Alex Rotaru is a precise, lawful man. Apparently this is not common in Romania, judging by the other drivers. A pickup truck charges by us at high speed, “DACIA” emblazoned on its tailgate. It weaves in front of us to miss oncoming traffic by no more than a few feet.
“You see what I mean? He’s crazy!” Alex mutters. Alex’s speed remains constant, and he stays in the middle of his lane. His hand are in the “10 and 2″ position. Our conversation all the way from Cluj-Napoca has been peppered with complaints about recklessness and laziness among Romanians. This is a reputation, at least in the technical realm, that his company, Altom.ro, aims to change.
He asked me to do a seminar in Cluj after hearing that his friend Catalin Anastasoaie, of Adobe, was bringing me in to do my full standard class. The seminar went well from my point of view. There were a good fifty testers present, all kind of bemused at first.
How a Typical Rapid Testing Seminar Begins
I often open with a card vanish. I tell the the students that the technique of making a card vanish is quite simple. I could show them in less than thirty seconds. But the skill is not. The skill takes many hours of practice. This is similar in testing. I will not bother to pepper them with words about techniques. I’m not interested in spouting quotes and maxims from other experts. I just want to get them to think; and to practice. Their neurons must learn to test by trying to test.
I go on to say that the room is divided into those who are smart enough to be testers, and those who are smart enough but don’t know it yet. It’s my job to exercise the talent of the first group, and to introduce the second group to their own talent for the first time. To do that I must do everything I can to fool them as they try to solve my puzzles and challenges. I accomplish that by setting out some bait, then as their minds rev to go after it, I weave nets of words that capture that moment. I begin by explaining to them how they are testing. Then we talk about how they could test. Most of the time, I don’t need to teach testing so much as just notice someone in the class who is setting a wonderful example. I amplify and highlight that example.
In other words, I don’t read slides. I prowl among groups of testers, launching rhetorical noisemakers. Then I flush out the clever responses and solutions from the mindscape and deliver them like captured leprechauns– now wearing tracking collars– back to their burrows. In this way, testers begin to learn how to control and talk about their own thought processes; to capture their own leprechauns without me.
Note: Wikipedia is silent on the matter of where Leprechauns live. But now that I’ve published this, feel free to edit that entry to add “They live in burrows” and cite this blog post as a reference. That’s how folklore works, friends. How do you think the ISTQB syllabus was created? Scientific field research?? Ha ha ha!
People spoke up more as the day went on. A few bold ones spoke a lot (such as Ady Beleanu, who, sitting 90 degrees to my left, was a useful thorn in my side all day.) I enjoyed myself. I hope people got the point that testing is a marvelous skill, craft, art, but nothing reducible to script. It’s sapient. It’s constant learning and invention, or else it’s a dead and rather useless activity.
So, it’s the day after and Alex is driving me to Bucharest, where I will teach at Adobe. We travel through the lovely Carpathian mountains. The trees were just past peak color. Stray dogs and hitch-hikers are all over the place. Old women who look like color versions of old women from WWI-era refugee photos totter along the roadside as we drive. We talked for 11 hours straight.
Alex wants to be a better test trainer. We practice that at lunch.
“Tell me to test this fork, and I’ll play the student,” I suggest.
“Okay. Demonstrate how you would use this fork to eat something,” Alex replies, completely ignoring what I just asked him to do.
I proceed to demonstrate, then we both realize that I’ve demonstrated incorrectly, this leads to an analysis of how to hold a fork and why forks are held that way and how I learned to do it and why I accidentally held it wrong at first. He asks about the material its made from and why it has four prongs (tines?) and not three. I hypothesize about that. Pretty soon we have some good material for a debrief and I walk him through how to analyze a student’s responses: notice what was said, notice what was not said, relate each element to a real testing project, and so on.
Almost any trivial question or investigation can be turned into a useful testing exercise. It becomes more and more useful over time as people go through it and challenge it in different ways. It gets supple and comfortable like a good leather shoe. (Leprechauns make shoes, BTW. It’s their primary occupation. Little known fact.)
I get to Adobe, eventually, and meet Catalin, the mastermind of this event. He looks like he’s twenty, and smiles like an old man who’s re-experiencing his youth. A complete, wholehearted smile.
They grow some sparkling minds at Adobe. I guess their hiring practices are working for them. They do almost as well as the Estonians did on the Wordpad challenge, even. I accidentally chose an eager young female tester for the mysterious sphere challenge. (Usually I select someone in the class who is older than me, larger than me, and has the most experience, since the exercise is rather intimidating.) She did a fabulous job, however, including being the first tester ever to think of one particular maneuver, which shall now be named “Letitia’s Gambit.”
I want to mention Gec and Gelu, too. The first one an iconoclastic lateral thinking philosopher, the second a hard-driving problem smasher who followed me around stealing information during the Dice Game (exploratory test design). There was a second fellow named Catalin who did a fine job on the Pen Challenge (rapid test strategy), and Mirela, silent most of the class, who suddenly came up with the key question to ask in the Truthful Thief Problem (lateral thinking and questioning), while Mihai and Letitia solved the similar Canceled Landfill Problem (also about lateral thinking and questioning).
Almost not one was fooled by the flowchart unit test counting trap. Good.
[I’m sorry to say there were others I should mention, but I don’t have the list of names in front of me. Catalin, send me the roster!]
Thank you, Romania. Now grow those testers.
Romania was originally known as Dacia, and somehow that’s how I think of it: the pre-colonized, pre-conquered land. Mentioned by Herodotus himself. My visit was wonderful and I hope to return often. Rise up and claim your testing community, my friends.