AMA: How do you teach someone exploratory testing?

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Paul asks…

How do you teach someone exploratory testing?

My response…

For something different, let me start with a quote:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
~ T. S. Eliot

As a father of three children, I believe humans are innate explorers. So exploring a system should come natural to most people, but I’ve found a lot of people can explore a system and not find any bugs.

Techniques like session-based testing attempt to introduce measurement and control to exploratory testing so people are meant to be more effective, but, like the gorilla basketball video has shown us, introducing a goal for a session can blind us to the things that aren’t specifically in that goal. Much like following a script can blind us to things that aren’t in that script.

So how do we teach people to find bugs by exploration?

wilful-blindnessI believe the biggest thing that stops people finding bugs by exploration is wilful blindness: choosing not to know. The way you can teach someone to be a better exploratory tester therefore is by teaching them to be less blind.

Margaret Heffernan explains this superbly well in her completely non-testing non-technical book that I think every tester should read:

“We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking. The very fact that wilful blindness is willed, that it is a product of a rich mix of experience, knowledge, thinking, neutrons and neuroses, is what gives us the capacity to change it. Like Lear, we can learn to see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do. As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: what could I know, should I know, that I don’t know? Just what am I missing here?”

I really recommend reading that book.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.

2 thoughts on “AMA: How do you teach someone exploratory testing?”

  1. I find that a big problem for some people who try exploratory testing is confirmation bias (I’m curious to see if the idea of wilful blindness in the book you recommended is a similar concept just described in different words). That is, they test the ideal scenario, looking for success, and stop looking once they succeed. Helping testers ask “what if I do this instead?” or “how could I make this fail?” is part of the process of overcoming that confirmation bias.


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