Let’s Test prequel with Johan Jonasson

As a prequel to the Let’s Test conference in May, I interviewed some of the European context-driven testers. Today we have Johan Jonasson from the House of Test with us who also co-organized the conference.

Markus Gärtner: Hi Johan, could you please introduce yourself? Who are you? What do you do for work?
Johan Jonasson: I work as a test consultant, coach and trainer at House of Test, a multi-national company that offers context-driven consulting, training and outsourcing services throughout Scandinavia. I’m also engaged in different global and local community initiatives, like AST, EAST and SWET, which has lately resulted in me becoming involved in the community lead Let’s Test conference on context-driven testing. I’m passionate about both gaining and spreading knowledge about testing and so try to spend as much time as I can advocating a growth mindset among testers.

Markus Gärtner: Out-sourcing of context-driven testing? How do you do that? Do you have to convince clients about your services?
Johan Jonasson: The way you present and provide a context-driven service doesn’t really change that much if you do it as outsourcing compared to on-site work. We offer a flexible and adaptable outsourcing solution that is free from pre-packaged “best practices”. Instead we look at the specific problem the client needs to solve and we tailor the entire solution, after that problem. The goal is to give the client what they need, and figure out what that need is in close collaboration with the client, not sell them a standard “one-size-fits-all” bogus solution. It means doing a bit more work up front, but we believe the pay off for the client is much greater than with non-context-driven outsourcing.

Markus Gärtner: How have you crossed the path of context-driven testing?
Johan Jonasson: I first came into contact with the community in 2007, when I first met James Bach and attended his Rapid Software Testing class. About a year later, I founded House of Test and joined the Association for Software Testing to be able to learn more about context-driven testing. Today I try to help the community grow in Europe, through conferences and workshops and also by helping out with the AST’s BBST training program as an assistant instructor.

Markus Gärtner: How do you apply context-driven testing at your workplace?
Johan Jonasson: One of the principles of the context-driven school is that people, working together, are the most important part of any project’s context. This is something I always try to emphasize wherever I work. I always go to great lengths trying to promote effective communication and collaboration in the workplace, because I believe that when people stop communicating, it’s only a matter of time before the project breaks down. Also, I’m not a big fan of trying to predict the future to any greater extent than maybe the coming few days. Being context-driven is about doing the best we can with what we get, and by working together in a project and staying flexible to change so that we can better counter the unknown unknowns or whatever other curve balls our surroundings choose to throw at us.

Markus Gärtner: How do you promote communication and collaboration? One of the biggest struggles in the testing world I see, is that testers should be kept separated, maybe even locked away from the rest of the development team. What is your answer to such claims?
Johan Jonasson: That’s one of the ideas I try to abolish as part of my promoting communication and collaboration. I don’t buy the argument about how separation of testers and programmers should help testers do more “bias free” blackbox testing. We have a ton of biases that we carry with us anyway that we need to become aware of and deal with and I don’t (personally) see insight into the inner workings of a product to be a very problematic bias, unless you have a strong tendency for confirmation bias to begin with, but then there’s your problem right there.

I think that isolating any part of a development teams is generally speaking a bad idea. I don’t believe that information silos lead to any advantages for anybody in the long run and it certainly impacts the value I can provide as a tester if I’m kept in the dark or separated from programmers, architects or business analysts. Getting to know more about a product by communicating with the rest of the team or with the customer is crucial for me in order to craft a proper testing strategy for myself. Take for example the Heuristic Test Strategy Model which encourages testers to (aside from considering quality criteria) become aware of a wide range of factors in the project environment as well as numerous product elements in order to select appropriate methods, approaches and techniques to test the product both efficiently and effectively. I think that makes much more sense than separating certain people from the information.

Markus Gärtner: What are the challenges you see in Europe’s testing culture? What are your replies to these challenges?
Johan Jonasson: I think one of the major challenges is that we’ve been focusing too long on planning, prediction, measuring, coverage and control as the only way of “assuring” quality. Testers in Europe have also been predisposed to only do “checking” for the longest time, with a high emphasis on confirming existing beliefs and explicit requirement rather than focusing on discovery and experimentation in their testing. In other words, the European testing culture has been dominated by only asking questions like “Does this function do what I expect it to do?” instead of asking more questions like “What happens if I do this?”.

Testers have slowly started to come around to a more deliberate way of critiquing the products they test, rather than just verifying that they work as designed, but there’s still a long way to go. I think we need to encourage more creativity and curiosity in the way we work, or we’ll risk ending up in a situation where we as testers produce no more value than an automated script, and projects where “Black Swans” can roam freely and destroy entire development projects.

One of my replies to these challenges is to encourage human testers to do more heuristic based testing, and work more with high level test ideas rather than detailed test cases. This allows for the occasional serendipitous discovery of impossible to predict bugs which, if left undiscovered, can kill a product in the marketplace.

Markus Gärtner: Consider time-travelling being possible today. What would you change in the history of software testing, if you could?
Johan Jonasson: If time-travelling was possible, I’d probably travel forward and not backwards, because I’d like to see what “comes next” for us all. But if I were to travel back (and if I could convince myself to limit my tinkering to only software testing history…), I’d try to make sure more testers learned about the works of e.g. Jerry Weinberg and Cem Kaner at a much earlier point in time. I’d try to not touch too much else, or I’d probably risk causing too much “positive damage” to the present. Or maybe I’ll just add some awareness of the difference between exploring and verifying too, and abolish the idea that testing doesn’t require any skill, and… No, that’s it. Better to quit while you’re ahead. :-)

Markus Gärtner: Imagine the world in 20 years. What has happened to software testing
that will make us pursue this craft for the next two decades?
Johan Jonasson: I think testers are heading for a bright future, but we’ll lose a few people on the way going there, but that’s actually ok. The reason is that so much testing being done today is really fake testing, and that needs to stop. Fake testing can be done in many ways, but it’s almost always recognizable by its obvious lack of conscious thought or drive. It’s testing done as painting by numbers, going through the motions, all handed down scripts and no creativity. It’s what’s been called “ceremonious testing” by James Bach, or “the testing theater” by Ben Kelly. I believe we’ll see less of this in the future. That probably means we’ll see fewer testers, too, because quite frankly, testing requires a growth mindset in order for testers to keep up with the evolution of software development, and unfortunately that doesn’t seem to strike a chord with all testers in the industry today.

I’m not saying that all testers need to learn how to code, because I don’t think they do. But I’m saying that all testers need to at least read a book on software testing, any book really, or some blogs, or a few articles. And I think they need to share those experiences, and their experience from their day to day work, with other testers and learn from each other. And last but not least, I think this should be the first thing a junior tester gets encouraged to do in their career, not study for a multiple-choice test in order to get yet another piece of paper saying they’ve passed an exam.

Too few testers today seem eager to learn and develop existing or new skills and so they will probably be left behind as the people who pay for testing services become more informed. Right now, we often seem to be in a situation that Scott Barber has described as “The under-informed, leading the under-trained, to do the irrelevant.” and I want to encourage testers to eliminate that as the status quo.

So are the people who pay money for testing services becoming more informed? I have seen some evidence of that, yes, but it’s not happening fast enough. That’s why I think community driven initiatives in the testing industry, like the peer workshops that we’ve started to adopt all over Europe, are so incredibly important. The community needs to come together and through discussion and debate forge the tools needed to explain to big businesses why software testing is worth doing well, and to spread that message far and wide. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck competing for the spotlight with people advocating for more fake testing that “anybody can do, and that’s why it’s so cheap”. Also, scores of potentially pretty good testers will continue to view testing as nothing more than a stepping stone towards getting a more “qualified” software development gig, and so they never bother to learn what real testing looks like, and they will carefully stay away from anything that might “infect them” with some passion for software testing, which makes it even less likely that they’ll stick around and help develop the craft. In 20 years, we will have hopefully broken this cycle, or the cycle will have broken us. Either way, I think it’s in our power to decide which future we want to see.

Markus Gärtner: What will happen after Let’s Test? What do you plan to take away from it?
Johan Jonasson: After Let’s Test 2012 we’ll start planning for Let’s Test 2013! The response from the testing community has been great and we have high expectations that this will be a really great and unique event that we can continue to build upon and improve for years to come. I’m hoping to take away many great learnings and experiences that are shared by all the awesome testers, both speakers and attendees, who are flying in from all over Europe and the rest of the world that I’ll meet at the conference. I’m hoping that people who come to the conference will go home feeling energized and ready to either seek out some of the great local context-driven communities that exist all around Europe, or start new ones where they don’t already exist. Finally, I also hope of course that we’ll all leave Let’s Test having made many new friends that we can continue to share experiences and debate new ideas with even after the conference ends. Another really cool thing with meeting places like this is that you get to meet people that you’ve maybe previously only known through their Twitter feed or blog, and looking at the list of people who’ve already registered and the list of speakers, Let’s Test will surely give people that opportunity, too.

Markus Gärtner: One final question: If you knew one year in the past what you knew
today, would you still (or again?) organize a conference like Let’s Test?
Johan Jonasson: Yes, without a doubt. It’s a lot of work for sure, but it’s really a privilege to be able to be involved in a thing like this, and to be part of all the discussions and see the positive reactions from the community. It’s well worth it.

Markus Gärtner: Thanks for your time, Johan. I look forward meeting up with you at Let’s Test, and meeting all the other context-driven folks there.

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