The Gamification of Software Testing—An Interview with Christin Wiedemann

[interview]

Noel: Hello this is Noel Wurst with TechWell and I am speaking with Christin Wiedemann today. Christin is going to be speaking at STARWEST, which is going to be in Anaheim, California, giving a session on Thursday, October 3, titled “It’s All Fun and Games, Using Play to Improve Tester Creativity.” How are you this afternoon Christin?
 
Christin: I’m just fine Noel. Thanks for talking to me.
 
Noel: Great, thanks for sitting down. I was very curious to speak with you. As a gamer myself, I am always drawn to anything involving games. I try and turn anything I can into a game, whether it’s me all by myself or with my children or coworkers or anyone who will play a game with me. So I was very interested to learn more about your session and what it’s about.
 
I was reading the abstract for it and I saw where you mentioned that even amidst the growing number of tools, a tester’s most important tool is their mind—which I thought was really interesting. I was curious as to why you think the mind might get put on the back burner when new, wonderful tools are unveiled or old tools that people will always be using—I wondered if you think maybe the mind sometimes gets neglected, or set aside, or if you think it’s one of those things that testers especially know how important that tool is?
 
Christin: I don’t think it’s unique to testing, but to me it seems that in recent years there’s been a lot of focus on tools, whereas automated testing is becoming more and more commonly used. But just like with everything else, tools won’t give you good results unless you know how, when, and why to apply them. If you go out and you buy the most expensive frying pan on the market it’s still not going to make you a good chef.
 
The tools themselves, they just … they don’t guarantee good testing. Once you have an automated script maybe what you need to do is press the start button, but you still have to decide what are you going to automate, and how you are going to automate it? How are you going to interpret the results? And the tools won’t do that for you.
 
I’m a little bit worried that we’re shifting the focus from people to the tools. The foundation of software testing, at least to me, is still identifying potential problems. I’m amazed that you have to be able to see both what’s not there and what’s there which shouldn’t be. It’s about commutative skills. It’s about pattern recognition, analytical thinking, and those skills are, at least to me, something I need to practice to get good at.
 
Noel: That’s pretty cool. I was talking to someone recently from, I think they were from HP, and she was saying how she is a big advocate of automated testing, but she was speaking about how she wasn’t just trying to push tools. She was saying that she thinks that a lot more companies are going to have really skilled test architects to be able to truly maximize those tools and not just say, “hey I’ve got this tool and it has made my life easier," but to have these tests architects to come in and really know how to build something great to be able to put into that tool to really get everything out of it—which kind of makes me think of that.
 
Christin: Yeah, I think we need to really help testers grow the non-technical skills as well. And we can’t forget what I think is the most important thing of all and that is that we should enjoy what we do and have fun at work. Otherwise we won’t be able to do a good job.
 
Noel: I agree. So, I know that sweeping generalizations are usually frowned upon, but I’ve interviewed a lot of testers over time and a lot of them believe that they (testers) are a little different and I don’t know if it’s creativity or if it’s just the ability to think differently than other team members. I know you were just saying that you don’t think it’s limited to testing, that the mind is truly special for everyone, but would you say that testers kind of have a natural kind of creativity and even curiosity that gaming really tends to help out?
 
Christin: I would say that I think that good software testers do.
 
I think you need a little bit of imagination to be able to both see things from a user’s perspective, and to predict issues, as well as coming up with different scenarios that the developers might never have thought of because that’s typically where you’re going to find problems, right?
 
Noel: Right.
 
Christin: And you need a curiosity just to drive your own learning.
 
Noel: I can say that though I’m an avid a gamer myself, maybe I don’t give gaming enough credit, because I feel like whenever I want to turn something into a game—it’s just so I can have more fun, really. It’s solely because I enjoy playing them so much. I’ve never been able to defend the amount of gaming that I do. It’s because for me I’ve always just looked at it as something fun, but I feel like a lot more people are seeing an additional value in it. Things like being able to boost your creativity in your thinking skills. I was curious as to how you see gaming doing this. Maybe so I can have more ammo when someone challenges the amount of gaming that I do.
 
Christin: I think we need to start by defining gaming.
 
When I say "games" I use the word in its broadest sense. I include all types of logical games, puzzles, riddles, team building exercises, etc. And I think that different types of games teach us different things, but always can be applied both our personal and professional lives. So, typically riddles and puzzles train our critical thinking and pattern recognition skills.
 
But it also trains our capability of thinking outside of the box, which basically is being creative and to find answers that are not obvious. I mean, take any typical puzzle or the type of riddles you were trying to solve when you were a kid, they’re usually set up in a way to try to fool you, right?
 
Noel: Right.
 
Christin: To present a false, but seemingly obvious answer where the truth is hidden beneath another couple of layers and that’s just what testing’s about, is trying to see past that false answer and find the truth.
 
Noel: Do you think that gaming in the workplace is, well, obviously it’s still fairly new, but, in looking at the number of sessions that are starting to talk about gaming and the number of companies that are starting to use it, do you think it can still be sometimes a hard sell to management or leadership who have maybe not introduced something like that during company time? Do you think that people who attend your session can get what they need to be able to go back and convince management or leadership why this is good idea?
 
Christin: I don’t actually think it’s a hard sell. People in all levels that I talk to tend to see the value. It’s just that they’ve never thought of it. They never made a connection between playing games and actually learning something that would improve your work performance. And I think it’s important to clearly define though what you learn from a certain game or what the skills are that you’re practicing.
 
Otherwise the game of course loses a lot of its value and it might also just be seen as a game and a waste of work time.
 
There’s still a tendency in general I think to see work and fun as opposites.
 
And they’re definitely not and that’s where you should try to start. If you let it, it’s okay to have fun at work.
 
Noel: If it’s not so much a hard sell to leadership, or maybe the question should be can it be sometimes more difficult to convince an employee, maybe one who has been around for a while and has been in an environment where this has never really been done before. Do you think it can be sometimes even more difficult to convince an employee who is not seeing the benefits of gaming and the skills that it will improve even though some people in the organization may really preach this highly? Do you think it can be hard sometimes to convince just other people to kind of play along with the rest of the team even if management and leadership has welcomed it in?
 
Christin: I don’t think I really met anyone so far who doesn’t enjoy some kind of game or puzzle, whether it’s riddles, Sudoku, or crossword puzzles.
 
The problem is that people often fear that they will be assessed on their performance. So they might be reluctant to participate because they’re afraid of failing. They’re afraid of trying something they haven’t tried before because they don’t know the answers. And of course the whole point of playing these games is that you don’t know the answer. You’re trying to learn and improve your skills. So the key is really to make sure that the games are never used to evaluate people.
 
And that they understand and trust that.
 
Noel: That’s really great, being never used for evaluation. I haven’t really heard anyone say that before.
 
Christin: I think it needs to be pointed out explicitly actually. It’s also important to make sure that everyone can succeed.
 
You definitely don’t want to set people up for failure. So, a good way to get past people’s initial fear is usually to make people work in groups that they’re comfortable with. People solve tasks together so that they build up their own confidence.
 
Noel: That’s really good. I was at a party this weekend where my six-year-old son was with me and some people were playing one of those Dance Dance Revolution games for the Xbox Kinect where it tracks your movement. My six-year-old secretly really enjoys dancing, and he didn’t want to get up and do it because there were grownups around and he was embarrassed and shy.
 
There was a girl my age who really wanted to show him how to play. I told him “she really wants to show you how to do it because she knows you’ll think it’s fun. You should let her show you how.” He said he didn’t want to because “she’ll beat me.” I said to him “Yeah, she’ll probably beat you … but that’s not the point of it.”
 
It’s like you were just saying, that fear of losing was his fear. It wasn’t that people would laugh at him. I was going about it like he was embarrassed to play it or he was too shy, but that wasn’t actually it. It was that he didn’t want to lose. I should have told him they were going to turn the score off, or something like that. He probably would have gotten right up and done it.
 
Christin: And all those things are things you need to be aware of if you try to introduce games, because that was the pressure a six-year-old felt at a party with people that are friends, right?
 
Noel: Right.
 
Christin: The pressure in a work environment is so much higher.
 
Noel: That’s a great way to go about it. I’ve always thought you’re trying to convince people that something is fun, or you’re trying to convince them that it’s beneficial to them. That might not be what’s holding them back. It may just be that they don’t want to play it because, like my son, they haven’t played before and they are convinced that they’re going to lose, and that’s what is holding them back. That the score is actually something that’s going to be used against them. That’s really great.
 
Christin: Of course you always want a work environment of trust.
 
But sometimes when you try to introduce games it would really be obvious how much the trust there is within your team or within your organization.
 
Noel: Fantastic. Well thank you so much for answering my questions today. Christin’s session is going to be on Thursday, October 3 at STARWEST in Anaheim, California and the session is titled, “It’s All fun and Games, Using Play to Improve Tester Creativity.” Thank you so much again.
 
Christin: Thanks, Noel.
 
 
After eleven years as an astroparticle physicist, Christin Wiedemann brings her logical and analytical problem-solving skills to the world of testing. Five years into her new career, Christin is still eager to learn, looking for new ways to test more efficiently, constantly trying new approaches, and keen to share her experiences. In her roles as tester, test lead, trainer, and speaker, she uses her scientific background and pedagogic abilities to continually develop her own skills and those of others. Co-creator of the exploratory testing approach xBTM, Christin lives in Vancouver, where she has joined Professional Quality Assurance Ltd.
 

User Comments

2 comments
Christin Wiedemann's picture
Christin Wiedemann

I don't think any gaming experience is required, instead you try to find games that appeal to everyone's inherent curiousity. Some games might be slightly more beneficial for certain areas of testing, but I believe that what's more important is that all games help train the general tester mind set.

September 17, 2013 - 6:43am
Mukesh Sharma's picture
Mukesh Sharma

Christin - Introducing games in testing is something I've been hearing a lot about recently. I'm excited to this how this evolves over the years. As a tester, would a person need to have any gaming experience in exploring this area or are we primarily leveraging the person's inherent gaming skills here? Also, would specific test areas (functional, UI, usability, performance, security) benefit more from a game based testing approach or the value is going to be more or less the same across test areas?

September 13, 2013 - 7:59am

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