What Testers can learn from the Vulcan Death Grip
One of the ways I like to apply my knowledge of Software Testing is to draw parallels with real life situations and to combine my knowledge of Testing with my knowledge of TV shows. I’m a massive Star Trek fan, and I’ve written a number of blog posts in the past about TV Shows I’ve watched, such as The Twilight Zone and a programme about Crash Test Dummies, and managed to draw parallels with Software Testing. One thing I’ve been mystified with since first seeing it nearly 20 years ago is the Vulcan Death Grip.
Whether you believe the Vulcan Death Grip is physically possible or not, people have been talking about this unusual defence tactic for the best part of 40 years. Their have been various studies and numerous attempts to recreate it, and so far the only person who has come even remotely close is, um, Xena Warrior Princess. However, we will ignore this fact for now.
First let me explain to the none Trekkies among us what the Vulcan Death Grip is.
The Vulcan Death Grip is defence technique developed by the Vulcans in the Star Trek universe. It involves applying a small amount of pressure to an area around the base of the neck of the opponent which will render them almost instantly unconscious. Despite it being called a “death grip”, the person on the receiving end is usually fine and suffers no permanent damage.
So what can the famous Vulcan Death Pinch teach us about Software Testing?
Software has a weak spot
Just like the soft point on your neck that Spock would press, Software too has a weak spot. The tricky part is finding it! You may have learned from previous projects that a certain part of the software always seems to break, or the complexity of the change increases the likelihood of a bug creeping in.
Spock would have practised the Vulcan Death Grip many times before he got it right. He would have tried and failed numerous times before he succeeded. Each time he used the Vulcan Death Grip, he would have used his previous experience to track it down and use it to pin point exactly where he needs to press.
As Testers we sometimes need to focus on a really small areas, almost at a unit test level, to find a bug. However, what we must also keep in mind is the big picture. For example, pressing this really small part has a massive knock on effect to the whole system.
The Vulcan Death Grip is very simple. Find the right spot on a person’s neck and press firmly. Job done.
Software Testing often requires a Tester to be very technical, but also requires you to keep an open mind and to think
I was working on a project recently which I went into with lots of technical knowledge about the product having worked on the Software in previous projects. We were given a list of changes to test, and after all the initial set up, dived straight in and really got my teeth in and started exploring the Software. I found quite a few technical defects which I was particularly proud of. It wasn’t until the users got their hands on the Software that they noticed a few problems with simple parts of the software, like inconsistencies between screens and spelling mistakes on reports. I missed them. I missed them because I was concentrating too much on the technical detail and not thinking simply and looking for those defects which may seems small and insignificant, but from the user’s perspective, are huge!
I call this “Good Guy/Bad Guy Testing”. In films, have you ever noticed how when the good guys and bad guys fight, the bad guys come in with all their guns blazing and completely miss the good guy. The Good guy then fires one shot and takes out a baddie?
This is true in Software Testing. You can go in and frantically test a piece of Software and not find anything, where as someone else will come in and spot something almost immediately.
The Vulcan Death pinch is simple, elegant, yet very effective.
Technique over tools
How many times have you heard the phrase “What Tool did you use to test that?” or “What is the best tool to Test this?”? I’ve certainly heard this on a number of occasions, and people look at you a little funny when you tell them you used your brain and eyes to test something complicated.
Tools are great aids and are designed to help Testers gather information about the product and broaden the scope of testing, but Tools are just that – Tools. Placing a bag of spanners in front of a car won’t find the fault in your wiring. I find that some Testers believe that the more Tools you use, the better your Testing. Despite me posting a page called “ToolKit” which a list of all the tools I use, I am actually quite against using Tools to physically test software. Humans Test Software, automation CHECKS software.
The Vulcan Death Grip works in a similar way. Spock doesn’t use any expensive, high-tech equipment. He just uses his hands, his knowledge and the techniques that he practices. I believe that this is what Software Testers need to get back to and focus on their techniques and problem solving skills, rather than rely on over-hyped, over-priced, and what is essentially snake oil.
Live long and prosper.