Banking Expectations

For weeks now I have been seeing ads for a local bank. These ads consist of a vast expanse of white space disturbed only by the phrase "(This space intentionally left blank)". These ads baffled me.

Yesterday, however, I realized that the last word in these advertisements was not "blank" - it was "bank"! Now I understand the ads to be touting the bank as liberal, with all of the goodness (or not) associated with being left-leaning. Seeing the word that was actually there rather than the word I expected to see made all the difference between confusion and comprehension.

This and the string of other expectation-busting experiences I have had lately got me to thinking about the importance of expectation-busting in testing. It can be easy for us to fall into a complacency of expectations with regards to our products and our teammates. We expect that we can continue our testing from where we left off yesterday because nothing important has been checked in. We expect Mary to continue handling localization correctly and Martha to not, James to continue testing his features thoroughly and Jim to not even bother to compile his. We build piles of these often-invisible expectations about our world, and we act upon those expectations. Many times this makes our lives simpler; other times it trips us up.

I find it vital to be aware of my expectations. While expectations help me filter my world and allow me to pay attention to only what is new and different, they can also help me ignore newness and differences that does not fit my expectations of what new and different will look like - that is, to miss defects which do not appear where I expect them to. Every great tester I know is aware of where their expectations might be blinding them and continually questions those expectations to determine whether they are still valid. They allow their expectations to guide them; they never allow their expectations to blind them.

Becoming aware of our expectations and how they are affecting us can be difficult. I find that asking myself "What haven't I thought about today?" helps me uncover expectations I did not realize I had formed, a vital first step towards releasing them.

What expectations do you have about your product, your team, yourself?  How do they help you or hurt you? Let me know: michael dot j dot hunter at microsoft dot com.