How I Presented at STPCon without Being Present

coaching testers

Have you ever presented at a conference without you actually being there? I did. It was fun. Of course I could not even see the audience as I was not there. I did not hear a word from them.

By now you might ask yourself: “Has he lost his mind?”
That could be a valid explanation but it is not correct.

The conference I am talking about is Software Test Professionals Spring 2012 (STPCon) in New Orleans. I did the second part of Anne-Marie Charrett’s track on coaching testers. It was a live Skype coaching session I did with Vernon Richards who was my student. The audience saw our transcript unfolding while Anne-Marie identified patterns and commented on what we did.

See? I am not crazy.

We only had half an hour which is unusually short. So, we had to skip many elements of a typical Skype coaching session. But Vernon did great under the time constraints.

The exercise we did was an observation and description task. I won’t say too much about it because I do not want to spoil the experience for students who want to do it.

Anyway, it was kind of unusual to know that there is an audience watching us while we unfold our session. I hope there is a video recording. Will have to talk to Anne-Marie.

So, dear audience at STPCon, I hope you liked what you saw.

BTW: For free Skype coaching go here


James Bach and how I Enjoyed his Visit to Switzerland

Some weeks are boring, some weeks are frustrating, some weeks are just regular. But once in a while there is a week filled with exitement, learning opportunities, joy and intellectual challenges. I am a lucky guy because I happen to have lived such a pleasurable week recently. James Bach came to Switzerland for the first time.

His flight was coming in from England where he attended several appointments in Cambridge. I was waiting for him to exit into the arrival hall. As expected it took not long for James to drop a puzzle bomb on me. It goes as follows:

  1. You have a range of integers from 2-180
  2. Two integers x and y are chosen from the range (x and y may be equal or different)
  3. A person A is given the sum of x + y
  4. A person B is given the product of x * y
  5. First, person B says to person A: “I don’t know your sum”
  6. Then, person A says to person B: “I already knew that you do not know my sum”
  7. To which person B replies: “Now I know your sum”
  8. And then person A says: “And now I know your product”

Question: What is the sum of x + y, what is the product of x * y and what are the values of x and y
A hint: It is possible to solve it by the sole use of your brain, a sheet of paper and a pencil

IMPORTANT: Please do not leave the solution in the comments below

While driving James to his hotel I tried if there was a simple solution to the puzzle but I could not find one so I decided to attempt to solve it as soon as I got home. Also, it is not such a good idea to try to solve puzzles while driving.

In the hotel we had some more testing discussions before James retired to his room and I was very eager to get back home to solve his puzzle. I think I was on a good path towards the solution but I decided to give me a break because I was stuck somehow.

Interesting enough, the brain seems to have its playful free time during sleep. My brain decided to wake me up at about four a clock in the morning giving me a hint about how to solve it. I decided to get some more sleep and just took some notes on the general idea. Later in the morning I solved the puzzle which made me kind of proud. Tricky one, this one!

Sunday afternoon I picked up James from his hotel and we strolled through Zurich while he entertained me with a lateral thinking puzzle involving a waste dump. Again I enjoyed it very much and it gave me the appetite for the dinner. James is very good at challenging your thinking.


Monday morning we took the train to my workplace Phonak AG, where James spoke all day about tester self-education and did many puzzles with the audience of about 50 people. The astonishing thing was that there were more developers present than testers. What a great success for software testing. Developers become more and more interested in what we do. We testers have won! (Just joking, I love you all, dear developers)


This year’s Swiss Testing Day saw an amazing record breaking number of 800 participants. James had the first of the keynotes in the morning (you may see the video here) and I hope he inspired many testers to become interested in the context-driven school and self-education. I expect to see more Swiss testers working on their reputation in the future.


We sold James’ excellent book Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar at our conference booth and every 10th person at the conference bought a copy. That, too, gives me hope that there are more context-driven people in Switzerland. If you - dear reader - are one of them, please contact me immediately. I want to get to know you and talk to you. James talked all day to many people, there were dice games and his hand must have been tired from all the book signing.

Thursday was a work day, we went through some of my Skype coaching transcripts and James gave me a lot of valuable feedback. We did that in one of my favorite coffee shop/book store Sphères in Zurich. It is the perfect place for productive work.


Friday came and James was very eager to learn about Swiss cheese. We drove to Engelberg where there is a public display of cheese making located in a monastery. In the middle of a room there was a kind of glass igloo where a cheese maker was doing his stunts while the visitors pressed their noses flat on the outside. A bit like in a zoo, but without animals.


In Engelberg we found the wonderfully victorian Hotel Terrace from where we had a beautiful scenery of mountains. Again we went through more coaching transcripts and tried to identify patterns.


After coming back to Zurich, we ended our day with a dinner at the Prime Tower on the 35th floor and challenged each other with some more lateral and mathematical puzzles. James also made fun of me because I was eating my hamburger with fork and knife. See, that’s us Swiss people behaving at a fancy restaurant. Anyway, great day, but then we were both tired at the end. It was like in Monty Python’s “Just a thin mint”-scene (Caution: this link is not suitable for the faint-hearted), one more puzzle and my brain might have exploded.

James headed off to Stockholm on Saturday, I said good bye at the airport and I hope he comes back to Switzerland soon. You’re always welcome, my friend.

BTW: Here is the link to James’ view on his visit to Switzerland.


There Wouldn't Be any Fat People Left if the Machines finally Took over

image credit:

Recently I saw three enormously fat men standing close to each other and the feature that caught my eye was their huge bellies all three guys put on display for the world to see.

If they had moved a tiny bit closer, the bellies would have met with a gentle touch.

They did not do that but they were discussing stuff. They were chatting and telling jokes. In short: they were being human with all the pleasant properties as well as the flaws humans tend to have.

Test automation hasn’t got a belly at all. Neither does it crack jokes. Why should it? It would not be of any use. Test automation hasn’t got any humor but it is lighting fast and incredibly accurate.

It is kind of obvious: Humans and computers are different. Both are good at some things and have their shortcomings somewhere else.

You certainly know testers who say that test automation should not be considered at all for testing. They say that it does not help doing a tester’s job and by saying that they are - in my opinion - fundamentally wrong.

I am sometimes amazed by the inaccurate thinking of some people. Just because test automation cannot do some things it does not mean it cannot do anything. That’s like saying: “This car is useless, it cannot fly”.

What test automation is good at:
  • Fast checking of huge amounts of data that is prone to change and therefore to errors
  • Doing repetitive procedures over and over again
  • Access code that is not easily accessible through the UI
  • Do basic sanity checking on an regular intervals

Test Automation is very, very good at the above. Beer bellies aren’t.

The excellent book Mind over Machine by Hubert L. and Stuart E. Dreyfus describes it accurately:

Computers are general symbol manipulators, so they can simulate any process which can be described exactly.

On the other hand humans are splendid observers even if they don’t anticipate beforehand what they are going to discover. A tester who finds a bug during an exploratory testing session and who is asked how he/she found a certain bug will sometimes reply: I don’t know. Finding a bug without exactly knowing how it was done differs enormously from the definition of a computer above.

What humans are good at:
  • Collateral observation
  • Rapid change of direction if new information demands it
  • Acquisition of knowledge in general
  • Taking advantage of the wisdom of crowds
  • Using intuition

Beer bellies are very, very good at the above. Test automation isn’t.

I think our western culture is very much imprisoned in a dichotomous either-or-mindset. There seems to be a need for a constant opposition between two positions. Hence you either do manual testing OR automated testing.

This is a silly standpoint. Use both. And do it the same way a good manager distributes tasks among his different directs. Every task according to the individual strengths of the people.

There wouldn’t be any machines left if the fat people finally took over. And this is also true the other way round. It would be a sad world.


Stay Calm, Get another Beer and Keep on Thinking

school bus
image credit:

This week there was quite some ruckus about the alleged passing of the context driven school. All this was caused by what Cem Kaner wrote on the about page on

However, over the past 11 years, the founders have gone our separate ways. We have developed distinctly different visions. If there ever was one context-driven school, there is not one now. Rather than calling it a “school”, I prefer to refer to a context-driven approach.

Oh, no! We have lost our safehouse where we found warmth and shelter. Now we insecure testers are again out in the cold and wandering about aimlessly. Let us therefore all shut down our brains and immediately join the factory school.

Honestly, I am surprised by this eruption of un-coolness. Cem just decided to do something else. He is a free man. He can do whatever he wants. That is not a problem at all. A school does not just disappear. Maybe if it is a school-“building” and you - let’s say - blow it up with a few strategically placed sticks of dynamite. And even then it does not completely disappear. On the other hand schools of thought are immune to dynamite and very rarely disappear just like that. And even less so if there are many people still acting according to the principles every day.

What is a school of thought?
A school of thought is a collection of people who share the same or very similar beliefs about something. So as an example: Zen Buddhism is a school of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. They share some beliefs. And the context-driven school consists of people who subscribe to the following beliefs:

The seven basic principles
  1. The value of any practice depends on its context.
  2. There are good practices in context, but there are no best practices.
  3. People, working together, are the most important part of any project’s context.
  4. Projects unfold over time in ways that are often not predictable.
  5. The product is a solution. If the problem isn’t solved, the product doesn’t work.
  6. Good software testing is a challenging intellectual process.
  7. Only through judgment and skill, exercised cooperatively throughout the entire project, are we able to do the right things at the right times to effectively test our products.

How could these principles possibly have become invalid just because 1 person (albeit an important one) wrote the school is no longer. And now comes the crucial point: That is not even what Cem wrote. He wrote “If there ever was one context-driven school, there is not one now”. This only states that the founders have developed differently over time and may have even been different from the beginning. Not so surprising. I do not know of any two people with redundant brains. Well, maybe Thomson & Thompson from Tintin. But that is the comics world.

Stanislaw Lem said it perfectly in his advice for the future: “Macht euch locker und denkt ein bisschen!” (Take it easy and think a bit)

Therefore here is my advice: “Stay calm, get another beer and keep on thinking.”

BTW: Almost all domain name combinations of / .net / .org / .etc are still available. I am sure somebody among you has a good idea what to do with it.