Start From The Past

After being in the computing business now for more than half a century, one thing worries me more than almost anything else: our lack of a sense of history. (Jerry Weinberg)

For a while now I’ve had a rule of thumb, heuristic, that I’ve followed when I’ve wanted to learn something new. I don’t actually remember if I learned it from somewhere or came up with it myself. Nevertheless, it’s been useful for me and I would like to share it with you.

Find Out Where It All Started From

If I want to learn something new, I will focus on the past and try to figure out where it all started from. This way I will lower the risk of being affected by Law of Raspberry Jam.

As for now, I think it’s most helpful if I share couple examples.

Case 1: Scrum

I wanted to know more about Scrum couple months ago. Considering the popularity of Scrum, its Wikipedia article is quite thorough. What’s most important, it has History section in it. Let me copy-paste the beginning of that section:

Scrum was first defined as “a flexible, holistic product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal” as opposed to a “traditional, sequential approach” in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in the “New New Product Development Game”.[1] Takeuchi and Nonaka later argued in “The Knowledge Creating Company”[2] that it is a form of “organizational knowledge creation, […] especially good at bringing about innovation continuously, incrementally and spirally”.

After learning that, I went and read the paper. What’s interesting, paper didn’t mention e.g. sprints, daily stand-ups or backlog. It focused more on identifying characteristics. Characteristics that leading companies showed (in 1986). Later, while learning about origins of Scrum, I ended up watching James Coplien’s talk at Youtube: Patterns: The New Defacto Scrum Standard. I’ve seen it several times since then. Perhaps the thing that strike me the most, was that James said how Scrum had been affected by Toyota Production System (a.k.a. Lean).

Learning about the work of James Coplien also led me to Scrum Pattern Community & their published patterns. Based on all the previous, my current understanding is that Scrum is about identified patterns & in the end: Kaizen. Successful teams have had patterns that has been part of their success. Those have been identified and came part of Scrum. It also reminds me that every team has its own context that they operate on. This needs to be considered when trying to apply a pattern (e.g. daily stand-up) to yours.

Case 2: Agile

I’ve also activated with Agile lately (this year). Sure, I’ve been familiar with Agile Manifesto & its principles. That’s though quite simplistic & therefore it makes you wonder how to interpret it. That’s why I wanted to understand what people behind the Manifesto thought about it, when it was published. I found one good article about it where Martin Fowler & Jim Highsmith explained their thinking behind every point & principles. Good to notice how the article is from year 2001, when the Manifesto was published.

There’s a lot more, if you have time, energy & curiosity. Martin Fowler has an interesting article on his website from July, 2000, where he describes the New Methodology. Then there’s also an updated version of the same article from year 2005. I haven’t yet read those. But that’s where I will go next. These are the people who were behind Agile Manifesto, they are the ones whose thinking I want to listen, when learning about Agile.

I would be naive though, if I would assume that agile software development came to life 13 years ago (2001). There’s one great article that reminds us how people were doing things smartly already in mid-1950s. Here’s one quotation (by Jerry Weinberg) from that article (Iterative and Incremental Development: A Brief History):

We were doing incremental development as early
as 1957, in Los Angeles, under the direction of
Bernie Dimsdale [at IBM’s Service Bureau
Corporation]. He was a colleague of John von
Neumann, so perhaps he learned it there, or
assumed it as totally natural. I do remember Herb
Jacobs (primarily, though we all participated)
developing a large simulation for Motorola, where
the technique used was, as far as I can tell, indis-
tinguishable from XP.​​
When much of the same team was reassembled
in Washington, DC in 1958 to develop Project
Mercury, we had our own machine and the new
Share Operating System, whose symbolic modifi-
cation and assembly allowed us to build the system
incrementally, which we did, with great success.
Project Mercury was the seed bed out of which
grew the IBM Federal Systems Division. Thus, that
division started with a history and tradition of
incremental development.
All of us, as far as I can remember, thought
waterfalling of a huge project was rather stupid,
or at least ignorant of the realities… I think what
the waterfall description did for us was make
us realize that we were doing something else,
something unnamed except for “software devel-
Case 3: Testing
On December, 2013,  I wrote a blog post about history of software testing and especially how first software testing teams were formed. It’s a good description of how testers were starting to came into software development 50 years ago. Because they concluded that it would help if there were people who were focusing more on testing than others.
It’s good to note though that I’m talking about software testing. Testing, the mental activity of questioning in order to evaluate – that goes far back. I haven’t put that much effort on tracking the history of that yet.
While exploring the history of software testing I ran into different kinds of papers. One particular (Evaluation of the Functional Testing of Control Programs from 1967) hinted where the demand for excessively structured testing came from.
Other way to learn about the history is to ask from people who remember far enough. I asked for example from Jerry Weinberg about origin of test cases.
This is a good reminder of the context behind birth of test cases. While it may be beneficial to use them in your context 60 years later, do note that access to machines is not that abominable these days anymore. If that’s the case, other reasons for using them need to be considered. This same thinking should apply to anything that you’re leaning into & haven’t invented by yourself.
Try It Yourself
Next time you want to learn about something new (e.g. BDD, Specification by Example, Exploratory Testing, Lean, Unit Tests), start from its history. If there are few people who are behind it, try to find what they have to say about it. Or perhaps you can even ask from them via email, Twitter or some other way. This way you’re increasing your chances of understanding the subject the same way as the people who came up with it.
Good luck!
To show that I’m not alone, I’d like to end this to Martin Fowler’s words:
In order to understand something, I often find it useful to know how it came about.

Comparing BBST Foundations Courses

This is a post that should’ve been written long time ago, but here we are. Better late than never, I guess.

I participated on January, 2014 on my second BBST Foundations course and this was arranged by Altom. I had already been on the same course by AST on Autumn, 2012. Courses had similarities, but also differences. I will mention those in this post.

Do note though that it’s been almost two years since my AST BBST Foundations course and also about half year from the one by Altom. I don’t know how much AST course has evolved since then, so I can comment only the one I attended.

BBST Foundations Courses?

When I mentioned on Twitter that I was participating to BBST Foundations course, first responses assumed I meant the one by AST. I actually don’t know how many are aware that there are also commercial ones being arranged.

So, what are the BBST Foundations courses?

I could share that information here, but I rather recommend that you check their websites (where the information will be more up to date):

AST BBST Foundations Course

Altom’s BBST Foundations Course

In a higher level both courses had these four topics:

  • the mission of testing
  • the oracle problem
  • the measurement problem
  • the impossibility of complete testing

I think it’s good to also mention that my understanding has been that Altom doesn’t have privilege for arranging the commercial BBST Foundations course. I’ve understood that one can negotiate this with Cem Kaner and Rebecca Fiedler.

Why Did I Participate Again For The Course?

After I had been on the AST BBST Foundations course, I wrote a blog post about it. It was extremely hard for me then. I provided examples of that on the post:

In the end I was sleeping on the average 4-6 hours per night and it started to eat me inside. Actually now that I had first Monday since the course ended, I overslept 4,5 hours this morning and I thought if my body just decided to take the sleep debt I had kept building.

One might wonder why I decided to participate again for a course that was extremely hard? There were couple reasons:

  1. Cem Kaner as lead instructor
  2. Possibility to have interactive grading with Cem Kaner
  3. Updated course material (BBST Workbook)
  4. Challenging project was beginning at the same time as the course, so the course was a good way to refresh my thoughts on the subject

Besides those reasons I had also decided that I will not sacrifice my sleeping time this time. I wanted to sleep at least 7 hours a night and I think I managed to hold on to that fairly well.

What Were The Differences Between The Two Courses I Attended?

While the slides of the both (AST & Altom) courses seem the same, there was the BBST Workbook on Altom’s course that helped students to get more value from the course. Considering that it’s being sold in Amazon, I’d imagine you can benefit from it in future, whether the course is arranged by AST or Altom.

Other difference was that Cem Kaner was actively participating to the course by Altom and also provided interactive grading for first ten registered students. Others received also interactive grading, but with other instructors (Ru Cindrea, Maaret Pyhäjärvi & Alex Rotaru). In the course by AST students were reviewing each others exams & instructors weren’t that involved with students discussions as Cem were at Altom course.

The main feeling after Altom’s course was that Cem was the key difference when comparing the courses. He provided a ton of valuable feedback during the course for students who were answering to challenging questions. I still have many of those answers on my Evernote.

While it’s been almost two years from AST course, I felt that it was lacking a mentor or coach who would give feedback to majority of the students. I recall that they tried to help students but it was far from the level of feedback Cem provided on the Altom’s course.

I did felt though that there were more collaboration & assignments on AST’s course and also group assignments that involved communicating with others via e.g. Skype.

Which Should You Choose?

Considering the things I’ve said, I think you need to think which one suits you best. I’ll share few thoughts though.

If you’re on a strict budget, AST’s ($125 + $30 to $95 depending if your student or not) is significantly cheaper than Altom’s (~$811 + VAT).

I have to admit though that Cem’s presence on Altom’s course had a huge impact on its value for the students. While we are all humans, the vast amount of experience and knowledge behind every answer by Cem, provided valuable feedback to each student. When you added there the interactive grading session I had with him (almost 2 hours on Skype), I felt I had more guidance on the course, compared to one I had 2 years ago via AST. This proved to be valuable as I understood the purpose of one question in exam. I wouldn’t have understood it without the interactive grading session.

Also, as far as I’ve understood, Kaner, Fiedler & Associates, LLC, has access to latest materials. This means that these commercial courses will have in the future more up to date material.

In the end both of the courses are great, because they challenge a lot your thinking and let you see how diverse approaches people have for same problems. If you’re planning to participate to either of those, I recommend both of them. While keeping in mind what I said earlier.