IRB is your friend.

They say that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but we’ve all asked questions that we wish we could take back.  That’s why IRB and watir-console are so great when you’re writing Watir tests- you get to try out any command (or even a group of commands) to quickly see if it works without having to ask someone else or run your whole test.  The best part is that, unlike a post to a group, any totally off base attempts are not available for the world to see.

Think of IRB as a buffer for embarrassing questions.  Learn it, use it, love it.

From a command prompt:

irb(main):001:0> require 'watir'
=> true
irb(main):002:0> browser =
=> a bunch of output describing the browser

irb(main):003:0> browser.goto('')
=> 1.115
irb(main):004:0> browser.text_field(:name, 'q').set('watir information')
=> ""

If I try something that doesn’t work, I get a helpful error message:

irb(main):005:0> browser.text_field(:name, 'qwerty').set('watir information')
=>Watir::Exception::UnknownObjectException: Unable to locate element, using :name, "qwerty"

March 11, 2009 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment


There I was, minding my own business, when one of our senior developers stopped by my cube.

Developer: “You suck.”

Me: “Probably.  How so this time?”

Developer: “Your automated tests missed a problem that I just caught on my machine.”

Me: “OK – let’s try to reproduce it so I can add it to my tests.”

We went through his steps together in the QA environment and found that the problem didn’t happen – everything worked as expected.  Turns out, he hadn’t updated his local source with the latest version from the repository.

Developer: “Oh, I guess I’m the one who sucks.”

I gave him some chocolate to soothe his bruised ego.

March 9, 2009 at 6:29 pm 1 comment

So you want to be a ___________…

If you were asked in high school to fill in the blank, would it be the career you’re working in now?  I’d wager that for most people, it wouldn’t.  Not that that’s a bad thing – after all, the world only needs so many Zamboni drivers and dolphin trainers.  For software test professionals, I’d up the ante and then wager that wouldn’t be the answer for anyone.  I honestly didn’t even know the field existed until I was working in it.

In 1998, I was working as a semiconductor engineer.  The job had been good, despite the lousy salary, but I had been transferred from a great manager to a terrible one.  I decided it was time to move on and went to a tech fair in Boulder with some friends to find a new job.  We were surprised to learn that ‘tech’ really meant ‘software’ – how did we miss that!?!

On the way out, I handed my resume to the VP of Engineering for a software company and apologized for wasting his time.  Apparently, he’d never had someone hand him a resume and tell him that they were wholly unqualified for any position at his company. He took pity on me and made up a position for me that was half software test, half tech pubs.  I seriously hated the tech pubs part of my job, but found I was really good at the software test part.  After a few months, I became the full-time test lead (no more wordsmithing – hooray!).

From the start, I saw that test was an unglamorous, under-appreciated position and dreamed of becoming a developer.  It didn’t matter that my only programming experience was in FORTRAN and BASIC, I wanted to write code like the real engineers. had other plans for me.

I didn’t have any development experience, so when my company sank under the weight of the CEO’s ego, I took another test job.  And then another, and then another.  As companies kept tanking, I kept moving on to the next QA job.  The good news was that each time I moved, I got a better position with a higher salary.  But I began to realize that the only places that would pay me the salary I was making to be a developer were startups throwing VC around like Rip Taylor with confetti and the government.  I’d worked for the former and saw how long that lasted and I’m just not cut out for bureaucracy.

Finally, it occurred to me that the problem wasn’t with software testing, it was with me.  I longed to do more technical work, but hadn’t really asked for more technical assignments.   I was waiting around for someone to notice that I was smart enough, rather than asking for a chance to prove myself.  Since then, I’ve volunteered for the work that interests me if I see it and asked about it when I don’t.  Often, no one has considered it or had a chance to define it yet and they’re happy to let me work on it.

In the end, I’ve learned that, like most things, software testing is what you make of it.  Now that I’m working mostly with Watir, I get to do more interesting work than many developers working on bug fixes and I have more autonomy than I might have working on an official development team.  A career that I was hoping to move out of has become something of a dream job for me.  If I’d known all this in high school, I just may have put “Software Test Engineer” in the blank (unless I’d also known that there would someday be Mythbusters!)

March 7, 2009 at 7:35 am Leave a comment

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