the benefits of manual testing, episode 2 – agile

Teams at my company are moving to agile, and all of us will go eventually. I’ve been learning about how testing works in agile, and I’ve been talking a lot with people about it, both inside my company and outside. One thing that has come up is the perception that manual testing is not a big piece in agile, and that all of the testers will need to learn automation to continue to succeed. While I agree that testers should know enough to at least identify areas for automation, or better yet, do it, I think there will always be a place in agile for manual testing. Some things just cannot be automated in the first place. Also, manual testing is quick and robust, and the cost can be about the same as automation. Let’s break those down.

Quick: Testing in agile needs to be quick. If something is broken, it needs to be discovered and fixed quickly or put the sprint at risk. Manual testing is an efficient way to make sure that something is functioning. Stories can be very small to quite large, and, especially for the smaller stuff and GUI items, being able to quickly look at something, play around with it, and see whether it is working the way it’s supposed to is best done with manual testing. This is especially true for a smaller piece of a work in progress, when not everything is connected, but the developers want to make sure they’re on the right track.

Robust: Manual testing is robust. Deviations from a script are expected. If a URL or menu changes, or if a button moves around, a manual test can go forward. An automated test stops and throws an error and has to be inspected for what went wrong. If an application is very stable and unlikely to change anything, automation may be helpful, but if features are being added or moved around, as happens frequently in agile, manual testing will be able to continue more easily than an automated test.

Cost: Automation is a large up-front expense. What takes five minutes of manual testing may take thirty minutes to code an automated test. If the same test is going to be run over and over again over multiple sprint, automation may be more cost-effective. But manual testing is more cost-effective to determine functionality for initial tests and one-off tests.

Automation does have its uses. Automation takes some human error out of testing (though possibly introduces human error in the coding for testing itself). If testers want to be involved with writing unit tests or helping with TDD, automation is a good way to go. If it’s a long-term project with core functionality built at the beginning, regression tests can be automated to ensure that future features don’t break the main stuff. Integration testing of earlier features can be built too. But, especially for the first sprint of a feature, before it’s fully realized and integrated, manual testing is the way to go. I know of some companies who do entirely manual testing in agile, which poses its own set of challenges.

For a discussion of how agile changes the tester’s role, and for briefly touching on different benefits of manual vs automated testing in agile, see Ulf Eriksson’s blog post here. From the same site, here is a mind map about testing in agile, and section 6 deals with manual testing and why it’s necessary.

I ran this past people who know what they’re talking about to make sure I’m not saying anything heretical, but I understand there may be differences of opinion. I’d welcome a discussion about this!

living with a mood disorder

For a long time, I thought I had “ordinary” depression. It was terrible at times, though I managed to function. My first bout of it was in fifth grade, and I would deal with it every couple years after that. I would cry easily, think dark thoughts pretty much constantly, and find little joy in activities. I was hospitalized once when the medication I was on proved ineffective, but I quickly found a medication that I responded to well and stayed on for the next ten years.

During college, after my hospitalization, I thought I had it worse than most, but looking back, I can see that thinking this was just arrogance (look at me suffer!). Many people deal with crippling depression to the point where it impedes any semblance of everyday life. I managed to still do well in classes and maintain most of my friendships (with a few notable and terrible casualties), and after graduating, showed up to work and mostly got things done.

I was put on a mood stabilizer while in law school, with the suspicion that I might have bipolar. I wasn’t given any reasons for why he thought that, but the medication evened things out and made the depression easier. From then on, I took meds that were geared at the depression in bipolar, and those have been great. I still didn’t think I had the mania side of bipolar though. I’ve never had sleepless nights or periods of intense productivity and focus. I’ve never turned psychotic or physically destructive.

Some stuff about six months ago made me reconsider the mania piece of this. Without going into (any) detail, it’s been posited that my mania manifests as risky behavior. It nearly cost me my near-perfect marriage. Had I understood more before, some of it may have been prevented, or at least mitigated. My husband and I spent some time reading books about bipolar, learning what we could, and though pieces resonated, it just didn’t seem to fit me. I accepted the idea that I might be bipolar, but wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. I raised the issue with my psychiatrist, who said she didn’t think I was bipolar in a strict sense.

The current thinking about my mood disorder is that it’s cyclothymia – mostly depression, with some risky behavior or other hypomanic tendencies thrown in for good measure. It seems to fit how I’ve been for most of my life. The depression can get REALLY bad, the risky behavior can start to get out of control sometimes but doesn’t turn into psychosis.

My mood disorder is controlled with therapy (sometimes intense, sometimes just checking in), medications (3 of them), making sure I get enough vitamins, and (trying to) exercise. I know not everything works for everyone, but I am a very strong believer in therapy. Having a neutral person whose purpose is to care for your well-being can literally be a lifesaver. Medications get me to a level where I can process things in therapy, and vitamins and exercise give me energy and improve my mood. All of them are integral to my well-being.

I fully acknowledge that I am really lucky. I have the means and access to skilled treatment, I am surrounded by people who love me and listen to me and care for me, and my illness has rarely gotten to a debilitating point because of these two things.

In spite of those things, the darkness is still very dark, the tears are still numerous, and the sad and sometimes scary thoughts are still very disconcerting. I haven’t felt the months-long abject hopelessness since I did in college, but I have very bad days that not only leave me crying in bed, but wondering if I’m done being happy for another long stretch. I know that it’s in me, that my brain is capable of doing that, and it’s like I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’ve learned how to deal with my mood disorder. Life isn’t always good, and it doesn’t have to be. But this is part of who I am, it’s part of what makes me human and vulnerable and empathetic to other people’s suffering. And on those very dark days, remembering that I’m not alone helps. No one is alone.

Harry Potter’s Birthday

For three years before this one, I celebrated July 31st with a friend who loves Harry Potter much like I do. After moving to Utah, I was sad about not celebrating with her, but I found friends here who love Harry Potter too. In previous years, I’ve made chocolate cake with fleur de sel caramel filling, but this year, I decided to try a snitch cake. I found a hemisphere cake pan, edible gold spray paint, and edible paper to make the wings.

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I made chocolate frogs, butterbeer, and a beef stew worthy of Molly Weasley. Friends came over, some with wizarding accessories, and we read tea leaves, did trivia, and watched Half-Blood Prince. Everyone got into it, which made it fun.