Let’s Test: If it’s not context-driven, you can’t do it here

At the Let’s Test conference, the first ever context-driven testing conference in Europe, Michael Bolton delivered the first keynote on Monday morning. He was talking about context-driven testing – what else?

Michael emphasized that the title of the talk is irony. He was surprised to find out that people took it serious when he held the talk for the first time.

Michael mentioned the “How to think about science” series. He mentioned the starting point of scientific experiments when people started to investigate influences of air on the human body system. This was the first time an intersection between engineering and art came into place with the air pump. Everyone had one.

Robert Boyle introduced the term of fact-based experimentation. He tried to solve a human issue by inviting people to his experiments so they could witness the results.

On the other hand Thomas Hobbes argued against Boyle’s method. He approached the scientific problem from a philosophy point of view. One of Hobbes principle objections was that Boyle started his experiments based on the models that led him to come up with the experiment. The second objection Hobbes had about Boyle’s experiments is that he didn’t solve the social problem underlying the arguments of the time. Mere evidence doesn’t convince people – Knowledge has a social dimension.

Michael concluded referring to work from Kuhn and others that the whole body of scientific method was questioned in the 1980s. They found out that scientists were merely good at convincing others of their approach and their results, but didn’t lead to generalizable insights, but merely observed facts. At the same point, it seems that similar debates started to rise in the testing community as well.

Michael read a part from “The gift of time”, a gift for the life and work of Jerry Weinberg. He referenced a section from James Bach’s chapter, where Jerry trapped him into insights about testing and testers. Testers know that some things can be different.

Michael referred to the seven principles of the context-driven school. He pointed out that every principle carries uncertainty in it. In a complex world, we have to be able to deal with uncertainty.

Michael raised the point that we are in the middle of a big change. This change started in the 1820s/1830s with the uprising of electricity. Michael continued to challenge that in traditional testing, the only kind of certainty comes from test cases and test plans. Is that all we have to provide for certainty? Is that all you need? I agree with Michael here – from a distance it sounds rubbish.

A key part of our service is to reduce unwarranted and potentially damaging certainty about the product. Science has been going through significant changes over the last few decades. Testing cannot make any absolute promises about what it delivers. Instead we deliver partial answers that might be useful. Testers are anthropologists in the field of software development projects. We observe what happens, and provide our observations. But we don’t make the decisions about dealing with the uncertainty.

Michael concluded the keynote by pointing to the third principle of the context-driven school:

People, working together, are the most important part of any project’s context.

He explained that this means that we have to develop ourselves so that we as testers can be a valuable part of the projects that we are working on.

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Test: If it’s not context-driven, you can’t do it here”

  1. Just like science is about describing unknown unknown to known unknown and known unknown to known known by experimentation, testing has the same objective. We can learn from science as much as we can from testing. By doing this we create certainly to a level that helps make informed decision and understand reality. All this has to be done with humans in mind and benefit to social aspect of everyday life.

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