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.

Taking the RTI Online

In February I attended an online training course where participants test a software product using the Rapid Testing methodology called Rapid Testing Intensive (RTI) Online taught by James Bach. I found it to be a great way to test a product, get feedback on your work, build a software testing portfolio and learn about the Rapid Testing methodology.

Last July I took a similar in person training course appropriately called Rapid Testing Intensive Onsite. I meant to write about my experience but never did so allow me to describe it now:
The onsite version was an intense four and a half days of lecture, learning, testing and other team activities. From survey testing, to group stand up presentations, to the occasional after hours (with beer in hand) dice game it was a week of mental challenges with quite a bit of fun mixed in. After some encouragement from a few twitterers I shared my notes in the form of a live blog: (day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5).
During that time I was the “lone tester” in my company and taking a week to work on a team with other testers from around the world was a welcome change and an enjoyable experience. When a team member found something interesting or became confused the rest of the team became involved in the discussions which lead to new ideas about where to test. If someone didn’t clearly understand something someone else in the group could help. All this team work lead to some exciting discoveries.
Coming back to my original story I can do a little bit of comparison:

The online version was much more concentrated than its onsite counterpart but maintained all of the important aspects with an opening lecture, followed by a 90 minute testing assignment and then a break. During the break James would do the assignment himself and when the participants were back he’d show what he did, explain his approach and then review the work of those who were brave enough to ask for it.

Asking for your work to be reviewed live (webcast) can be a little intimidating. I remember doing the stand up presentation for my group onsite and I made a lot of mistakes in front of others but the result was I learned about safety language. This time around I knew mistakes would mean I’d learn more so I didn’t hesitate to ask. After the feedback session there was a little more lecture and then the day is done. This was the schedule for the rest of the course except with each day the assignments build off of one another and get deeper into the product.
Having essentially taking this course twice (first onsite, second online) my approach was to focus on understanding the assignments while also building examples of my work that I would be proud to share afterwards.  I used James Bach’s Heuristic Test Strategy Model to generate ideas for covering the product we were testing that would go into my Product Coverage Outline. Through both experiences I got new inspiration / ideas on how to organize and document my deep / combination testing. I played around with the way I take notes and continued to experiment with a method James calls concise documentation (however I prefer the catchier term “lean documentation”) which means there should be no fluff in your documentation, just the important parts.
Perhaps the most visible output from the RTI online are the work examples you build while documenting your testing – the Product Coverage Outline, deep testing matrices, testing notes, etc. These documents, after some cleaning and framing, will become the basis for my software testing portfolio – a public example of the work I’ve done and am capable of doing.
Not so visible are the truly important parts from the RTI online: learning about testing and deliberate practice. After all you can only get better at something if you practice it. Rapid Testing teaches us how productive and exciting testing can be by focusing on personal skill and the thinking part of testing. In my experience testing has always been about documentation (think test cases) and not about thinking / questioning what needs to be done. Every time I’ve taken a course in modern software testing practices (like RST) I feel like I start to understand more of the things that effect what I do and I start to question the assumptions involve. With the RTI I get to learn and practice which makes me feel like I’m growing and getting better.
I’ve found the product of those learning experiences, of the direct feedback to my work has improved how I test at work and how I view my product and the value of my labor. I’m not satisfied with where I’m at now, I might never be, but I do understand how far I’ve come and how far I have to go. See you at the next RTI.

What Testers Need to Learn

Sunday night I attended a live webinar by James Bach entitled “What Testers Need to Learn” that was put on by Tea time with Testers. It seemed like an interesting topic so I joined (it only cost $30).

The webinar got off to a slow start thanks to some technical issues with GoToMeeting but as soon as they were resolved James jumped into his talk: his personal vision of the skills testers need to have based on his many years of experience coaching testers.

James shared his recently updated tester’s syllabus (a free download from his site) and then walked through it explaining some of the areas. The syllabus he shared was actually a part of a specially created slide deck composed of existing materials but arranged for this talk. You can download the slide deck here. If you haven’t seen (or downloaded) the syllabus these are the main areas:

  1. General Systems
  2. Applied Epistemology
  3. Social and Cognitive Science
  4. Mathematics
  5. Testing Folklore
  6. Communication
  7. Technology
  8. Software Process Dynamics
  9. Self-Management

A synopsis (what I remember) of the walk-through:

General Systems theory involves understanding what makes systems complex. It’s a fundamental skill of testing based on how to approach a system, break it down and then understand what’s there. James recommends An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Weinberg.

Applied Epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. Scientific Thinking helps us understand applied epistemology. Testing is the process of creating experiments and exploring them so understanding how to design experiments is also very critical. Understanding written and un-written requirements requires an understanding of epistemology.

Cognitive Science. The difference between how people should think (a factor in epistemology) and how people do think is cognitive science. As a tester we we need to understand how people’s perception and biases factor into their work. Human factors relate to how people use and misuse systems. Testers are constantly learning so learning theory is huge.

Mathematics. Testers seem to be bad or afraid of mathematics and what you get is a system where people misuse / abuse mathematics. Counting test cases or metrics are often faulted here. People who don’t understand mathematics are too afraid to ask or question assumptions. The number one thing James uses is combinatorics or as he describes it “counting things in combinations”. Graph Theory is also big for identifying different pathways in testing. You don’t need to be an expert in these things but you need to know enough to be comfortable learning more.

Testing Folklore. Folklore dominates the testing field today. Testing folklore are ideas that are widely spread in the industry and yet poorly found in scientific practice / not based on scientific method. Examples include listing testing techniques, poorly thought out definitions or lists of words, testing certification, most things the ISTQB does, certain ideas about what testing is, etc. Communities of testers are found here including the context-driven school that James belongs to. Highly educated testers need to understand this, if you don’t want to be an expert you can ignore it. (Gotta love his attitude.)

Communication is important because testers need to write, make reports, and design documentation for the appropriate audience. Social Legibility involves presenting yourself and your work in a way people think they can understand.

Technology. The more you know about technology the better you’ll be as a tester. For example, programmers who don’t know anything about testing can be good in many respects because their knowledge of technology is great. This seems to be the area most testers understand the most. It’s helpful to know technology but great testers need to know about the other things as well.

Software Process Dynamics is important though not as important as other things. (No mention of how it ranks among its peers.) Software process dynamics is about how projects go wrong, why its good to find certain types of bugs at certain times, etc.

Self-Management. A lot of things are lumped in here because it’s a big deal in testing. This area is entirely non technical and is about being a grown-up: make plans and then do things. Ethical issues, contracts, accounting, record-keeping, being helpful are all lumped in here.

After the overview of the syllabus James answered some participant questions.

The first was asked by a gentleman who worked or was related to Tea time with testers. I think the question was how testers should balance learning with time commitments and how effective someone can be at learning. James’ response was something like:

You have to learn on the job, then work nights and on the weekends to be a great tester. Read a lot and try to experiment with a lot of things. Weekend Testing can help. He and others offer free coaching sessions via Skype. Other options include working with a peer group or other like-minded people, preferably not alone. Try to find somebody to work with and if you come up empty ask James. Also build a step by step portfolio of your work – where a portfolio is a set of your work that you can show to other people that demonstrates what you do as a tester.

There were a few more questions but since this webinar took place from 10:20 PM PST until 11:45 PM PST and those questions didn’t interest me I didn’t pay attention. =)

James mentioned a few of his recommended books, found on page 6 of the slide deck. Like I mentioned above I’ve posted a copy in my Dropbox folder here. All the people James respects as experts read and study books veraciously. They also have a support group that does the same.

The last part of the talk focused on skills he sees missing or needing improvement in the people he coaches – also found in the slide deck. Rapid Technical Self-Education, Test Framing, Test Factoring, etc. are some of the skills he focuses on when coaching. Student Syndromes are common problems he sees.

Lastly James shared and briefly discussed his Exploratory Testing Dynamics paper. Unfortunately at this point I don’t remember what was said about it. I was recording the whole broadcast (which hopefully someone will make available online) but some how it managed to crash and I lost my recording.

My (testing) learning problems are related to asking for help, not within my team or company but with people I don’t know. I work alone the majority of time but really I need someone to work with that can help push me. I think it’s time for a coaching session from James.

Rapid Testing Intensive Confirmed!

(Stolen from the Rapid Testing Intensive site)

It’s official I’m booked for the onsite Rapid Testing Intensive with James and Jon Bach at the end of July on Orcas Island in Washington. According to the website this testing intensive will be based on “… Session-Based Test Management and Rapid Software Testing methodologies” and will “…allow you to see how the modern theory of testing meets practical work.” Sounds like a blast.

There are 10 onsite and 42 online participants as of 4/2/12 and one of those onsite partcipants is Robert Sabourin. I was in his “Using Visual Models for Test Case Design” class last year at StarWest so it will be interesting to work side by site with him as well as a few of the other participants.

As I said in my prior post my goal is for: “Experience and feedback on modern testing methodologies!” Can’t wait.

Bach Brother’s Rapid Testing Intensive

When I was at StarWest in October of last year I had the good fortune of running into James Bach at the end of the day. I participated in a Rapid Software Testing class with his partner in crime Michael Bolton the prior day and sneaked into James’ Critical Thinking class earlier this day. He was approachable so I asked what books he recommended for aspiring testers (an easy opening), then when he’d be giving another talk on Rapid Software Testing in the US. I told him I liked the videos of his open lecture’s (I’ve blogged about them here and here) and somewhere during the discussion he mentioned a plan to setup a rapid software-like testing session near his home in Washington.

That testing session has been announced as the Rapid Testing Intensive taking place from July 23rd at 6:30pm through July 28th at noon on Orcas Island, Washington. I’m continuously trying to convince the company I work for the session is well worth the expense to go in person. There are two options, join in person or join online. I’d prefer physically being there instead of virtually for the easy of communicating and the overall experience.

The one day Rapid Software Testing session at StarWest was very inspiring but also brief. As Michael put it… the Rapid Software Testing course is normally a week long that gets crammed into three days and for StarWest is crammed into one day.

I’m not quite sure what to expect of the testing intensive but from what I can tell my goal for attending would be to practice using the rapid software testing methodologies with those who created it. I’m interested to see how they put their “modern theory of testing” into action so I can take it back to my company and apply it.

All of the Rapid Software Testing materials are available free online. It’s one thing to read the materials and practice what you absorb but its quite another to work with those who built the method/theories to put everything into practice. The day I spent at StarWest in the Rapid Software Testing class was great but we were only able to cover a small amount of the material.

I’ll need to do a few things in preparation:

  • Review the Rapid Software Testing material we covered in class
  • Read the material that we didn’t cover (lots)
  • Review Session-Based Test Management
  • Figure out the testing tools I’ll need
  • Maybe start on the BBST coursework?
  • Plan the travel details!
After the class I’ll be a bit more informed on what does and doesn’t work and what assumptions I’m making today when I test. This session will also be a test in critical thinking and afterward I hope to be more empowered to do research into the testing abyss to find my own path.
Perhaps I should say my goal is for: “Experience and feedback on modern testing methodologies!”