Until today, my reading of Mary Reilly’s Play As Exploratory Learning had been limited to occasional stolen glances into Cem Kaner’s library, but a copy of this out-of-print book arrived today. Browsing (that is, a little exploratory reading) yielded this (from Chapter 3, “An Explanation of Play”, page 117):
“The pursuit of the rumored goodness and usefulness that play might have for man is plagued by the difficulties inherent in the processes of exploration. One of the first problems is the very obviousness of play. It is a behaviour endlessly in plain sight, and because it is a behaviour there in plain sight it lacks the intrigue that the unknown has for scientists. Intellectuals go to any lengths to avoid the obvious and theorists in particular disdain it. The real difficulty that confronts any broadened explanation of play is that it is an obvious commonplace behaviour breeding contempt dampening investigatory interest.”
Well, ain’t that just like exploratory approaches to testing? (For “play” read “exploratory testing”; for “scientists” and “theorists”, read “many programmers”; and for “intellectuals” read “traditional testing theorists”.) Explaining exploratory testing is hard because we appear to be simply “trying the program to see if it works”. What’s not obvious to the untrained observer is the stuff that’s going on behind the eyeballs: modeling the test space; determining coverage, oracles, and procedures; and making decisions about how to configure, operate, observe, and evaluate the product. It would be nice if other people could see all that stuff, but we can’t. So, as a community, those of us who recognize the value of exploratory approaches—that is, the fact that they’re central to excellent testing—are going to have to keep talking about them.