My own personal Testability experiment!

Two weeks ago I decided to focus my learning on a particular area each month, historically i’ve been rubbish at concentrating on one thing. Testing is so vast with lots of different interesting areas to research it can become a little overwhelming at times. Something had to change for me:

I wanted the choose a subject that i was aware of and what I thought i knew it to be but i was never too sure about how wide it stretched. Testability was going to be the main focus!

I had a basic plan in mind – Split the month into two parts. The first 2 weeks will be research and observation (My team and the wider Test Team) and the second 2 weeks will be trying to implement some improvements or make improvement suggestions. The test community has massively helped me during the research phase, there’s many great things that have been written about Testability over the last few years and these normally reference other articles or conference talks so it’s actually been a really enjoyable experience discovering a bunch of very interesting things.

Here’s a list of the Blogs, Articles and Talks that i’ve read over the last two weeks:

Blog Posts



Conference Talks

It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks coming up, I’m planning doing a follow up post when the time is up to explain what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve had a lot of fun concentrating on one area, i’ve slipped up a few times and wondered down different paths but i’ve been focused enough to indentify these lapses and then got on track.
Huge thanks must go out to Huib Schoots – His Great Resources page was the starting point for my research.

Does anyone else take a similar approach to their learning or maybe you have a different method? I’d love to hear about it!


I never did manage to write up my findings from this Testability experiment but I did write a post about how we use the information that I gathered, and a little bit extra, in my team at NVM.


Creating Random Data on my Lunch Break…

A few days ago I read a great post by Alan Richardson called “How to write a simple random test data sentence generator” and i loved it, it’s exactly what I try and do all the time. In my current context, data is king, without data flowing through our service we effectively have no service. While testing stories, I create tools that do loads of little things but I have a selection of ones that create specific test data. Now, I’m not a developer, I don’t have any sort of development background but what I am, is an inquisitive learner.

I love writing code, not because I’ve been made too or I’ve been told too by my company so that I can automate all the things, I do it because it’s fun! I get a massive sense of achievement when I’ve had an idea for a tool, wrote some code and it’s worked!! It’s not the best looking and most efficient code but it’s my code and i’m proud of it!

So where was I, the random data generator – I read Alan’s post just before lunch and just before i tucked into my food i wrote a very basic app that spit’s out random data. All in all it took me less than 5 mins, it was done as a kind of exercise to prove that absolutely anyone can code something that creates test data. Don’t be afraid of just giving something a go, you might actually surprise yourself!

*This is wrote using Node.js but there’s probably tons of modules and libraries in your preferred language that will allow you to do the same thing*

We need to start somewhere…

In order to get your hands on this random data you’re going to have to download Node.js it won’t take very long and it’s so worth it, not only for this but for many other awesome things that you can create using Node.

Once you have it installed, type node -v into a command prompt or terminal. You should be presented with the current version that you have on your machine. If you’re not seeing the version, don’t panic, you might have to add the node directory to the path environment variable. You’ll find loads of step by step guides for this if you Google it.

node -v


Let’s do the code part!

So first things first, we need to create a new directory for your new and wonderful data generator to live. Open a command prompt or terminal (you may have one still open) and enter the following commands, as seen below. It’s entirely up to you what the root directory should be, after all, you’re doing this on your own machine.

mkdir random_data_generator
cd random_data_generator

*You don’t have to create this but I just like creating it so that i can give the app to other people*

Next, we need to create the package.json file this is the config file for your node app, it lists all the dependencies that you have in your project and also a bunch of other stuff you may need to add, as the app starts growing legs. You can read all about what this file is and what it does here but for now, we’ll crack on…

In the terminal enter the following and press Enter. Press enter through all the questions and type Y or Yes at the end.

npm init

Now we have that json file created we need to bring in the node module that’s going to do all the leg work for us and create the random data. Casual is a great helper module that rapidly speeds up the process of creating random data. There are a couple more great modules out there that do the same thing, like Chance.js and Faker.js but were going to use Casual this time because it’s the first one I thought of and I’m writing this post so that’s what you’ve got!

Install Casual by entering the following command into your terminal and pressing Enter. The –save in the command adds this module to the packages.json file, honestly, go and have a look if you don’t believe me.

npm install --save casual

When it has finished installing the module, leave the terminal open as you’re going to need it in a few mins.

Create a new file with your favorite text editor (Sublime Text, Notepad++ etc.) and save this in the new random_data_generator directory. For this example, I’ve named the file data.js but you can choose a name that’s more relevant to you.

In the file add the following code…

 // Dependencies
var casual = require('casual');

// Using the module to create random data
var number = casual.array_of_digits(n = 4);

var name = casual.first_name;

// Log the result

There are a couple of things going on here and I’ll explain (probably really poorly) what they are, so starting from the top, the first line after the comment brings in the Casual module so that we can use all of that goodness. Next, in the middle section, we’re using a couple of the in-built Casual functions that will create the random data and assigning these to the variables. Finally, we are just logging the output in the console. Very basic and extremely simple.

Using the terminal that you previously opened, type node data.js and press Enter to run the command. If everything has been setup correctly, you will be presented with some random data. It’s as easy as that.



If you create another file in the same directory and save this one as user.js I can show you a simple way of creating a set of basic user data. Add the following code below to the file and hit save again. To get an idea about what you can do with the Casual module, check out the documentation.

// Dependencies
var casual = require('casual');

// Custom Data Set

var password = '#A#B#C#D#E#F#';

casual.define('user', function() {
 return {
 Firstname: casual.first_name,
 Lastname: casual.last_name,
 Password: casual.numerify(password)

// Write the result to the console


What this file is doing is creating a data set, defined and configured to your needs. Using the define function of Casual you can package this all together in a lovely little ball and do what ever you like with the output. On this occasion, I’m just logging it out to the console again. There are a few other things happening in this data, i’m using a couple of other inbuilt functions to create a different (very rubbish) password.

In the terminal type node user.js and press Enter to run the command. There you go…some more data for you!


Where do you go from here…

As you can tell this is very basic and the only thing it really does is print data out to the console – Not that helpful. This was only ever a 5 min task to quickly knock something together, we can expand this out to push the data to a certain file format that your system uses or feed the data into an already established test tool that you have been manually creating random data sets for, etc etc….I like the idea of creating Json files that can be added to apps like Bug Magnet so that you have the data there for you, while you’re doing an exploratory session.

We are only ever limited by our own imagination so it’s entirely up to you where you go from here but i’d love to hear about it so drop me a message!

*If you really can’t be bothered to create a tool yourself – Just Google “Random Data Generator” there’s bloody tons of them knocking about!!

Cheers for reading!

I now have a follow on post where you can put some of this beautiful data to good use…


30 Days Of Testing – My completed challenges!

The Ministry of Testing is amazing at getting people together and talking about Testing. From the epic TestBash Conferences and Workshops to the excellent content that can be found on the Dojo. I saw a post on Twitter that mentioned 30 Days of Testing, I was immediately intrigued – A challenge with absolutely achievable daily tasks, some of which were outside of my current comfort zone, it was right up my street!!


I entered this Challenge knowing that I wouldn’t actually be able to finish it in 30 Days, not because I would have serious trouble doing any of the tasks but because my Wife is due to give birth to our Daughter in about 2 weeks…so I’m just trying to stick with it for as long as I can until I’m facing another new challenge!!


The Challenges

Day 1 – Buy one testing related book and read it by day 30.




So this was a tricky one for me – There are several amazing books out there that people have recommended on Twitter or via their talks at conferences, I’ve had a few of these on my bookshelf for a while and for several reasons/excuses I’ve not read them all yet. I’ve had “An Introduction to General System Thinking” by Gerald M. Weinberg for over a year and it’s always scared me, so I thought now was the time to step up and take the plunge. I posted a message on Twitter and straight away it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to tackle such a beast. After many recommendations I brought “Thinking in Systems” by Donella H. Meadows instead, hopefully, this will give me a base understanding of System Thinking so that I’m much more prepared to attack Jerry’s book.

Day 2 – Take a photo of something you are doing at work.



It turned out that this day fell on a Saturday but lucky for me, I work from home and I have an office in my house. I wasn’t technically “working” but I was catching up on a webinar that I missed during the week. It was a talk by Alan Richardson called “Risk Mitigation Using Exploratory and Technical Testing”. Really solid information and I took loads away from it – You can watch it back here:

Day 3 – Listen to a testing podcast.



I’ve never been a frequent listener of Podcasts but I do listen to “Testing In the Pub” when the guys have a new episode out – Dan Ashby and Stephen Janaway do a fantastic job, they always have great guests and really interesting subjects. As I’d listened to the latest episode already, I looked elsewhere to complete the daily challenge.

I saw Patrick Prill mention this podcast a few times so I went to check it out, it just so happens that as I was scrolling down the website I saw Patrick’s name in the description of one of the episodes – my choice was made. Alan Page and Brent Jensen were discussing Patrick’s recent TestBash talk – worth checking out both the talk and the podcast episode.

There are a few other podcasts that I’ve seen mentioned by the good folks on Twitter like Test Talks, PerfBytes and Let’s talk about Tests to name a few.

Day 4 – Share a testing blog post with a non-tester.

My initial thought was to share a post with a family member (Wife, Parents, Sisters etc.) but I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for at the time, There’s some great stuff out there by Michael Bolton and Katrina Clokie that would have done the job but I opted to share a post with a member of my team instead. I shared Michael’s post “testers get out of the quality assurance business” to my team’s Scrum Master.
Also, as I was in the sharing mood, I send this Whiteboard Testing video over to one of our developers –  He seemed to like it so that’s a good thing!


Day 5 – Read and comment on one blog post.
This post by Christian Kram is the one I choose to comment on. Reading blog posts is something I’ve enjoyed doing for a number of years now. The MoT testing feeds site was the first place I was made aware of testing blogs and from there Twitter has become the main source of the posts I read. People I follow always post interesting things that they have either written themselves or shared links to other people’s work. I find it very difficult to read everything I see, I make use of services like IFTTT or Pocket to capture and store posts that I can pick up when I get some spare time.


I also think that these guys do a great job at sharing blog posts that people have written, they have shared out a couple of mine over the last couple of years so I’m very grateful for this. Start following these guys on Twitter if you’re not doing so already!
Day 6 – Perform a crazy test.
What is a crazy test?! I was seriously stuck with this one and I went a non-software testing route (total cop out!).


Tried listening to this for as long as I could – Put it this way, it wasn’t the full 10 Hours!!


Day 7 – Find an accessibility bug.
This has been an area of testing that I have struggled with over the last few years, I’ve always focused my efforts in other areas so this was a great opportunity to learn something new.


As the challenge is a very well talked about on Twitter, I was able to find some new tools to aid me uncovering accessibility problems. I choose to use WAVE like many others did and pointed it at the Action For Blind People website – I thought that they would be all over accessibility…


As with most tools, this uncovered areas of the site that had accessibility problems but this is just an invitation to investigate and explore the site further. Maybe using other similar tools, that highlight these issues, ensuring that the tool that you have chosen to use is giving you the correct information. Screen Readers are another great way of backing up some of the issues that the accessibility checkers have brought to your attention – I really like pairing up tools this way as they tend to compliment each other really well.


How many people used WAVE to check the WAVE site? Come on, I can’t be the only one…


Day 8 – Download a mobile app, find 5 bugs and send the feedback to the creator.


I was looking on the App Store for an application that I could test – I didn’t really have a preference in mind. I came across “Event Countdown Free” – It had 4 stars and over 450 reviews but as it dealt with timed events, I thought it was worth checking out and seeing what I could find.
I created a report of what I found so that I could send it off to the Developer but I’ve haven’t been able to get in touch with them yet. The Developer website in the description on the App Store links to a Facebook page and as I’m not a user of that site I cannot leave any messages there.


These are the rushed details of my testing that I prepared – I made them available in a Google Doc with the intention of hopefully opening up a dialog with the developer and having a shared place where, if needed, we could talk through what I found.


The Findings from my testing:


Day 9 – Create a mindmap. 


I was starting to do a bit of planning for the future new arrival and decided to create a mindmap about a some of the important things…still a work in progress and something that I can add to when I think of all the thousands of items I’ve missed off!
Baby Labour Planning


Day 10 – Find an event to attend (Online or face to face).


I attended the latest Dojo Masterclass by Mark Winteringham. The talk was “How To Build A Regression Checking Strategy “


“To avoid common mistakes of brittle checks, bad choices in checking tools and wasted time fixing broken checks, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves why we are running these checks and what risks are we are mitigating?”


This was a great talk by Mark that I found really interesting, I took my new things away with me and I’m trying to work out how I can trickle feed some of his points into our Regression Strategy.


Day 11 – Take a picture of your team


I’m not really in the office all too often so it’s difficult to take a good picture of my team, It would probably be through a screenshot of Hangout/Skype etc. Not great so I picked an older picture instead.


The whole NVM Test Team were lucky enough to attend a TestBash event a couple of years ago, sadly a few of the team have now departed but I like this picture as it was my first “trip” out with the guys a couple of months after joining the company.




Day 12 – Doodle a problem




I have a whiteboard in my office at home and I use it to draw out problems that i have in my head, I’m always trying to find ways to learn new skills, I thought I would give node.js a shot…


We have a particular process within the team that we have to go through to create/update/enabled/disabled “jobs” for a thing that kicks off a time-based task in one of our micro-services (I’m purposefully trying to be vague). Anyways, it’s manually done through a database query and I didn’t like that so I attempted to give it a UI (very bootstrap but it was just what i needed) that we can use in our local dev environments.




This is the actual site that i knocked together (Changed the labels etc.) written in node.js using the Express.js module to create a web server and I added the UI using a rendering module called Jade/Pug. Our devs seemed to like it and it’s now in source control. I was extremely pleased with myself!


Day 13 – Find a user experience problem


Day 13.png


We unfortunately had the spend a few days in the hospital in the lead up to our daughter being born and that place is full of UX problems! This one intrigued me enough to have a think about it some more (These thoughts were all in my head – My wife couldn’t give a crap). Behind her bed were these 2 “buttons” without labels or instructions of use, the wire in the picture is connected to a little control pad that’s within the patient’s reach. So it turns out that 1 of the buttons resets the call to get a nurses attention for general questions, a new pillow etc. The other one is like an emergency “all hands call” button that sends every nurse on the ward running to your bed, as something serious has happened….but which one does what….


In a newer part of the hospital, I found this and the mystery was solved. I slept better that night!




Day 14 – Step outside of your comfort zone


I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been in my “comfort zone” for the whole time I’ve been in or around testing. I don’t really like complacency and the thought of getting stale in my knowledge so I’m always finding different ways to challenge myself. When patrolling in the Army, you’re always taught to never take the path of least resistance – there’s a high chance that someone would have placed a nasty surprise there for you to walk on. So I always try and take the hard route with my learning and to not be scared of anything. All the “experts” knew nothing when they first started.


Day 15 – Find a problem with an e-commerce website


Any website that displays a survey form to fill in, 2 secs after visiting the site, is a huge problem for me. Do the developers even use their own website? So annoying!


I was looking on the Kiddiecare website for all things baby and like a tester, I got distracted by the functionality of the site (Any site I visit!). I was exploring the basket functionality, as you do…and noticed something that I thought was strange. Every item on their site has a max quantity value of 10, I’m sure this is to avoid people over ordering a certain product or something (I don’t know the reason, I made that up), I was thinking, what if I wanted more than 10.




In the basket, the behavior of the quantity feature changes and becomes a number field rather than a dropdown menu. If you increase the total over 10, a JavaScript alert box appears and stops you from entering more. As this validation is no doubt on the client side, I used the browser dev tools to inspect the number value.


From here, I was able to increase the hidden max quantity value and bypass the validation. I added a ridiculous amount of bottles to my basket and was able to move further along the checkout process.




I don’t know what would happen if I was able to place the order, would I get delivered that amount? Would the payment get rejected? Would I get an auto email telling me they don’t have that many in stock? I dunno but as a tester, I really want to find out.


This is probably not even a problem but it was of interest to me.


Day 16 – Go to a non-testing event




Well, this one speaks for itself! Little Sophie Emilia Dainton was born at 16:56 on the 16th July 2016. Very proud parents!!


Day 17 – Find and share a quote that inspires you




Winston Churchill said some absolutely inspiring things during his lifetime but I really love this Quote “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”.


I’ve always a massive fan of this – “If you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not changing yourself!” I tried to find the author of this but I couldn’t see it, I’ll update this page if I do, though!


Day 18 – Find a broken link and report it




While in the hospital I noticed that they had free WiFi that I could use my wife’s patient details to log into too – While on the Login screen, I saw a button to “Log Out”…Huh?! Naturally, I pressed it and then I was presented with the screen in the picture above!




Testing starts at home, so I thought I would explore our NVM website. I managed to find a couple of broken links on the contact page – The embedded link to the Google Maps API was causing an issue that people didn’t know about so I reported it up to the guys that maintain that site to make them aware.


Day 19 – Find and use a new tool


I’ve currently been getting to grips with Visual Studio Code it’s a newish open source text editor from Microsoft, we have been using node.js recently within my team and this editor lends itself perfectly to that. I’m a huge fan of Sublime Text but this editor is becoming very useful with its build in features and it’s being updated all the time by the community – Worth checking out!


Here’s a short introduction video on what VS code offers:


Day 20 – Find a good place to perform some security tests


We are lucky enough at NVM to have some very talented security testing specialists that were kind enough to package up a modified image of a Kali Linux instance for us to install onto a Virtual Machine (VirtualBox). This provides us with a safe environment to practice some of the different security testing techniques and approaches. The Kali toolset it very good and there are tons of tools in there that I’ve never heard of, so it’s interesting exploring them to discover how I use them to aim my security testing during the development of new NVM features.


Day 21 – Pair test with someone


I was on paternity leave at this point so I wasn’t officially “working”….however, I was still monitoring our team’s chat room (Shhh, don’t tell my wife) and one of the devs had a problem with access to an environment that I knew I could help solve. I took the conversation to a 1 to 1 room and we paired up to get him access to the area he needed.


Day 22 – Share your favorite testing tool




I think everyone’s brain is their best test tool, well it is for me at least but I also really like a tool called LICEcap. It allows me to create short .gifs that I attach to bug reports etc. It really brings the words to life. There are many tools that do the same thing but this is my goto tool if I need to create something quickly.


Day 23 – Help someone test better




Testbash is something that I hold very dear to my heart, it was the first conference that I attended and it just firmly cemented, in my mind, that testing was what I wanted to do and from there that point, it’s been my main focus in my life!


Testbash has expanded since that point and Manchester has been added to the list of locations  – Richard Bradshaw is the guy running this one and if he’s involved, you know it’s going to be epic!! So I brought my ticket as soon as I could – Due to lots of different events, the birth of my daughter being one of them, I decided that leaving my wife for a couple of days to look after Sophie on her own just wasn’t fair. It would have been easy to just get the money back but I wanted someone else to go in my place and experience the buzz of TestBash. Patrick Prill was the lucky guy! This bloke is one of the nicest people I’ve met and I couldn’t think of a better person to go in my place. Looking forward to hearing about his time there and what he learnt to help him test better.


Day 24 – Connect with a tester who you haven’t previously connected with






I put this out there as an open offer really – I love talking to people and if anyone wants to have a chat something then please just drop me a message.


Day 25 – Contribute to a testing discussion


I try and do this as much as I can, on the different media channels that I subscribe too, for a long time I’ve been a passive observer but I’ve tried to offer something more now that I have gained more testing experience. Lots more work to be done in that area!


Day 26 – Invite a non-tester to a test event


I share stuff all the time at work in our public chats rooms with the view that someone from NVM, who is not a “tester”, will attend an event. I’ve not been great at directly inviting people to events so that’s something I’ll need to change.


Day 27 – Say something nice about the thing you just tested


I’m always saying nice things about the things I test, I don’t see the point in starting out with a negative mindset (Sometimes that’s needed based on a certain persona). For me, there’re positives in everything that we do.


Day 28 – Summarise an issue in 140 characters or less




Do I need to explain this one more….


Day 29 – Find an out by one error




This is something that really bugged me and is perfect for my out by one error. In this photo the children are making the shapes of letters, to spell the word “Healthy” which is fine but in the top left corner there is a circular shaped object that has the word “Healhy” – missing the letter “t”…It’s the small details that count.


Day 30 – Give someone positive feedback


The team of guys I work with at NVM are truly amazing!! I’ve learnt so much in the time I’ve been there – these people are super talented!!


Day 31!!


So that’s the challenge completed! Hopefully, you enjoyed reading about how I got on during the month.

A small step back in time!

I’ve never really been a “gamer” throughout my childhood, I’ve always had games consoles (NES, SNES, Mega Drive, N64, PlayStation, Xbox, Etc.) but for me, the novelty and excitement of having them wore off very quickly and I soon found myself just getting bored.

I always loved being outdoors and playing Football, I’m not an amazing footballer by my own admission but I’ve always been good enough to play for different teams growing up and into my adult life so playing computer games at home lost it’s appeal very quickly.

I have very fond memories from when I was about 14/15 years old, playing a particular game on an Amiga, my mates and I would camp out in the back room of their parents house and just have epic tournaments. The game was Sensible Soccer, it wasn’t the best game and is now so far away from where Football games are, that if you put this in front of anyone who has played any of the latest FIFA games then you would be probably laughed out of the room but I absolutely loved it then and still do love it now!!

A few months back a new Raspberry Pi was announced the “PiZero”. This was developed to enable everyone to have a chance to learn basic computer skills, the best thing about this incredible piece of hardware was its price….£4 ($5)!! Not only was this cheap but the Raspberry Pi Foundation were giving them away on the front of their official magazine “The MagPi“. I remember magazines having game demo Cd’s on the front not full on micro computer – I was hooked, I wanted one and made it my mission to get one!

Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea and all the shops I looked in, were all sold out so I went down the more conventional route of just buying one from The PiHut.



My PiZero developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation 

Now a computer for £4 is amazing but it doesn’t really tell the whole story, a couple of micro connectors and other peripherals are needed to get the show on the road. Luckily, The PiHut sells a convenient little pack of essentials to get you up and running and as I had a few spare cables and an old phone charger I was good to go!

It was always my intention to use this little baby as a retro games console so that I could hook it up to a spare TV in my office at home and that’s exactly what I did with it! I knew of a project called RetroPie and followed their instructions to set up my PiZero. I’m not going to add the full set up instructions here as they have done all the hard work so I’d recommend checking out the site if you’d like to have your very own retro games console.

After a tiny bit of effort (took no time at all) and changing a couple of configs, I was able to get it all working and installed in my office.

My PiZero set up on the back of the TV in the office at home

I have a few extra items that I didn’t mention before, i additionally purchased these to tidy things up a little bit and not have the PiZero exposed and wires everywhere but it’s entirely up to the owner to get these extras if needed.

As much as this was a fun thing to do, it was also a little project i set myself to become a lot more familiar with the Linux OS. We use a flavour of Linux at work and i was never comfortable with using the Command Line as I have always used the MS-DOS commands on Windows machines and as the Linux syntax is slightly different i was always wary of it. So i wanted to change that! You should never be afraid of things – just give it go and you may surprise yourself!

I took a course on Codecademy to learn the basics and installed a VM with Ubuntu on my local machine and just messed about – I hate saying i messed about but that’s kinda what i did. I did this to get confident with interacting with the shell so i wasn’t afraid anymore.

I also wanted to access my PiZero through SSH (The reason why i have a USB WiFi adapter connected) – It did this using PuTTY and WinSCP. After changing the default logins and adding a new user i was in and navigating the file structure. There are some really good instructions for doing this on the Raspberry Pi website. With this access, you can add more games (roms) to your RetroPie – Using WinSCP for this is really good if you don’t want to use the command line. Games can be added in a couple of other ways so it is not too important to have your PiZero hooked up to a network – you should find the details of these different ways in the Instructions.

So i now have Sensible Soccer installed on my RetroPie and everytime i play it, i’m taken back to that time with my mates. It’s funny how something so simple can instantly spark a memory for your past – much the same a songs do when you haven’t heard them for a long time.

If you do have the time and desire to get something like this up and running, i’d love to hear about it! Happy Gaming!

Paring is caring…

Recently I’ve been reading lots of great articles and blog posts about pair testing and paired working. This awesome post a couple of weeks ago by Katrina Clokie (@katrina_tester) was the latest one I read. This has a great “Experience Reports” section at the bottom of the page with extracts from other blogs on pair testing – Worth checking out!

I love doing paired work and I try to do it as much as I physically can while working on stories within my team. This is not the only time that I’ve adopted this paired approach – Over the last couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of some paired learning with Gemma Lewington (@GemmaLewington) one of the awesome testers at NewVoiceMedia, she is a serious ninja and someone I have learnt so much from during the last year and half. We both identified a desire to learn more MySQL so we thought it would be a great idea to try to learn this together.

We all have to start somewhere….

We needed to establish “where we were at” skill level wise – I can only speak for myself here but before i joined NVM I couldn’t even explain to you what a very basic SELECT statement did – why would i know?  It was never something that i had any exposure too in my former roles. Gemma had the great idea of creating a skills matrix:


We chose some of the popular statements and assigned a 1 to 5 score to these – 5 being “Very confident”. We had our starting point!

How did we progress our learning forward?

One of the first things we did was talked, that sounds like a stupid thing to mention because it’s so obvious but we work in different teams and on different pieces of work so our daily work patterns are slightly out of sync. I also tend to work from home a lot so we had the added pressure of finding a day that suits both of us, to set up a learning session. The best thing about this experience was that we were not being told to do this or to make time to learn something we didn’t want to – We were doing this off our own backs so if we did miss a meet up day or let it slip by a day, it was never a big deal.

One thing that I think helped us in the early weeks was that I suggested that we both pick something for the other person to teach, in the next session – So I would say to Gemma ” I’d like to know more about ALIAS” and she would in return say to me ” I’d like to know more about JOINs”.

For me there were 2 main reasons for doing this:

  1. It forces you to go and research the topic in greater detail and prepare to teach this back to the other person. Practicing the art of verbal explanation.
  2. It gives the next meeting more focus and structure, it sets out an agenda rather than turning up and spending 30/60 mins not really going through anything.

What made use of the W3Schools website to give us something to build from, the templates were kind of perfect for our needs.

We could take something like:

Extract from W3Schools

SELECT o.OrderID, o.OrderDate, c.CustomerName
FROM Customers AS c, Orders AS o
WHERE c.CustomerName=”Around the Home” AND c.CustomerID=o.CustomerID;

Then apply this to our context by using our databases and tables etc – It made them come to life and it made it easier to explain and visualize the end result in our minds.

Really picked up the basics in a very short time….

After a few weeks we were starting to get really confident and were using lots of things in the same queries like Multiple JOINS between Databases, ALIAS for every table, renaming columns,  INSERTS etc. We would send each other random queries that we knocked up while testing and kind of showing them off in a “Check this out!!” sort of way. It was great.

We added things that we found useful to a central “Useful SQL Queries” page so that other members of the team could reuse these, I’m not saying these were perfect (mine at least) but there was no point in just making throw away statements, when these could benefit others.

Not keeping it to ourselves… 

As this was a sharing experience, was chose to present this experience to the rest of the test team in our weekly meeting and explaining that having the confidence to get in to the database and not be scared about all the data in there can be a massive help to our daily testing. Being confident enough to give queries that I had written to a developer was a massive step forward for me and it proved how far I’d come. We will continue to practice these newly found skills and increase our knowledge and ninja MySQL skills.

I would encourage everyone to get some paired learning going, not only with people within your companies but with others in the community – only good can come out of this!!