Saturday, August 8, 2009

Software Testing and the art of staying in present

When i first wrote an article on Soft skills that make a tester some years back, little did i capture the importance that power of concentration plays in our profession. As i grew more in the professional life, i am beginning to get more convinced that most of the inefficiencies while testing or even while dealing with regular work related stuff stems from the notorious ability of our mind to wander at will. While its quite bold of me to relate lack of concentration as one of the major reasons for quite a lot of inadequacies at the work place but a little introspection would reveal that lapses in concentration during the day actually keep us away from being at our best. Consider the following situations-

- A tester working to perform Exploratory testing in a well defined session often sees himself lost and with his mind miles away from task at hand. Does a 1 hour session mean that a tester get to spend entire one hour on testing ? Probably No even if a tester completely isolates himself/herself from the distractions around his work.
- How many times it happens that while performing one task you are either thinking of what happened before the current task or what is going to happen after the current task ?
- While working on something important, you tend to get distracted with an email arrival and tend to spend time there even though it may be as trivial as a joke from a friend.
- If you actually got to use a tool called Session Tester meant for assisting testers in performing Session based testing, it has an interesting feature called "Prime Me". On clicking this button, a tester is given some useful suggestions asking him/her to focus on the task at hand. Some suggestions such as "try touring in different ways", "Try something radical", "What do you see that you didnt see before", "What would Grandma do" etc. This feature is actually quite handy to bring the tester's mind back to where it should be. Why do you think such a feature would be needed ?

I feel that looking back at your day or even last one hour, you would quite appreciate the fact that our mind tend to be one of the most dynamic entities. At the same time, there is also a growing realization that at the very foundation of every success is an individual's power to focus on the goal till its driven to successful completion. In this context, the greater challenge is how can one tame or control one's mind to get the best out of it at will.

What is concentration ?
The Oxford dictionary definition of the word “concentration” is “the act or power of focusing one’s attention”.
One of the best definition of the word "concentration" comes from Geet Sethi (World record holder in Billiards) when he says concentration is simply remaining in the present. The longer you can remain in the present, the greater your span of concentration.
This definition quite beautifully sums up what concentration is all about.

Is it easy to concentrate and focus on something ?
I think Geet Sethi's definition of concentration really makes it seem quite simple. In reality, is it really simple ? I bet you would agree with me in answering this question as "No". Sachin Tendulkar in one of the recent interviews to Wisden stated "The toughest thing about batting is to clear your mind. The mind always wants to be in the past or in the future, it rarely wants to be in the present. My best batting comes when my mind is in the present but it doesn’t happen naturally, you have to take yourself there. I am not able to get into that zone as often as i would like but, when you are there, you don’t see anything expect bat and the ball."

Doesn’t the above text by Sachin proves that it is so human to have a mind cluttered with thoughts that either take you months ahead of current time or may be years behind ? This is a constant battle that every person faces irrespective of his/her stature and greatness is actually bestowed upon the people who are more consistently able to tame their mind to move in the direction they have set for their lives. That is what Sachin referred to above as being in "Zone".

As another cricketer- Aakash Chopra recently put it in his recent articles on the same topic- "The mind has the peculiar ability of wandering off at the first available moment, and it doesn't need any permission."

The Power of focus in Software testing:
For those who have experienced the job of Software testing, would agree with me when i say that its an intense job. To do the testing perfectly and to get the desired results requires a tester to have more than just the Technical skills required to do the job. Consider a scenario in which 2 testers with similar educational background joins an organization and undergo similar training but while at work- one tester gives absolutely wonderful results while the other remains average. There can be multiple factors leading to this situation but one major factor leading to greater performance of an individual has been the Power of focus or concentration that one exhibits while working on a task. For the people who are passionate about Software testing, would find their attention span on task at hand i.e. testing the software more than the average testers. Correlating that with Sachin's statement in previous section- when a tester is in the zone he/she always sees only the Software to be tested and works with it with full attention eliminating all other distractions. The more a skilled tester reaches such a zone, the better he/she will get at the craft of Software testing. I would really call this as "Zone of Accomplishment".

Is it possible for a tester to get in "Zone of Accomplishment" everytime he/she tests ?:
I won’t be forthcoming here and say that the answer to this is "Yes" just because we are humans and cannot always be perfect but one thing is true for a fact that the great testers get into this zone more often than others. In my experience, i have realized that often we try and fight with the thoughts in our mind to focus on task at hand. A mind in current state may have zillion thoughts such as any unfinished work, thoughts about the next day, thoughts about your personal life, thoughts about traffic, weather etc. One of my realization have been that instead of fighting with mind to get it to desired state- as a first step acknowledge that its natural for mind to wander and accept the status quo. Don’t really be hard on yourself, let the mind work with multitude of thoughts while you carve for maximum attention on the task you want to focus on.
Another idea i have found useful is to defocus and allow your mind to wander and then focus back again. The more we allow mind to work naturally, the more attention spans we would be able to get back in return.

I would really like to hear from you on your experiences towards staying in present and getting in to "Zone of Accomplishment" while testing. Do share your thoughts.

The Inspiration of this post comes from a beautiful article written by Aakash Chopra . You can find the article here .