Comparing a tester to an "enthusiastic user"


Back in October, I made the statement that I had to transition from being an enthusiastic user of OneNote to a tester when I left Outlook to move to the OneNote team. I've been thinking about that for awhile and wanted to explain what I meant.


I think of making software as a car assembly line in some ways. As a tester, I'm the final QA on the assembly line.Even then, I specialize in various subsystems of the car: mufflers, tires and brakes, for instance. We can talk all day about common problems with brakes and the braking subsystems, and how I will test to make sure the car we are building has none of the common problems. Aligning the brakes properly seems like an example of a common problem I would want to verify we get correct. Then we can talk about the not so common problems and how I will see if the car has none of those either, such as the color of the cap on the brake fluid reservoir matching the color the automotive company wants.  While the car would work fine with a purple cap vs. a green cap,the documentation would be much easier for everyone if all brakefluid caps from the company were the same color. We can do this for each system I test, and I will finally sign off on each car as it gets assembled. I'm a tester, locked into the area for which I am responsible.


But if you ask me to get the gang together for a weekend trip to the beach, you aren't looking for a tester. You are looking for an "enthusiastic driver," someone who loves the driving of the car and isn't concerned with how it was made. That's what I was before coming to OneNote. I loved using it every day (and still do :). But now I have to make the switch from simply using it to being critical.


As an example, let's say I planned the car trip for the gang to go to the beach as an "enthusiastic user." We get together, pile in, put on some music and go. As the car goes faster, the road noise gets noisier, so I turn up the volume on the stereo and we have a good time.


As a tester, I have a different viewpoint completely. I have to ask "Why does the car get noisier the faster we go? Is it some design problem in the car? How much decibel gain did we expect, and how much are we getting? Are the tools to measure the db accurate and calibrated? Are we within spec? Am I adjusting the test for the number of people in the car? Where in the car am I measuring the noise: at the driver seat, the passenger seats, the exact middle or some combination of the above? And the obvious "feature test case:" is the stereo supposed to automatically adjust for road noise itself?" Having those questions run through my mind would make for a far different experience as we go driving down the road. It would be even more annoying to everyone in the car with me, since I would start having each person quit talking one by one, then in groups, as I measured noise levels. Then trying to get everyone talking again at a "normal level" would be hard, then I'd start changing the music being played to get a wide swath of music types covered, etc… It would make for a very geeky and annoying trip - kind of like the world's most boring reality TV show, if we taped it. (This type of mentality surfaces now and then even when away from Microsoft.  Those of you who know testers can see this now and then - the tester is the odd fellow at the airport trying to get the scanner at the airport to read the bar code on the laptop screen, just to see if it works.)


It's applying that testing mentality to the software that I meant when I was thinking of the difference between the two types of users. When I use OneNote now, I have to be especially vigilant for any problems, can't automatically come up with a workaround (like turning up the volume) without understanding why I have to have the workaround, and get slowed down by documenting the problems which inevitably occur during the development of software. Don't get me wrong - it's still fun, and testing at Microsoft is a great job. It's just a bit jarring to go from one type of user to another.


As an example of what I'm trying to get at in the software world, check out this Outlook discussion thread over at the newsgroups. A person is having problems importing an Excel sheet into Outlook. As an enthusiastic user, I suggest a workaround of using a different file format. (As I write this, I haven't heard if the workaround was successful). If that works, great! That person can get back to the business As a tester, I want to see the machine to see what is enabled, examine the setup logs, ensure the importers were installed during setup, examine the content of the spreadsheet, etc… It's that difference in mentality that I see as the key difference between the two types of users.


One random comment: HP updated my favorite tablet with an active screen. I've been wanting an excuse to order one of these for myself, and this is not making it any easier to resist.


Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,


Comments (2)

  1. dynamicvb says:

    I totally understand what you are saying. Many times its very easy for techs of all flavors to get caught up in the details and not spend enough time looking at the entire experience.

  2. Rob Rohr says:

    I did use OneNote and a tablet PC in an attempt to "go paperless" on my trip to TechEd 2006, and was able to hand over my tablet with my e-ticket confirmation email to the check-in attendant and that was sufficient for them to issue me a boarding pass.

    When I got to TechEd and checked in, they did successfully read a barcode from my PC screen.  So thanks, testers, for testing these edge cases so I, an enthusiastic user, can continue to find myself pleasantly surprised.

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