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A few days ago, I got the following email from a recruitment agent.


I’m sorry if the email does not apply to you.

I’m currently working on behalf of a client who are looking for a Contract Systems Tester for an intial 3 month period to start immediately. The role is to help implement best testing practice across the company,please find a brief outline below

They need to be able to work on their own and not need handholding. Be able to supervise others in the team that are less experience. In brief their tasks will include:

– Writing of System Test Plans in compliance with the project Gantt and plan

– Writing of System Test Scripts, Conditions and Results

– Completion of test runs in accordance with Functional requirements and solution design

– Reporting of bugs and follow through to resolution

– Managing the customer during UAT reporting of bugs to technical staff and resolution thereafter

– Reporting of progress to the Project Manager

– Be deadline driven

Most of that is standard cookie cutter stuff, there’s certainly nothing that stands out and grabs my attention, nothing that would make me think, ‘Wow, I want that role’.

There were two lines though that I was struck by, but for the wrong reasons.

To help implement best testing practice

I’m more taken with the principles of the Context-Driven school of testing than ISEB/ISQTB, and they quite clearly point out that there is no such thing as best practices.

Maybe if you’re repeating the same task day after day, then there are some ways of doing things that will become ‘best’, but testing is about finding new things every day; looking at changes to existing applications as well as entirely new ones, always trying to come up with new ways of finding defects.

Be deadline driven

‘Deadline Aware’ maybe at a stretch, but deadlines aren’t what drive me, quality is. By that, I mean that I want to make sure that as many of the bugs in there have been found, and that the development team has had a chance to address them. I’d prefer to ship a higher quality application late, than a broken application on time.

(Note: There have been times when an application I’ve been testing has had to go live with serious known defects. This has usually been due to external influences, such as tax and month end issues, but this has so far proven the exception rather than the rule.)

I’m also compelled to point out the typo on ‘experience‘ – we testers do tend to have an eye for detail! (And yes, I know that’s not the only issue with the text.)

It’s a tough economic climate out there, with hundreds of applicants chasing every application. Does that really justify ads like the above?


Mr. Monty Hall


OK, so in my last blog I posed a question, and the answers that came back got it right – which I was hoping for, but wasn’t expecting. This leads me to believe that those brave enough to comment (as WordPress tells me that there were a lot more views than comments!) are more logically-thinking than average – or have possibly just heard of the problem before!

In doing a bit of research before writing this half of the post, I realised that this ‘hypothetical’ scenario I’d been taught was actually a real one, from a real quiz show aired in America. The host of that quiz show was named Monty Hall, and in his case, the prizes were goats and a car, rather than money and beans. The underlying puzzle goes even further back – full details can be found on Wikipedia.

The basic answer of course, is that you should take the opportunity to move, every time. You started out with a one in three chance, and Monty gives you the option to switch to a two in three chance.

According to Wikipedia, when this was first discussed thousands of people, many with PHDs, disagreed and insisted that it didn’t really matter whether you switched as the chances were now 50:50. I found the same when discussing this with colleagues. Some others insist that you’re better off staying where you are, although I’ve never really got a rational explanation as to why they thought this.

The reason why it isn’t 50:50 is because the door Monty chose wasn’t chosen randomly. He couldn’t choose the door you were already on, and he couldn’t choose the one with the prize behind it – as otherwise he can’t ask you if you want to switch. Because of that, Monty is limited to choosing the losing door, which fundamentally alters the statistics of the choice you’re then given.

The fact that many people think the choice boils down to 50:50 is another example of cognitive bias – it’s the opposite of the gambler’s fallacy where someone predicting the result of an 11th coin toss where the first ten have all been heads, will generally vote tails as they feel it’s overdue. In reality, the coin is either biased or the chances remain 50:50 – unlike our example above, the previous result has no bearing on future results.

For testers, awareness of these cognitive biases is important. As far as possible, we need to appreciate the actual expected results of our tests, without bias.

One place to go to get this awareness is John Stevenson’s blog, which often looks at psychology and its impact on testing.

Congratulations, you’ve won!


Congratulations, you’ve won!

Consider this, you’ve just won a quiz show and the chance of a million pounds (or the equivalent in your local currency). There’s just one catch, you have to guess which of three doors the cash is hiding behind.

The quiz show host takes you over to the doors and makes a big song and dance about how there’s a million pounds behind one of the doors, but tins of beans behind the two losing ones. Unless you’re a big fan of beans, I’m guessing you’re still trying for the million pounds.

It’s now crunch time and you’ve got to make a decision. This bit is easy as you’ve effectively got a one-in-three chance, unless you believe that fate, luck or something else is guiding your decision. Let’s assume that you pick door number one.

Here comes the twist. The quiz show host now explains that at least one of the remaining two doors must conceal a tin of beans, and he’s going to open that door. With great fanfare, he opens door number two, to reveal a fairly large tin of beans. He then gives you the chance to change your mind. Do you want to stick with your first choice, your gut instinct – or do you want to switch to door number three?

The quiz show host knows which door the million pounds is behind, but his face isn’t giving anything away. Your choice is to stick, or move. What choice do you make?

(I’ll reveal the answer and the reasons in the next blog post, unless anyone fancies trying to beat me to it in the comments)