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Introducing the Unknown Series on Testing

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Sergio Freire
Sergio Freire

Some time ago, I decided to tackle a tough problem: the unknown. I do love tough problems because they make me think, question, and ultimately have a better understanding even if that understanding is acknowledging that I don’t have an answer… yet.

I remembered attending a testing-related lecture that presented a way of visualizing the known and unknown in a matrix which left me very curious.

Unknowns and knowns matrix

After a quick search, I reached this video from Donald Rumsfeld that introduces and explains it briefly. There is in fact a great correlation between this perspective and testing. Testing, as I see it, is this hunt for information and understanding leveraged by unique human skills. It is quite diverse and broad (please check my articles on Omni Testing), as information has so many different variables.

Testing is highly related to uncovering unknowns; even if we have a high degree of confidence in the system and we know what to expect, we perform testing because we will only know that for sure after testing!

I decided to start a series on the unknown to exercise and refine some of my thoughts and share them with the community. In this series, I will uncover bits of the unknown, its relation to testing, and how we can use it to obtain information that may help shape what and how we build our products.

The unknown may be vast, scary, useless, and even intangible. At least that’s what we may think at first glance. But, the unknown can also be surprising, exciting, valuable, and discoverable. These are the two faces of the unknown. We can look at the unknown from the “dark side” or from the “bright side”.

The same happens with testing products: we can look at it from any of those perspectives. I prefer the positive one but I do understand that sometimes it’s hard to avoid that “dark side”, especially if we jump into a project with a high testing debt and low testability.

As I walk this journey I would like to understand a bit more about the unknown, including discovering important questions like:

  • What is the extent of knowns and unknowns in products?
  • What types of unknowns there are?
  • Where are the unknowns?
  • Tactics to uncover/expose unknowns?
  • Is there any approach to testing and/or techniques that can better address unknowns? Are we ignoring something that could provide us more valuable information?
  • How are we addressing the unknowns in scientific areas?
  • What have we learned about the unknowns so far?
  • Are our knowns solid? Or are they an illusion, mostly temporary?
  • How to search within the unknown in a proficient way?
  • How to increase the probability of lucky findings?
  • How do humans interfere in the process of acquiring knowledge?
  • How do we achieve conclusions?

By being aware of our limitations and also of our capabilities, we can achieve better testing. By “better” I mean it in a broader sense (e.g. effort, the relevance of information).

Stay tuned as I uncover bits of the unknown, together with you. If you have questions, you’re not alone. Remember, the “truth is out there” :)