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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Time Management for Testers (and Everyone)

It's a perennial problem: there's so much testing to be done and not enough time in which to do it.  I've already written one post about this issue: What to Test When There's Not Enough Time to Test, which talks about how to prioritize your testing and how to work with your team to avoid getting into situations where there's not enough testing time.  But this week I'd like to take a more general view of time management: how can we structure our days so we don't feel continually stressed by the many projects we work on?  Here are eight time management strategies that work for me:



Strategy One:  Know Your Priorities

I have a bi-weekly one-on-one meeting with my manager, and in each meeting he asks me "What's the most important priority for you right now?"  I love this question, because it helps me focus on what's most important.  You may have ten different things on your to-do list, but if you don't decide which things are the most important, you will always feel like you should be working on something else, which keeps you from focusing on the task at hand.  I like to think about my first, second, and third priorities when I am planning what to work on next.

How do you decide what's most important?  One good way is to think about impacts and deadlines.  If there is a release to Production that is going out tonight and it requires some manual testing, preparing for that release is going to be my top priority, because customers will be impacted by the quality of the release.  If I am presenting a workshop to other testers in my company, and that presentation is tomorrow, I'm going to want to make my preparation a priority.  If you evaluate each of your tasks in terms of what its impact is and what its due date is, it will become clearer how your priorities should be ordered.

Strategy Two: Keep a To-Do List

Keeping a to-do list means that you won't forget about any of your tasks.  This does not mean that all of your tasks will get done.  When I finally realized that my to-do list would never be completed, I was able to stop worrying about how many items were on it.  I have found that the less I worry about how many things are in my to-do list, the more items I can accomplish.
I use a Trello board for my to-do list, and this is what I use for columns:  Today, This Week, Next Week, Soon, and Someday.  Whenever I have a new task, I add it to one of these columns.  If it's urgent, I put it in Today or This Week.  Something less urgent will go in Next Week or Soon; the task will eventually move to This Week or Today.  Projects I'd like to work on or tech debt I'd like to address will go in Someday.  With this method, I don't lose track of any of my tasks, and I always have something to do in those slow moments when I'm waiting for new features to test. 

Strategy Three: Use Quiet Times for Your Deepest Work

One of the best things about working for a remote-friendly company is that my team is spread over four time zones.  Since I am in Eastern Time, our daily meetings don't start until what is late morning for me.  This means that the first couple of hours of my workday are quiet ones without interruption.  So I use those hours to work on projects that require concentration and focus.  My teammates on the West Coast do the opposite, using the end of their workday for their deepest work because the rest of us have already stopped for the day.

Even if you are in the same time zone as your co-workers, you can still carve out some quiet time to get your most challenging work done.  Maybe your co-workers take a long lunch while you choose to eat at your desk.  Or maybe you are a morning person and get into the office before they do.  Take advantage of those quiet times!

Strategy Four: Minimize Interruptions

It should come as no surprise to anyone that we are interrupted with notifications on our phones and laptops several times every hour.  Every time one of those notifications comes through, your concentration is broken as you take the time to look at the notification to see if it's important.  But how many of those notifications do you really need?  I've turned off all notifications but text messages and work-related messages on my phone.  Any other notifications, such as Linked In, Facebook, and email, are not important enough to cause me to break my concentration.

On my laptop, I've silenced all of my notification sounds but one: the notification that I'm about to have a meeting.  I've set my Slack notifications to pop up, but they don't make a sound.  That way I have fewer sounds disrupting my concentration.

Another helpful hint is to train your team to send you an entire message all at once, instead of sending messages like:

9:30 Fred: Hi
9:31 Fred: Good Morning
9:31 Fred: I have a quick question
9:33 Fred: Do you know what day our new feature is going to Production?

If you were to receive the messages in the above example, your work would be interrupted FOUR TIMES in the course of four minutes.  Instead, ask your co-workers to do this:

9:33  Fred: Good Morning!  I have a quick question for you: do you know what day our new feature is going to Production?

In this way, you are only interrupted ONCE.  You can answer the question quickly, and then get back to work.

Strategy Five: Set Aside Time for the Big Things

Sometimes projects are so big that they feel daunting.  You may have wanted to learn a new test automation platform for a long time, but you never seem to find the time to work on it.  While you know that learning the new platform will save you and your colleagues time in the long run, it's not urgent, and the course you'd like to take will take you ten hours to complete.

Rather than trying to find a day or two to take the course, why not set aside a small amount of time every day to work on it?  When I have a course to take, I usually set aside fifteen or twenty minutes at the very beginning of my workday to work on it.  Each day I chip away at the coursework to be done, and if I keep at it consistently, I can finish a ten hour course in six to eight weeks.  That may seem like a long time, but it's much better than never starting the course at all!

Strategy Six:  Ask For Help

We testers have a sense of personal pride when it comes to the projects we work on.  We want to make sure that we are seen as technologically savvy, and not "just a tester".  We take pride in the automation we write.  But the fact is that developers usually have more experience working with code than we do, and they might have ideas for better or more efficient ways of doing things.

Recently, I was preparing an example project that I was going to use to teach some new hires how to write unit tests.  It was just a simple app that compared integers.  I knew exactly how to write the logic, but when I went to compile my program, I ran into a "cannot instantiate class" error.  I knew that the cause of the error was probably something tiny, but since I don't often write apps on my own, I couldn't remember what the issue was.  I had a choice to make at this point- I could save my pride and spend the next two hours figuring out the problem by myself, or I could ask one of my developers to look at it and have him tell me what the problem was in less than ten seconds.  The choice was obvious: I asked my developer, and he instantly solved the problem.

However, there is one caveat to this strategy: sometimes we can get into the habit of asking for information that we could easily find ourselves.  Before you interrupt a coworker and ask them for information, ask yourself if you could find it through a simple Google search or looking through your company's wiki.  If you can find it yourself faster than it would take to ask your coworker and wait for his or her response, you've just saved yourself AND your coworker some time!

Strategy Seven:  Take Advantage of Your Energy Levels

I am a morning person; I am the most energetic at the start of my workday.  As the day moves along, my energy levels drop.  By the end of the work day, it's hard for me to focus on difficult tasks.  Because of this, I organize my work so that I do my more difficult tasks in the morning, and save the afternoon for more repetitive tasks.

Your energy levels might be different; if you think about what times of the day you do your best and worst work, you will be able to figure out when you have the most energy.  Plan your most challenging and creative work for those times!

Strategy Eight: Adjust Your Environment

I am very fortunate in that I am able to work remotely.  This means I have complete control over the cleanliness, temperature, and sound in my office.  You may not be so lucky, but you can still find ways to adjust your environment so that you work more efficiently.  If your office is so warm that you find yourself falling asleep at your desk, you can bring in a small fan to cool the air around you.  If you are distracted by back and shoulder pain that comes from slumping in your chair, you can install a standing desk and stand for part of your workday.  If your coworkers are distracting you with their constant chit-chat, you can buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

Experiment with what works best for you.  What works for some people might not be right for you.  You might work most efficiently with total silence, with white noise, with ambient music, with classical music, or with heavy metal playing in your ears.  You might find that facing your desk so that you can look out the window helps you relax your mind and solve problems, or you might find it so distracting that you are better off facing empty white walls.  Whatever your formula, once you've found it, make it work for you!

The eight strategies above can make it easier for testers to manage their time and work more efficiently.  You may find that these strategies help in other areas of your life as well: paying bills and doing house work, home improvement projects, and so on.  If these tips work for you, consider passing them on to others in your life to help them work more efficiently too!























Saturday, April 13, 2019

Get Organized for Testing Success

Before I discovered the joy of software testing, I had a brief career as a professional organizer.  I organized homes, small businesses, and non-profit organizations.  I've always loved getting organized because it helped me to accomplish my goals more quickly.  The same is true with software testing!  Being organized as a tester means that you have easy access to your tools, test plans, and resources, which frees you up to do more creative thinking and exploratory testing.  In this post, I'll outline four of my strategies for organizing.




Strategy One: Avoid Reinventing the Wheel

At various times in my testing career, I've needed to test a file upload feature.  I made sure to test with different file types: pdf, jpg, png, and so on.  Sometimes it was hard to find the file type I was looking for; for instance, it took me a long time to locate a tiff file.  After I had tested file uploading a couple of times, I realized that it would be a good idea to save all the files I'd found in a folder called "File Types for Testing".  That way, the next time I needed to test file uploads I would have all my files ready to go.  Recently I expanded my "File Types for Testing" folder to include some very large files.  Now when I need to test file size limits I don't have to waste a second looking for files to use.

Similarly, I have a folder of bookmarked web pages that contains all the tools I use regularly, such as a character count tool and a GUID generator.  This way, I don't need to spend valuable time conducting a search for the tool, or asking a co-worker to remind me where the tool is.

Strategy Two: Be Consistent with Naming and Filing

Every now and then someone on my team will ask me about how I tested a feature, or I'll ask the question of myself, because I'll need to do some regression testing.  If I don't remember what I named my test plan when I saved it, or what folder I saved it to, I'll waste a lot of time looking for it.  For this reason, I name all of my test plans consistently: the name begins with the JIRA ticket number, and then I include a brief description of the feature.  For example: "W-246- File resizing". 

When I first started naming my test plans consistently, I just named them with the description, but that made them difficult to find because I could never remember what verbiage I used: was it "Resizing files" or "File resizing"?  Then I named them with just the JIRA ticket number, but locating them required two steps: first I needed to remember the ticket number by searching through JIRA, and then I needed to look up the test plan.  Naming the test plan with both the number and the description gives me two ways to find the plan, which speeds up the process. 

I also organize my test plans by feature.  For example, all of my test plans associated with messaging go in a Messaging folder.  And all of my test plans associated with file uploads go in a File Upload folder. 

Strategy Three: Have a Place for Shared Tests

As much as I love avoiding reinventing the wheel myself, I also enjoy helping others avoid it.  My team does a lot of API testing, and we use Postman for that purpose.  We have a shared workspace where I put all of our saved collections.  The collections are organized by API so they are easy to find.  Really long collections are organized in sub-folders by endpoint or by topic.  This is helpful not just for our testers, but also for our developers; they have mentioned to me that it's much faster for them to reproduce and fix an issue when they can use saved requests instead of setting up their own. 

We save all of our regression test plans in Confluence.  They are organized by version number for major releases, and by API and date for smaller releases.  We use Confluence because it's easy to collaborate on a test plan; we each add our name to the tests we run so we can see who is working on each section and which tests have been completed.  Saving the test plans this way makes it easy to go back and see what we tested, and it also makes it easy to duplicate and edit a plan for the next release. 

Strategy Four:  Leave Yourself Notes

Whenever I get a new piece of information, such as a test user's credentials or a URL for a test environment, I say to myself "Am I likely to need this information again?" If it is likely, I make sure to add it to my notes.  I used to use a notebook for notes like this, but now I use Notepad++.  Keeping this information in saved files makes it easier to locate, instead of searching back through pages of a notebook.  I keep all my Notepad++ files in the same folder, and I name them things that will be recognizable, such as "Test Users" or "Email Addresses for Testing". 

As in any company with more than one employee, we share files, and sometimes other people don't file things in the places where I would expect them.  After getting really frustrated trying to find the same information over and over again, I created a spreadsheet for myself called "File Locations". This spreadsheet has a column for what I would have named the file, and then a column with a link to get to the file.  This has saved me valuable time searching for files, and freed me from frustration.

When I have a piece of information that I need to save, but I know I will only need it temporarily, I save it in a Notepad++ file called "Random Notes".  I periodically delete information that is no longer needed from the file to keep it from getting too long and hard to read. 

Organizing files, test plans, and information takes a little bit of time at first, but with practice it becomes second nature.  And it saves you the time and frustration of constantly searching for the information you need.  With the time you save, you can do more exploratory testing, which will help find new bugs; and you can write more test automation, which will free you up to do even more exploratory testing!


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Logging, Monitoring, and Alerting

This week I'm writing about three things not often associated with testing: logging, monitoring, and alerting.  Perhaps you've taken advantage of logging in your testing, but monitoring and alerting seem like a problem for IT or DevOps.  However, a bug-free application doesn't mean a thing if your users can't get to it because the server crashed!  For this reason, it's important to understand logging, monitoring, and alerting so that we as testers can participate in ensuring the health of our applications.

Logging:

Logging is simply recording information about what happens in an application.  This can be done through writing to a file or a database.  Often developers will include logging statements in their code to help determine what's going on with the application below the UI.  This is especially helpful in applications that make calls to a number of servers or databases.

Recently I tested a notification system that passed a message from a function to a number of different channels.  Logging was so helpful in testing because it enabled me to follow the message through the channels.  If I hadn't had good logging, I wouldn't have had any way to figure out where the bug was when I didn't get a message I was expecting.

Good log messages should be easy to access and easy to search.  You shouldn't have to log on to some obscure remote desktop and sift through tens of thousands of entries with no line breaks.  One helpful tool for logging is Kibana- an open-source tool that lets you search and sort through logs in an easy-to-read format.

Good log messages should also be easy to understand and provide helpful information.  It's so frustrating to find a log message about an error and discover that it says "An unknown error occurred", or "Error TSGB-45667".  Ask your developer if he or she can provide log messages that make it clear what went wrong and where in the code it happened.

Another helpful tactic for logging is to give each event a specific GUID as an identifier.  The GUID will stay associated with everything that happens with the event, so you can follow it as it moves from one area of an application to another. 


Monitoring:

Monitoring means setting up automatic processes to watch the health of your application and the servers that run it.  Good monitoring ensures that any potential problems can be discovered and dealt with before they reach the end user.  For example, if it becomes clear that a server's disk space is reaching maximum capacity, additional servers can be added to handle the load.

Things to monitor include:
  • server response times
  • load on the server
  • server errors, such as 500-level response errors
  • CPU usage
  • memory usage
  • disk space
One way to monitor application health is with a periodic health check or a ping.  A job is set up to make a request to the server every few minutes and record whether the response was positive or negative.  Monitoring can also happen through a tool that watches the number of requests to the server and records whether those requests were successful.  Data points such as response times and CPU usage can also be recorded and examined to see if there are any trends that might indicate that the application is unhealthy.  One example of a tool that monitors application and server health is AppDynamics.  

Alerting:

All the logging and monitoring in the world won't be helpful if no one is watching to see if there are problems!  This is where alerting comes in.  Alerts can be set to notify the appropriate people so that immediate action can be taken when there is a problem.  

Some situations that might call for an alert would be:
  • CPU or memory usage goes above a certain threshold
  • Disk space goes below a certain threshold
  • The number of 500 errors goes above a certain level
  • A health check fails twice in a row
  • Response times are slower than expected
  • Load is higher than normal
There are a number of ways to alert people of problems.  Alerts can be set up that will send emails, text messages, or phone calls.  PagerDuty is one service that provides this alerting functionality.  An important thing to consider, however, is to set off-hours alerts only for serious cases in which users might be affected.  No one wants to be woken up in the middle of the night by an alert that says that the QA servers are down!  However, a problem in the QA environment could indicate an issue that could be seen in the production environment in the future.  So a less invasive alert, such as a message to a team chat room, could be set up for this situation.  

You may be saying to yourself at this point, "But I'm a software tester!  It's not my job to set up logging, monitoring, and alerting for the company."  The health of your application is the responsibility of everyone who works on the application, including you!  While you might not have the clout to purchase server monitoring software, you still have the power to ask questions of your team, such as:
  • How can we troubleshoot user issues?
  • How do we know that we have enough servers to handle our application's load?
  • How will we know if our API is responding correctly?
  • How will we know if a DDoS attack is being attempted on our application?
  • How will we know if our end users are experiencing long wait times?
  • How will we know if we are running out of disk space?
Hopefully these questions will motivate you and your team to set up logging, monitoring, and alerting that will ensure the health and reliability of your application.  

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