A Tester’s Christmas Carol

I was recently interviewed by our marketing manager Lisa Tjapkes as part of her ongoing series of profiles on the people who work at Atomic. The interview itself was fun and made me think. Then after I’d had a little time to reflect on my answers, it made me think even more. In hindsight, I think there’s something to learn not just from the answers to her questions, but by the way I arrived at those responses—and it put me in mind of Scrooge and his ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

One of the questions Lisa asked was how I see the future of testing. Reflecting on this afterwards, I had to think about why I had answered the way I did. What had led me to these conclusions, and how certain was I? What other futures could there be? What was I doing to prepare myself for the future?

She also asked which skills from my past have come in handy with testing—another great question that had me scratching my head then, and for a long time afterwards. To answer, I had to think about which skills I use, how and when I acquired them, and whether they were skills I had used in other areas.

An example I came up with was my time as a soccer coach for an U9 girls team. Initially I planned every coaching session to the minute. This didn’t work too well in reality, the girls chatted, either struggled to do the skill I was trying to teach or did it easily and wanted to move on. So I took a more open-ended approach and had an overall aim for the session but modified things on the fly as the situation demanded.

For software testing I found I took the same approach—initially I thought that testing meant planning everything out beforehand and writing and then running a pile of test scripts. I soon find this approach was inefficient and moving to an exploratory approach where you have a basic plan for a testing session and them modify your testing as you go was giving much better results.

Going back to the interview questions, in both cases, I found a pattern in the way I answered:

  1. Look back at the skills I’ve been using. (Revisit the Past.)
  2. Look at what I’m currently doing more or less of and what skills I may be missing. (A reflection on the Present.)
  3. Look forward and anticipate the skills I will need–and how I will get them. (A peek at the Yet to Come.)

It may be the holiday season now, but I found this exercise so useful that I now aim to repeat it every few months.