Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Do you still remember your first 'real' test

I still remember my first real test.
Do you?
Since I generalise wildly, I assume that you do.
Note: my first 'real' test. Not "the first time I found a bug". For the purposes of this exercise I defined my first 'real' test as the first time I can remember purposefully thinking like a tester with regards to software and actively hunting out a bug.
You may choose a different definition - up to you. And you may have more effective recall of your formative years - bully for you. But - my blog, my story.

So... when I were but a lad, at University, we used green screen terminals hooked on to a Prime mini-mainframe. The library had a set of terminals all arranged close to the front of the library where we could go and search for books, reserve books, and other stuff which I can no longer remember but it all seemed terribly important at the time.
I do remember that the library search functionality would allow us to type in wildcards. And I went through 4 years of nicely typing in wild cards: "cobol*", "*testing", etc. All very studious and efficient.
In my last year I started to study testing, and I read every testing book in the library (not many) and I guess that helped me start thinking about 'testing', helped me start identifying risks, helped me start thinking 'what on earth might someone have done wrong when building this - that I can figure out'.
So I sat staring at the little green flashing VT52 cursor one day... Aha! And typed '*' into the search.
But the system cleverly didn't allow single character searches. After all, to return all results might prove detrimental to the shared computer system's performance.
So I decided to explore the boundaries of this particular routine and the limits of the error trapping thought process of the developer.
So I duly typed in "**". And I waited. And I waited. And the system didn't give me any responses. I did however notice some verbal responses - the moans and complaints from the terminal users sitting beside me as their systems froze in front of them.
I uttered a few choice curse-words of my own and left the library in a hurry so as not to draw attention to myself from the angry mob.
A hang-up has stayed with me from that day. I do not particularly like testing in live, just in case I inconvenience people.
So when I do test live systems I try to go so far as to identify a weakness but not exploit it - unless of course the owners asked me to. This has ruined my chances of becoming an effective hacker. So I now have to submit to a self administered course of Evil Tester Provocative Therapy.
I find the change in my attitude interesting, and I hope this post will encourage you to engage in a similar memory exercise.
Back then...
  • At that point I thought I had done something wrong.
  • At that point I felt bad that I had brought the system down.
  • At that point I slunk out, despite having found a showstopper.
But now!
  • I no longer find anything wrong with testing - I try to get as much fun out of it as possible
  • I don't blame myself for bringing systems down - I reflect and learn from the thought processes I used
  • I don't feel bad if I find exploitable situations - heck, I feel proud
  • I no longer slink - I report...carefully.
So why post this?
Our attitudes to testing. Our approaches to testing. Our beliefs about testing - all these things change over time. Thinking back, allows you to see how you have changed, to identify the good changes and the bad. To see growth in your approach. To identify stagnation. It allows you to analyse if anything you do counts as a 'hang up' rather than a 'beneficial belief'.
And while you don't have to go as far back as your first test, the early memory may entertain you.
If you have any amusing 'first time' anecdotes that you want to make public then please blog about them (and link here so I know about it), or leave a comment.


  1. Great story and something thats given me something to think about - not just what my first bug was but how my ideas and approaches have changed. Will blog about it when I've thought more - will also give this a mention on the Software Testing Club site as I think it's a really interesting post

    Thanks Phil, looking forward to see your blog post.

  2. Hi Evil Tester,

    Great post. It's interesting to see how your perspective has changed since finding the first bug in the terminal. It is a case of audience and purpose as I see it. You're audience has changed but your purpose has remained the same. You are hunting bugs, but you are, as you so excellently put it reporting '..carefully.'.

    Can't really remember my first bug I found though..... Certainly not a standout one like yours.


    Thanks for the comment Rob, there was a period of time where I didn't report carefully and I learned to exhibit more tact - not always evident though. :)

    NOTE: Rob has posted a link in the Software Testing Club forum where members may leave their own 'first time' stories.

  3. I don't remember my first real test, but I do remember the last time I looked at a product _without_ thinking like a tester.

    It was after 2am (isn't it always!), and we'd been working on this release nearly around the clock for a couple weeks. There were five or six of us camped out with laptops on couches in front of a projector; together we constituted the "tiger team" brought in to make it work when the original team had failed and the deadline was here. We'd make some changes, upload the code, start Tomcat, and look for either a login screen or a stack trace. Between the code (inherited, totally uncommented, and not looking like any Java we'd ever seen even), the database (normalized to an extreme), and the data (hand-tweaked in production, no longer consistent across tables, and imported for this effort) in the database, we had been hitting our heads against a brick wall. At 2:30 we finally got our login screen.


    The next morning we found out that the login screen was the ONLY thing that worked. Logins universally failed, and no other page would work.

    A week later I switched over to doing software testing full time.

    Ooh, a 'pre-first first time' :) Glad I never had to go through something like that. Thanks for commenting Catherine.

  4. Blogged about my first test -
    -still-valid-test.html - which has started off another discussion on the STC so cheers for this post, given me a lot of material

    Thanks for the feedback Phil, happy to have helped.

  5. Gina Villafuerte Everardo29 March 2009 at 15:22

    Hi Evil tester:
    I am a amateur tester for a small company. At the moment I am the only member of the testing area and it seems that I am the only person who finds this an interesting area of specialization.
    I use "Sahi" for functional testing and for performance testing using "JMETER. I also have a database in mysql with the testing platform "Testlink", all these are opensource and I think that I am implementing a strong framework for testing

    Sharing the experiences described in your blog. I wonder if you have facebook or beam formed a group to join.

    Regards from Mexico