Over the past few months, we’ve been testing the functionality of our creative writing tool, Ponder, through small experiments. One of these was a group journaling project we called Hunkered Down, a writing experiment with a small group of friends designed to create a space where we could process the experience of COVID and sheltering-in-place.
These experiments are informing the development of Ponder, but we don’t yet have the functionality to allow people to build their own group writing experiences. In other words, for new teams or groups of people to test out Ponder, we have to build out the software to include features like: “create new group” and “invite new members”.
We’re beavering away on this major software update, and at some point in the near future, we’ll be looking for people to beta test the new functionality. We’re looking for folks who are familiar with software and early user testing, people who are comfortable with new products that don’t have all the kinks worked out. And because Ponder is a writing tool, we’re looking for testers who also like to write and are open to exploring the concept of group writing.
Right now, we’re at the beginning of the end of building out this new functionality. It’s been a big push and most recently, my focus has been testing the product from an end-user perspective. In the software world, this is called quality assurance (QA) testing - so let’s jump into the QA world.
🐞 QA Testing - Bug Hunting In Software
QA testing is basically a way to test if your product is behaving as expected. When software is acting funky, as it’s wont to do, we call it a bug. So you could say, I’ve been hunting for bugs all week—looking for ways the software’s not working as intended.
After working through some initial frustrations with only focusing on what’s *not* working in Ponder, I found I enjoy bug hunting because it’s an opportunity for me to become more familiar with the software. I’m non-technical in the sense that I’m not a developer or engineer, so my role with Ponder is outside of the technical build. But I can be useful in testing the software and tracking down bugs to ensure an enjoyable end-user experience.
Luckily, I get to work with a top-notch engineer, my business partner Gustavo. He patiently teaches me how to read the browser console so I can kind of, sort of, understand what’s happening behind the scenes with Ponder. In the least, I know what information to share with Gustavo so he can troubleshoot and fix the bugs. It’s a fun little partnership and with Gustavo’s help, I’ve created a little QA test flow that works well.
If you’re a fan of process or systems, and enjoy learning how things work (like me), here’s an overview of my QA process and tech stack.
- To start, I vid chat with Gustavo using Zoom about what we’re testing, what updates were pushed, and anything else he thinks is important to test from the user perspective. We also use Slack to share what we’re working on in real-time so we can stay on the same page.
- Based on our conversations, I use Notion to document the scenarios and specific user flows in Ponder I want to test.
- For the actual testing, I use the app Loom to screen and voice record. This way, if I find a bug that only shows up one time, I can watch the video and listen to my narration to back-track and figure out the steps necessary to reproduce the bug.
Along the way, I use Notion as a scratchpad, and when I find bugs I document them here, formatted in a specific way:
- First: what is the bug? Maybe it’s a specific page loading in a bizarre way: “Stream only partially loading posts”
- Next: I document the steps necessary to reproduce the bug. This is super important—this is the information Gustavo uses to recreate the bug in order to figure out exactly where and why the problem is occurring, and how to fix it.
- Lastly: I note what the expected behavior is, and what the observed behavior is. It’s the difference between expected and observed that we’re interested in: this is the bug, and helps Gustavo orient around the problem.
After a testing session, I review my notes and add the bugs to Github with an overview, steps to reproduce, and expected vs observed behavior. Gustavo and I review the Github bugs list and open tickets that Gustavo will slowly work his way through to fix the bugs.
We repeat this cycle until no bugs exist → push update live to Ponder site. This is a bigger software update so the testing cycle is taking a bit longer, probably around a week or so.
Spending so much time bug hunting in Ponder, I started drawing parallels to other aspect of life, or bug hunting in real life.
🐜 Bug Hunting IRL
Whereas bug hunting in software is an exploration of the functionality and user experience of software product, bug hunting IRL is an exploration in expectations vs. actuality. Often times in life, our challenges come from not accepting what is actually occurring simply because we have an alternative expectation.
For example, I didn’t expect to be cooped up in my house for 2+ months this spring. I expected that I would regularly meet up with friends and my cousins, go on hikes, travel to spend time with friends and family, explore new cities, etc. But the reality, what I’m experiencing, is quite different! I’m not partaking in any of the expected activities, instead I’m spending more time than ever before in my house, on video chat, and on neighborhood strolls.
In some ways, then, the COVID pandemic is like a bug. It wasn’t expected, but it’s surely happening. People are trying to figure out the root cause of it, working on a cure, providing care to those who are sick, volunteering to support older people and people with disabilities who cannot leave their homes. Others are trying to adjust to the reality of the world: finding new ways to work, balancing work and parenting, setting new schedules and routines, learning how to make the most of our now shrunken worlds.
Just like a software bug and the QA testing process, the COVID bug is being addressed and everyone is doing their part to “fix” it. It just so happens that COVID is a particularly complex bug and it’s taking quite a bit of time and energy for us to figure out how to right what’s wrong.
What I find intriguing is how life will change as the result of COVID - as we address the bug, we grow as individuals and as a collective. We find new ways of being, we learn about ourselves and the world.
In certain ways, our expectations of the world are changing: it’s possible we’ll adapt to traveling less, working from home more, communicating through phone and video more. In other ways our expectations remain intact, primarily, we still crave in-person human interaction: live sporting or music events, eating at a restaurant, or hanging out in a community park.
I explore this train of thought to offer you a new mental model, a new way of seeing the world in this time of uncertainty and major change. We’ve encountered a really big and nasty bug in the system of earth. We’re all doing our part to fix the bug - whether it’s working to move reality closer to expectations like spending time with others in-person, or adjusting expectations to accommodate the reality of our situation.
No matter where you live and what you’re up to, the COVID bug has affected us all. Keep doing your part, no matter how big or small, no matter if you’re focused on self-care or helping others—together we’ll address the bug, and define a new normal.
🌺 New Flower Discovery!
On Saturday morning, Dave and I ventured out to the cafe where we usually hang on the weekends—they’re doing carryout, so I can still get my cream cheese bagel and coffee which is a small and familiar comfort. On the walk back home, I spied out of the corner of my eye, a fantastical looking plant.
As I ventured closer, I was pleasantly surprised to find what I later learned to be Echium wildpretii (thank you, Google Lens). The plant is named after the botanist Hermann Wildpret, not a play on words for pretty wildflower as I surmised.
I’d never seen this flower before, and I’m constantly on the hunt for beautiful plants in the neighborhood. Apparently these flowers only bloom in their 2nd year, and then they die, spreading seeds for future growth. So this is a good discovery indeed—I hope you enjoy.