What I learned about Testing from a crazy ex-girlfriend

I was reminiscing with a tester colleague today about how our mothers used to mess with our stuff when we were younger and how it really got on our nerves.

Picture the scene: you have a desk in your room that's plastered with papers and stuff everywhere. And you know precisely where everything is. It's your mess after all.

Enter the mom. She looks around, maybe she's come in to drop off some laundry or to complain about the state of your room or whatever. You aren't around. She starts to tidy. She tidies the papers on your desk and arranges your action figures/books/pencils/Lego/rubber band collection/whatever into a neat arrangement of some kind.

You return. "Ahhhh! Where's my stuff?!?! You changed the order! I can't find anything now! Don't touch my stuff!!"

Your mom, now hurt because she was "only trying to help," vows to never touch your stuff again unless someone's life depends on it. Maybe. We'll see next week.

We chuckled over the memories, but the connection my colleague made was how that ability to memorise tiny details and the placement of certain pieces of information in a messy desk was perhaps already the mark of a good tester. When you look at a computer screen, you take in all the details and it becomes a new mess of our own design that we track in our heads. We notice when details are moved or changed. If we think there might be something different, if we have a hunch, we can use tools to help us verify it or we can check with an oracle of some kind. It's that ability to make a connection, develop a hunch and act on it, that makes a good tester.

So, you're probably wondering "where does the crazy ex-girlfriend come into the story here?" Good question. No, I haven't forgotten. This is the spot.

In university I had .. er, how would I describe it now.. a short-lived relationship with a girl who was definitely the outgoing/extrovert type. One morning, I met her before classes started and didn't meet up with her again until after lunch when we both had a free spot in our schedules. When I saw her after lunch, I did a double-take but I wasn't sure what I was noticing. Something was different but I couldn't put my finger on it.

Then it hit me! Her earrings were different. She had two piercings in each ear and in the morning she had studs and stars (in that order) and in the afternoon they were reversed - stars and studs.

Being the attentive boyfriend, I asked her if her earrings had changed their places or if I was just losing my mind. She looked at me and didn't say anything for a minute. Then she said 'yes', she was bored in one of her morning classes and decided to switch the order. Then she got mad at me. She was upset that I had noticed because she didn't want anyone to notice that she had changed them.

Umm, really? That includes me? So, I don't get any points for noticing you and paying attention? Okay, I don't get this relationship stuff. I think our relationship lasted perhaps another 48 hours. Oh well. C'est la vie.

In retrospect, that was another example where somewhere in my head I had made the connection - something was different even if I didn't know what. Then I began the process of methodically going through the list of possibilities and checking them off one by one - was it her hair? her eyes? makeup? lipstick? top? something she was carrying? a scent? a mark? necklace? wait, did I check the ears? hey, there are 2 thingies there - could they have changed? Spider sense tingling.. better consult the oracle and check if we have a match. Bingo!

Success in finding the difference! Failure at love. =( You win some, you lose some.

I didn't know it at the time but the best relationship was still to come! =) And on that note, sometimes you notice the little things, and sometimes someone has to hit you over the head with a frying pan to tell you to open your eyes and see what's right in front of you!

Ah, but love makes you blind, doesn't it? ;)


  1. Hi Paul,
    Kool post! The memories...the memories...

    What about a testers desk?


  2. More trouble is caused in relationships when a man fails to notice new hair, new nails, new clothes etc so a man who notices something as small as the order of two small earrings changing is something of a rare (and valuble) commodity.