Dipping One’s Toes Into Testing

Aline Lanckneus, Experience Reports, Software Testing

How does one get into testing? From what I’ve heard, most testers don’t go to “testing school” but they simply fall into it. The same applies to me. 4 weeks ago I was attending a coding bootcamp where I found myself longing for any kind of feedback and mentorship. About 3 weeks ago I was offered a contract by Isle of IT as a junior test consultant. That’s how many weeks I have dedicated so far attempting to learn everything there is to learn about testing. 

Before all of this I was realising a lifelong dream, becoming a veterinarian. Obviously, if you’ve read the paragraph above, you’ll know this particular dream didn’t work out in the end. Instead of talking about why I decided to end my veterinarian career, a question I have had to answer too many times in the last couple of months, I’ll briefly talk about the skills I believe and hope are transferable to testing. 

Aline and Geert in Ardennes

Aline and Geert in Ardennes

Testing Powers and Veterinarians

Asking questions for example. When diagnosing an animal, we learn to ask questions. In general, you aim to ask just the right amount of questions. Ask too many, you might annoy the owners, ask too few, you might miss crucial information necessary to achieve a correct diagnosis for your patient. 

Communicating, unfortunately as a veterinarian sometimes you need to deliver really, really bad news to people. Delivering this news in a thoughtful and compassionate way is of the utmost importance. Obviously, communicating skills are useful when dealing with people in general. I remember one of my professors once saying, imagine a brilliant and greatly skilled veterinarian who doesn’t have the best social skills. Most owners would eventually stop seeing this veterinarian, despite his/her geniousness. Now imagine a veterinarian who cuts corners, delivers mediocre work and is mostly interested in ways to earn as much money as possible, with the least amount of effort. (I’d like to think this particular kind of veterinarian is rare) This incredibly charismatic veterinarian could sell his/her customers anything. You better believe customers will keep coming back, despite not necessarily getting the best possible treatment for their beloved pets. Now I don’t believe I fit into either of these categories, I imagine myself sitting somewhere in the middle. I do feel like I learned some very valuable communication skills during my training and while I was working. And I believe those skills transfer to testing.

The ability to observe, as a veterinarian a trained eye and attention to details comes in handy. Diagnosing orthopaedic conditions for example includes observing an animal from every angle, in motion but also when standing still or sitting. The slightest abnormality in stance or gait could be caused by an orthopaedic problem.When imaging techniques are not possible for whatever reason, a veterinarian depends solely on his/her capability to observe.

Lastly, my favourite subject in university was pathology, you might think that’s quite a morbid statement. What kind of veterinarian prefers to work with animals who are already deceased? Well, what I personally loved about it was the detective work. I thoroughly enjoyed searching for clues, every clue being a piece of the puzzle. I assume testing resembles detective work in a way and that you end up searching for clues in order to understand the bigger picture.

An Island with Herons nesting, Belgium

An Island with Herons nesting, Belgium

Start with Why

Back to testing. At the very beginning, the amount of information was overwhelming. Where does one start learning? I had the books, memberships on all kinds of online learning platforms, about a million online resources bookmarked and the entire internet to my disposal. I was all set, I’d spend 8 to 10 hours per day studying, weekends included. I couldn’t tear myself away from my desk. It almost became an obsession to me. I had a lot to prove, to my new co-workers, to my parents and most of all, to myself.

After two weeks of studying I was fortunate enough to get a one on one training with Mark Winteringham (DojoBoss at Ministry of Testing, Automation in Testing advocate, co-founder at Software Testing Clinic, …). I’ll admit I was a bit nervous beforehand, scared I would end up asking stupid questions. I was relieved to hear stupid questions are rare in testing. Luckily Mark did a great job making me feel at ease. 

But then came the question that would give me my first aha moment: 

Why do we test

Weirdly enough, despite my best studying efforts and countless hours spent in front of my computer, I wasn’t prepared for that question. How silly is that? I guess studying for 8 years at university, mostly learning how to jam as much information as possible into my brain, didn’t help me during my current quest.

In the end, I was able to give a decent answer. But only thanks to Mark leading me in the right direction and asking me lots of other questions. 

What is testing? What is quality? What happens when we test? What could happen if we don’t test

The remaining hours we talked a lot about the thought process behind testing. How testing should be about understanding the product and supporting the entire team in understanding it. Testing should be a team effort and as a tester you play an important role in that process. I assume everyone has a different understanding of what testing is, but what Mark was talking about made a lot of sense to me. He also talked about testing strategies and the importance of risks. 

We chose a simple todo-list app and brainstormed about the possible risks. After choosing one risk in particular, Mark asked me to think about how I could test it and on which level of the application we should test. He shared his mnemonic “Say Tatta to your Tuttu’s” that would ignite a certain thinking process which I found immensely interesting. 

He also talked about how visualising the application you are testing can help you in deciding where to test for a certain risk. I was relieved to find out a simple pen and paper can suffice to assist you in your thinking process and in seeing the bigger picture.

I was happy to hear Mark’s view on the role of automation in testing because from what I’ve read and heard so far, this subject in particular is controversial to say the least. We touched on some other subjects like what programming language you should learn when you’re starting out in testing, the asynchronous nature of JavaScript, the importance of distinguishing models from heuristics and so on. 

We were now nearing the end of our online training session. He gave me some final advice on how to structure my learning process, what I should be focusing on first en he provided me with a list of interesting resources. 

Every Learning Journey is Different

This training made me realise I had spent a disproportionate amount of my time learning about automation tools. It was easier to measure my progress this way. Completing tutorials gave me a false sense of progress. But I was fooling myself. I’m very thankful to Mark for helping me reach this conclusion. Now I can continue my learning journey in a way that will benefit me in the end. Focusing on understanding the problem and risks involved first and only at the very end start thinking about which tools to use.

Everything I’ve written down here is my interpretation and I am aware I may have misinterpreted or misunderstood certain things. Maybe I’ll read this blogpost again 5 years from now and have a good laugh. If somehow this blog post would be published publicly and people would actually read it, I am more than happy to hear anyone’s thoughts, questions or comments.

Beren on Nosal, Tatra Mountains

Beren on Nosal, Tatra Mountains

If you made it to the end of this blogpost, bravo! Considering I felt slightly reluctant to write it in the first place it turned out to be way more lengthy than I expected. But it did help me to digest all of the information I have been absorbing these last couple of weeks. Therefore I thank the person who asked me to do this in the first place. I want to thank him as well for introducing me to this fascinating world of testing and for continuously believing in me. Despite the current economic situation we find ourselves in, I feel motivated and hopeful that there is an opportunity out there for me. And I’m excited to represent Isle of IT in the best way I can.