Monday, August 29, 2011

Today, I Choose Yellow

Sometimes the smallest things can be inspiration for test ideas.  Sometimes they make you sit back and pause and consider.   After enjoying a nice lunch with my family, my wife presented me with a colored page of Dora the Explorer, with my daughter's name and the date on it.  I took it to work and proudly displayed it on part of my cube wall.   I examined the picture and considered how she had gone to work coloring it.  Now she's not even two years old yet, so staying within the lines is not something I'd expect from a soon to be two year old.

However, two things jumped out at me.   For this page she had chosen a single color: Yellow.  It wasn't any particularly stark or bright shade of yellow, just a plain almost mustard color.   So then I began to think, why Yellow?  Dora isn't blonde, she has brown hair.  Her shirt is usually pink, and she wears orange pants.  Her backpack is a shade of magenta or a light lavender.  So there isn't a lot of Yellow there to work with as inspiration as far as I could tell.

So when I ponder why she selected those colors, as a Tester, the initial thought was that she had a reason for choosing that color.  I wasn't present when the picture was colored, but when I think back to the beginning, of other pictures she has colored, then the reason becomes clear.  My little one you see, isn't logical yet, her mind not quite fully developed.  She's bright and smart, charming even in her own way, but she's not even two yet.   More than likely she chose the color yellow because that was the first crayon her hands came around, and then, instead of changing colors for different parts of the picture, she continued until her mind felt she had colored as much as she dared too, and then moved onto something else.

How many of us as testers and software professionals do that?  How easily do we grab a hold of an emotion or an idea in any particular day and then view and work the entire day as if through that color whatever hue it may be?  Does that emotion and idea affect everything we do that day?  Do we let it bleed into our code, our testing, or our conversations with others?  When they look at you that morning, will they see the color yellow?

I learned from a book "Anger is a choice", that many emotions, anger in particular, are neither negative or positive.  It is how we react when those emotions come up that determines how we are viewed.   How many of us as Test or Software Professionals have encountered something, maybe it was minor at some point and we let it go, but it nagged at us.  As much as we tried to ignore, or deny this one thing, there it was the color of red, that our mind didn't want to ignore.  At some point, do we then find our focus so deeply on the color that we begin to see everything as if it was tinted that shade?

There's a danger here for Testers.  When our reaction and emotional make up begins to bleed through into our work, into our analysis and observation of systems under test, there is the possibility that it could lead us astray.  It could cause us to miss something that we'd see if our attention were not partially focused somewhere else.  It could cause us to react reflexively to something someone said that was intended in all good fun, or perhaps to help us with something with which we are grappling.

It's important I think to remember that Testers, like the clients for which we test software, are emotional beings as well.  Maybe our clients will see red when this one really annoying malformed feature crops up again and again.  Maybe they've ignored it thirty times through the application, then one day, when their emotional system is already spent from something that happened on the way to the office, or at home, and bang that one annoyance becomes the lit fuse that sets them off.  Ever know any people like that?  Ever had a client like that?

Now let's turn this on its head.  Maybe there's some issue, some flaw, that the team doesn't really classify as a fault in the software, some piece by which something is not as correct as it could be, but in your mind you, or the team in general have decided that's not important.  It's a minor, non-critical issue, and why would a user care if the time and date are displayed in YYYY:MM:DD form vs DD:MM:YYYY form?   Maybe on a normal day they won't, but do we ever consider how emotion on the part of the client, may play to what bugs they see as critical or important?

Furthermore, do we as Testers always try to enter into our testing sessions with as blank an emotional slate as possible?  Do we try to be like the Vulcan's of Star Trek utterly devoid of emotion, and creatures of pure logic for the duration of the test run?   If so, why do we do this?  Do we think a user will view the software with such a dispassionate view of how it works?

If, like me, you have ever had the chance to work the support lines for a company, then you know what I mean when I say that the customer has a personal way of dealing with his or her own emotions.  They may be struggling to get the software to perform, maybe they've had training and have used it successfully in the past, but one little nook, one little detail escapes them as they are partially distracted by some emotional atrocity they have endured this week.

Michael Bolton, no not the singer, or guy from office space, gave a keynote talk at the 2011 Conference for Association of Software Testing.  Michael talked at length about the history of testing, and at one point described how decisions on quality are "both political and emotional."  Another tester there, Michael Hunter (@humbugreality) in one of the emerging topics or lightning talks also talked about the 'emotional tester'.  I was able to follow some of these talks online, and I can't give enough kudos to the organizers of CAST and the hard working volunteers that worked to have those talks and the keynotes available online for those of us who were unable to attend.

How much role does emotion really play in our craft?  Do we allow it to simply be, to drive our assessment, to harness, or control it?  Do we inject it intentionally to see how it may color our opinion of an interface, or to see how our perception changes when our mood has changed?  Those are questions I'll probably ponder for a while.  It's funny how something as simple as a colored picture of a cartoon character by my youngest child could bring me back to contemplate these ideas in testing, but then maybe these ideas have been buzzing in my head since I first heard them, just like the color yellow.

(Edit: Thanks to Justin Hunter (@hexawise) for remembering it was Michael Hunter who gave the emerging talk on "Emotional Testing""

1 comment:

  1. For what its worth, if anyone knows the name of the other tester who gave the 'emotional testing' talk at CAST2011, or somewhere else this year, let me know, I'd love to cite and link back to some work, I just can't recall whom it was.