Friday 31 August 2012

Unique Perspectives, Team-working, and August Blue Moon

As I continue to work towards the ISEB Foundation Certificate, the more it opens me to where potential strengths of employees with Asperger's Syndrome can be applied not only to testing software itself, but to other aspects of employment, including indirectly to team-working. Team-working is an aspect of employment that people with Asperger's Syndrome are still often stereotyped as having difficulty with, often preferring to work alone. However, unique individual perspectives that a person with Asperger's Syndrome may apply when working alone can be transferred with great effect to team situations.

An area of software testing where unique individual perspectives in employees with Asperger's Syndrome can be applied is within acceptance testing. In software testing speak, acceptance testing is primarily concerned with whether it works or not from the users perspective. How a piece of software works if often individual to the user, an example being if Microsoft released a new or updated version of MSWord, a user who simply wants to type and print a letter may assume it works OK, but a developer writing code may need the product to be robust, so from the latter perspective, the presumption that it works is no longer safe. So whether or not a piece of software works has a personal perspective. It may work for one individual's purpose, but not for another.

Thi    This is where a group of employees with Asperger's Syndrome can apply different and often unique perspectives to the project that they are working on as a team. The different perspectives can test different functions of the software which can give developers a good indication of how their product will or in some cases won't work with a diverse range of potential users. It is often said that people with Asperger's Syndrome are even more different as individuals than people not on the autistic spectrum, a quality that can indirectly apply to working in a team. Another quality that I like to think can help an employee with Asperger's Syndrome relate effectively to other team members is if they have experienced personal difficulties or hardships, including those in relation to their experiences of Asperger's Syndrome, it will help them understand and be sympathetic towards a fellow team member experiencing similar difficulties.

         Away from Autism Works and ISEB, today will see, literally, a 'once in a blue moon' event. Today, as I write this entry on the last day of August, there is a blue moon, though the moon is not literally blue! In astronomical/calendar speak, a blue moon month is month in which there are two full moons. A significant blue moon month for me was in May 2007. Full Moon in May is significant because it is symbolic of the birth, enlightenment and passing into Nirvana of the Buddha. May 2007 was the first time that I partook in a Vesak festival at Harnham Buddhist Monastery in Northumberland and I learned that if there are two full moons in may, Vesak is celebrated on the second full moon, or blue moon in May.   

         In September, I have Tyneside Cinema's live screening of the stage version of Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and then on September the 16th it is the big day - Bupa Great North Run Day! It is a huge step into the unknown for me as I have never done anything like this before, though I am relatively confident that I have made reasonable progress with my training to enable me to complete it on the day to raise funds for the Daisy Chain Project. Daisy Chain will have a stall in the charity village at the finish line in South Shields if anyone planning on coming along or are taking part in the event themselves would like to find out more. To donate, the link is 
         Happy Blue Moon Day to you all! 

         The other significant event the occurs on August Blue Moon Day (today) is the funeral service of the first human to set foot on the Moon Neil Armstrong, who sadly died earlier this week, a man who experienced the ultimate in stepping into the unknown with the iconic quote: 'That's one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind'. RIP Neil Armstrong (1930-2012).


Friday 24 August 2012

Systematic Coverage and Mindful Applications

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. Since my last entry, I have been working on the ISEB Foundation course, as well as reviewing some of Autism Works' Operational procedures, including in relation to approaches I have come across in the ISEB course.

Much emphasis in the many books and guidance presently available on the subject of Asperger's Syndrome is on how the condition affects one in the working environment itself and during the recruitment phase, the latter which appears to be a particularly huge stumbling block to many candidates with Asperger's Syndrome. What I am finding though is that there appears to be very little guidance on induction, as a successful and supportive induction process can make a huge difference to how a new employee with Asperger's Syndrome, especially if they struggle with change including adapting to new environments, different practices and unfamiliar people.

When learning about approaches to software testing while doing ISEB, I have found some interesting parallels with developing Asperger-friendly operational procedures, including recruitment policies as well as approaches towards software testing that can be incorporated into the company's operational practices, including systematic approaches. When learning about different testing methods, I came across the waterfall method, which was at one time a standard model for testing software in the 1970s, but is seen today as too time consuming and inflexible to apply to current day large projects, and more flexible methods, including Rapid Application Development (RAD) and Iterative Incremental models, have had to be learned. Similarly, to recruit people with Asperger's Syndrome, employers need to learn different and more flexible approaches to their recruitment procedures, including asking closed rather than open or abstract questions.

One of the first questions software testers ask, especially when testing a big software project, is how much testing is enough? It is rarely possible to test everything due to time and budget constraints, so instead, testers focus on the parts of the software that are the most critical, or where the bugs are likely to cluster. Similarly, when offering support to new inductees at Autism Works, it may not quite be possible with available resources to offer comprehensive support, so instead, it will perhaps be more appropriate to take a systematic approach, focusing support offered during the induction stage where it is needed, including in relation to anxiety and sensory issues that an inductee may experience.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with how I discuss how I have applied mindful approaches to life, including in both my professional and personal life. Away from work, I have also found a systematic approach helpful in my home life, including in cooking. Though I have cooked Thai stir-fries for quite some time, I only recently found where I was going wrong, which was throwing all the ingredients in all together, which could often result in some of them, particularly those that cook quicker than others, being over-cooked or burnt. I found that the quality of my meals was so much better by adding different ingredients at different stages to give them the right amount of cooking, rather than some being overdone.

Another bit of news that I have is that I am now up to £500 with my fundraising for Daisy Chain with less than a month to go before the first part of my challenge, the Bupa Great North Run. As well as the meditation practice, I am also finding yoga practice helpful in finding my balance when running as sometimes your posture can slip to the extent that it can put a lot of strain on the calf muscles. Meanwhile, as demand for Daisy Chain's services continues to increase, if you wish to make a donation, please visit the following link:

Monday 13 August 2012

First Days at Works, Creativity and Meteors

In the media world, August is usually silly season for news and features, but at Autism Works, this summer has been different, as we have had a busy testing case load which has seen me experience different software testing processes as well as the excitement and, as I write this entry, the aftermath of London 2012 and the Perseid Meteor Shower.

Learning and partaking in testing of a testing project we currently have on the go has almost been like a first day at work! One is operating outside their comfort zone when learning new tasks. With this project being hugely different to the previous one that I worked (which was web-based), learning and getting used to the procedure for the software we are currently testing was like a first day at work. First days at work are often rough for most of us. Having experienced so many false starts in my employment, I feel as though I have had enough first days at work to become accustomed to expect the unexpected. What is for sure though in the software testing world is that each new testing contract is almost like starting a new job. Being tuned into the moment at the point of starting a new testing contact really does help in learning habits and routines picked up from the previous work in progress, and the supportive environment is certainly a bonus.

Testing Flow Diagrams in the Autism Works break-out room
Since my last entry, I watched an interesting video of a talk at the TestBash, a one day conference hosted by the Software Testing Club, about the theme of creativity in software testing, almost like painting a picture or taking a photograph to explain software testing in simple terms, as well as to find creative approaches towards finding defects. this relates to the autism awareness training aspect of my role at Autism Works where I have found visual methods for learning very helpful, including colour-coded flow diagrams, which our break-out room is now full of. When giving training on Asperger's Syndrome to new staff at ESPA, I was delighted when one of the new recruits said during the Q & A session that before the session she had so many questions to ask, but I managed to answer them all!

Like just about the whole of the UK, Olympic fever has found its way into the Autism Works office and we managed to catch the cycling, rowing and canoeing successes that Team GB have enjoyed during our coffee breaks. Team GB's performance at London 2012, in winning 29 gold medals, as well as finishing above Russia in the medal table, has been nothing short of inspirational. It is a far cry from Atlanta 1996 when there was only one British gold medal. National Lottery funding has obviously made a huge difference. The next challenge though is to maintain it.

On the theme of the Olympics, I got to have a hold of an Olympic Torch in an unusual situation for such an opportunity, during a dark sky observing session at Derwent Reservoir, where one of the other observers, Claire Pazcko, brought the torch she proudly carried through Sunderland during the torch relay, very kindly letting people  have a hold of it. Claire was nominated as a torch bearer for her dedication to the St Oswald's Hospice. I went up to Derwentside to observe the Perseid Meteor Shower. Though the sky was mainly cloudy, I was lucky enough to see two shooting stars without the aid of a telescope of binoculars after the clouds started to clear towards midnight.   

Back had Autism Works, the company has a celebration of its own with Software Test Analyst Dan Cottrell passing his ISEB Foundation Certificate, which is a huge step for the company as well as Dan himself. This fits in well with Autism Works' goals in working with employees to achieve an industry-recognised qualification. With my double challenge, I am now up to 13.5 miles with my running for the Great North Run which is now about a month away as I write this entry. I have also heard that double gold medal winner Mo Farah (who won gold on the Men's 5,000m and 10,000m) is starting the run this year, which should be a great inspiration for the 54,000 participants from all walks of life and for a huge variety of charities/causes. To continue to follow this, visit the following link:

Special thanks to Claire Pazcko for letting me have a hold of her Olympic Torch and also to the gamesmakers who have made a huge contribution to making London 2012 so successful, including Claire Wynarczyk, a friend of Autism Works from Ashington, Northumberland, whom you can listen to talking about her London 2012 gamesmaker experience on BBC Radio Newcastle's Aflie and Charlie Breakfast Show at the following link 

Congratulations also to Dan Cottrell on passing his ISEB Foundation Certificate - we are all extremely proud of you!