Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Detective work

Sniffing out testing leads is something that good testers become very good at. Communicating with developers and users or liaising between the two is straight forward in a standard office environment. Put thousands of kilometres and different time zones between them and it becomes a lot more difficult to keep the lines of communication open. Being proactive is a must.

There are three areas in particular that I like to keep an eye on to spot potential bugs that may require some detective work - although I wouldn't ever limit myself to just these. We have an issue tracker that is open for the world to use, chat rooms and user forums. People with different skills and language abilities will be using the tracker so you may have to investigate what they have raised further, be a champion for bugs that you feel aren't being investigated thoroughly and add more detail if required. Assist and facilitate as much as possible.

Chat clients are also useful to keep an eye on what the - global - development team are discussing. I find this most useful for spotting areas that require more testing than others i.e. areas posing a potential risk. If people are chatting about a particular area of the system in a negative way, it may be a part of the system that I should be having a nosey at and targeting with an exploratory test session.

If your Open Source organization hosts user forums, subscribe to them and play an active role. I'm normally pretty choosy about what I get involved in, we have a community manager to deal with general enquiries and the developers help out with technical issues from other developers. Sometimes though, the problems that users report are bugs and I use my experience and bug sniffing skills to locate such posts. 

During a recent major release of our software, a community member posted about a problem that they had noticed with our QA and Demo sites without raising a bug. I was looking out for lines of enquiry that may yield bugs and this particular post caught my attention. It was dismissed by several team and community members as just being bad data from an upgrade, this had apparently happened in the past. Of course, straight away, that got me thinking about whether there was a problem with the data integrity of our web application during upgrades. Sure enough after an epic testing session with me and one of our senior developers and some further interrogation of the original reporter, we discovered that under certain circumstances the upgrade process was duplicating the unique ID's of some records. This in turn was causing an unhandled exception in the web application when accessing some but not all of the records. The bug was duly fixed and the community member was thanked for the spot.

When faced with the strained lines of communication; help out where required, read between the lines, ask the sources of your leads - your snitches - lots of questions, be on the constant lookout for new lines of enquiry and give credit to your snitches when their information points you in the direction of a win. They may be more likely to continue to feed you with information in the future.

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