Thinking outside the geofence

New Thinking 11 October 2016 Alice Laing

Creativity is an essential part of overcoming the challenges that come with new and unfamiliar software. As complex new technology continues to enter the market, testers will continue to be tested.

A quote that captures the essence of this idea came from the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk: “If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic – being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago”.

In other words, if you enjoy feeling comfortable, work in a different industry. As the world of development progresses, there is a growing need to meet development ingenuity with testing creativity.

I recently completed an engagement that required me to test a mobile application that utilises geofencing as it serves customers, sending notifications to property owners when certain geofenced locations are entered and exited. It is a rare privilege to be assigned a testing project that requires movement while testing; a refreshing break from the swivel chair, however ergonomically designed.

This allowed me to travel around with different mobile devices, considering my own physical location and movement for the first time as a tester. While conceptually not overly complicated, this was unlike any testing assignment I had previously encountered, so formulating scenarios required a moment of extra consideration – Am I on a bike or in a car? Do I have reception? At what point should I expect to receive a push notification? Am I actually crossing the geofence when receiving notifications or driving past it? How accurately is this device tracking my location? If I miss the location, do a U turn, drive past it again and drive back, will I be inundated with notifications? Does this matter? How will this affect battery life? If I turn the device on after entering the geofenced area, what happens? Are the notifications distracting to a driver – should they be silenced? What if I lend my work phone to Gary for the day without logging out and later log into the app on another phone and we’ve entered different geofenced locations? I digress.

The level of creativity required for a project varies greatly depending on the software and its purpose. As stated by Rikard Egren in ‘Where Testing Creativity Grows’, “There are a lot of different aspects of testing, and the appropriate proportion of creativity will vary”. The rapid spreading of software into different physical locations and various mediums means that many situations are being encountered by testers for the first time.

The wearable technology market, which includes devices such as smart watches and exercise trackers, continues to expand, broadening the activities commonly associated with User Acceptance Testing (UAT) (for a great definition of UAT, see Chloë Wood’s latest Big Thought ‘The collaborative tester: A paired testing approach’).

According to data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) ‘Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker’, total shipment volumes reached 19.7 million units in 1Q16, an increase of 67.2% from 1Q15. As software can be found in so many places that aren’t computers and in so many devices that in no way resemble the traditional desktop computer, there is now the potential for many more components to be considered when testing; the physical testing environment is no longer restricted to ‘Test Scenario A’. Scenarios may involve wearables and mobile devices in addition to any desktop/web-based applications.

Additionally, a desktop does not usually operate in a ‘dusty’ environment. Or claim to be water resistant in the way that a Samsung Galaxy S5 or Garmin Vivoactive HR will. Or need to function under pressure such as the Nixon Mission.

So even though geofencing is reasonably common and not altogether new, it did make me think – if today’s testing environment includes virtual reality and wearables, what will we be testing in five years’ time? Will future UAT mean days of strapping on your seatbelt, changing into your togs and walking up mountains? Probably not, but I’ll take all the testing adventures I can get.