England Looks To Revamp Computer Studies

England Evaluates Computer CoursesA few months ago I wrote about a high school computer teacher who worked mobile app development and testing into his curriculum. Well, it looks like he’s not alone. According to British news site The Register, Michael Gove, a member of the British Parliament who also serves as Education Secretary, is proposing a major revamp to the country’s computer education program. Here’s part of the Register article (emphasis added):

Education Secretary Michael Gove today proposed killing off Blighty’s ICT curriculum in September to give it a thorough reboot.

Launching a consultation into his plans, Gove suggested that from the start of the next academic year, schools should be able to teach what they want in computer classes. The Tory minister recommended MIT’s Scratch – a programming language for newbies – and the Microsoft and Google-approved Computing at School course for 11 to 13-year-olds.

The current ICT curriculum is “dull and demotivating”, he said in his speech to the BETT conference, and tweaks to qualifications and the curriculum in past have not led to “significant improvements”. …

Outlining the plan for 2012-14, Gove said:

Technology in schools will no longer be micro-managed by Whitehall. By withdrawing the Programme of Study, we’re giving teachers freedom over what and how to teach, revolutionising ICT as we know it. …

Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in University courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones.

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Your uTest Experience: Past, Present and Future

What is community management without measuring the pulse of your community? Every now and again it is important to take a step back from the frantic happenings of the day-to-day activities of uTesters and look at the bigger picture. All too often, we forget about the profound and incredibly human impact we have on the lives of uTest’s biggest asset, our testers.

At the end of 2011 we did just that and asked our testers to tell us about their uTest experience. Those of us on the community management team were certainly touched by the impact these experiences have had on their lives and we believe that they may be enlightening to other readers as well.

Here is a small sample of the great stories that were shared:

I found uTest on a fluke; I’d heard there was a group online looking for help and I searched for ‘online testing’ and uTest was found. Though I’ve only been with them for a couple of months, it’s been fun. Now let’s get it straight, work is not always fun, but with uTest the diversity of products and engaging clients and testers make it fun. I’ve worked in small startups and large companies; uTest seems to embrace the individual aspect of a small company though the clients may be very, very large. Always approachable and quick to reply, the folks running the group have earned my deep appreciation and respect. Of the dozen or so of projects I’ve worked on, each is unique, and sometimes has follow-up work.

I’m looking forward to 2012 with uTest.

Good going!

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Making Your Business App Work

Business AppsNeed to find a nearby restaurant? There’s an app for that. Want to track your workout progress? There’s an app for that. Want to play a game to kill the time? There’s an app for that. Your kids want to play a game? There’s an app for that. Want to check the score? There’s an app for that. Want the latest headlines/facebook status updates/tweets? There’s an app for that. Want to access that document or program you use at work on the go? Maybe there’s an app for that, kind of.

Many consumer apps have figured out how to cater to the specific limitations of mobile devices (screen size variance, touch screen usability, the range of OS options) but professional apps are still largely lagging behind.

Quinton Alsbury (who owns a company – MeLLmo – that develops apps for businesses) highlighted where many business-minded apps are going wrong in this guest post on CNet:

We’ve all been there–squinting at a spreadsheet on a mobile device, zooming in and out in attempt to make sense of the information. Each swipe of the finger triggers a blank screen as the data renders and slowly reappears and our frustration builds. …

Why do apps aimed at business users continue to cram features and functionalities designed for the PC into a mobile phone, ignoring all the things that make consumer apps successful–namely, design, speed, and interactivity?

Many business app developers are fundamentally misunderstanding the mobile user experience by producing “shrink to fit” versions of solutions designed for the PC. The mobile experience isn’t about accessing several gigabytes of data; it’s about quickly accessing the information you need, when you need it.

By “shrinking” existing PC tools, they’re essentially jamming a large, complicated, and bulky system onto a smaller screen. What results are apps that contain too many features, respond too slowly and ultimately result in low user adoption and usage.

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This is Your Captain Speaking…How Does This Work Again?

If you had to pick two professions where you wouldn’t want glitchy software interfering, they would have to be surgeon and pilot.  These would be the only two correct answers.

And speaking of correct answers (or lack thereof) it seems that a software glitch caused 90% of would-be pilots to record failing grades on their online exam. Why online, you ask? In response to the recently exposed “fake pilot” scam – and as an added measure to prevent forgery – the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) decided to make candidates take the test online.

Simple enough? Here’s NDTV.com with how this plan went, um, off course:

A software glitch caused a 100-mark examination to be graded on just 50, causing over 90 per cent of the examinees to believe that they had failed.  “The paper had 50 questions worth two marks each. Every candidate had to secure a minimum of 70 per cent marks to qualify.

During evaluation, the online software wrongly assigned one mark to each question, as a result of which each candidate was examined on 50 marks. The merit list, however, showed the full marks as 100. As a result, none of the 1,000 pilots who appeared for the ALT examination managed to pass the exam. Passing the exam is mandatory for officers who are seeking licenses as commanders,” said a top DGCA source.

In the CPL category for commercial piloting licenses, only two-three percent of over 4,000 candidates managed to clear the examination.

Realising that the mass failure was a result of a software problem, DGCA chief E K Bharatbhushan wasted no time in declaring that the incident was a consequence of a software glitch, and said that a new merit list would be published this Monday.

Let’s hope the DGCA  learned their lesson on the importance of in-the-wild software testing. If not, I think it’s time to take the train.

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Agile, Waterfall or Scrum? All of the Above!

“Welcome changing requirements, even late in
development. Agile processes harness change for
the customer’s competitive advantage.

Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”- from the Agile Manifesto

Okay, now back to the real-world. As Forrester analyst Dave West recently pointed out in an SD Times article, “the reality of agile adoption has diverged from the original ideas described in the Agile Manifesto, with many adoptions resembling what Forrester labels water-Scrum-fall.”

Others have dubbed it Agile-Fall, Scrum-Fall or even fake agile. Whatever you call it, this mixed bag methodology is becoming the norm for test and dev teams – and it’s not hard to figure out why. West continues:

This happens in part because agile adoption has been practitioner-led, leading teams to focus on domains they can influence, mainly the team itself. Areas outside of their control, such as project planning and release management, continue to follow more-traditional approaches, meaning that Scrum adoption is limited to the development team. That team is presented with a detailed project plan and a set of requirements that it then works through, incrementally delivering software (but not to production) as the production release process runs at a different cadence.

While this model is not inherently bad, application development professionals need to carefully consider and make the right decisions about where the lines fall between water-Scrum and Scrum-fall. Otherwise, they are unlikely to realize agile’s business benefits, such as faster time-to-market, increased business value, and improved flexibility and responsiveness.

The reality of water-Scrum-fall is that change will continue. The water stage defines the overall direction of the project, but the team will have many insights during the project that challenge initial ideas. By supporting change while at the same time ensuring that the team understands the impact of that change, the team will not only build better applications, but will also learn more about its process for future implementations.

Chances are, you’ve likely had some experience with this methodology. If not – and you’re looking to adopt an agile-esque approach – here’s a tip from eBay’s Jon Bach:

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The Ever-Shifting Matrix

Mobile Browsing ShareI can’t say testing was ever easy but there definitely was a time when there were far fewer components to the testing matrix. Now a days, if you’re just trying to put together a simple website there’s a whole range of browsers to consider at the very least – not to mention the ever updating versions of those browsers.

If that wasn’t enough, now you have to make sure that website works on the miniature screens of mobile devices (which themselves offer a whole gamut of sizes). And I’m not taking “should work” or something to consider if you want to be hip and trendy … because it’s not a trend, trends go away. Instead, time spent browsing the web on mobile devices is steadily increasing. Here’s the most recent statistic from Net Applications (which has been monitoring web usage across their 40,000 websites since 2004), as reported by CNet:

If you haven’t whipped your Web site into shape for easy viewing on small-screen devices, you’d better get cracking.

That’s because the use of mobile devices reached an all-time high in December, accounting for 7.7 percent of browser usage according to Net Applications’ measurements of daily visits to its network of 40,000 Web sites. That may still be a small fraction of total Web traffic, but it’s a large and growing population in absolute numbers.

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A Software Testing Exercise

Chances are if you’re a tester, you probably spend the bulk of your work day sitting in front of a computer. You don’t have to be the Surgeon General to know the eventual result of such a lifestyle: weight gain.

If only there were a way that one could test software and burn calories at the same time. Well, now there is. Here’s a funny story from The Register:

No self-respecting techie would ever be seen dead in a gym. If you want to get fit, just put down the doughnut and go for a walk. However for those of you who do submit to treadmill workouts but don’t want to miss a minute’s coding time, this might interest you.

Brainy old Reg friend Bill Softky has come up with an ingenious low-tech contraption for people who want to use a conventional laptop while at the gym. The CardioDesk cracks the problem of providing a stable surface, fits most treadmills and folds away to the size of a book- it’s about an inch thick.

The prototype, which you can see here, is hardwood, but with a bit of interest (and a bit of investment) we should see a much cheaper carbon fibre version to go into production.

He admits it’s “an unusual solution to a nearly unknown problem”, but some of the most successful inventions are just that.

As a side gig, I think I’ll create a promotional series that’s half testing (advice and tips from people like James Bach, Michael Bolton and others) and half exercise (workouts from Richard Simmons and Chuck Norris). I’ll call it TesterCise. It’ll make millions.

On a more serious note, if you’re looking for ways to offset the ill effects of sitting at a desk all day, here are some tips from WebMD.

Test healthy my friends.

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2012 Preview: Twelve App-Related Questions On The Way To Armageddon

Happy New Year!  Yes, 2012 is upon us and, if you believe the pundits (or the Mayans), we’re all gonna die in about 11 1/2 months. And while that really takes the pressure off of watching your 401k or worrying about global warming, it amps us the urgency to get that killer new app launched.

So with that in mind, here are 12 questions whose  answers will shape the app universe (and thus, the testing landscape) in 2012:

  1. Will we finally find a better way to vet apps than app store ratings?
  2. Is Flash really and truly dead in the mobile app space?
  3. What’s the next big wave in the ever-growing sea of SoLoMo?
  4. Web-enabled TVs:  here or hype?
  5. Will Android keep winning such rapid market share from iOS?
  6. Is this the year the mobile wallet hits the U.S. mainstream?
  7. How will netizens find what they need — search or social?
  8. Can developers finally forget about IE6?  How about IE7?
  9. Will Amazon’s app store plans fly or flop?
  10. Where do tablets go from here?
  11. Which direction will the IPO and VC markets turn?
  12. After watching Uber battle taxis, and AirBnB take on hotels, which mature industry will be next to get disrupted in a big way (fwiw, my money is on medical and education, though the latter may take longer)?

So what’s your take — which of these issues will have the biggest impact on devs, testers and users in 2012?  Put on your fortune telling hat and share your prediction to that question in the comments below.

And happy 2012 to us all. Let’s enjoy this next (last?) year in the apps universe!

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It Might Be Time To Update If …

CRT MonitorIf you’re reading a Software Testing Blog (which you are) then you are probably pretty tech-savvy. In that case, read this list of Eight Signs Your Business is Tech-Illiterate by PCWorld for a good chuckle.

  1. Everyone has their own printer
  2. You still own a fax machine
  3. You think tablets are toys
  4. You and your employees are scared of new tech
  5. You still haven’t embraced the web
  6. Very few people in your office own a smartphone
  7. You still have a CRT monitor, anywhere
  8. You still have Windows XP installed “because it works”

(You can read more in depth comments on each point at PCWorld >>>)

Now, if you read that list and thought to yourself, “Hey, that’s my office!” well then, you have some work to do.

Happy New Year’s everyone!

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Lessons in Usability Testing: Newer Is Not Always Better

So you just unwrapped your brand new (insert gift here). You loved the old version and can’t wait to try out the latest one with all the new bells and whistles you’ve heard so much about. But shortly after opening said gift, you realize there’s a problem. Something’s different.

If your brand new gift was a Kindle Fire, that problem can likely be summed up in one (hyphenated) word: over-engineering.

Jakob Nielsen, the “King of Usability” and former Testing the Limits guest, recently published his usability findings on the Kindle Fire – and he’s not impressed. The report covers multiple aspects of the new tablet, but one area that caught my attention was his discussion of how the Fire compared to the first generation Kindle. Here’s his take (my take after the jump):

The Fire is a heavy object. It’s unpleasant to hold for extended periods of time. Unless you have forearm muscles like Popeye, you can’t comfortably sit and read an engaging novel all evening. The lack of physical buttons for turning the page also impedes on the reading experience for fiction. On the older Kindles, it’s easy to keep a finger on the button when all you use it for is to turn the page. In contrast, tapping an area of the screen disrupts reading enjoyment, is slightly error-prone, and leaves smudges on the screen. The Fire screen also has more glare than the traditional Kindle.

For reading fiction, the older Kindle design wins.

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12 Minds Look Toward 2012

Gigaom Top 12Our friends at GigaOM reached out to 12 top tech experts to see where they think the industry will go in 2012:

Lose your love handles; call your Mom more often; get that promotion – if you’re like many of us, you’re already thinking over some New Year’s resolutions that will make you a better “you” in 2012. But how are the tech industries’ thought leaders approaching the new year? We asked 12 of them for their resolutions, and will publish one a day starting on December 27th and running until January 7th.

Here’s the schedule:

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