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My biggest take-away from Bug Advocacy (Markus Gärtner)

On July 8, 2012, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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At times I find quite interesting things in topics that I don’t seem too particularly interested in. A recent example – again – comes from Let’s Test in May 2012. While at the conference, I read through the program and thought that I don’t need to learn anything new from recent trends in bug reporting. Preferring to work on Agile projects, I don’t think I will use a bug tracker too much in the future.

On the other hand, I knew that I had signed up for BBST Bug Advocacy in June. So I kept wondering what I will learn there, and whether it will be as work intensive as Foundations was. I was amazed at some things. This blog entry deals with my biggest learning: for building blocks for follow-up testing – something I think a good tester needs to learn regardless of their particular background.

When I find a bug in a program, I usually start with some follow-up testing activities. But how do you test around a problem? Well, easy, vary the variables. What’s a variable? Elisabeth Hendrickson once taught me, everything that can be variable. Cem Kaner explains four categories for variables:

  • Vary my behavior
  • Vary data
  • Vary settings
  • Vary configuration

Let’s take a look into each of these in some more detail.

Vary my behavior

After having replicated a problem, I am interested in exploiting the problem. What’s the worst case scenario that I can make this bug replicate in? A first approach to this can be to vary my own behavior. For example instead of hitting Ctrl-V I can use the right mouse button context menu, or I can use the edit menu, and hit the menu entry in a usual desktop application.

I can also try to type very slowly into a text editor, or I can use the mouse to navigate between entry fields instead of the tabulator key – or maybe use the tabulator key instead of the mouse.

With my variations I can trigger different circumstances. Think about asynchronous transfers in today’s AJAX websites. What is the fastest pace I can trigger events so that I run into a race condition? This could easily outline a problem in the security system or with transactions. Everything that makes the bug even worse in daily use is interesting for me in follow-up testing mode.

Vary data

Similarly I can vary all the data that my program is using. I can vary input files, the data I use to replicate the bug. Can I trigger the same behavior when I use a different language? What about unicode characters? What about sentences that do not make sense?

Vary settings

I may also vary settings like configuration files, registry entries, cookies in the browser, or /etc/ files on Unix machines. Even on mobile phones, I can sometimes vary behavior by uninstalling the Dropbox application, or switching off some of the security settings, turning on cellular data, or wifi.

Vary configuration

When it comes to vary the configuration I may want to use a different machine with slower or faster bandwidth to the Internet, slower or faster CPU, memory, different Operating System like Windows 7 vs. Windows Vista or XP. But also think about iOS 3.5 vs. iOS 5 and iOS 6. I might also change the particular driver I use for a printer, use the default mouse driver instead of the Logitech one, or use the trackpad.

I think these category ideas help to come up with more follow-up test ideas. If we complement these ideas with Elisabeth Hendrickson’s Test Heuristic Cheat Sheet we may also come up with a lot of different more concrete variations.

Happy follow-up testing.

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