Friday, January 19, 2007

that's so crazy it's not even wrong

I'd Like a Pony, Please

The Watir mail list gets on a regular basis questions like "How do I do X in Watir? The commercial tool that I use gives me X, but I can't figure out how to do it with Watir." (Watir, for those who don't know it, is a set of Ruby libraries for manipulating Internet Explorer. That's all it does. )

(OK, Watir has accumulated a few bells and whistles over time, but mostly it just reaches down IE's throat to move IE's bones around

X is logging/database connection/encryption/special string handling/test case management/distributed test environment/data-driven frameworks/etc., etc. etc.

The answer, of course, is that Watir doesn't do that. Nor will it ever do that. Watir is not intended to be a replacement for an entire test department, it is merely a set of libraries to manipulate Internet Explorer. Ruby itself has a lot of goodness to do this kind of thing, but Watir never will.

The people that ask these questions are often quite expert. The problem is that they do not think of themselves as programmers.

That's So Crazy It's Not Even Wrong PART ONE

I once worked with a man who was an expert with the Mercury tools. We were using Ruby to test an application that used a lot of XML. At one point he asked me "Does Ruby give me any way to ignore parts of strings?" I told him that I could think of a couple of ways to do that, and I asked him to show me what he was trying to do.

He wanted to extract the data elements from XML documents by using what boils down to Ruby's gsub("foo","") to strip the XML wrapper parts.

Understand this: he was setting out to build an XML parser. From scratch. Using gsub("foo","") as his only tool. He did not lack boldness.

This of course is madness. I introduced him to REXML and regular expressions. I presume he is still using them.

The reason he set out on such an insane project was that apparently in the world of Mercury, the only string manipulation tool available to you is something a lot like gsub("string",""). My colleague was simply unaware of the wider world of programming, and of what was possible.

He did not think of himself as either a developer-tester, or a tester-developer. He thought of himself as a tester who is a consumer of things provided by others.

That's So Crazy It's Not Even Wrong PART TWO

Mercury is not the only culprit in this kind of brainwashing. I have encountered testers (and others) whose entire world revolves around Excel.

For instance, I know of someone who started out his test project by putting test data into Excel, then writing VBA macros to generate Ruby code on the fly and launch it from Excel. He had a difficult time seeing Excel as simply a repository for data, instead of the center of the entire testing universe.

Where's My Pony?

Programmers' main tools are programming languages. Many testers' main tools are expensive whiz-bang-multi-aspect thingies that, if they have programming languages attached at all, are primitive or crippled.

I would like to see more testers learn about programming. Not just how to do programming, but how to think about testing problems in such a way that the problems can be solved with programming. Programming remains the best way to manipulate computers. If you work closely with computers, you owe it to yourself and your colleagues to learn some programming.

If you've never seen an pony, how will you know what to look for when you go to the barn?

P.S. many thanks to Jon Eaves for the title of his blog, which I've stolen and then mangled.

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