The Course That Bugged Me

Posted: July 20, 2013 in Testing Lessons, Testing Skills & Education

June not so recently came to a close, and with it the AST’s latest round of the Bug Advocacy course. After completing the BBST Foundations course last year and waxing lyrical about it, I was keen to jump head-first into another of the AST’s offerings (fortunately, the course is not a physical object and I was spared a nasty bump on the cranium). I was not disappointed – four weeks of bug-tastic study, discourse and evaluation has yet again triggered fresh and challenging perspective on bug investigation and reporting – an aspect of testing I’d always thought of as being at the very worst “OK” in. Many a lesson learned has crept into and visibly improved my 9-to-5 work over the past few weeks.

An array of quizzes, online discussion, videos and bug reporting (yes, in this day of simplistic multiple choice assessment, it’s quite strange that you would actually practice the course’s subject, as well as be evaluated on such work) awaited us throughout the four weeks the course ran. It was engaging to the max, and although time-consuming, I never felt I was just trying to “tick off” activities. Well… I must admit that by the end of it, I was a little worn out. If I had one small criticism of the course, it was the sheer amount of ground that’s covered in less than a month.

Among the smorgasbord of activity that was proffered, the discussion forums were perhaps the most interesting… and difficult. There’s a purportedly Chinese curse that intones “May you live in interesting times” (though there’s no actual proof that it is of Asian or ancient origin – for those interested, more detail here and here… OK, where was I? Oh, right, trying to link a pseudo-ancient oriental proverb with a software testing course), and life on the discussion boards at times was fascinating, as the discourse flowed thick and fast. Not that it was interesting in any negative “Oh my goodness, how did he fall 15 stories only to break a toe, get to his feet, then get run over by a steamroller” way (though if truth be told, the occasional feedback may have been interpreted as a little stinging), but it kept you on your toes, poking long-held beliefs sharply and giving nascent epiphanies stern looks.

Leading on from the discussion, peer review (a core part of both BBST Foundations and Bug Advocacy) quickly became one of the primary mechanisms of evaluation, both through the course and in the chilling final exam (well, it wasn’t really chilling, but it was slightly daunting). Again, it dared you to re-evaluate your thinking, and I often learned more about a topic or question examining other answers than I did racking my brain with my own (and no, I wasn’t cheating – the pre-exam study is encouraged to help the students to share ideas and feedback around various questions). It quite frequently occurred that an angle or idea you would never have thought of appeared prominently in another’s post – it was quite the fillip to the group’s learning process.

Although I learned a veritable boatload (the follow-up testing approaches were particularly interesting), the “golden rule” I learned (both theoretically and practically) was not particularly bug-related – good communication is critical. It’s an obvious lesson, but having looked back on a number of older bug reports, I’ve been surprised to notice just how many of them have been home to ambiguities, vagueness and flat-out omissions. So it seemed while I was becoming practiced at questioning software, I wasn’t doing the same with my reporting – for shame.

So, to finish… If you haven’t caught the recommendatory gist of my post, I’d strongly suggest the Bug Advocacy course to any tester, be they novice or expert. Bug reports aren’t just one of “the things we do”, they’re arguably amongst the one or two “THE things we do”. Taking the time to learn how to craft a better bug report or to smoke out the important details of a bug is a good investment. Taking the time to enhance a skill that can perceptibly improve your reputation and credibility as a tester is an even better one.

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