Tuesday, December 10, 2013

WHOSE up for a little skill?

A Brief Summary:

I went to WHOSE, a workshop with a mandate to create a list of skills and am now back.  I want to briefly summarize my experiences.  The idea was generated by Matt Heusser to attempt to have a list of skills that could be learned by anyone interested in a particular skill in testing.  The list of skills was to be put in a modern format and presented to the AST board.  In part I did it because I felt like the CDT community had too little organized detail on how to implement the activity of test.

WHOSE worked on this thing?

I was not present for the first few hours, so I missed out on giving a talk.  When I got there I met my fellow WHOSE'rs:

Jess Lancaster, Jon Hagar, JCD (me), Nick Stefanski, Pete Walen, Rob Sabourin, David Hoppe, Chris George, Alessandra Moreria, Justin Rohrman, Matt Heusser (facilitator), Simon Peter Schrijver (facilitator), Erik Davis (facilitator).

It was a blur of new faces and people I had read from but had not gotten to meet before.  Later, Doug Hoffman showed up.  I was made late when my plane did not actually make it to the airport, having been rerouted.

WHOSE line is it anyway? (Day 1)

This being my first conference, my initial reaction was to keep silent and just observe.  The group had about 200 cards on a table with a bunch of skills semi-bucketed (skills that 'felt' similar).  The definition of a skill was unknown to me still, in spite of the fact that I had researched and considered this problem for hours.  I had also looked into how to model the information, I had considered the Dreyfus model and how it might be used

Many of the blog posts I have written were in fact considerations of skills, such as my reflections post, to help prepare me.  I had debated what a skill is with my fellow testers, and even created a presentation, and now I was standing facing what felt like 200 or so skills.  How do you organize them?  Outside of that, what questions do I ask and who do I ask?  Sometimes when a tester doesn't have a lot of answers and no one obvious to ask, who has the time, you just poke around and that is what I did.  I created a few skills I saw were missing and possibly a few that might not be considered skills, or at least not as written.  For example, I wrote out Reflections, Tool Development both which I thought were reasonable and XML which I thought was questionable.  For some reason, as a young tester I found XML to be scary because I didn't understand the formatting and so XML seemed to belong, yet did it?  Eventually the task moved to grouping which seemed to happen while I was still behind a little.  Clearly my impromptu skills were a bit lacking.

WHOSE cards are these?

I wanted to take on the technical piece since I feel like that is the part I can provide the most feedback.  I had written in the airplane a hierarchy of technical skills in the hope that they could use, but feared might be too technical, too 'computer science'.  Having mentioned this, no one seemed enthused to combined the two lists, which I'm not sure if that is for better or for worse.  Having Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) without going into the depth of typing, generics, etc. and how that is useful in testing much less automation or tool smithing seems incomplete.  Coding as the only technical skill involving programming is clearly too small.  Is OOP a good stopping point?  I would have chosen more depth, but I also know there is a limit to what 15 or so people can get done in a few days.

We started through the cards and skipping my list, I acted as a sort of wiki gate keeper (a role I didn't much like) while other people did research on the definition of the skill as well as resources for the skill.  Some people seemed interested in very formal definitions and resources while others liked informal 'working' definitions and web blogs.  I mean no criticism on any particular view point, but I tended towards the informal side.  We ended with a show and tell of our work which seemed interesting.  One group had a lovely format.  Another group had extensive research and a third group had lots of definitions completed.  I noted that if we moved each definition onto its own page no gate keeper would be required.  We closed up feeling a little bit dazed by the amount of work left.

WHOSE on first? (Day 2)

Rob S. had emailed Matt H. over the night suggesting we change the format a little.  Why not make these into a more CDT style.  Instead of having very formal works move to a context-based definition set of skills.  That is to say, skills based upon stories of how we used a skill.  While Matt generated a proof of concept around this, we observed the formatting and tool usage.  Once it was understood, we started writing up skills based upon our interests.  We wrote and we wrote and we wrote.  The question of what skills belong where and what is a skill was pushed aside for a more formal editing process.  XML as as skill was removed even though the original list of 'skills' was saved in a deprecated area.

I wrote somewhere between 10-15 skills over the course of a day.  I know my skills as a writer were stretched that day.  I heard warnings about the flame wars and anger we might see from this venture.  I expect that, people in testing have a habit of finding bugs.  I still have lots of open questions on where this goes next.  I wonder how we will edit the skills.  I wonder a lot about how this process will be managed.  I wonder where this will be posted and how it will be viewed.  Those are still open questions.  Questions I hope to be resolved at some point.  After writing until our fingers bled, we finally went to dinner.  Much thanks to AST for bribing...er... treating us to dinner. :)

WHOSE going to finish this? (Day 3)

We as a group attempt to finish off with figuring out who will finish which skills.  I have a lot of skills still needing finishing.  I know others do too.  I signed up to help deal with the format shifting question so when this comes out it'll be readable in useful formats.  I appreciated Matt's openness in considering methodologies and talking through 'what is next'.  I maybe slower to blog for a while as I work through my WHOSE backlog.  Truthfully, I was not as 'on top of it' the last day as I was the previous two days.  I think exhaustion had finally hit, so I'm glad it was just a half day.

WHOSE missing from this narrative?

This was a rather interesting experience.  I have never been to a workshop before.  I never saw any 'LAWST-Style' workshops before so I didn't have that to compare to.  I have worked with a bunch of bright people before, but not some of the 'experts' of the world (even if they would reject that label...).  That is a little humbling.  Seeing Rob write is amazing.  Watching the speed Matt can break out an article is...well... something to be seen.  In fact, in the spirit of that, I have written this entire article straight and will attempt to limit my editing.  Sorry, poor readers. :)  

The group as a whole had some nice philosophical discussions, but no one got angry, and overall I think that helped make the content better.  Is the content useful?  I honestly don't know, I'm not an oracle, but I hope so.  Is the content done?  No, I hope this to be a living document and that others will get a chance to help contribute to this and grow.  I hope they too can understand that their context and usage of a skill will be considered just as valuable as our context and usage of a skill.

I would like to make a special thanks to Matt, Eric and Simon for setting up this conference.  Also thanks to the AST and Doug Hoffman for feeding us.  Thanks to Hyland for hosting the conference.  For other perspectives, see the following blogs: here, here, here, and here.  One last piece I would be remiss to neglect to mention.  At the airport afterwards I got to have a long chat with both Rob and Jon.  That was a great conversation which I really enjoyed.  I'm still considering some the questions Rob posed to me.  Expect some future blog posts!

UPDATED 12/27: Added more blog post links.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Consideration: An Introduction to General System’s Thinking

I think I need to first start this review with a little digression, which I think will be justified, and is of importance.  I personally have a strong interest in the study of how we work, be that sociology, physiology, psychology, philosophy, law, biology, etc.  I have had less "interest" (i.e. time spent studying) in the just as interesting (i.e. fascinating) hard sciences with the exception of computer science, which I have had some time invested.  That being said, I learned long ago that much of what applied in one subject could be applied to another.  I recall a story (urban legend?) of man who told the dean of his college he could pass any written test.  He was given a test for dentistry even though he had studied philosophy (or something like that) and got a B on the test.

How does that have anything to do with General Systems Thinking (GST)?  Well, everything in a way.  The idea of GST is that you can create heuristically rules around the concepts that apply to more than one system of thinking.  It could perhaps be summed up by xkcd.  One field is generally an "applied" version of another field.  Now if the book only talked about this, it would not have been a very impressive book indeed. 

Frankly this is the hardest review I’ve had to write for a book in a long time.  I really would like to gush over it, to say it changed my life, because I could see it doing so.  On the other hand, it really didn’t teach me that much.  The concepts are hard work, but thinking at a high, pure, abstract and with a great deal of rigour is not easy.  I genuinely enjoyed the book, and frankly I felt the author did a great deal of multiple-faceted examples, to ensure the ideas were communicated well.  The questions at the end of the chapter were thought provoking; although sometimes they lacked enough context and expected a teacher to have the materials somewhere nearby.

I loved his willingness to note the problems with science and even with the field under study.  It makes the book feel much more like an honest discussion with a friend than some jerk trying to persuade my view by forcing his on me*.  I would like to take a quote of the author’s out of context, to note one of the places where he didn’t do this, but which I think was a innocent mistake:  "Try to cope with unfamiliar, complex phenomena, we try to…complete view… minimal view… independent view…."  The author gives an enumerated list of possible views a person might take in order to analyze something unfamiliar, yet he seems to be missing some possibilities.  For example, what about the diverse view, where you sample at random a complex data set in order to understand it?  I feel this is an honest mistake as he makes an honest effort to build together a persuasive case, including the acknowledging the flaws.  There is also an ethereal quality that some people have that causes one to trust a person, which for me this author connects with that.

* To be fair, I’ve often been persuaded by said jerks for a short time, until I’ve had some time to clear my head and see just how manipulative their words are.

A few more side notes before I hit my last point.  It is really annoying that the law’s he proposes aren’t recorded anywhere in the book as a whole.  Those laws as a list would have been useful to me, particularly with a little context.  Instead I have to keep referring back to find the exact definition of a given law.  I also found it funny how I kept reading "Brilligance" as "Brilliance", which is in a sense the author’s point (read the book and you'll get this)!  I have to say I found his "Cousins"/"Friends" argument (Pg 156) weak, as I can completely imagine grouping cousins together via relations from a individual basis.  That is to say, A has cousins B and C; B has cousins A and C; and C has cousins A and B.  Thus you can group those people together as cousins.  He never states why he feels that a person must be a cousin of themselves to make it valid.  Maybe he has a point, but it is unclear to me.

As anyone who talks with me often enough will know, I love quotes.  I find the small points of wisdom in them, sometimes with great value.  That being said, I loved this book’s use of quotes and felt it could in fact be highly quotable.  So for the rest of this review I’m going to try to cite quotations and novel ideas worth looking at:

  • "In short, we can learn about ourselves, which is really why all of us our playing this incredible game, call it poetry, beads, or, if you will, science" – Pg 143
  • "It will be objected…misrepresentations depending on over-simplifications… dilemma of the teacher: the teaching of facts and figures or the teaching of truth.  To convey a model, the teacher must reify and diagram and declare what cannot be seen at all.  The student… approximation of the truth, an approximation [t]he[y] will continue to revise all his [sic] life long. " - Pg 38, Karl Menninger
  • Pg 27, Robinson Jeffers, "The Answer" was amazing!
  • "If we want to learn anything, we mustn’t try to learn everything." - Pg 105, "The Lump Law"
    • (Boy am I guilty of this!)
  • "Things we see frequently are more frequent: 1. because there is some physical reason to favor certain states… . 2. because there is some mental reason… ." - Pg 100-101
  • "Laws should not depend on a particular choice of notation." – Pg 72
  • "…Grown-ups love numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: 'What does his voice sound like?' 'What games does he like best?' 'Does he collect butterflies?' They ask: 'How old is he?' 'How many brothers does he have?' 'How much does he weigh?' 'How much money does his father make?' Only then do they think they know him." -Antoine de Saint Exupery, Pg 67
  • "Heuristic devices don’t tell you when to stop." – Pg 55
  • "A general law must have at least two specific applications… If you never say anything wrong, you never say anything." – Pg 42
  • "Method for detecting if something is inside or outside of a given line by counting the number of line in two direction (up/left, down/right) and seeing if the count is even or odd" – Pg 145
  • While not specifically talked about, why is it that we can’t pass through glass (it is solid) but light can, yet light does not pass through everything, else we would never had shadows?
  • The author believes his system will fail to become popular, or become diluted with new views, which eventually will reverse the creators...  Then why do people create?  Why not just give up?  Does he only fear an evolution or would a revolutionary new view also be just as bad.  He claims people can only adapt (roughly) once in a given system before they become too attached to their system.  Why?  Can it be avoided or would people who avoid it not have enough passion to get the first system in place?  Is this a case of people dying too soon to adapt again?
  • "With respect to a given transformation, there are those properties that are preserved by it and those that are not." – Pg 154
    • What of money to an item?  What of the happiness in having money?  Compare that to the happiness of spending it?  On others?  On yourself?  Are those things equal even though the property might remain?  What if the other converts items back to money (pays you back)?  Is the transformation of the first dollar equal to the last dollar in your pocket?
  • "A system is a collection of parts, no one of which can be changed." – Pg 162
  • "We cannot with certainty attribute observed constraint either to system or environment." – Pg 214
  • "The number of untested assumptions in science is staggering.  On any say we can open any one of dozens of newly arrived journals and find reports of "discoveries" that were made simply by relaxing a constraint…" – Pg 215
    • I find it interesting that the author assumes that the untested constraints are simply made by science because of ignorance of the constraint rather than by necessity of time or other possible variable(s).
  • "1. Why do I see what I see? 2. Why do things stay the same? 3. Why do things change?" – Systems Triumvirate, Pg 228
  • "...Science comprehends the thought of reality, but not reality itself; thought of life, not life itself.  That is its limit, its only really insuperable limit, because it is found on the very nature of thought, which is the only organ of science." – Bakunin, Pg 229

WHOSE - Part 1

I'm keeping this brief and unedited, as I don't have much time.  As many people, I have been getting busier for the holidays, but for me part of it is going to WHOSE.  I will perhaps be delayed by a few weeks as I gather together material and prepare for some presentations for next year.  That being said, I hope to have some good material from WHOSE and I will make sure to publish it as quickly as I can.  I do have a few older review I wrote for some classic books.  I may post them to keep you all entertained.  Be back soon.