Teaching Testing to Teenagers

I had the opportunity of being teacher for my son Frederik’s 7th grade class today at Kvikmarken. The school had decided to send the ”real” teachers on a workshop together, so the job of teaching the children was left to volounteering parents. I’m enthusiastic about learning, so felt obliged to volunteer.

I gave them a crash course in software testing.

Software on punched paper tape from the mid 1960's

These boys and girls are really smart. They quickly grasped an understanding of what software testing is about: Exploring and learning. Remember, they are brought up with laptops, mobile phones, and the internet, so they’ve learned to cope with all the shortcomings and bugs that come with today’s technology. I could have expected them to be blind of bugs. But no, they do see them – and they are splendid explorers and learners.

I started my lesson with a flash back 40-50 years ago when computers were as big as a classroom and software was written on note paper and stored on punched tape. I compared this with today’s state of the art commodity computer: An iPad, smaller than a school book – and a lot more powerful than computers then.

Complexity has increased by a factor of at least one million – and it shows! (Though I should add that the evolution of software development tools and methods has also improved a good deal.)

They now know what a bug is, why there are bugs in software, what testing is about and how testing is a learning and discovery process. They also have an idea of why we’re testing – they particularly liked this one: We test because it feels good to break stuff!

Finally, the had a chance to prove their collective exploration abilities in a testing exercise. They did splendidly!

The last slide of my presentation contained a quote from James Bach on Twitter yesterday, words of a true tester on bug hunt using his senses:

Say “it looks bad” and I hear you.
Say “it smells bad” and I taste BLOOD.

I’m happy that Frederik’s classmatetes liked my lesson: ”Great presentation, thanks!”, ”Wow, testing is fun!”, ”You’ve got a really cool job!”

I think there’s good reason to expect software engineering to improve a lot when these boys and girls get to be responsible for software engineering!

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