M is for Memory (My A to Z of Software Testing, Part 9)

My brother Paul and I shared the majority of the first twenty years of our lives in a small semi-detached house in the south-east of England. We were born just 17 months apart and so we experienced many of the wonders of growing up together. When we were toddlers my Mum would put us in the same bed if one of us caught measles, chicken pox etc., in order that the other get it at the same time. We went to the same schools. We joined the Cubs and Scouts together. We both got newspaper delivery rounds at the same shop. We shared a butcher shop job (so that I could duck out to play soccer for the school on a Saturday morning). We occasionally dated the same girls. We both left home and got married in the same year. He even emigrated to Australia, a few years after I moved here, although he and his family couldn’t settle and so they moved back to London after 6 months.

As you can see, my brother and I are pretty close. However, if you ask us to relive some of the more memorable moments in our lives I can guarantee you that we will provide quite different recollections to many situations. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that two (or more) people can attend the same event (let’s say a soccer match) but can come away with completely different memories – and that’s even taking into consideration the bias based upon supporting opposing teams. My wife and I watch our Aussie Rules team regularly, but when it comes to recounting the highlights we can both have distinctly different memories.

So, how does this happen and what is the link to software testing?

Firstly, it happens because we have different perspectives and contexts. We look at the same action, but we don’t always see the same activity. I see the player passing the ball, while my wife sees the player missing the tackle. I follow player X across the field, while my wife follows player Y.

It is therefore not surprising that when we are asked to test a piece of software each of us sees it from a different perspective. Even if we’re are working from an identical script and are directed along an identical path we can recollect different feelings and experiences. And this is where memory is fascinating, for me. We look, but we don’t always see. We listen, but we don’t always hear. We eat, but we don’t always taste. UNLESS….

I practice living in the moment. It’s something I read about roughly 20 years ago in a tale about a samurai. As a result of this book (and other similar works) I practice BEING first and doing second. I practice cognisance. When I am playing tennis I feel the ball striking my racket and visualise it hitting the line at the other end of the court. When I am cycling I constantly monitor my muscles and my breathing, in order that I may respond to the terrain or traffic, so that I am not just reacting.

When I prepare to test software I visualise what I want to achieve and this helps me reconstruct my memories afterwards. We recently went on a fantastic trip to the USA and my memories are still very clear. I believe this is because I planned the trip carefully, visualising what we would do and where we would go. It meant that I could be truly present and living in the moment. I can still taste the amazing meatloaf I ate at The Perfect Wife restaurant in Manchester, Vermont almost 3 weeks ago!

Eight years ago this week I travelled to Stockholm on my first visit of a new assignment to resolve some serious testing issues with the city’s (soon to be implemented) smart ticketing system. I still remember very clearly my first encounter with my “standing” desk, my early morning lift encounters where I would greet someone in Swedish, but then be unable to continue the conversation past the weather! I remember the taste of lingonberry sauce with my reindeer meatballs. I remember uncovering the root cause of their software fragility and source code management issues. I spent six months commuting between Melbourne and Perth in Australia and Stockholm, Sweden and still remember each individual trip to the northern hemisphere as if it were last month. 2008 was the year I learned how to be truly present and to live in the moment. It was also the year that my memory began to improve and I began to see far more clearly how BEING was more effective than doing.

Dateline: Melbourne, Friday June 24 2016


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