Archive for March, 2012

Of Marathons and Testers

19 March, 2012

A friend of mine, Simon Alexander, has recently started training to run in the London Marathon in just over a month’s time.

He has started a fund-raising page at VirginMoney and any donations would be much appreciated by – not just by Simon and I – but the staff and children at the hospices too.

It made me think about the relationship with my own chosen craft though and the comparisons that can be drawn:


As testers it is important that we are prepared for the testing we are to carry out. We have to keep practicing and honing our skills so that when we test we do so efficiently. It is important that we understand the problem domain that we are testing (subject to the usual time constraints of course) so we have to do our research. In this regard I love James Bach’s story, in Secrets of a Buchaneer Scholar, talks about how he applied himself to learning about patents in order to win a court case.

Similarly, Simon must adequately prepare himself for the task he has set himself. It is no good expecting to be able to turn up and ‘just’ run the marathon; he has to ensure he understands the messages his body is giving him about whether he can run faster, needs to slow down, is going at a steady pace; how does he cope going up and down inclines; what should ‘steady going’ feel like. To monitor Simon’s progress see ReachforEACH.

The Marathon Itself

A marathon is a long hard slog. Just like testing persistence and dedication are key. Once we are on the trail of a bug or something in the System under Test does not seem right we need to be dogged in our determination to get to the bottom of what is going on. We need, as much as possible, to ensure we know enough to be able to help our colleagues who have to make a go/don’t go decision make that decision.

When we are testing we need to be organised in what we are doing. There are various approaches for this: we can have a mental model that we are working through; a detailed Gantt chart showing exactly how long to spend on each component of the System under Test; a mind map such as those created by Darren McMillan on a regular basis; a prose-based plan.

We also have to keep our concentration levels up. It is important that we keep our minds focussed on the task in hand otherwise we risk missing serious defects

If Simon does not apply his training and not keep going on the day he will fail in his mission to complete the marathon. He has various strategies at his disposal for completing the run for example he could gradually build up speed across the distance; run steadily for the first 25 miles and then speed up; run at a steady speed throughout; etc.

He also has to maintain high concentration levels to ensure he keeps up the pace and keeps up with his fellow runners.


Once testing has finished on a project it is important to reflect and learn lessons from the exercise. Make sure any lessons are learned that mean next time you test you do so more efficiently.

Simon needs to keep his fitness levels up so that he does not go back to square one in his trainng.

If you can please give generously and may I take this opportunity to wish Simon the very best of luck. Good luck Simon!