Let’s Test prequel with Jean-Paul Varwijk

As a prequel to the Let’s Test conference in May, I interviewed some of the European context-driven testers. Today we have Jean-Paul Varwijk who became a black-belt in the Miagi-Do school recently-

Markus Gärtner: Hi Jean-Paul, could you please introduce yourself? Who are you? What
do you do for work?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: I live in Houten, which is near Utrecht, in the Netherlands. I am married and father of two boys.

I started testing as a business acceptance tester at Rabobank Nederland back in 1998. It was the time of the Euro introduction and the Millennium bug. As time passed by I found myself shifting from my regular work to testing more and more. Eventually the opportunity arose to become a full time software tester at the Group ICT department in 2004. Including a switch to Rabobank International in 2007 I have been testing a myriad of internal and external software banking products since.

The last couple of years my work has changed from strictly software testing and coordinating to more management oriented tasks. I participate in a number of interdepartmental workgroups and meetings. I am now also engaged in thinking about testing and in writing test policy, test methodology and defining testing skills and needs. The most rewarding change however is that testers and non-testers regularly ask me for my opinion, help or coaching with regard to testing.

Markus Gärtner: On coaching testers, which testing essentials do you see testers
lacking most? How do you help them learning these?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: I see testers missing two things the most. First a lot of testers do not exercise critical thinking in their approach of testing. For some part this could be due to the fact that they see testing as just another job and as long as there is money on the bank it’s a nine to five thing. But what I think is possibly a more worrying reason is the fact that they were taught not to be critical. Many initial test training is based on the premise that software testing is something that you can learn in a couple weeks, get a certificate and a presto you are an excellent tester if only you follow the recipe. A lot of managers buy in to this and judge testing as matching some standard execution based on the requirements. Many a tester sees that this is how it should go and gets away with the appearance of having done this. The second thing I see testers missing the most are practical skills. Stuff like getting to know the product, the context and then to apply appropriate test techniques. With the first I try to help them by setting challenges, make critical comments and to be available as an oracle. For the second part I think they need to practice and take their trade seriously. Here I sometimes give advice or review by asking them to explain their choices. Since I am however involved in projects myself I do not do both as often or as widely as I would like to.

Markus Gärtner: How have you crossed the path of context-driven testing?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: When I started at Rabobank Group ICT in 2004 they had a TMap oriented test methodology in place called START (Structured Testing At Rabobank based on TMap). This methodology, at the time, was heavily process oriented with a lot mandatory deliverables and templates. This always made me a bit rebellious since I did not see the point of many of these artefacts and ceremonies within the context of my projects other than that they were mandatory. After my change to Rabobank International I was able to better adjust my work and the content of documents to suit the stakeholders needs. Until, I think, 2010 I had no idea that there was a school of thought called context-driven testing that held similar ideas to testing. The term happened to be coined at EuroSTAR Copenhagen. Once I had googled for it and started reading blogs I have full heartedly embraced the idea.

Markus Gärtner: How do you apply context-driven testing at your workplace?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: First let me start by pointing out that I am in the lucky position that there are more context-driven testers within my company. I have a great compatriot in, fellow DEWT, Huib Schoots. As we are together in a lateral test managers group we are able to slowly but steadily change the mindset of other managers and testers towards using a context-driven testing approach.

This has expressed itself with less focus on templates and procedures. And has added focus towards the content of test plans, test reports and test activity to suit the project and stakeholders’ needs. This concept is now being incorporated into the test policy and methodology. The organization has a higher focus on teaching the right skills. Testers have an educational budget and have the possibility to visit conferences like the Dutch Testing Conference, EuroSTAR or the Agile Testing Days. Last year we arranged with Michael Bolton to come over for a week and give his Rapid Software Testing class to all our internal and external testers. We organize two test events per year.

Personally I have started to organize quarterly Intervision sessions (on testing) for which we invite expert talkers and discuss with them. Last but not least, I am involved in hiring a larger part of the new testers at our business line and my selection criteria include the testers mindset, her adaptability, her interest in testing outside of work and I have introduced a small challenge during the intake to see how they approach testing.

Markus Gärtner: How do you spot a context-driven tester based on their CV? Do you
think we need some sort of certification program? Why?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: I have no idea. Seriously most CV’s I see are written to please the HR department or else they would not pass the first selection. What I look for though are things like being a member of TestNet, visiting conferences, reading books, and other stuff indicating that you are interested in testing as such. If people have BBST on their CV they would really catch my attention. But I do not think we need specific certification. A certificate to me is just a piece of paper. What I want to hear is why you did a course, what you learned, and how this has helped you. Unfortunately this is something I hardly ever see on an application.

Markus Gärtner: Would you share some of the challenges you give to testers in order to learn about the skills they will need? An example would be helpful right now.
Jean-Paul Varwijk: One of the challenges I have used the last year while interviewing new applicants is something I copied from a James M. Bach lecture. It is a diagram portraying a box with the word Input in it. From here a line is going to a Diamond with the text X>3 and two lines out of that. One towards another box with the text Print and an exit out of it that joins the second exit of the diamond to an end point. I show them the diagram and ask “How would you test this? And please think aloud.” The point of the challenge is that there is no right or wrong solution, but I do want to listen to their reasoning. I think I did that challenge around 25 times last year and sometimes I get a plain answer like “There are 2 test cases” and sometimes I get vivid discussions on what all the single components mean. So far I have only gotten only 1 response, out of 25, that showed real interest and critical thinking and about 5 or 6 where they were going in the right direction.

Markus Gärtner: I assume here that you see context-driven testing as a working alternative to more traditional testing training programmes. What can we do to make the benefits of context-driven testing transparent to others? What are those benefits that you think others will easily take
as a starting point for change?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: That is a tough question to which I unfortunately do not have a readymade answer. Sometimes I get the feeling that people have to flip a switch in their brains to see it. The difficulty is that context-driven testing is not easy, there is no recipe to follow, you need to be a critical thinker and have feeling for your context. Traditional training programmes ignore these difficulties and use simplistic examples that seem obvious and are easy to follow. I think to teach context-driven testing it is good to step into practical problems and show people that there are different ways to approach the problem and that this provides different results that are likely to be more informative. So I opt for a hands on practical approach and interactive learning.

Markus Gärtner: Imagine a time machine was invented. How would you test it? Would your first test send something to the past, or rather to the future? What would you like to use it for?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: If a time machine was invented I would test it as follows. I would send to myself in the near future, say two weeks from now. The time machine would be containing an explanation where it came from and what to do next. This would include to provide some proof that it was in the future, get a newspaper or such. Then to send it to a date one week from now. I would then hope to find it one week from now with proof of it having been one week further as well. If I did not find it then I would look for evidence in the past to see if it had miscalculated and arrived at an earlier date and meanwhile see if it turns up the next week. If on both occasions the time machine did not reappear, in present or history, I could only conclude that it had done something to disappear but sadly had no information, at that point, if it travelled ahead or back in time.

Personally I would not use it. It is very tempting to go for some beneficial travel to know for instance the outcome of a lottery, but I have made due without it and that turned out pretty well both with its good and bad parts.

Markus Gärtner: What should we do to spread the context-driven word out there even
more? What is working for you to spread the word? And what isn’t?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: I think that in the Netherlands with DEWT we are on the right track of spreading the word. We are voicing our opinions on blogs, twitter and by getting support from people like Michael Bolton we are being noticed. Other people in the testing scene are contacting us and just recently we had a context-driven theme night and TestNet to which 150+ people came. For myself I think that my being enthusiastic about it and always being available to react to questions works. What I see is not working is ISTQB and TMap bashing. Even if their ideas do not match the context-driven idea this should be no reason to be negative about them. I do not believe that people change because somebody shouts that what they are doing now is bad. People change because they see an alternative and realize that what they are doing is the lesser option.

Markus Gärtner: What do you expect to happen after Let’s Test? What’s the best thing, and what’s the worst thing for you?
Jean-Paul Varwijk: The best thing to happen after Let’s Test I think will be that it will be a good foundation to built on context-driven testing in Europe. I hope it will proof to be a stepping stone for testers to connect to context-driven testing and context-driven testers.

The worst thing for me will be that, as far as I can tell at the moment, I will not have been there….

Markus Gärtner: Thanks Jean-Paul for your time. Looking forward meeting you in Stockholm for Let’s Test.

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