Firm foundations for better skills

Explore Assurity 2 June 2014 Melanie Greig

With a limited number of testing qualifications available, when a call went out asking for interest in signing up for the Black Box Software Testing (BBST) Foundations course, I jumped at the chance.

Given that few universities offer testing courses, my background – like many other people’s – was in a different field. I studied English and, since then, one of the only other courses I have undertaken is the ISTQB Foundation course.

It was time to re-engage in study! Could I do it? Did I have the time? Did I have the discipline? These all turned out to be relevant questions!

The BBST Foundation course is the first of three offered by the Association for Software Testing (AST). The course covers four main areas – the mission of testing, the oracle problem, the measurement problem and the impossibility of complete testing. It also came with a disclaimer to set aside some time in the month you will complete the course and I would advise anyone considering signing up to heed this advice.

The course sets regular deadlines to complete the quizzes and participate in group projects, as well as complete the allocated readings and lectures. For us, the deadline was midnight on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

I spent, on average, approximately 25 hours each week studying. My four Assurity collegues also enrolled also found the required time investment a big factor in completing the course. While also working full-time, it’s a big commitment and I wanted to make it work. Luckily, I found colleagues, friends and family very supportive and encouraging.

One of the most exciting parts of the course for me was the chance to interact with testers from all over the world including America, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Sweden, Estonia, Denmark, the UK, Germany and Canada. Your first task is to introduce yourself to everyone so you can place your fellow course participants.

It was reassuring to see that, coming from a smaller country, we were right up there with the best of them in terms of our knowledge levels.

Being located in different countries also provided an interesting challenge. We were assigned groups for projects and having to work with the time differences taught me a lot. As we were in New Zealand, we were often the first to comment or answer a question and we learnt the best way to work taking the time difference into account.

Surprisingly, the course took us behind the ‘black box’ at times with one of the exam questions focusing on floating point numbers.

While on projects I often don’t get to see the source code, I increasingly agree with the benefits of understanding the logic, especially when it comes to pain points where particular decisions in the code can be many and varied.

When the lines between developer and testers get less distinct, I believe that can ultimately lead to better understanding and communication which, in turn, can only lead to a better solution for the customer.

A popular interview question I have found for testers is “Tell us about a time when you had little or no requirements”. This question will be a walk in the park after completing this course thanks to the learnings on Oracle Heuristics.

The course discusses practical ways and resources for you to ascertain if the product does what it should. Sounds easy but, as we know, it isn’t always so straightforward in practice!

Following this course, you can do BBST Bug Advocacy and BBST Test Design with the BBST Foundations course a prerequisite. If you are a tester who can dedicate the time to completing the course and is willing to learn, then you are halfway there to being the ideal candidate.

Don’t let the title ‘foundation’ fool you though. I think some hands-on experience is required as you’ll often be asked for examples in discussions to support your answers.

Similarly, don’t be misled by references to the title ‘Black Box’ as, when considering “the impossibility of complete testing”, the course looks at areas such as fixed and floating point arithmetic and binary storage. I believe this widens the course’s appeal.

I would definitely recommend giving the Foundations course a go. BBST differs from other courses as it encourages discussion and critical thinking with other participants and examiners. So while learning the context-driven testing concepts is a focus of the course, the online interactions ensure your written communication skills also become a primary learning outcome.

I now have a few more tools I can draw upon, I’m re-energised by taking a step back and looking at testing as a professional task and I’m left with an urge to keep learning.

I’m also optimistic that testing will become more and more widely recognised as worthy of dedicated tertiary study, with courses like this moving us in the right direction.

Congratulations to Assurity’s Adam Howard, Alice Chu, Melanie Greig, Nicola Owen, Rupert Burton.