How Did I Miss That Bug? Managing Cognitive Bias in Testing: An Interview with Gerie Owen and Peter Varhol

[interview]
Summary:

How many bugs have you missed that were obvious to others? We all approach testing hampered by our own biases. Gerie Owen and Peter Varhol share an understanding of how testers’ mindsets and cognitive biases influence their testing.

 

Gerie Owen and Peter Varhol will be presenting a presentation titled How Did I Miss That Bug? Managing Cognitive Bias in Testing at STARCANADA 2014, which will take place April 5-9, 2014.

 

About How Did I Miss That Bug? Managing Cognitive Bias in Testing:

How many bugs have you missed that were obvious to others? We all approach testing hampered by our own biases. Understanding our biases—preconceived notions and the ability to focus our attention—is key to effective test design, test execution, and defect detection. Gerie Owen and Peter Varhol share an understanding of how testers’ mindsets and cognitive biases influence their testing. Using principles from the social sciences, Gerie and Peter demonstrate that you aren’t as smart as you think you are. They show how to use knowledge of biases—inattentional blindness, representative bias, the curse of knowledge, and others—not only to understand the impact of cognitive bias on testing, but also to improve your individual and test team results. Finally, Gerie and Peter provide tips for managing your biases and focusing your attention in the right places throughout the test process so you won’t miss that obvious bug.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Gerie Owen and Peter Varhol. They will be speaking at STARCANADA 2014, April 5 through April 9. Their session is titled How Did I Miss That Bug? Managing Cognitive Bias in Testing. Thank you so much, guys.

Peter Varhol: I thought I'd take two minutes and explain how this idea came about before we started getting into your questions, if that's OK.

CP: Sure. Absolutely.

PV: I read the book, back in the end of 2011, by Michael Lewis called Moneyball. It's about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and how he could not afford to compete. Their general manger, Billy Beane, started looking at the characteristics of players that made up baseball teams. He discovered that the baseball evaluators of scouts and the general managements and all that were evaluating talent all wrong, that they were not looking at characteristics that made up the baseball team.

They were biased in their evaluation of baseball players. That really struck a chord with me. Then I read an article by Michael Lewis that had a profile of Daniel Kahneman, about Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow. It's really a revelation about how we're biased in many of our decisions in life. So I developed a presentation that I gave, actually, at STARWEST. Gerie, when was that? 2012?

Gerie Owen: Yeah.

PV: I think it was 2012, called "Moneyball, the Science of Building Great Testing Teams." I was more interested in team-building at that point, because that was the idea behind Moneyball. While Gerie took this idea and said, "You know, this can also apply to the way we set up our testing practices, the way we make decisions on testing strategies, and the way that we collect data and evaluate our results." What came out of this was a presentation, that was primarily written by Gerie but also uses some of my material, called "How Did I Miss that Bug? Managing Cognitive Bias in Testing."

I'd also like to credit a couple of other people here because we're certainly not the first ones to look at bias and emotions in testing. In particular, Michael Bolton, who has been looking at it for a number years now. I saw his presentation just last year called Emotions in Testing, and it's so wonderful. Both Gerie and I, at that same STARWEST in 2012, saw Jonathan Cole give a presentation on mobile testing in which he said, "Your emotions and your attitudes in using mobile devices is going to affect the results." I'd also like to credit at least those two and follow the others in guiding our thoughts on this presentation.

CP: OK. Great. Of course, the session you're referring to is "How Did I Miss that Bug? Managing Cognitive Bias in Testing," which will be at STARCANADA 2014, April 5 through April 9. I'm going to go ahead and give a little spiel and brag on you guys a little bit. Let me know if I miss anything.

PV: Sure.

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About the author

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds's picture Cameron Philipp-Edmonds

When not working on his theory of time travel, Cameron T. Philipp-Edmonds is writing for TechWell, StickyMinds, and AgileConnection. With a background in advertising and marketing, Cameron is partial to the ways that technology can enhance a company's brand equity. In his personal life, Cameron enjoys long walks on the beach, romantic dinners by candlelight, and playing practical jokes on his coworkers.

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