Test It Like A San Francisco Hack

You might think that my recent trip to San Francisco changed my life because I keep droning on and on about it, but it’s just that social media glurging is the twenty-first century equivalent of showing you slides I took (And here is a hill in the Marin Highlands. And here is another hill in the Marin Highlands.)

In the dense urban environment, I enjoyed riding in cabs, something I can’t do in the lower density environs of my native habitat. It’s just like a roller coaster, except that the route is unplanned and it carries actual risk of death at the hands of a street car.

You know what a San Francisco taxi driver is just like? Your user. And you should test your applications just like you were taking a pair of white knuckled tourists from the airport to the Sunset neighborhood. How do you do that? Funny, I have a blog post all about it.

Ignore the warnings.

If you’re brave enough, look at the dashboard of your cab. You’ll see that any number of warning lights are on. If you saw those Warning lights on your automobile, you’d limp it to the shop as soon as possible. However, in a cab, the check engine, low tire pressure, no windshield wiper fluid, flames in engine compartment lighs all these mean nothing to the driver. It’s not his car, it’s his workplace for twelve hours a day, and it’s not his problem.

Much like your software is for your professional users.

Your professional user is going to try to get from the start of the process your software tries to make easier for the user to the end. Given the demands of his or her job and what he or she is trying to do, your user might ignore flags and warnings and even error messages if possible. That is, any little warnings your software throws up, the user might try to save the data anyway, even with a weak password. Even with a six digit zip code. Even when step one fails and the user tries step two.

Sometimes, we might be tempted to see a warning or error and stop testing that avenue, instead waiting for problems we encounter to be fixed. But users might not stop when they see that error and await a patch six weeks (or six hours) from now. Test through the warnings and errors and see if there’s something beyond to log that might be as bad or worse. Also, there is a slight chance that those bugs won’t get fixed before your user gets to take it for a spin.

Hit the gas before the light turns green.

Let’s face it, today’s modern Web applications, steeped in divs and AJAX, parts of pages display before other parts, and sometimes controls display before the JavaScript controlling the actions of those controls or links loads. If you use automated testing, you know to account for this by putting in special statements to wait for the page or control to load or the element or div to be visible before interacting with it.


Time is money, and your San Francisco hack is going to anticipate a light’s turning green and at the very least will let off the brake when he thinks the light is going to turn (if not actually jam on the accelerator. He wants to get you to your destination and himself to a tip as fast as possible.

So your user is going to interact with your Web site. If you put the button or link the user needs on the screen, he’s going to click it even if the rest of the page and code are still streaming through the tubes and pipes.

You’re probably already doing a bit of this as you try to run through as many scenarios as possible in the thirty minutes you have to test the Web site, but whenever you encounter a problem because you’re moving faster than the application, the application has the problem, not you. Log the problems, and don’t let your peers tell you that it will work in production or that it’s not a problem. It most certainly is.

Punch it, Margaret.

I know I’ve gone on about this before here and elsewhere, but your load testing tools have to punch it when the light turns green.

Look at how your hack drives. He floors it before the traffic signal changes, and his foot is on the accelerator until he’s about to collide with some stopped innocent bystander, at which time he’s on the brakes just hard enough to avert catastrophe.

Aside from your load testing strategy, you can punch it in manual testing. If one click of a button is good, isn’t one hundred clicks of a button better? If the maximum length of a string is 32 characters, enter 32 characters. Not to test whether you can enter 32 characters in a particular form, but to see what happens elsewhere when the string is the allowed maximum. And so on.

Test the application not only beyond its limits, but to its limits. And beyond.

Find the shortcuts and back ways, and test them.

Your cabbie knows if there’s a line of cars at a light on Pine, he can turn down Dashiell Hammett Street to try his luck on Bush. Your users, too, are going to find those little shortcuts that aren’t on the main menu and that aren’t on the sticky notes or improvised, anticipated workflow around which your developers will write the code. Users are going to find those back alleys in your modules and are going to exploit them to try to get their work done.

Since you’re spending your time, amid from the endless meetings and putting your head on your desk and weeping in soundless shudders, in the application, you’ve got to figure out those shortcuts the users will find and test them out, too.

Cruise the application once in a while.

Cab drivers can get their next fare by sleeping in their cabs until they’re dispatched (the Missouri method), they can wait in line at a cab stand at the airport or a hotel, or they can find defects, I mean customers, driving the city streets (sometimes on the way to a nap or a stand).

So you can find defects outside of your normal duties, aside from your test cases or user stories, just by cruising through your application once in a while, taking a look with fresh eyes for defects waving their hands in the air. Take a couple minutes before the meeting when you can’t start a bigger task to just hit the site. You’ll be surprised what you might find.


However, unlike a San Francisco cabbie, these are the best tips you’re going to get for testing, so make the best of them.

One Response to “Test It Like A San Francisco Hack”

  1. Perspectives on Testing » The Seapine View Says:

    […] The Director tells us why we should be testing applications like a San Francisco cabbie drives. […]

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