Parallels between testing and wood turning

Kim Knup’s (@punkmik) blog about the parallels between climbing and testing inspired me to pull this draft out of the drawer and finally write it.

As a tester the performance of testing is usually the craft and your product is information. Information in form of test reports, bug reports, and knowledge to share is what you produce in your daily work. To have something more substantial at the end of the day I started woodworking about 10 years ago. Some day I found my love for wooden bowls, so I started interest in woodturning. And when we finally moved to our house 6 years ago I took wood turning training with a master of his art on the other side of Munich. He did not only show me bowl turning, but also pen turning. And now the fever for both was on.

I take this chance now to compare two of my fevers. Testing and Woodturning.

Simon Shrijver just wrote a nice article about testers being craftsman. And last year, someone on Twitter mentioned that good testing is also an art. I really liked that idea, but I came to the conclusion, that testers are not artists, but artisans. That fits in my eyes good to the craftmanship.
Woodturners are at first also craftsman. You learn the craft of woodturning and you need a lot of practice. The same is true for testers. There are a lot of basic techniques and tools that you need to learn and master. But same as for testing, also in woodturning there are multiple tools useful for different and overlapping situations. You like to use one better than the other for a situation where both would fit, while your colleague uses the other. There are of course the old school tools, that are around for some centuries now. But also new tools come to the market every now and then, improving or changing the way of reaching your goal. (Of course with the same ranting as everywhere from the “oldies” that real woodturning is only when using the old techniques.)
While for the customer the way doesn’t matter in both testing and woodturning, for the tester/woodturner, the way is the use of your crafts and describes what you do every day. Of course you can tell that you turn bowls, and everyone looks at the bowl. But nobody can imagine the work behind it. In testing you create test reports, bug reports and some even test cases. But testing is nothing of all those write-ups. But it’s what you do – hopefully – most time of the day.

To be productive in woodturning and getting the best result you need sharp tools. And you often have to resharpen often. Some wood needs more resharpening than others. Same is true for your testing and your tools. They need not to be sharp, but aligned to your needs. And if the context changes, you need to realign your tools to be effective.

To be effective in your daily work you need a lot of machines and jigs, same as a tester needs many tools and scripts. For pen-turning for example you can do nearly everything on your lathe. But you are more productive with a table saw, a drill press, a disc sander, several jigs and of course your lathe. For bowl turning you might add a bandsaw or a chainsaw, and a drill to help your sanding (yes, the drill is for sanding). And some techniques or products need several more tools and jigs.
In testing you can do everything manually, but to be honest, there are so many cool tools, templates and scripts to help, assist, improve and speed up your testing, that it would be a waste of time not to use them.

In woodturning you can also have a factory-approach, of course. You simply turn the form you want a couple hundred times. You mostly improve the way to turn it even faster, but the product rarely changes. But since the product is the goal, that approach is legitimate. The context-driven approach in woodturning is when you go from craftsmanship to artisan. The wood dictates the form you turn and the tool you use. There are those artisans who take a piece of wood and see the beauty in there and make it even more beautiful. The others know what they want to turn and select the wood accordingly.

But the most common thing between woodturning and testing is the community. At least the context-driven community is like the woodturning community. There a big forums in the internet to interact online and share information, knowledge, and of course pictures of the results (later is not so true for testing).

Then there are big meetings with international audience, and of course local meet-ups. You talk about turning and all the stuff around. You can watch tool builders present their tools, you can try some your own. And you meet a lot of other turners with whom to talk, discuss, exchange knowledge and of course drink beer.

And another thing that is true for both is, that you learn most by watching. In both worlds you can write up a lot of explicit knowledge of how to turn/test. But you learn more from watching someone actually turn/test. Like James Bach said it in his keynote at CAST 2014. About every second of testing you could talk like 30 seconds. Same is true for woodturning.

And as a last feature of both I want to say that the openess to share knowledge is the same. When visiting a woodturning show two years ago I watched two of the turners for several hours, and I asked lots of questions, and also others asked lots of questions. And they never were tired of answering or hiding anything. They wanted to share their knowledge and techniques. Same was true, when I approached a woodturner from the US around the same time via email. I was totally fascinated from his work that was presented in wood turning magazines, and art shows mostly in the US, but also all over the world. But I could not imagine how he did it. So I finally simply asked him. And he not only told me in words how to do it and gave me tips, he also sent me pictures of the jigs he used. And I experience the same openess in the context-driven community.

And I want to close with the same question that Kim asked in her blog:
Do you ever compare an everyday activity or hobby to testing?

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