Testing is an Approach, a Way of Looking at Things, Discovering Errors That Others Overlook
Testing is a way of looking at things in a way that is different than that of those who work with their products daily. From a different perpective, things are seen in different ways and errors are picked up that otherwise would be overseen. This applies not only to software development, but also to many areas that a "tester" has contact with. I would like to share a personal story that illustrates this point.
Several years ago, by way of a misunderstanding resulting from being new in a foreign country, I landed in a Trainer Development Program for Field Hockey sponsered by the German Sports Federation and the German Trainer Academy, which ran over 6 long weekends. Most of the other students were active players at the First Division Level, some were members of the Junior National Team, and the instructor was a 2-time Capitain of a German Silver Medal Olympic Team. I was rather in shock the first day of the course, as my own scant background in Field Hockey consisted of playing 2 years in middle school, and then less than a year as coach of the 6-8 year old boys in our local sports club when my son requested to join hockey, and I was drafted to coach.
I was overwhelmed and at first feeling badly about my own relative feeble abilities, especially after being corrected with irritation by our Olympic Capitain on the most basic skills, but I am not a quitter and what I start, I intend to finish, so I turned things to the positive and instead of cringing at the high level of skill the others displayed, I turned on my observation skills to learn the honed skills that they demonstrated. There is no better way to learn a sport than to follow the example of people who are properly executing the skills. In addition to observing the experts, I poured over the documented material provided to us, on how to execute each skill.
Soon, by the end of the first weekend, I was receiving praise from our Olympic Capitain, "Gut, Andrea", as I learned the right way to execute a fake, and move with the ball around an opponent. At the end of the weekend, I confessed to him that I had not played much Field Hockey, and the little played was very long ago, but that I was a quick learner. He said, that he had already noticed that I could pick things up quickly.
By the second weekend I was correcting the course documents on skill procedures. Step by step, analyzing, visualizing, and trying out the documented procedure of a basic skill, I found that one step was impossible in the series. I went over it with the Olympic Capitain, and he agreed with me, and forwarded the correction to his associate who prepared the documents (a Sports Science graduate). I further found this same error in a current Field Hockey book, from where it appeared our document had its source. The book had been in circulation for a few years and the document in the training course for several sessions, but it took almost a complete outsider to find the error. The professionals that produced and used the information had not reviewed the material in critical detail.
On the weekend of our certification, ocurred the ultimate example of how an outsider can see blatent errors, that professionals with daily contact to them have long since overseen because they have become such a regular part of the sport, little by little, over time. We were watching a match of the teen boys, the last age group before the men's division. One player after the other raised their stick behind them to shoulder height, or even above, sending hard, fast shots on goal. I waited for a whistle, as I had been schooled that the stick may not exceed hip height. No whistle. I thought I must have not seen right, and watched on. Again I saw the high "stixs", heard no whistle, and doubted my own observation powers and understanding of the rules. Finally, as our Olympic Captain was standing right besides me, I braved to ask him about my doubts.
"The players are raising their sticks above shoulder and even head height when they take a shot. I thought that was not allowed," I said. The Olympic Captain, responding with big, questioning eyes, "Who is doing that?" "Everyone, it appears", I said. A young player in his early 20's standing next to us, overhearing our conversation, piped in and said, "That is normal, everyone hits the ball with their stick up that high. It's the normal way to hit the ball." So, as I saw the Capitain with kind of a shocked look on his face, I realized I might be onto something, and asked, "We used to call that the STIX offence when the stick is raised that high. Do you teach to raise the stick that high?" ( I had remembered him showing us to bring the stick behind us to hip height) Heiner was totally shaking his head no, "No, I don't instruct that."
He looked rather undone by this outsider's observation. And when this offense has become so integrated that the young players, who are becoming Trainers are calling it normal, the referees are not calling it, and even the professionals are not seeing it, Heiner has to ask himself what happened, how did it get to this point, and can or should we change it when it has become part of the current game??????
I hope you have stuck with me through this story to see how errors can become "part of the game", and how an outsider with a certain approach and outsider's perspective can raise issues of correctness that a whole community has overlooked. We can also see how uncomfortable a professional can become with these newly raised issues. I find that my mentor had a real dilimma. Here is an old pro (he was Capitain back in the 70's), who has not seen this offence gradually become a normal part of the game, and a novice, outsider, whom he had to correct on basic skills the first day, point out the integration of this offence, which is one that comprimises the safety of the game. At this point it appears that he can't do much to stop the continuation of it, at least in the short run. Anyway, it is not my responsibility to take action on this infomation, I am a tester and fulfilled my obligation to find, question, and report the errors. However, I wonder if anything has been done to reverse the trend of "integrated STIX", or just carried on in the same routines. The easiest thing to do would be just to ignore this outsider's observation. I am quite sure the young player, now trainer, keeps on doing it and now teaching what he finds "normal"....
I just don't know what to do if I am referreeing a game. Should I blow the whistle or not when the stick comes up too high? I think I will just stick to working with the youngest kids, for whom "normal" has not become integrated. I can just imagine blowing my whistle on the young adults, and having a stampeed with sticks overhead in my direction yelling, "What are you blowing your whistle for!"..... Testers should also, I suppose, be able to run very fast, and duuuuuck !!! (when necessary)
This site is intended to advertise Andrea Altenkirch's Testing and QA Services, but, on the side, .....
If you are interested in Field Hockey locally, please visit my new site www.TriangleFieldHockey.com, where I am coordinating the development of Recreational Field Hockey in the Triangle Region.