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Magical Testing

  • 14/10/2010
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR

Last year Michael Bolton was in India and I attended his course on Rapid Software Testing []. The two day course was very informative and I am confident that every participant learnt something new. During one of the sessions, Michael demonstrated few magic tricks. Later, he highlighted how we testers can learn from magicians. Magic is exciting – isn’t it? Right in front of your eyes, the magician makes some object disappear and at the same time he seems to bring an object out of nowhere.

Well, testers can learn a lot from many disciplines and MAGIC is one of them.

On a weekend while I was preparing myself to attend the European chapter of weekendtesting [], I saw a show titled: ‘Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed’ [] on television.

Wow, how can I miss that. I tweeted to @europetesters that I’ll not attend EWT and concentrated on the show.

I was literally glued to the television. The concept of the show was quite straight forward.

The magician would display the magic trick and later he would explain what was the secret behind the trick.

I got my ‘Testing Notebook’ ready to take notes during the show.

Every trick the magician performed, I could not find out what was the secret. My grandpa who has a habit of asking the right questions everytime was smiling at the magician’s skill.

Now, It was time for the magician to reveal the secret and I along with my grandpa watched closely. We were quite surprised at the amount of preparation behind the trick and the number of people involved. Most of the tricks which showed just the masked magician and one of the beautiful girls actually involved more than 3 or 4 people. They seemed to be hidden behind one or the other structure.

Some of the points I liked the most are:


There is an excellent video on youtube by name – ‘WhoDunnit’ []. It clearly says – Its easy to miss something that you are not looking for.

In each of the tricks, we were so engrossed in some of the magician’s actions that we failed to notice other important actions. Now, relate this to testing. How many times have we faced this? We are concentrating so much on our actions that we fail to notice the dancing bugs in the software. Talk about Inattentional Blindness.

Boundaries and Assumptions

Once the secret was revealed, the boundaries in our thinking and the assumptions were exposed. While most of us agree that questioning is a key skill in testing, how many of us stick with our initial assumptions and limit our thinking. Maybe this is the reason for origin of term ‘out of box thinking’.


The magician performs quite a few actions just to distract our attention and we fall for it. beware of traps in testing. If we are aware that we can be fooled, there is a greater chance that we might not be fooled. Focus on the mission on hand and try not to be distracted.

Complicated Illusion

Sometimes even the trained eyes do not discover the secret behind the trick. Similarly in testing, sometimes it is very difficult to trace a bug. It is ok, take it as a learning experience. Make mistakes but do not repeat the same mistake.

The One Action

Though the magician performed so many actions to make the act look so real and believable, there was one action which would make the act a superb act. The one act would be the key to his entire trick. Learn to identify that one particular action. Learn to isolate the one critical condition for a bug to appear. There is no point in listing out tens of steps which do not affect or cause the bug; it is THE ONE CRITICAL STEP. The more you identify the critical condition, higher your credibility.

So, I learnt quite a few pointers from the show ‘Magic’s Biggest Secrets Revealed’. What do you think about testing and magic? Do let me know.

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