A Brief History of Time in which many people requested a more accessible version. I for one am happy this was done as it’s now a great introduction to Hawking’s (and other’s) work which was relatively easy to grasp. Now that I have a taste for it, and a slightly better grasp, I’ll continue on and read his other works.

As I read non-fiction books I often think about lessons that can be misappropriated and applied to software testing. This wasn’t my specific goal while reading this book, but one that lingers in the background all the time. It’s often been discussed that testing can take many queues from science, and specifically the scientific method. I’m not going to try and put a new spin on this, but did have some ‘light bulb’ moments when reading this book that I wanted to share.

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Every Tester is a Performance Tester

…at least to some degree. Well, there are human conditions that distort the perception of time but it’s highly unlikely that you’re one of them. So you are a performance tester too.

The biggest annoyance for a performance tester is to get code into a performance environment that CLEARLY has issues that can be detected by the simplest means available (well.. second most annoying, as finding obvious functional defects is even worse). This is where you as a (whatever kind of) tester come in.

You know the times you drum your fingers on the desk waiting for that spinning wheel in the browser to come back? The batch job where the execution is exactly “making one cup of coffee” long? The usual response from you would be to shrug and say something like “This is just the environment. It’s system test afterall.” or “Let performance testing take care of it”.

Now, I can totally relate to such sentiments! We’re all busy and have deadlines to meet. I’d make the case though that you’d actually help the project as a whole and thereby yourself too by not ignoring such issues.

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Intent Driven Testing

Some weeks ago I saw John Hockenberry‘s talk “We are all designers”. It really struck a chord in me. The whole concept of intent and what part it plays in our lives. I’ll quote some parts of what he said:

Design — bad design, there’s just no excuse for it. It’s letting stuff happen without thinking about it. Every object should be about something, John. It should imagine a user. It should cast that user in a story starring the user and the object.

Good design … is about supplying intent.

It’s as though intent is an essential component for humanity. It’s what we’re supposed to do somehow.We’re supposed to act with intent. We’re supposed to do things by design. Intent is a marker for civilization.

An object devoid of intent –it’s random, it’s imitative, it repels us. It’s like a piece of junk mail to be thrown away. This is what we must demand of our lives, of our objects, of our things, of our circumstances: living with intent.

For weeks now there is a blog post of mine unpublished. It is all around the small things that count in testing. But I wasn’t really happy with it. Something was missing or I wasn’t getting the point I was trying to make. Today it dawned on me what was missing. It was the INTENT John talks about above.

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