A step back

July 11, 2003

In looking back, I realized that I dove into several topics here without any real explanation of why I was doing it. For those of you reading who have not been present at FIT since the day I arrived, here’s a catch-up so that you know where I’m coming from. This is taken from an email that I sent to a friend who was looking for more information on what I’m doing at grad school.

First, what the lab I’m in does. The lab is funded with an NSF grant focused on determining better ways of training software testers so that they become expert tester much more quickly rather than the high degree of mediocrity in the field today. My advisor (Cem Kaner) and another guy (James Bach) have come up with a list of 11 types of testing, which they refer to as the different paradigms of software testing.

That list is:
* Domain
* Functional
* User
* Regression
* Specification-based
* Risk-based
* State-model-based
* Stress
* High-volume automation
* Exploratory
* Scenario

Each type of testing is differentiated by the kinds of thinking and types of tests that are performed in it. For example, in domain testing you generally are looking at individual fields or variables, partitioning the possible values into equivalence classes (classes of values for which you expect every value in the class to yield the same result in a test), and looking at the boundary conditions. In regression testing, you’re focusing on previously identified (and fixed) bugs to ensure that they’re still fixed. In scenario testing, you devise stories of how a particular user might use the application and the execute the story.

The goal of the lab is to take each of these types and figure out what a “good” tester in that area does, what skills are required to do those tasks, and how to teach those skills to new testers, including coming up with exercises and the like.

As for me, I’m working on exploratory testing. Exploratory testing is defined as “any testing in which the tester dynamically changes what they’re doing for test execution, based on information they learn as they’re executing their tests.” To me, exploratory testing is a “meta-type”. While it does require its own mind set (and thus qualifies as a separate item on the list), any of the other types can also be done in an exploratory manner. Any kind of testing falls on a continuum between purely scripted with no change from the plan during execution whatsoever to purely exploratory with no pre-scripting. It’s hard to have testing fall on either extreme end in practice — good testers will deviate from the script if they see something that looks funny, and generally have enough experience that there’s some pre-scripting done (even if it’s just mental) for how they should test the application before they start.

At the moment, I’m on a bit of a tangent from the straight “define exploratory testing, do a skills analysis, figure out teaching methods” path, although as I think about it, it’s less of a tangent than it initially felt. I’m looking at the idea of learning styles (currently using the Felder-Silverman model, which maps a person’s learning style preferences onto 5 continua — active vs. reflective, sensing vs. intuitive, visual vs. verbal, inductive vs. deductive (technically not in the model anymore, but I’m still using it), and sequential vs. global. I’ll be looking at other models (such Kolb’s Learning Cycle, the Myers-Briggs stuff, and others) after this). Exploratory testing is a wide area of testing and there are many different ways to approach it. Kaner has identified 9 exploration styles, ranging from random test case execution (not the best style) to deriving test cases from models or examples to thinking of ways to interfere with the application’s normal processing (causing a hardware interrupt, for example). Because of this wide array of techniques, there are obviously differences in how different people approach the same task (or charter). I think that given the high degree of learning involved in exploratory testing, the ways that the tester is perceiving and learning this information affects the techniques and approaches he or she uses. So that’s what I’m researching right now.

Before I finish, I ‘ll be looking at a lot of other aspects, too, I’m sure. One that’s on the list is the degree of similarity between training testers to be good exploratory testers and training musicians or actors to perform well in improvisational settings (such as improv theater or improvisational jazz). That seems to be an area with a lot of potential overlap, and I think some interesting things can be learned there as well.

In the course of my schooling, I still have quite a few classes left to take as well. This blog will have discussions of the material from class, discussions of things I learn as I do my research, and other things that I feel are related to the professional side of my life, either from other people’s blogs, other people’s research here at FIT, or whereever it is found.

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