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Freedom and responsibility in testing. Interview with Rikard Edgren

After 2 years with Microsoft's localized products, Rikard spent 11 years with Spotfire, producer of interactive data visualization products. The last 3 years has been as a consultant with lots of education at companies and higher vocational studies programs. Teaching is a learning experience, with the number one testing question: What is important?
6 November 2014
Interviews
The article by a1qa
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After 2 years with Microsoft’s localized products, Rikard spent 11 years with Spotfire, producer of interactive data visualization products. The generalized learnings resulted in the free e-book The Little Black Book On Test Design. The last 3 years has been as a consultant with lots of education at companies and higher vocational studies programs. Teaching is a learning experience, with the number one testing question: What is important?

He is a regular at (inter)national conferences, with five appearances at EuroSTAR. Member of the think-tank The Test Eye , co-author of Software Quality Characterucits, and co-organizer of SWET, Swedish Workshop on Exploratory Testing. Rikard currently work as test consultant at LearningWell in Sweden.

a1qa: Rikard, exploratory testing is your primary sphere of interest. Can you name the biggest trap of this testing approach?

Rikard Edgren: An important part of exploratory testing is freedom and responsibility. It is easy as a tester to get lost in the freedom and find interesting things, but letting go of the responsibility of getting a test coverage that is appropriate for the current testing missions. This is definitely not easy, it requires a good understanding of the software and the situation, test performance hands-on skills, together with careful observation and communications of results in recipient-friendly manners.

Not sure I can name this, but let’s call it The Fun Trap – you do testing that is fun, but you might not provide the information that really is needed. The solution is to work on your skills: rapid learning, critical thinking, understanding what is important, testing with a variety in methods, collaborating, and more…

a1qa: Test strategy is an inseparable part of any testing project though it is unique for every situation. Still, what is a good test strategy for you?

Rikard Edgren: Good question where I have one short answer published here – a good test strategy is specific, practical, justified, diverse, resource efficient, reviewable, anchored, changeable, erroneous.

I have a long answer about how to get there in a 52 page book, Den Lilla Svarta om Teststrategi, but it is only available in Swedish. It is my own version of James Bach’s Heuristic Test Strategy Model, which is in English and recommend to all testers.

A typical mistake for testers is to not understand the testing mission, to just “test the product”. You will test in different ways depending on if you are looking for all/important bugs; if broad test coverage is needed for decision support; if you need to adhere to standards or regulations; if your information is to be used by other parties like support or end users.

In short, understand which information people need, and create a good test strategy by using efficient test methods, usually found by experimenting in many ways, and getting more and more experiences from unique situations.

a1qa: Testing education is also one of your current focus areas. Can a tester do a good job just spotting the defects without learning something new? Do you agree with the statement that performing tests day by day is basically enough to become experienced and qualified QA engineer.

Rikard Edgren: Testing is about learning, so without learning it won’t be a good job.

Performing tests day by day can be a good method, that’s how I started myself. But you need freedom, so you can try out many different ways of testing. You probably also need peers who add new ideas and challenge yours. You need honest reflection, but also hard, boring work when required.

But testing day by day, in the same way, won’t probably increase your skills much.

Also, people learn different things in different ways, and a variety in learning methods is recommended (reading, discussing, go to conferences/classes, work in other roles, teach etc.) My own best school were several years of lunch discussions with my peers where we reflected on our work, and brainstormed for new solutions to our problems. And learning-wise, it probably wasn’t the results that mattered, it was the discussions, where we had to explain our thinking, and understand others thinking.

a1qa: No doubts, self-education is an essential part of any professional field. Though it seems really hard to inspire people to learn. What would you advise the manager how to stimulate his team members to learn?

Rikard Edgren: I don’t really believe in stimulating or motivating people. I think each person’s intrinsic motivation is the key to learning. So the manager should first make sure that they don’t de-motivate people. Second thing can be to show by examples; that’s something that inspires many.

Learning is such an essential part of software testing, so if you don’t like to learn new things, it might not be the right profession.

Rikard, thanks a lot for the interview and sharing your thoughts. We hope to talk to you again.

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