Skip to main content

Wrong in front of you.

In 2008 I attended GTAC in Seattle, a conference devoted to the use of automation in software testing. Since their first in London in 2006, Google have been running about one a year, in various locations around the world. This post isn't really about the conference, its about a realisation that I had the day after the conference.

After the conference I went sight-seeing in Seattle. I rode the short Simpsons-like Monorail and took a lift up the Jetsons-like space needle. I enjoyed my time there, and found the people very friendly. The conference had been very technology focused, many (but granted, not all) speakers focused on tools and how to use tools. While useful, the tools are only part of testing - and even then they typically just support testing rather than "do" testing.

The Seattle Monorail.

While I was at the top of the Space needle, I took out my phone and like a good tourist started taking pictures. I'd typically take a couple of pictures then look at them on the screen. While on the outer viewing area, I noticed a port with a few container ships approaching and departing the docks. I took a quick snap of the port area, hoping that the detail of picture would be visible. I checked the phone's screen, and was struck by something. Here is the picture:

What surprised me, were the wire barriers. I had not even noticed them before. They quite effectively ruin the shot. In my minds eye the scene I had been looking at resembled this:

This second picture, taken minutes later, after I had realised my mistake, was much closer to my uncritical impression of the view from the Space Needle. Our minds are very effective at filtering out unwanted or un-needed information. This is great and allows us to get on with many tasks that need our full attention. But this attention, can also show itself as mis-direction, we fail to see the [sometimes literal] barriers right in front of us. I believed I had an uninterrupted view of the docks below me, but I didn't.

This is where being critical of what is the apparently obvious, right in front of us, can help. Of course by critical I mean in the sense of critical thinking. By consciously stepping back, re-examining the evidence and asking questions that may seem silly to some, we can often highlight problems that were previously almost invisible. This is an area where tools are often very useful, by providing a quick way to capture, store and display evidence, such as pictures in our example above. But the overly-hopeful view of a world in which the machine is doing the critical thinking is still someway off, and attempts to achieve such a thing in software testing are often wasteful and become expensive to run white-elephants.


  1. Excellent article, great point. As always.

    I would probably have noticed the wires right away since I do a lot of photography and don't make this mistake any more. I'd probably think something like "Oh, autofocus will get confused by the wires, and I'll need to use a large aperture lens to make them less visible in the photo, etc")

    The interesting part here, IMO, is that you evaluated your result immediately after snapping it. This allowed you to compare your mental image of the result with the actual one: A quick iteration meant that you could fix the bug at virtually zero cost.

    And this is why digital cameras and even cell phones take better pictures than film cameras ever did: They allow for quick shoot, evaluate, reshoot iterations making great compositions in great lighting.

    Good software test tools can help make short iterations too, by the way.



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Betting in Testing

“I’ve completed my testing of this feature, and I think it's ready to ship” “Are you willing to bet on that?” No, Don't worry, I’m not going to list various ways you could test the feature better or things you might have forgotten. Instead, I recommend you to ask yourself that question next time you believe you are finished.  Why? It might cause you to analyse your belief more critically. We arrive at a decision usually by means of a mixture of emotion, convention and reason. Considering the question of whether the feature and the app are good enough as a bet is likely to make you use a more evidence-based approach. Testing is gambling with your time to find information about the app. Why do I think I am done here? Would I bet money/reputation on it? I have a checklist stuck to one of my screens, that I read and contemplate when I get to this point. When you have considered the options, you may decide to check some more things or ship the app

XSS and Open Redirect on Authentication pages

I recently found a couple of security issues with the website. The site contained an Open redirect as well as an XSS vulnerability. These issues were in the authentication section of the website, . The flaws could provide an easy means to phish customer details and passwords from unsuspecting users. I informed the telegraph's technical management, as part of a responsible disclosure process. The telegraph management forwarded the issue report and thanked me the same day. (12th May 2014) The fix went live between the 11th and 14th of July, 2 months after the issue was reported. The details: The code served via appeared to have 2 vulnerabilities, an open redirect and a reflected Cross Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability. Both types of vulnerabilty are in the OWASP Top 10 and can be used to manipulate and phish users of a website. As well has potentially hijack a user's session. Compromised URLs, that exp

What possible use could Gen AI be to me? (Part 1)

There’s a great scene in the Simpsons where the Monorail salesman comes to town and everyone (except Lisa of course) is quickly entranced by Monorail fever… He has an answer for every question and guess what? The Monorail will solve all the problems… somehow. The hype around Generative AI can seem a bit like that, and like Monorail-guy the sales-guy’s assure you Gen AI will solve all your problems - but can be pretty vague on the “how” part of the answer. So I’m going to provide a few short guides into how Generative (& other forms of AI) Artificial Intelligence can help you and your team. I’ll pitch the technical level differently for each one, and we’ll start with something fairly not technical: Custom Chatbots. ChatBots these days have evolved from the crude web sales tools of ten years ago, designed to hoover up leads for the sales team. They can now provide informative answers to questions based on documents or websites. If we take the most famous: Chat GPT 4. If we ignore the