What I’ve been up to lately

Things have been busy in the last month or so and I felt like sharing what I’ve been up to lately. Most of it revolves around software testing:

April saw the start of Dan Ariely’s A Beginners Guide to Irrational Behavior class on Coursera. I knew I had the BBST course coming up so I didn’t commit much time to the class other than watching the video lectures and doing the video quizzes. There are many aspects of irrational behavior that affect what we do in software development and testing – I’d like to write a more in-depth article about that in the future.

On the 14th of April I started the BBST Test Design course and completed it on May 8th. For those who have never taken a BBST class before they are incredibly intense month long courses. The course breaks a single calendar week into 2 class weeks – one week with 4 days, and a shorter week with 3 days and each week requires about 10-15 hours of work in order to do the readings, labs and work on the exam. The class is done but I still don’t know if I’ve passed; regardless I learned a lot.

On April 19th I joined the NRG Global Online test competition. My last post was a reflection on how well I thought I did and despite my low perception, my team ended up winning part of the competition!

I went to STPcon 2013 at the end of April in San Diego where I met up with a few Miagi-Do’ers, met some other testers I’d heard from in the twitter-verse or blog-o-sphere and learned a few things. I’m planning to write an experience report and post it either here or on the newly formed Miagi-Do blog. I think it might apply a little more here but I don’t know how it will turn out because I haven’t written it.

During the Test Design course I picked up on Test Design being the last of the 3 BBST courses and there being 3 more courses – Domain testing, spec-based testing and scenario-based testing listed in Cem Kaner’s diagram. I asked Cem about the domain testing course over twitter and he kindly sent me an email with a draft domain testing workbook which I plan to review – right after I email him back and telling him when.

May 8th through 10th I participated in the Rapid Testing Intensive Online #2 as a peer reviewer. It was fun to sit on the other side and provide some feedback to the students on their work although I would have been more effective if I was able to do the assignment as the students were – I just couldn’t take the time off work. Nevertheless I found participating as a peer reviewer to have its own unique challenges as I interacted with other testers and tried to answer their questions. In the RTIO there’s a ton of material and references coming at the students so it helps to interact and help others.

May 16th I signed up for the BBST Bug Advocacy class that takes place in June. One of my year end goals is to complete all 3 BBST courses and then pursue BBST Instructor so I can help others. In fact as I was writing this I signed up for the BBST Instructors course in October!

Lastly I’m looking for a cheap / free place to host a public Rapid Software Testing course with Paul Holland in the Los Angeles area. Anyone know of a place that can fit 20 people comfortably?

Wow I’ve got a lot to do…

NRG Global Test Competition Retrospective

Roughly two and a half weeks ago I competed in the first NRG Global Test Competition. The idea behind the competition was simple: get a bunch of people/ teams together to test a few products, split the competition into two days, one with functional testing and another with performance testing, and based on the reports submitted judges would award points and announce winners. The full details are available here and here.This was the first online testing competition I’d tried but thanks to my experiences with testing challenges and rapid testing online I knew I’d have fun once I got past the quirks. By quirks I mean it can take time to get comfortable with the discussion format, figure out how to ask questions, how best to communicate with my fellow team members, etc. The competition took place at 10 am Eastern which sucks if you live on the west coast and have to wake up before 7 am like I did. It was all for fun anyways.

For as early in the morning and as new as the competition was I think I did reasonable. Not great, not even good, but reasonable. I think the best way to phrase it is: I’m not happy with my work. (I might be overly critical here but still.) Now we only had 3 hours from introduction of the products under test, to learn the product, ask questions of the “owner”, test it, ask more questions, file bugs and write a report. Yet when I think back at what we turned in I’m not happy with it. Let me explain.

My team member and I barely communicated with one another. We were using Skype but we didn’t do much planning ahead of time (not like we could have because nothing was public) so when it came time for the competition it was a simple “hi”, “what are you working on” and “I’ll look at x”. That was it. We each went to different applications. Thinking back on it now I think we would have done much better if we were on the same application, talking to one other about what we were seeing. My experience has been any collaboration no matter how small results in finding and learning amazing things.

At the time of competition I considered using Bach’s HTSM to map out the application but didn’t. I wish I had. Even though its a bit detailed and were we on a short deadline I think heuristics would have lead me to think about and discover even more potential problems. At the very least I’d feel more confident in what I had tested.

It took me an hour or so to really get started looking at the products, deciding which one to test and with what equipment (iPad), browsers, etc. I’m still blaming the time of day. I started with some simple touring of this “home built” application that must have been built specifically for the competition because it was really simple and full of problems. Even though I saw lots of problems initially I took note and kept searching until I felt I had covered the entire application as best as I could. Then I circled back, asked a few questions from the “product owner” Matt Heusser and began testing the problems I saw. By that time I had just enough time to get my bugs written up in the tracking system  (I had maybe 5) and started working on our Test Report. I think we got our report in right at the deadline.

I wasn’t able to commit to the second part of the competition, for performance testing and I’m not sure if my team member was able to either. I knew going in I couldn’t commit time for it however I’m still holding on to hope that I’ll get a chance to play with the AppLoader tool. Despite my displeasure with my performance I’m glad I joined, in fact I’m looking forward to getting the feedback on how other’s think we did. =)

On Set with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

To watch our part in the aired Episode go here.

A month ago I was at my buddy Joe’s annual Multiple Sclerosis fundraiser when I saw a silent auction for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (my favorite show).  After some intense bidding to the very end of the auction I was victorious! As you can see below the package came with an autographed poster, autographed 2013 calendar, DVDs, autographed Sweet Dee bobble-head, kitten mittens T-Shirt, autographed group photo and, more importantly 2 walk-on roles.

It's Always Sunny package
The package of It’s Always Sunny goodies!

A few emails of correspondence with the It’s Always Sunny team and a few weeks later we had our shooting date. Call time was 7am on location in North Hollywood at The Federal Bar. At 7am the bar was only a 20 minute hop from the girls place (practically next door when you’re in Los Angeles) so we grabbed some food on the way just to be safe. I’d heard stories from friends about shows running out of or having crappy food for the extras and we didn’t want to take the chance. We arrived on set, checked in with the rest of the extras only we weren’t on the list as extras and then were separated as they called us contest winners. (On occasion they’ll have radio show contests and people will come from all around to visit the show. You are treated differently because you aren’t being paid.)

Check-in sent us to wardrobe where I was given a darker collard shirt and the girl was given a jean jacket to wear with her dress. Naturally she refused to wear it because, well, who wears jean jackets these days? We headed back over to get some food from craft services and waited until we were told what next to do. Ten minutes later one of the crew members came over, gave us some details on the scene and why we were at a bar and told the extras to head to the holding area. As they headed towards the holding area the girl and I were lead onto the set to watch the action.

The crew is setting up the bar lighting. Originally we sat where the ladder stands.

It took some time for the crew to set things up, something about adjustments or last minute changes. From our point of view it seemed like a lot of variables to deal with for maybe 5 minutes or less of total air time. We sat at one of the tables while the crew set up lights, the director ran around looking for shots and many others things unbeknownst to us occurred.

Now either the crew was used to having visitors on the set and/or they were just very nice because everyone kept coming up to us introducing themselves and asking where we were from. (Apparently some contest winners came from more than 20 minutes away!) I wish I could remember their names to give them proper thanks. I do remember we met some very nice lighting technicians, the associate director to the producers (I think that’s his title), the director, a really nice cameraman and others who, like I said, I wish I could remember their names.

At some point after sitting down, during the random meet and greets, we were given some background on the scenes being shot (2 scenes) and given a copy of the script. Naturally I read through it to see what was going on. One of the crew members walked us through the other parts of script including the actors who’d be on set, what scenes were being shot, etc. Turns out for this scene it would be The Gang minus Charlie but including Frank. At some point a few people came out to stand in place of the actors for the lighting adjustments. Then a while later, maybe 30 minutes, The Gang came to the set and did their line walk thorough. Charlie wasn’t in the episode but he was still there watching them as they went through their lines. After they were done with the walk through The Gang came over to our table and introduced themselves. Very cool!

Our drinks from Sudz bar. Sorry the photo is a little blurry.

I wasn’t paying close attention to the time but my guess is it wasn’t until around 9:30 or so until the girl and I got placement at the bar for a scene (mind you we had been on set since 8am or so). One of the benefits of the walk on role was “prominent” placement on camera (in terms of extras), so the girl and I ended up at the end of the bar next to the beer tap and kiddy corner to where The Gang was sitting. How prominent will we be when the show airs? Who knows, hopefully it will look like we are bar patrons and neither of us is just staring at Mac. The entire time I was drinking quality no-name beer and the girl had some fruity drink.

Around 10:30 The Gang came back to set and we started filming the first scene of the day: The Gang has arrived at the bar and are talking about what they see. For some reason Frank has brought a goodie bag with him. The next several takes / scene involves The Gang sitting down at the bar. Done; time for a break. It took that long and we’ve barely shot anything. The main actors take off and the girl and I wonder over to get some food. It’s interesting because there’s so much activity taking place on the set and so little of it requires the main actors.

Just past the bar where the scene is taking place was another bar where the crew had set up craft services tables, chairs for people to sit in, and a video feed for the directors and producers to see the shots they’d filmed. During one of our breaks one of the crew suggested we get this shot:

The Gang also contribute to the scenes through writing and direction

At break time there was food and a chance to sit back and relax and do whatever until the next shot(s) were ready. During one of the breaks we walked outside and joked a bit with the other extras about how much smiling we had to do (as soon as they start filming we have to talk to each other without speaking and always smile). It was like being at the dentist for a long time, eventually your face starts to hurt. A little chit chat to break up the monotony and then back for the next shots.

When it came time for the main shots the girl and I pretended to be talking with another bar patron while The Gang sat across from us, delivering their lines. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what they were saying because I was trying to “act” like I was having a good conversation which is hard when you are mouthing words but not saying anything. The show shoots 2-3 different angles with 3 different cameras which means repeating the same scene over and over again. During one of those angle changes the girl and I had to move.

We were sitting right where the camera guy is now standing. To the right is the feed for the 3 cameras.

Since I’d read the script I knew what The Gang was saying but it wasn’t until we sat next to the director that we were really able to see the scene come together. After the move we ended up sitting behind the director and Charlie Day, who wasn’t filming but was occupied with making the scene as funny as possible. On occasion he’d stop the actors and give them funny lines or tell them to keep going with a particular line or word they had. Day is a writer and producer of the show and he didn’t seem satisfied unless he laughed at the lines himself. Although the episode is scripted the actors do a fair amount of ad lib; in fact the funniest stuff is off the top if their head, building off each other’s conversations and building off of the script. They do so many takes of the same scene its during those later ones that things start to get really funny / over the top.

Lunch came around 12:30 and we all headed out of the bar towards craft services where we sat in the morning. As we ate the yummy food, we sat and talked with a few other extras about the jobs they’ve had (one girl was on set for 2 days in Miami for the filming of Iron Man 3). Then we described how we got on set – fundraiser winner! We returned to set after lunch at 1:30 but the crew was still setting up so we were escorted back out for photos with the cast. Apparently Charlie had left the set but we were psyched to get photos with the rest of The Gang. As we were walking back towards the cast’s trailers I noticed a Tesla Roadster. As I was drooling over the Tesla Roadster Rob and Kaitlin (Mac and Dee) walked up and jokingly said don’t scratch the car or the owner will get pissed (he was the owner). Rob and I started talking about his Tesla (I love ’em), how sad it was they stopped making the Roadster, if he was going to get a Model S which is when he pointed to Glenn’s (Dennis) Model S right behind it. Sweet.

Then we posed for pictures. Danny DeVito had come wondering up as we were talking with Kaitlin and Rob so we got a photo with them:

Danny DeVito, Mai, Rob, Chris and Kaitlin

After the first photo the girl and I joked to Rob about how she always does the stereotypical “Asian peace sign” pose. He laughed and mentioned a time some asian fans came up to him and wanted to take a picture in his car. They did the exact same pose. Danny took off and Glenn came up so we got another photo. This time everyone did the “Asian peace sign” pose:

Over featured image with Glenn, Mai, Chris, Kaitlin and Rob doing the “Asian peace sign”

After the photos we headed back into the bar for some final shoots with the extras. By 2:30pm we were tired and said goodbye. It was a great day on the set of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.