Monday, July 23, 2012

Improvising on a tune called "Exploratory Testing"

Paul Manz is someone whom I would consider to be among the greatest North American organists of the twentieth century. Had you ever attended one of his hymn festivals, you would have been treated to a number of improvisations - that is simultaneous composition and performance. And I guarantee you, you would never have thought, "This isn't music, this is just noise!" That's because his improvisations have all of the structure of music as we know it: tonality, meter, tempo, dynamic, melody, harmony, etc. And he was doing it ON THE SPOT; nothing was written down.

Exploratory testing has many parallels with improvised music but yet, it doesn't have the same respect even when executed by the "Paul Manz-es" of the testing world like James Bach and Anne-Marie Charrett.

I improvise regularly when I sit at the piano. I wasn't always very good but my skill has improved little by little over time, but particularly the last two years whereby I have had to create my own accompaniments to support congregational singing when the music editor at Oregon Catholic Press fails to understand the needs of the untrained singer. But I digress. My point however, is that no one would question the legitimacy of my playing even though I didn't sound like Paul Manz and the only thing in writing was the melody and harmonic suggestion.

E.T. is structured just like improvisations are structured. There's usually some sort of suggested charter or mission. Testers utilize various techniques to expose and isolate defects. But yet because it isn't written down in meticulous detail, E.T. is considered inferior. Some of the worst music of all time has been written down, performed over and over, and made the performer filthy rich.

While I think there's a close parallel between improvising and E.T., it doesn't hold up for written music and scripted testing. Music and testing are both art and science but I think they use them in opposite ways. Music looks for an artistic result achieved through a scientific process whereas testing looks for a scientific result achieved through an artistic process. When you script a test, you strip out the art - the intent, the intuition, the sapience, the wonder.

Any good musician should be able to read and perform music because it demonstrates the technical ability while being a means by which we can learn ultimately to express our own artistic thoughts. A tester has no need to know how to write scripts or execute them. One learns to test by testing, talking with a mentor, reading, writing, etc. and by testing. By gaining understanding of the philosophy of testing we learn ultimately to achieve the scientific results.

It's not fair that exploratory testing doesn't always get the credit it deserves but then again life isn't fair. Sojourn on testers, continually strive to better yourselves and serve as a positive example of just how effective exploratory testing is.

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