The software industry venerates the young. If you have a family, you’re too old to code. If you’re pushing 30 or even 25, you’re already over the hill.
Alas, the whippersnappers aren’t always the best solution. While their brains are full of details about the latest, trendiest architectures, frameworks, and stacks, they lack fundamental experience with how software really works and doesn’t. These experiences come only after many lost weeks of frustration borne of weird and inexplicable bugs.
Like the viewers of “Silicon Valley,” who by the end of episode 1.06 get the satisfaction of watching the boy genius crash and burn, many of us programming graybeards enjoy a wee bit of schadenfraude when those who have ignored us for being “past our prime” end up with a flaming pile of code simply because they didn’t listen to their programming elders.
White, who administers these tests frequently as part of her research and clinical work, was especially surprised by Pujols’ performance on two tests in particular, a finger-tapping exercise that measures gross motor performance and a letter cancellation task that measures ability to conduct rapid searches of the environment to locate a specific target.
Asked to place a mark through a specific letter each time it appeared on a page of randomly positioned letters, Pujols used a search strategy that White had never witnessed in 18 years of administering the test.
“What was remarkable about Mr. Pujols’ performance was not his speed but his unique visual search strategy,” White said. “Most people search for targets on a page from left to right, much as they would when reading. In observing Mr. Pujols’ performance, I initially thought he was searching randomly. As I watched, however, I realized that he was searching as if the page were divided into sectors. After locating a single target within a sector, he moved to another sector. Only after locating a single target within each sector, did he return to previously searched sectors and continue his scan for additional targets.”
Asked to depress a tapper with his index finger as many times as possible in 10 seconds, Pujols scored in the 99th percentile, a score almost identical to one earned by Ruth on a similar test of movement speed and endurance. White was impressed not only by Pujols’ tapping speed (2.4 standard deviations faster than normal), but also by the fact that his performance kept improving after repeated trials.
“It was interesting that he actually tapped faster in later trials of the task, suggesting considerable stamina at a high level of performance,” White noted. “Most people tap somewhat slower as the test progresses because their fingers and hands begin to fatigue.”
Pujols tapped with such force, in fact, that, at one point, he actually knocked the tapping key out of alignment. Pujols then helped White repair the finger tapper, tightening a loosened screw with his fingernail, she said.
On additional test I’d pose is: How many members of an agile team can you depress in ten seconds?
At the dojo, kyoshi told us the parable of the saw:
There was a woodsman who went into the woods one day to cut some wood, and he began cutting wood. He didn’t want to waste any time, so he cut all through the day, working harder as his saw grew duller. Another woodsman too frequent breaks to sharpen his saw, and he could cut more efficiently than the first woodsman, who didn’t want to waste the time in sharpening his saw. Now, at the end of the day, who had the most wood? The second woodsman.
He’s right, of course; we need to take breaks to recenter ourselves, to focus on something other than our computer or mobile screens while working. Have you ever had a project or a deadline where you want to just bull rush through your list of tasks and responsibilities without taking a break or you’ll never get it done. Maybe some of you face each day that way.
However, focusing so hard that the pixels start to swim isn’t the solution. You should get up, walk over to the window, maybe even step outside for a minute. Take a breath of the fresh air or, if you’re in the city, try to guess if that’s the smell of the tannery or the chocolate factory.
But what’s important is that you get up, stretch, and do something other than sit at the computer. Don’t just switch out of the application you’re working on and check Twitter or read a blog entry. These don’t give you the chance to refocus.
And when you’re done and you sit back down at the computer, you’ll be sharpened like a saw and ready to see what’s before you on the screen instead of waving lines of endless obligation.
Posted in Miscellany | Comments Off on The Parable of The Saw
Here’s a story about how a default in a drop-down list almost killed a young man even though a complete triple-checked system and warnings should have prevented it.
The clinicians involved in Pablo’s case that day — physicians, nurses and pharmacists—all made small errors or had mistaken judgments that contributed to their patient’s extraordinary overdose. Yet it was the computer systems, and the awkward and sometimes unsafe ways that they interact with busy and fallible human beings, that ultimately were to blame. And the biggest culprit may well have been the hospital’s incessant electronic alerts. Some automated warnings misled the medical staff; others were lost in the cacophony of alarms going off throughout the hospital.
Read the whole thing, and think about how it should impact your application design and testing.
Posted in Miscellany | Comments Off on No Deadlier Default
This list talks about active retention strategy and dedicates a couple of bullet points to it.
However, I’d swap out those for a couple of other ideas, such as:
Keep the employees doing the same things for a long period of time. The tedium of a couple of videos during orientation is nothing compared to doing the same tasks over and over again for years.
Don’t demonstrate the employee’s impact or meaning to the company effort. Especially in the auxiliary jobs–like QA–where employees might not see how their efforts are helping the company. Employees who feel forgotten, who feel as though they don’t matter, or feel as though they’re taken for granted are not employees for long.
Don’t succeed as a company. If your employee doesn’t see the company as a long-term success, the employee will look for one that is.
Build a corporate culture catering to one lifestyle. The stereotypical startup involves coding all night fueled by energy drinks and pizza, having crazy outings as a company, and funky office space with video games, a bar, and/or foosball/pool/bubble hockey tables. This is all well and good for a certain kind of employee–one fresh out of college or the parents’ basement, but if the culture favors only on those employees (especially if the culture is supposed to make up for lesser pay, longer hours, or other shortcomings), employees who move out of that phase of their lives will go look for a grown up company to work for.
That would bring the number up to more than ten, though.
The song says there are fifty ways to leave your lover (although the song itself does not enumerate them all, and Paul Simon marked that defect Resolved (Won’t Fix)). There are probably that many ways to lose your worker, too.
Posted in Management | Comments Off on Top 10 Ways To Ensure Your Best People Will Quit
When I was a lad, fresh out of the university with a degree in English and Philosophy and no actual career prospects, I worked as a produce clerk for a small off-chain produce and cheese shop. They had daily garbage pickup on weekdays, but nothing on the weekends, which were some of the busiest days of the week. As a result, on Sunday afternoons, the dumpster started to fail boundary analysis, at which time the store manager would order a clerk or two to climb up onto the pile and jump up and down to compact it so we could dump the last few cans of refuse into it. Come to think of it, I’ve seen the same philosophy applied to hardware resource management.
So as I stood and watched the younger kids jumping in the dumpster, I decided that if I was ever ordered to climb into the dumpster, I would drop my apron in the alley and never come back.
PayPal is working on a new generation of embeddable, injectable and ingestible devices that could replace passwords as a means of identification.
Jonathan LeBlanc, PayPal’s global head of developer evangelism, claims that these devices could include brain implants, wafer-thin silicon chips that can be embedded into the skin, and ingestible devices with batteries that are powered by stomach acid.
These devices would allow “natural body identification,” by monitoring internal body functions like heartbeat, glucose levels and vein recognition, Mr LeBlanc told the Wall Street Journal.
Over time they would come to replace passwords and even more advanced methods of identification, like fingerprint scanning and location verification, which he says are not always reliable.
I’d rather not be personally, bodily on the Internet of Things unless there’s a compelling medical reason for it, and even then I’m going to ask my doctor to examine all the steampunk options first.
Posted in Miscellany | Comments Off on The Day I Quit
Do you even consider what truncation might do to your email subject lines?
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take whatever the choice is because I don’t want to win a baby.
When you’re testing emails, give some thought to the crazy and unfortunate ways they might get truncated by email clients, will you? We’ve all seen the business analyst or sales assistant job posting email and snickered.
Don’t let us snicker at you.
Posted in Failed e-mails | Comments Off on I’ll Take The Pack of Rabid, Underfed Ferrets
So I’m coming back from an errand early one morning, and I turn onto the farm road where I live. I live out in the country, you see, and the farm road is a long, straight road that rolls over hills and creeks between fences, woods, and pastures. As I’m driving down the farm road, I think to myself, Although it’s technically day time, on cloudy days, deer are often active later than normal. I remember a particular stretch of the road just before the creek, where a cow pasture faces woods and where I’ve seen deer before. Then, as the relative elevation of the road changes in relation to the pasture, I see a single deer in the middle of the pasture against the backdrop of the hills beyond, and I slow my truck to ten miles an hour. Where are your buddies? I ask him, because does and fawns travel together in family groups.
Two deer dart across the road, and two others turn from the fence they were about to hop and retreat into the pasture. If I’d been traveling normal speed, I very well might have hit one of them.
I know the general behavior of deer; I know the lay of the land and the geography of deer crossings; and I just might have seen the deer in my peripheral vision, outside my focus but enough to trigger additional caution until I did see it consciously. That’s how I knew the deer were there.
And that’s how I found that bug. I know the general behavior of computers, applications, and interfaces; I know something of the domain or problem this program is trying to solve; and I have wide peripheral vision when testing, the ability to see things wrong in the corner of my eye and retry my actions with focus on the problem area.
No, that extra few hundred dollars on your monthly sewer bill isn’t a typo.
A bill miscalculation that began nearly two years ago has the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District asking thousands of customers in St. Louis County to pay for services that never showed up on bills. The average undercharge for an affected household: $450.
Nearly 1,900 residential customers and 3,700 commercial customers are being asked to pay more on their current sewer bill, which should be in mailboxes by the week of April 6 at the latest.
The discrepancy began in May 2013, when Missouri American Water, which provides water service in much of the St. Louis County portion of MSD’s territory, changed its billing system.
MSD buys water meter data from Missouri American in order to calculate many customer rates, but the new system’s data wasn’t properly computing with MSD’s billing programs, district spokesman Lance LeComb said.
“Ultimately MSD is responsible for getting the data right and making sure we have correct account information and send out correct bills,” he said. “Missouri American Water was very supportive of our efforts and provided additional staff” to fix the problem.
Dependency upon an integration, and something at the data provider changed. Expensively.
On the MSD bills, they encourage you to “go green” and pay your bills online:
Given their track record, I can understand anyone’s reluctance to allow MSD’s computer systems access to a customer bank account or credit card.
Posted in Miscellany | Comments Off on Failed Data Integration Costs Customers Hundreds of Dollars
You’re going to listen to or watch all twelve minutes.
It has been said that your first Doctor is your favorite. This is not true in my case; my first Doctor was Tom Baker, but my favorite is Colin Baker. And no, I haven’t seen the new ones with Tobey Maguire and Ed Norton as the Doctor.
Posted in QA music | Comments Off on QA Music: All The Doctor Who Themes
When asked to help or to do a favor, whether it is to donate money to charity, fill out a questionnaire or let a stranger use a cellphone, research has shown many people will say “yes” simply because saying “no” would make them even more uncomfortable. This is especially true when people have to give their answer face to face, rather than by email.
And even when people do say “no,” they become more likely to say “yes” to subsequent requests. “They feel so guilty about saying ‘no,’ they feel they need to salvage the relationship,” says Vanessa Bohns, assistant professor of management sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
The world could use more No.
Posted in Miscellany | Comments Off on Public Service Announcement
Yeah, I know. They’ve got a new album out. I’ve got it. But it doesn’t stick in my mind like some of the older stuff.
This song reminds me of a woman I coached in softball back when I was in college. She once put a woman in the hospital with an errant throw, so I nicknamed her Thunderball. Then she got shot down by muggers in front of her kids because she wouldn’t kneel for the muggers.
Doesn’t that brighten up your Monday?
Posted in QA music | Comments Off on QA Music: Thunderstruck
NASA’s been writing mission-critical software for space exploration for decades, and now the organization is turning those guidelines into a coding standard for the software development industry.
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Laboratory for Reliable Software recently published a set of code guidelines, “The Power of Ten—Rules for Developing Safety Critical Code.” The paper’s author, JPL lead scientist Gerard J. Holzmann, explained that the mass of existing coding guidelines is inconsistent and full of arbitrary rules, rarely allowing for now-essential tasks such as tool-based compliance checks. Existing guidelines, he said, inundate coders with vague rules, causing code quality of even the most critical applications to suffer.
On the front page of the September 9, 2014, Wall Street Journal, we find that GE has exited the kitchen with the sale of its appliance business:
However, on page B3 the same day, the drop quote in an article would seem to indicate otherwise:
Of course, General Electric is not buying the food company Annie’s; the headline makes clear that the General in this case is General Mills (stock symbol: GIS).
But there’s nothing in the drop-quote to indicate something is wrong within its own context. Maybe General Electric often pays premiums like that during an acquisition. Maybe the copy editor or whomever did this dropquote finished the GE story from page 1 just minutes before working on the General Mills story.
However, we’ve got to retain context when testing and proofreading.
Where does this come into play in testing?
The foremost example in my mind is when we’re doing things to trigger error conditions to make sure that an error message displays. It’s possible that the system will throw up the wrong error message and we’ll miss it. I once wrote automated tests that triggered error conditions and parsed the error message (mostly to make sure an error message applicable to the screen and operation displayed). However, I did not write it smart enough to compare the error message that displayed to the error message expected. So when the application started failing by displaying the wrong message for the occasion, the tests didn’t catch it.
So you’ve got to remember to see the forest and the trees–along with the underbrush, the soil, the other flora, and the carnivorous fauna–when you’re testing.
Posted in Miscellany | Comments Off on Wrong, In Context
You’ve spent days wandering the cavernous halls of a convention center, trapped in windowless rooms, drinking too much coffee and talking yourself hoarse. Does anyone ever emerge from a conference as the organizers intended, feeling recharged with new ideas, contacts and energy?
New York City marketing executive Stefany Stanley does. Among conference organizers she is known as a savvy convention-goer, someone with a strategy for rising above the dreary rounds of networking and breakout sessions. Ms. Stanley says she has gained valuable contacts, ideas and insights from the 15 conferences she has attended in the past five years.
The article goes on with tips and tricks to maximizing your meeting other people to sell your services to or to meet people who might help you get a leg up, basically.
I must be doing it wrong; when I go to conferences, I go to attend the sessions and to learn what the speakers have to offer as to professional insight. Maybe I’ll meet someone I know off the QAternet or something, but I don’t count on it, and if I don’t, I don’t think that I’ve lost something.
Of course, I don’t go to enough conferences and conventions often enough to have my soul crushed, and I don’t think of them primarily as mass in-person sales cold calls, so I’m probably doing them wrong when I do go.
But maybe you’ll find the article useful.
Posted in Miscellany | Comments Off on Maybe I’m Doing Conferences Wrong
I go to a dojo filled with positive, encouraging, uplifting people, from the kyoshi to the black belts to the other students. You want to talk about imposter syndrome, and I’ll explain how I feel when surrounded by nice people.
At any rate, members of the dojo often post motivational images to, well, motivate each other. And immediately, my mind works to find the condition where the assertion is not true. I must subvert it.
Your excuses get you 0% closer to your goals.Unless you’re writing a book about your excuses, I think.
I don’t know how my story will end, but nowhere in my text will it ever read… “I gave up.”
That, my friends, is the essence of the QA mindset: When presented with a proposition, you find some way to subvert or suborn it. Remember that the contradiction of All are…. is not Nothing is…. but Some are not….. (See also the Aristotelian Square of Opposition.)