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Discovering Context: Accidental Inventions – by Erik Petersen

  • 02/10/2010
  • one comment
  • Posted by EuroSTAR

This blog will focus on discovering context, a key aspect of all software testing.  Context is king, and essential to understand what you are testing, how it could be used, and how it could fail. It is also important to understand the dynamics of projects, organisations and even metrics. Even something as seemingly simple as time can have various contexts – the time of day (core hours, out of hours), time of week (business hours, weekend), time of season (peak, off-peak), time of year (weekly, fortnightly, monthly, etc.), or an unpredictable time.  Usage is another important context, a newbie, typical or veteran user could be using a system in a regular, irregular or extreme fashion. As we test more, we learn more about these patterns (at least our subconscious brains do) and our context discovering becomes more advanced.

Lets start out by looking at a most extreme example of discovering context.  Wilson Greatbatch was a scientist investigating a device to record heart rhythms, who accidentally used a massively overpowered resistor. Instead of recording, it pulsed with a slow regular rhythm. The invention became the pacemaker, replacing a giant fixed machine.  Harry Coover was a military research scientist, who tried using a new mystery compound in gun sights without success then later in aircraft cockpit canopies without success, because the substance quickly became a gooey mess.  It took a while before he also realised it bonded things together with an incredible strength. Of course, we now all know it as superglue!

At least with software and projects our contexts are more easily discoverable (but not always!). Can anyone think of other extreme examples of discovering context?

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One Response to Discovering Context: Accidental Inventions – by Erik Petersen

  1. Avatar Huib Schoots says:

    Context is super important, but how do you analyse context? Ruud Cox has a great way of doing this! He calls it product ecology. You find more info here:

    He also did a talk on this at PNSQC recently:

    And Ruud and I did a workshop at Copenhagen Context last September:

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