Dual personality – Being a tester and an end user

As Software testers, one of the big responsibility we all share is being acting like a user. While most of us love it and use this for our and user’s advantage its not a very natural thing to do. If it had been, then probably you would be that user and not really a software tester. The only way, we can most truly act like a user when we are testing either a bug-reporting application or a test-case-automation system or like wise. If we happen to be testing these applications then we are in a better situation but In real world, we end up testing banking and insurance application, graphics and document applications, storage management systems and so on. I work in a product based company and my area of testing falls under ‘Consumer Photo Applications’ so even though I click lots of photos and I spend time on them, I am not really someone who would buy a USD 100 software to manage my ever growing library of photos, correct them, share them over e-mail or cut DVDs and so on. So I am not really a true user.

So what do we do.

Well, as someone said that if you are not someone and you want to be someone then start looking at that someone on how he behaves. Watch him carefully, learn his mannerism, make sense out of it, keep yourself out and fake to that someone. In one of the paper presentations at Adobe, Rahul Vishwaroop (close friend and colleague) commented that to get into someone else’s shoes, first take off your shoes. That may sound hilarious and a humor-trick to win the Best-Paper but its so true. So stop behaving like a software tester and look at real user’s actions.

In this post, I would talk about one such method which should help you to get close to real customers and would share some of the best practices which we have done and have benefited from.

The crux of the method is to do something which a user does. And that means, cribbing about a missing feature, praising a well coded and tested feature, talk words of wisdom about user workflows, rant, share, ask, answer and more.

Where does a user do all of those ? Well, its at the forums.

So go and register at a forum which talks about your product and then try to assimilate yourself as one of them. If you are successful then you are done. Thats the short answer on how to have the dual personality.

For a more detailed one on how to do all of these, read on.

Most of the software products and services have forums dedicated to the users of that software or the product. Probably if you are doing a in-house services project for a particular client then you may not find such a forum but if you are working on a product like Autocad or Photoshop, you would find enough places. These forums are championed by different people, for different reasons. To take an example, lets hunt for forums on ‘Adobe Photoshop’.

1. This is the offical Adobe hosted forum where users chat/ask/share/answer things in/around Adobe Photoshop CS3. Click here to have a look. Probably Adobe is hosting this so that user’s can learn from each other, solve each other’s problem and it can also act as a good hunting ground for suggestions or new feature ideas. Ideal for a software tester to be.

2. Then there is one at http://www.planetphotoshop.com. If you take a look, you would find a lot many users who hang out here are the ones who make their living out of Photoshop. They come here to exchange notes, get some contacts, ask and answer. Click here to take a look. This is mostly for the Photoshop community and unless you do something on Photoshop its not the best place for you.

3. At www.talkgrapics.com there is a forum-topic for ‘Adobe Photoshop’ so even though the main forum is for graphics in general, there is a separate section for Photoshop. If you are a tester on Photoshop who specializes in graphics handling, you would do well to be here, even though that might mean that you are mostly in listening mode but thats really worth it.

4. And then there are fun forums like http://www.photochopz.com/forum/.

There are many more so you have lots of options. Choose the one which best suit you. After registering for the relevant one, what to do next. Well, do what others are doing. As a software tester, you might be in a better position to solve someone’s problem. Go ahead and do that. So take a look at all the problem, then choose the simplest one and help the person.

One big thing which you need to remember at all times that unless your organization have a system where software testers can talk like software testers on forum, dont do that. Remember you are living a dual personality so behave like one of the end users. So when you answer, answer like another user. Understand that any organization spends lot of money on having a ‘Communications’ department so dont act like one. You can’t be a three-faced monster even if you are 200 % sure on your writing capabilities. So write like a user unless you are entrusted with the task of helping users as software tester.

Now you have registered and are also responding to simple problems, whats next. Well, make this whole thing more structured, which means identifying and blocking time-slots in your calendar. Say 45 minutes on every monday and thursday. Follow that. Remember that you are doing this as part of your job, that part which asks you to act like a user, since this is now your job you should do it like a job. The time-slot which you have blocked in your calender is like any other important meeting.

Over time, try to win trust of other people by being a genuine helper. Once you are there for few weeks, create a method so that user feedback could be taken back to your product development. In some organizations it would mean logging a bug report or logging a new feature in a feature database or sending the forum-link to your product manager or opening a ‘Change Request’.

After you are done all this, look back and measure the benefit. If its not useful, there is no fun in doing it. You can measure in terms of x no of happy customers, y no of bugs found through forum, z no of new features or new workflows and so on.

Finally, spread the best practice.

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