Live Blog: Principles before Practices: Transform your Testing by Understanding Key Concepts, Randy Rice, STAREAST 2014

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds's picture

Randy Rice took the stage to a grand ballroom full of attendees. His keynote presentation kicked off the series of keynote presentations to be delivered in the next thirty-six hours at STAREAST 2014 in sunny Orlando, Florida.

Rice began his presentation with words of advice on how important it is to understand key concepts before you practice and before you dive into testing. Before telling us what principles should be known and why, he covered some common misconceptions.

Early testing is good, except for when the thing you are testing isn’t ready for early testing. Make sure your ideas are at least half-baked, but ideally, they should be already thought out before you start testing. Testing won’t help much if your idea isn’t heading in the right direction, let alone if you don’t have a good understanding of what direction that should or could be.

The other misconception is that test automation is automatic. Automated testing isn’t automatically going to give you the results you need, and it isn’t automatically going to test what needs to be tested.

With these misconceptions covered, Rice jumped into some implicit principles. First, not every failure is a defect. Sometimes the only way to grow is through failure, and a failure in testing can help hone direction and spark ideas for improvements.

Secondly, not every test can or should be automated. The expectation of 100 percent automation isn’t realistic. Consequently, it’s important to also understand that automated testing isn’t always the better or viable replacement for manual testing.

Thirdly, it doesn’t matter how good your test is if you are testing the wrong version. If you are testing version C and version D is the acting version, your test data is worthless.

After hitting home with some strong principles, Rice lightened the mood with a humorous analogy. With reference to the common belief that testing and learning are a straight line, Rice said testing in fact isn’t a direct path from beginning to mastery. It is much more like the board game Candy Land: It’s a winding and looping road, and you often hit spots where you have to go back several steps before you are able to advance again.

Building on this idea, Rice spoke about the four levels of Bloom’s taxonomy: (1) remember, (2) understand, (3) do, and (4) analyze. If we jump from the foundation of level two (the understand stage) too soon, we won’t get any reinforcement or understanding from our practices (the do stage), and because of this we will never be able to reach mastery, which is achieved in the analysis stage.

So, what does it take to climb the mountain of understanding? You need to know that it isn’t as easy as just being told how to use the tool. It takes a hands-off approach first that is conceptual. It’s also important to understand that even champions in sports and other disciplines need coaches and to work on the foundations and fundamentals to achieve greatness. Coaching can provide an objective view of where you are and where you need to be.

Rice then detailed a common mistake in learning from coaches or mentors. Learning by mimicking isn’t learning how to do, it’s learning how to mimic that specific task and that task only. Understanding the concepts is the only way to reach the top of the mountain and achieve mastery.

Practice is vital. Practice in good conditions and extreme ones. Conditions when testing independently may work fine, but when combined, some methods may expose new problems and gaps in understanding. Try new approaches, test something new, delve deeper into an approach or technique you already know, and be a beta tester for new technology.

Rice ended his presentation to applause with his final thought: that you should adhere to the thousand-hour rule posed by Malcolm Gladwell. Even if you know the key concepts and you have the foundation to be a good tester, if you don’t practice, you won’t ever achieve mastery.