Finding Bugs is the Cool Thing to Do

I was presenting in a meeting and a handful of times, I said something like “I was able to find this bug and it was really cool” or “it was cool when I found this”. In a laughing manner, someone attending the meeting asked one of my developers if it was cool to them that I found those bugs. Part of me felt bad while the other laughed along with the crowd.

Spider Squashing

If you’re like me, then you believe that spiders are literally hell on earth. There are few bugs (in southeastern Wisconsin) that compare to the spider, especially those big black ones with thick legs, strutting around your house waiting to attack you while you sleep. After screaming like a girl, there is nothing more satisfying than taking a giant boot and obliterating that spider and all its worth. It feels so good and reminds me of the man that I am, that I protected my family from the evil Dr. Spider.

bugs

Software Bug Squashing

Finding a bug may never be a cool thing to a developer. It may point out their failure, or an area that they didn’t think of. Some bugs are so obvious that they should have never gotten past the gatekeeper, and over to us in QA. But it happens. As a QA analyst, finding the bug is very cool. Not that we like pointing out failures in others or anything, but rather as a team, we are working together to make the best product available. Finding and fixing any bug is actually an accomplishment because it means our users will not find the bug, or be bothered by it’s existence. They will not see the bug crawling around in production and scream like a girl when they see it. How is this not a cool thing?

Additionally, I am merely giving my developers an opportunity to be the big dawg on campus by obliterating the bug and becoming my rescuer, although they don’t seem to agree how cool it is that I found the bug.

So maybe it’s not COOL, but it is beneficial, and for that, there is no sorrow in finding and reporting a bug.

When Testing Requires Throwing the Computer Out The Window

OK, so maybe not exactly throwing your computer out the window, but I recently saw a post on LinkedIn (here) that got me thinking about how I sometimes think and feel about testing software. The image is posted below, and we’ll do two things. First I’ll describe how I relate testing to this image. Secondly, I wanna hear you caption this photo in the comments.

3b9ea7c0-90d7-45ba-9257-3735d6c9eab2-original (1)

Throwing Your Computer Out the Window

There are a few times a week that I want to throw my computer out the window. This can be for a handful of reasons.

Literally

Sometimes it gets late in the day and a bug is still crawling around your fingertips that you just cannot catch. You know you saw it, you know that it’s a bug, and that by catching it, you might get some immediate or long term recognition for it, but you just can’t seem to reproduce it. Every time you try, there is nothing wrong, everything works, but you know what the reproducing steps are, it just won’t happen this time.

I get the same feeling anytime I have a bug that I am able repro time and again, and then I call the developer over to show them and I can’t do it. The ole “works on my machine” or “nothing ever goes wrong when you’re here, can you just stand here”. It drives me nuts when I cannot repro a bug in front of the developer.

Lastly, anytime I log in to test, and it’s just a bad day for bugs. It happens, there are days that are inevitably buggy, and I can’t get through the workflow without a bug blocking me. Then when fixed, it causes more and more bugs. This repeats itself all day until the end, when you realize how little you accomplished today, because every time you went in to test, there was a bug blocking you.

Metaphorically

So maybe throwing the computer out the window isn’t the greatest test step in my test plan, but I say it to describe an example of testing and then losing power, or connection to the internet, or your computer just decides to blue screen. These aren’t really scenarios we test, maybe ever, but it’s always something to keep in mind when testing. What if I’m right in the middle of something and the site crashes or an unexpected error occurs. Do I have to start all over from the beginning? Did the site save any of my progress? Maybe a good alternative is to break up the workflow into segments that save on each step. This might prevent a large amount of data to be lost.

This could happen more on mobile devices when transferring between networks as you walk in and out of buildings and connect to WiFi. I wrote about this testing scenario on Mobile Testing Limitations on a Desktop Computer.

Caption Time

If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, there would be no way for you see the comments on the photo. But some of the good ones were “Troubleshooting Windows” or “Windows just crashed again”, and even “Jim put his computer to sleep”. I want to hear if you have anything better? Comment below!

The One With All The Names

A lot of testing is simple creativity. Everyday we get opportunities to be creative, whether testing an in-depth scenario we thought of earlier, doing some exploratory testing, or perhaps sitting in a meeting and discussing different options for a particular workflow. Where I always enjoy being creative, is when I have to set up my test data. However, there are important things to remember while testing and using test data, so that you can be more efficient to yourself and your developers. Let’s talk about Name fields.

What’s in a Name?

Most software products have some form of data entry involving personal information, such as a name, email, phone number, etc. These fields are often required in order to continue the workflow, so it’s important to use something that is quick to enter for testing efficiency, but also memorable for later use. These fields also need to be tested in other ways, such as the allowable characters, overall length, and duplicate entry.

It is useful while testing, to have a few different names prepared in order to meet different scenarios. It’s also important when demoing your products to different users, to use names that make sense and are not distracting, depending on who you’re talking to.

The Good

When testing my products and using data that only I or my development team will see, I like to use character names. I use Homer Simpson and his wife, Marge, with three kids: Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The all American family that fits into most scenarios without problems. This way, when I log a bug about children not returning in a personal profile, a developer can quickly triage the bug and know the expected results: that I should have three kids, their names, genders, etc.

I will also stick with a theme or category when testing names, because when I need to pull up data in the database or the UI, I can quickly see if someone doesn’t belong. For these scenarios, I sometimes use superheros, like Clark Kent and his wife, Lois Lane. Then I’ll add a bunch more users to the product like Batman, Robin, Ironman, Spiderman, and many others (crossing universes is not a problem for me). Using names of interest makes testing repeat activities fun and exciting.

The Bad

When demoing a product to another team, especially upper management, it might not be in good taste to use a distracting name such as the Simpson family, but rather something more generic like the Smith family. This is especially important when doing usability testing with our end users, because a simple misspelling or clever use of a family name, could result in a poor usability session, or distract the user from providing all the necessary feedback that we hope for.

We find it works best during training sessions, to use basic names like John Smith and his wife Jane. This way, people are able to read the names, quickly identify who the users are and their marital status or genders, and then move on to important information.

Sometimes random name generators are fine as well, but if you aren’t careful, you can get names that aren’t really names, but more just words. Or you can end up accidentally creating someone famous. This can also turn an important conversation into a distracting one, when the name turns out to be Quail Bird, John Hamm, or Donald Trump. If we need names for a demonstration, it’s important to review the list of randomly returned ones, and edit any that might take focus away.

Additionally when using random names, it doesn’t represent anything or mean anything to the tester or developer, so when needing particular information, it can get lost when thinking, which user was that, or I can’t remember the person’s name I was using. That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to have randomly generated names sometimes, but it’s important to remember who you’re using in what tests.

The Ugly

I have made the mistake of using very poor names in my testing before. Sometimes I will need to get through the data entry form or create a quick name, so that I can test something important down the line. I will enter a name like a a, b test, or lfdjsio asdf. Most times these are not a big deal to use and can allow you to move on through the form, but sometimes I need to get information back from the UI or the database, and I cannot remember who I was testing with. These type of names mean nothing, and our relate-able brains do nothing to store the name.

These are also much more difficult for a developer to recognize the scenario, and triage a bug against it. They don’t provide context to the problem, and don’t mean anything to a name, so this can actually turn into more questions like, is this a name or just some random data?

The biggest problem I’ve seen when people demo their product with names like this, is it doesn’t provide context into the UI. Let’s pretend for a moment that we are showing a user’s profile and personal information, and at the top left of the page, it says:

dsaflk safdjlk
9999 dfslakj fds
fdsafddfsdf, WI 12345

A user might be able to gather from that, that it’s a first and last name, and their address, but it doesn’t provide any value towards the conversation, and takes peoples thoughts away from the goal. Now let’s use a good example:

John Smith
9999 S. Theodore Drive
Franksville, WI 28876

Right away, a user will see this, understand the context, and be able to move to important things. Also, when they are looking at the UI, they will know what information they are expecting, and not be caught off guard by random letters and numbers.

Testing the Name Fields

All of the above is important information when using names during testing or demonstrations. However, it’s extremely important to thoroughly test the name fields on a form, during the testing cycle. Entering basic names like Homer Simpson should pretty much always work. If there was a bug for not accepting this value, I would be shocked. But there are a lot of names out there in the world, so here are some examples of things to test:

Very long names

Most people’s names are fairly short, 10 or less characters. But there are a lot of examples of people’s names that are 15-30 characters, and depending on the region of your product, you could get even longer. It’s important to test length to ensure the data doesn’t truncate, or if it does, that it’s intentional.

Hyphenated names

More common with last names, but occasionally there is a Mary-Jo, John-Paul, or Anne-Marie. Don’t forget this when testing to ensure the data can be stored and returned appropriately.

Names with punctuation

Similar to the hyphen, the last name is a more common scenario. Be sure to test names with apostrophes like O’Brien and O’Connor, or umlauts, tildes,and many other (but not all) foreign characters. Examples like Chloë and Beyoncé should be tested.

Duplicate names

We all know someone with their first and last name the same. Be sure to test this, as well as two users with the same exact names. Maybe they’re strangers, or a father-son combo.

This is definitely not an all encompassing list, but should kick start your testing efforts to ensure your system is fully supportive of it’s users. It’s important to have bug free software, and creativity while testing is often the first place to start. Just remember who’s going to see your data and when to use appropriate testing data.

What is your go-to name or theme when entering test data?

The License Plate Conundrum

The other day I was driving home from work, and at a stoplight, I noticed that the license plate in front of me looked a little different than I remembered others looking. I stared at it for a bit, analyzing it like I do all things around me, and realized that it was not in the normal format that I recalled others. Then I glanced at every other car around me and found that this car’s plate was in fact, different than all the other plates.

Before you continue, here’s a challenge:

WI recently released a new license plate format with their letters and numbers. Can you think of what it is? There are thousands of them already out there now, so you have definitely seen one.

Analyzing the World

All around us there are inconsistencies between similar objects and being in QA teaches us to find those differences. For some, this is a learned ability. It requires time and practice, and the desire to find the problems. For myself, this ability has always come naturally. I’ve always enjoyed the Spot the Difference books, or Hidden Objects in Highlights, or even What’s Wrong with this Image found in similar magazines.

The idea of consistency is actually a simple concept. Either the two pictures, sentences, or layouts are the same or they are not. It’s very black and white. But sometimes it takes an extra moment or a trained eye to find those things. The next time you are driving down the street or viewing the world, try to find an inconsistency between two objects that appear the same, but actually have a difference.

Game Time

I was recently working with some friends on building a fence for a community center, and their sign read like this:

Hours of Operation:
Mon – Fri: 8:00am – 5:00pm
Sat: 9:00am – 3:00 pm
Sun. 8:00am-3:00pm

How many differences or inconsistencies do you see in this sign? Believe it or not, there are three things that I would report as an inconsistency bug. If you found more than three, then either you’re wrong, or I will have to look harder!

For fun, let’s spot the difference. Find the single difference between these two photos.

SpotDifference1

Last one.

SpotDifference2

Would you believe me if I told you I found both of these in under 30 seconds? There is actually a secret to this, and has nothing to do with being in QA.

If you cross your eyes, so that each eye is looking at the opposite photo, the photos become blurry, but it’ll make one clear image in between them, that you can actually then look at and move around on. The difference will appear green and flashing.

Inconsistency Bugs

Sometimes these types of bugs seem trivial to log, or maybe even fix. So what if one page says “Log in” and the other page says “Login”? Or, should we care that the buttons are sentence cased in most of the site, but there is one page way over here that has a title cased button? What about when there is a pixel difference from the item next to it?

All these things can deter users from desiring to use your product. Think about the last time you were on a website, and noticed something slightly off. Perhaps you couldn’t quite place what it was, but it may have bothered you, or you spent time thinking of it, or if you’re like me, you went back to the previous pages to see if you are crazy, or to confirm that you saw the difference. Whatever it is, it wastes time for the user, and causes them to think twice about their workflow.

Even the tiniest of bugs can cause harm to the system. They might not be critical or severe bugs or cause data issues, but they could cause a hiccup in the user’s workflow, and therefore should at least be mentioned.

If you read my thoughts on Collaborative Testing, you’d find that a lot of these things can be caught during that process, and fixed very quickly, so that no bug even needs to be logged. This is the ideal scenario. However, if it’s missed then, but caught during testing, it is always something that should be reported and allowed a decision to be made, because you never know if your user will catch it, and what the result of that could be.

The License Plate

By now you’ve had plenty of time to think about what format the new WI license plates are in. But in case you can’t figure it out, here is one more clue:

AAA-123
AAA-1234
123-AAA
1234-AAA

Think about your license plate and if there are any plates from your past you can remember.

Just so you have the answer before you go, the new plates are in AAA-1234 format. This was because they hit the max on letters/numbers, and it was time to start over again.

What are your thoughts on those minor inconsistency bugs? Log them or don’t? Or, do you even see them most of the time?

Bonus points if you can identify the TV show that this post’s title is based around.

Collaborative Testing

There are many different styles of QAing a project, and I’ve found that much of it depends on who you are working with, what project you’re working on, and what is expected of the final outcome. I have worked hard at developing the Collaborative Testing environment at Zywave, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best method for everyone, it’s just another method that might work, if you’re feeling stuck in the ways you’re currently testing.

So What is Collaborative Testing?

At Zywave, we define Collaborative Testing as the QA team (often more specific to the functional testers) working side-by-side with the dev team, to ensure accuracy of the acceptance criteria, prior to their work getting into the QA environment, where it officially becomes ready to test. This isn’t the all inclusive definition, nor is it one that has been officially decided on, but rather just a statement about what it looks like.

So what does it look like?

When our project managers/directors/BAs give the team a story with acceptance criteria (and everything has been planned and decided on), the dev team begins their work building out the functionality. During this time, I often ask for them to show me what they’re doing, walk me through their code (even though I don’t really understand it all), show off the UI a little, so we can have an open discussion of their work. We have been able to avoid a lot of problematic situations, because we were able to clear up questions prior to them completing there work.

I have found that people interpret stories slightly differently when simply reading the story. For example, we’ve all seen the picture of the swing in the tree, what the BA planned, the designer created, the dev developed, and the qa tested. That image shows that each team member thought about the swing a little differently, and therefore possibly incorrect from what the project manager was hoping for.

These are things we attempt to avoid with Collaborative Testing. By working along side of the developer while they are developing the code, it ensures that we are on the same page with each other. Then, when questions arise, we can approach the BA and get further clarity on expectations. It saves a lot of time and effort, that is often seen with over-the-wall or waterfall approaches.

What about bugs?

Bugs are always going to happen. It’s inevitable (a post to come perhaps). However, I have found that by working closely with devs during the development process, we are able to prevent a large handful of bugs from making their way to the QA environment. We do this a few different ways.

When I Drive

Sometimes the developer will call me over and ask me to sit at their computer and test their code locally, while they go get a cup of coffee. Assuming I’ve already got a good understanding of the story requirements and possibly written my test plan, I am able to get into their work and pull things apart. Just like I might have done (or still will do) when the code is in QA, I can test it hard on their computer, and jot down a list of items for them to fix that I was able to catch. This, however, does not get the developer thinking like I do, but it does allow me to get into an in-depth test scenario and potentially reveal a big issue that I was expecting to see.

When Developers Drive

A similar style would be for the developer to drive, and I will look over their shoulder and ask them to perform miscellaneous clicks and entries, ensuring accuracy of the requirements. Sometimes we are able to get into deeper scenarios, but in this method, it’s often a bit more surface level of the functionality. This method gets the developer into the mindset of the QA analyst, beginning to think about different workflows to test on their own, before calling me over to collaborate with them next time.

I have found many developers use either or both methods with me at different times, and the results of these conversations are great. I’ve seen devs testing their code in ways they normally wouldn’t, or when they call me over, and I throw a wild scenario at them, they tell me they’ve already tested and verified it works, they will prove it, and then inform me that they knew I was going to ask that. We have now begun to save everyone time, and the developer is beginning to produce less bugs in their code up front.

What Are the Dilemmas?

There are a handful of things that can hold this process up, cause it to not work so great, or prevent Collaborative Testing from happening all together. Some of these things can be worked on or fixed, and some things will just never change.

The Dev

We all know about the stereotypical developer, with their quiet personality, perhaps a bit shy, maybe staring at the floor when they talk to you, etc. Sometimes we gain this interpretation from experience, and other times from TV and movies like IT Crowd, The Social Network, or Silicon Valley. In my experience, I have found a wide variety of developer styles:

  • The stereotypical devs
  • The very outgoing devs
  • The confident or possibly cocky devs
  • The “my code is perfect” devs
  • The “love the feedback” devs (my favorite)
  • and many more

Each dev works differently. It’s up to you as the tester to figure out your team member’s personality, and challenge them to try something new. At Zywave, our Agile approach allows us to try something for a short time, and if it works, we keep it. If it fails miserably, we evaluate why, and then either try again or drop it completely.

The QA

Collaborative Testing isn’t for everyone, no method is. If you are the type of tester who prefers working entirely alone, or are not bold enough to ask a developer to show you what they have, then you might not be interested in Collaborative Testing. Perhaps you’re stuck in your old ways and what you’ve been doing just works. Well I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone, have a discussion with your development team, and attempt some of these methods described above. The efforts will pay off when you realize they fix almost all of your bugs before their code even gets into your hands.

Outsourcing

This has been an interesting experience for me and a challenge to overcome. I’ve had the opportunity to work with outsourced teams, where the developers where in another location, and I was in the office. We had to communicate entirely over chat programs and the occasional phone call, while still attempting to get collaboration done together.

We have made this work by first, explaining the concepts above, and what I wanted to do with them. Second, repeatedly ask them where they’re at in their work throughout the day, because it’s so easy to go a whole day and not talk when there is no in-person interaction. And lastly, joining them in a screen-sharing program and while they walk me through their work, design, and development of the UI. Then I get the opportunity to have them go through a few scenarios before promoting this work to QA. This falls under the developer driving methods above.

Company Policy or Structure

One of the hardest barriers to overcome, and perhaps one of the most common I’ve heard from talking with the local QA community, is that the office structure is setup in a way to promote department collaboration instead of the product or workflow. Meaning, the developers all sit together in one room, the QA in another, and so on. This is a difficult scenario, and one that may not work for this type of testing efforts. However, if the company allows, you could go for a walk and visit their desk, and take that time to have them show you some things.

Another structure I’ve heard is the over-the-wall approach that some companies are so used to. With over-the wall testing, code gets out of the developers hands entirely, and into QA for testing. Then when there is a bug, they hand it back to the dev to fix. QA moves on, and developer eventually gets to the problem, fixes it, and tosses it back over. This cycle repeats, and essentially wastes a lot of time for both parties.

Follow Up

What are you thoughts on this? Have you tried something like this before? Is this just crazy talk? Let me know what you’re thinking or if you have any other advice on this subject. I love learning additional ways to test with different people and products.