Webinar Follow-up: New Testing Battlefields

I recently had the privilege to take part in a webinar, this webinar was on the topic of ‘New Testing Battlefields’, which in this context of this webinar and post are Mobile and IoT. The Webinar was arranged by Telerik. I was joined by three other testing minds: -

  • Jim Holmes – Jim was our host, but also active in the discussions, being a tester himself and currently doing some interesting work in the automotive industry.
  • Daniel Knott – Daniel is a tester mostly working on Android over at Xing. He is also the author of ‘Hands-On Mobile App Testing’.
  • Iliyan Panchev – Who is an ex tester, and know currently Program Manager for Test Studio at Progress.

I took some notes during the webinar, which I’m simply going to expand on during this post. If you want to watch the webinar before reading the rest, a recording is available over on YouTube.

Interfaces

I spoke a lot during the webinar about how in my opinion, most mobile applications are just interfaces to the main system, that system being the backend, behind all the APIs. This, again IMO, is the product, not the mobile app. In some cases the APIs could be viewed as being the product. But the point I was trying to make is that the best apps I used and worked on, are where the front end is as dumb as possible, keeping the majority if not all the business logic in the backend. As we will talk about later in the post, this also makes testing significantly easier, especially when looking to add some automated checks into your testing approach.
In such a fast moving industry this also allows you to try and stay ahead of the competition and keep up to speed with all the latest trends in UX, as you can redesign the app without having to focus as much on the business logic.

All companies are software companies

The theme at Davos 2016 this year was “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” referring to the advances of ‘economy-changing’ technologies. Unfortunately, I cannot find the post, but I recall hearing an interview with a CEO saying that all companies are now software companies, it appears that it’s software that is giving companies their edge these days. With this in mind, I think we’re at the beginning of this boom, and the interfaces and applications of this technology we are going to be testing if mind boggling. I personally embrace technology, so I can’t wait!

Internet of Shit

I was thinking about this during the webinar, and Daniel had the courage to bring it up, so I’m just adding a link here. If you haven’t seen this Twitter account, it’s brilliant, it’s hilarious, it’s also terrifying!!!

Mobile, it’s personal

We mentioned many user aspects during the webinar, mostly focusing on how a mobile device is personal. Firstly, users configure they devices any which way they like, not such a huge problem on iOS, but can be very problematic on Android. Some system settings, such as fonts, can actually change your app, amongst many other things.

Also we mention speed a fair amount, but it’s important. People are normally doing 10 things on their phone. Reading the news, whilst sending a tweet, whilst WhatsApping Dave and checking social media. So when they switch to your app, it needs to work, immediately, or they will leave. Now in the context of an app were they are multiple apps you can download, that’s is exactly what they will do. Delete your app and download another one!

Interruptions, we also explored how other apps, and the fact it’s a mobile phone can impact your testing. A user will receive a call whilst using your app, what does your app do? They get a notification from another app, and click it, when your app resumes, what does it do? When the users’ connection drops and recovers, how does your app behave?

We have some really interesting conversation around the above, but they were all in the context of testing mobile, and the short comings of most automation tools. However, this is OK IMO, as mentioned during the webinar, I love the quote from Dhanasekar ~ “It’s a sin to test a mobile app at your desk” to which I’ve adapted to “It’s a sin to only test a mobile app at your desk”. We have to get out there when testing our apps, out into a real environment. We need to test them on a real phone, with real other apps and a sim card so calls can be received. This is how a user is going to use your app. Simulating all this, is difficult, but more importantly very time consuming, time which most teams simply do not have.

Tools

We hit on a few tools during the webinar, but my conclusion on the majority of mobile tools aimed at testing/checking are that they are very immature. But this isn’t surprising, the platforms themselves are immature. For example, iOS was only released in 2007, making it only 9 years old. It’s been in a constant stage of change ever since, which big architecture changes in most major releases, due to the very context of mobile and mobile hardware. It’s evolving at such a rate, change is inevitable. So this means the tool vendors are always playing catch up. There is hope though, tools from the vendors themselves (XUITest, Espresso) have become significantly better in the recent year, I hope this trends continues.

Proxies

I mentioned the importance of testing with proxies several times during the webinar, making the point to repeat it. It’s important. I find it virtually impossible to test a mobile application without using a proxy. The reasoning being is I need to see what data the app is getting. I need to see what data the app is sending. I need to see what APIs the app is calling, and when. A proxy allows me to see this information. It’s the most important tool when testing mobile/IoT IMO. Also from a testing context, it allows you to test multiple scenarios with ease, such as status codes and different length data, as you can alter the request leaving and arriving on your device.
If you haven’t tested using a proxy before, please try them! I use CharlesProxy on my mac, but Fiddler is also a great option for Windows.

Twitter Driven Testing

I first heard about Twitter Driven Testing from the Panda, Pradeep Soundararajan. He spoke about how he was testing a public facing website, and turned to Twitter to read what users were saying about his product. Of course, as with most things, there were positive and negative comments, but all this information turned out to be a great source of test ideas for Pradeep. This is something I’ve continued to do, however I’ve expanded beyond Twitter now, and look on forums and Facebook. But as we are talking mobile, I also take advantage of the app stores, the reviews people go to the effort of leaving there are gold for a tester, or someone looking to do some testing.

Doing some basic searches on social media for your product, see what people are saying about it, could lead to some very interesting testing.

Data Builder Pattern

Someone asked a question during the webinar about how to manage test data. I mentioned this is a place where I heavily relay on automation. I use a pattern called the Test Data Builder Pattern, I’ve blogged about this already, which you can read here.
In addition to this post I suggested adding a common interface to your data creation code now, such as an HTTP API. This would allow you to take advantage of this code from many interfaces now. So your automated checks could call them, you could use a tool like POSTMan to call them whilst testing, means you don’t have to keep repeating code that creates data.

Modelling

My final thing I made a note of was my advice to model your system. Initially a high level model, just have a box for interfaces, box for APIs and a box for databases. This allows you to see the system boundaries with ease. These boundaries can help identify where mocking could be introduced to assist with testing, but also to show where data is moving in the system. I encourage every to have such a model, they are a fantastic tool to assist conversions about the product.

So if you got this far, congratulations, I hope you enjoyed.

Software Testers Clinic - A Mentor Experience Report

I recently attended the first Software Testers Clinic, an initiative created by Mark Winteringham and Dan Ashby. You can read more about the idea on their website.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, especially the second half of the evening, where attendees were encouraged to actually do some testing. Now, as the sessions are aimed at people new to testing as well as people looking to expand their testing knowledge, the attendees are a combination of students and mentors. I was attending as a mentor. So the testing exercise was arranged so that 3 students were paired with a mentor. My first student was Demetra Cucueanu, a budding new tester, proving to all that it's never to late to try a new career. Demetra is actively seeking a junior testing position. The second was Bhagya Mudiyanselage and the third was Joe McGuinness.

The reason for this post is in response to the experience report created by Bhagya, you can read that here. An attempt to explain the approach I took with the students, as a mentor.

The challenge set to us was simply to test http://www.drawastickman.com. We immediately asked them how long we had, and were told about 30 minutes.

So before we got started, I asked them a simple question. Why are we testing this? Neither of us knew so we asked, the response was to learn more about testing. Drawastickman was simple a vehicle to aid that. We then briefly discussed the importance of knowing why we are testing something.

So we got going by me asking "What do you know about drawastickman.com?". Turns out we/they knew very little, the obvious is all we knew, "it's a website". So I introduced them to the concept of a Scouting/Recon session. I was first introduced to the concept in the book Explore It! by Elizabeth Hendrickson, fantastic testing book if you haven't read it yet. The session is intended to help us set the context a little, specifically around the application. Ideally you would spend a full session doing this, so about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

I believe it's very hard to testing something you know nothing about, and I mean nothing, all we had was a url. So I encouraged the students to spend 5 minutes, just exploring the application. Looking for things they can identify with. For example, immediately after looking at the url they realised it's a game. Joe immediately saw a link for a native mobile version of the game, could be an interesting avenue to explore. Bhagya went straight into the game, to see if she could get a basic understanding of how it worked. Demetra explored the sites navigation and discovered numerous forms that she thought could be interesting to test. Plus a whole lot more.

After 5 minutes, I asked them to explain to each other what they have discovered about drawastickman.com, and I collated the list on a nearby whiteboard, I loves me a whiteboard. I then recapped with them about how quickly we were able to get a better understanding of this application. We went from a url, to a 10-15 item list of things we actually knew about the website.

I then suggested to them, they pick something from their list or the main list to explore further. Something that was of interest to them. Explaining to them how this approach now sets the focus of their testing, it frames it. I introduced the idea of charters to them, again repeated my encouragement for them to read Explore it! We could have continued to explore and just shallowly tested things as we came across them, however I was keen to see them attempt to test an area deeply. So they all selected an area to explore further. The reason I was keen for this, was I attempt to relate it to testing in their jobs, where I assumed they would need to test deeply.

I shadowed them for about 5 minutes, watching them all test, and a pattern emerged. No notes, or very little. So after another 5 more minutes of testing, I stopped them to discuss what they had learnt after just 15 minutes of testing now. They had all learnt a lot, however my earlier observation had come to fruition, they were eagerly telling me about what they have found, but the majority of it was from memory. There was even a few confirmations of this, such as "there was this one thing, but I've forgot".  So we had a brief discussion about the importance of taking notes whilst testing, and how they can help guide future testing, but also aid you in telling the story of the testing you have done thus far.

They continued to test, a which point I decided to take the approach of chatting to them individually, to see how they were finding the approach of using charters. This gave me the opportunity to offer some one to one feedback and directly suggest some resources to them based on what they had done or were doing. Also giving them the opportunity to quiz me.

One of the topics that came up was, when do we move on to the next charter? Time was short, so we had a brief discussion about it. We discussed the idea of feeling like you've found enough information, or that you've exhausted all the ideas you had. This allowed us a brief moment to discuss the relationship between charters, test ideas and actual tests. We then very briefly hit on the idea of heuristics and some popular mnemonics, I suggested some resources for them to explore, including Karen Johnson's card deck and Test Insane's MindMaps. Also with drawastickman being a public application I suggested exploring social media for comments on the game, as well as reviews in the app stores. These can be a fantastic source of test ideas for public facing applications.

The final discussion we had was specifically related to testing drawastickman.com. If you're not familiar with it, you can draw a character with the touchpad or mouse, and the site will bring it to live, depending on what you draw. The discussion was about reproducing bugs, how could we reproduce issues we observe, seeing as re-drawing the exact same stickman would be tricky. So we discussed some ideas, such as recording the screen and using a mouse cursor recorder. Highlighting the use of tools.

That's pretty much that. I feel in this instance that my mentoring/coaching went rather well. I could have perhaps let them test a bit longer than I did, however all the students seem really engaged on learning more about charters and sessions. I had a lengthly discussion with Joe specifically about using sessions in the workplace and encouraged him to google Session Based Test Management.

I tried my best to be the facilitator of discussions, instead of telling them what to do. Allowing them to ask me why I was suggesting X. Such approach also allows me to collate more information from them, which my highlight a different approach I could take. Without the discussion though, it isn't really mentoring/coaching, it's telling.

As a sole tester at the moment, it was great to be able to mentor and coach some testers, while they actually tested something. I really enjoyed the event.

I would encourage anyone in the London area to check out a future Testers Clinic, regardless of your testing level, as you can participate as a student or mentor, both full of potential learnings. The link to their site is at the start of the post and details of the next meetup are on their home page.

A Four Week Approach to Creating Abstracts

I'm often asked how I go about creating abstracts, and it's actually the theme of one of my workshops at LetsTest this year with Martin Hynie. So I thought I would share a timeline with you of how I tend to do it.

Most CFP on average give you around about two months to submit your abstracts, so there is plenty of time, to come up with and formulate those awesome ideas of yours. I tend to take a four week approach.

Week 1
As most of you know, I love my whiteboard. But if you don't have one, there are many other mediums you could use. So what I do in week one is I create a mind map of potential ideas for a talk, workshop or tutorial. I spend no more than 15 minutes on this initially, as I'm looking for things that are on my mind right now. These ideas could be anything, e.g:

  • A blogpost/podcast/video you have seen recently, that you could expand on or argue against.
  • An experience in work, that you feel could make a good story.
  • Something you have been blogging about that could be turned into a talk.
  • Something related to a book you have been reading or read recently.
Then after 15 minutes I stop. Then for the reminder of that week, new ideas and experiences will come to me, so I add those to the mind map. One of the reasons why it's important to always carry something to take notes on, to capture these ideas, a small notebook or your phone.

Week 2
Now at this point I have a mind map contains some ideas. It's now time to try and elaborate on some of them. So I take each node one by one and spend no more than 10 minutes on each node, elaborating on it. Noting key bits of information. For example, if it was an experience at work, I would write down the key people, the problem, quotes, timeline of events, my learnings. 

Once I've done this for each node, I stop and keep adding to it over the next few days when I remember new things. 

Now at this stage, I have a visualisation of my potential talks, and some may stand out more than others. Perhaps the one with more child nodes means you have more ideas about that, it resonates with you more than the others. Perhaps you can spot a nice theme or pattern in one, that you feel would structure a good talk. 

So the remainder of week 2, I take my top three ideas and elaborate on those even further. So to continue the example above, what is it about the key people that is important? What role do they play, are they a positive/negative part to the story, or both. What is problem? How did you identify the problem in the first place. What was this problem impacting. How did you know the problem had been solved? Continuing to do this as above over the remainder of week, adding to it when I remember new things, or have new ideas. 

So at the end of week two, we have three ideas that we have expanded two levels deep now. 

Week 3
So in week three it's time to try and create some abstracts. Take our expanded ideas and try and create a snippet of your story, to entice reviewers to it. In my opinion this is one of the hardest parts, especially if the art of writing doesn't come naturally to you, like me. 

I tend to create a document in google drive, reasons for this later. I take a picture of my mindmap, screenshot if you did it electronically, and I add that to the top of my document for ease of reference. I start my abstract by spending no more than 5 minutes trying to think of some good titles and I note them all down, no matter how crazy some are. Then it's time to write that gripping, sock knocking off, enticing abstract.

Again my time boxing theme continues, it's how I tend to work. I spend no more than 60 minutes writing my first draft. I take the parent node and all its child and try and translate that into some words to explain why it was added to my map. So to continue my example, I may write something like: "this story contains many characters, during my story I will introduce them and their importance in this story, expanding on how their actions impacted my approach to solving this problem, and how their characteristics lead to me changing my interactions with them". Something like this. 

Once all the nodes are done, we should hopefully have a collection of relevant paragraphs and sentences that form the core of our story, it's not time to add some stitching in to turn them into one congruent abstract. Repeat the process for all three.

Now we are three weeks in at this point, that's a long time, that's a lot of thinking. You're probably getting a stronger feeling towards one of the abstracts, or maybe two of them. So I tend to spend some extra time on those to make sure I've included all I can think of in my 1st draft. 

Week 4
This is probably the most important week, we have invested a lot of time by this point, we believe we have some fantastic talks to give, and you believing in it is the most important thing. However, so far it's just you, your ideas, your thoughts on what is interesting. So it's time to get some reviews. This is why I tend to use google drive, as it's easy to share and track comments.

The testing community is a very friendly space, most of the time at least, but especially when I am around :D. There are lots of people willing to help other people out. But what exactly is it your are looking to have reviewed?

The least important thing is your story or theme of your talk in my opinion. May surprise some people, but for you to get this far with it, means you care about it, you believe it's interesting. Doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for feedback on it, or change it based on the feedback offered, but for me, it's not the main thing I am after.

The most important is the words. Spelling and grammar are of course up there. After that though, it's about it's enticement. Is it congruent. Does it pull your reviewer in? Would they attend your talk, because of the abstract, not because it's you. Get their feedback on those things, then tweak and amend accordingly.

Also, read it several times yourself, with sufficient time in between, like a day or so. As I mentioned already, I find time in between allows my brain to give me all it has to offer. 

At the end of week four? Well, you pick one of those titles and you get it submitted of course, then patiently, but excitably wait for the decision. Knowing that you gave it all your could, your best efforts.

Additional notes

Now of course you could do this a lot quicker than four weeks, however I find the time in between the weeks really allows my brain to process all the ideas and inform me of all it has to offer.

Also you don't have to wait until week 4 to get some external input, it could be useful to ask some close peers or work colleagues if they have something they believe you could talk about. 

Once you've done this process multiple times, you will also have a backlog of potential talk ideas. I tend to store these one big central map, which in turn could speed up weeks one and two. However I try not to go straight to this map, unless I hear about a CFP to something that seems interesting to late to adopt the four week approach.