Category Archives: Blogging

“The Great Post Office Scandal” (Nick Wallis)

I’ve been following the story of the UK Post Office and its dubious prosecutions of sub-postmasters based on “evidence” of their wrongdoings from its IT system, Horizon, for some years.

My mother worked in the Post Office all of her working life and I also used to work there part-time during school and university holidays. There were no computer terminals on the counters back then; it was all very much paper trail accounting and I remember working on the big ledger when it came to balancing the weekly account every Wednesday afternoon (a process that often continued well into the evening).

Nick Wallis’s book covers the story in incredible detail, describing how the Post Office’s Horizon system (built by Fujitsu under an outsourcing arrangement) was badly managed by both the Post Office and Fujitsu (along with poor Government oversight) and resulted in thousands of innocent people having their lives turned upside down. It is both a moving account of the personal costs shouldered by so many individuals as well as being a reference piece for all of us in IT when it comes to governance, the importance of taking bugs seriously, and having the courage to speak up even if the implications of doing so might be personally difficult.

It’s amazing to think this story might never have been told – and justice never been served – were it not for a few heroes who stepped up, made their voices heard and fought to have the truth exposed. The author’s dedication to telling this story is commendable and he’s done an incredible job of documenting the many travesties that comprise the full awfulness of this sorry tale. This case is yet another example of the truth of Margaret Read’s quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

One of the more surprising aspects of the story for me was the fact that very complex IT systems like Horizon have been considered in UK law (since 1990) to be “mechanical instruments” and they’re assumed to be working correctly unless shown otherwise. This was a key factor in the data shown by Horizon being trusted over the word of sub-postmasters (many of whom had been in the loyal service of the Post Office in small communities for decades).

Jones wanted the Law Commission’s legal presumption (that ‘in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the courts will presume that mechanical instruments were in order at the material time’ [from 1990]) modified to reflect reality. He told the minister, ‘If people found it difficult to prove a computer was operating reliably in the early 1990s, we can only imagine how difficult it might be to do that today, with the likes of machine-learning algorithms coming to conclusions for reasons even the computer programmer doesn’t understand.’

Darren Jones, chair of the BEIS Select Committee, p. 456 of “The Great Post Office Scandal”

It’s now clear that the complex systems we all build and engage with today (and even back when Horizon was first rolled out) have emergent behaviours that we can’t be predicted. The Post Office’s continued denial that there were any bugs in Horizon (and Fujitsu’s lack of co-operation in providing the evidence to the contrary) seems utterly ridiculous – and it was this denial that allowed so many miscarriages of justice in prosecuting people based on the claimed infallibility of Horizon.

Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence!

Edsger W. Dijkstra

Reading this story really made me think about what the onus on testers is in terms of revealing important problems and advocating for them to be addressed. The tragic cases described in the book illustrate how important it is for testing to be focused on finding important problems in the software under test, not just proving that it passes some big suite of algorithmic checks. Fujitsu, under duress, eventually had to disclose sets of bug reports from the Horizon system and acknowledged that there were known bugs that could have resulted in the balance discrepancies that resulted in so many prosecutions for theft. There are of course much bigger questions to be answered as to why these bugs didn’t get fixed. As a tester raising an issue, there’s only so far you can go in advocating for that issue to be addressed and your ability to do that is highly context-dependent. In this case, even if the testers were doing a great job of finding and raising important problems and advocating for them to be fixed, the toxic swill of Fujitsu, Post Office and government in which everyone was swimming obviously made it very difficult for those problems to get the attention they deserved.

Coming back to my anchors that are the principles of context-driven testing, these seem particularly relevant:

  • People, working together, are the most important part of any project’s context.
  • Projects unfold over time in ways that are often not predictable.
  • Only through judgment and skill, exercised cooperatively throughout the entire project, are we able to do the right things at the right times to effectively test our products.

I think part of our job as testers is not only to test the software, but also to test the project and the processes that form the context around our development of the software. Pointing out problems in the project is no easy task, especially in some contexts. But, by bearing in mind cases like the Post Office scandal, maybe we can all find more courage to speak up and share our concerns – doing so could quite literally be the difference between life and death for someone negatively impacted by the system we’re working on.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the amazing work of James Christie in discussing many aspects of the Post Office scandal, bringing his unique experience in both auditing and software testing to dig deep into the issues at hand. I strongly encourage you to read his many blog posts on this story (noting that he has also written an excellent review of the book).

“The Great Post Office Scandal” is available direct from the publisher and the author maintains the Post Office Scandal website to share all the latest news of what is, incredibly, still an ongoing story.

2021 in review

As another year draws to a close, I’ll take the opportunity to review my 2021.

I published 14 blog posts during the year, just about meeting my personal target cadence of a post every month. I wrapped up my ten-part series answering common search engine questions about testing and covered several different topics during my blogging through the year. My blog attracted about 25% more views than in 2020, somewhat surprisingly, and I continue to be really grateful for the amplification of my blog posts via their regular inclusion in lists such as 5Blogs, Testing Curator’s Testing Bits and Software Testing Weekly.

December 2021 has been the biggest month for my blog by far this year with a similar number of views to my all-time high back in November 2020 – interestingly, I published a critique of an industry report in December and published similar critiques in November 2020, so clearly these types of posts are popular (even if they can be somewhat demoralizing to write)!

I closed out the year with about 1,200 followers on Twitter, again up around 10% over the year.

Conferences and meetups

2021 was my quietest year for perhaps fifteen years in terms of conferences and meetups, mainly due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

I was pleased to announce mid-2021 that I would be speaking at the in-person Testing Talks 2021 (The Reunion) conference in Melbourne in October. Sadly, the continuing harsh response to the pandemic in this part of the world made an in-person event too difficult to hold, but hopefully I can keep that commitment for its rescheduled date in 2022.

I didn’t participate in any virtual or remote events during the entire year.

Consulting

After launching my testing consultancy, Dr Lee Consulting, towards the end of 2020, I noted in last year’s review post that “I’m confident that my approach, skills and experience will find a home with the right organisations in the months and years ahead.” This confidence turned out to be well founded and I’ve enjoyed working with my first clients during 2021.

Consulting is a very different gig to full-time permanent employment but it’s been great so far, offering me the opportunity to work in different domains with different types of organizations while also allowing me the freedom to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle. I’m grateful to those who have put their faith (and dollars!) in me during 2021 as I begin my consulting journey and I’m looking forward to helping more organizations to improve their testing and quality practices during 2022.

Testing books

After publishing my first testing book in October 2020, in the shape of An Exploration of Testers, it’s been pleasing to see a steady stream of sales through 2021. I made my first donation of proceeds to the Association for Software Testing (AST) from sales of the book and another donation will follow early in 2022. I also formalized an arrangement with the AST so that all future proceeds will be donated to them and all new & existing members will receive a free copy of the book. (I’m open to additional contributions to this book, so please contact me if you’re interested in telling your story via the answers to the questions posed in the book!)

I started work on another book project in 2021, also through the AST. Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester provides responses to common questions and statements about testing from a context-driven perspective, with its content being crowdsourced from the membership of the AST and the broader testing community. There are responses to six questions in the book so far and I’m adding another response every month (or so). The book is available for free from the AST’s GitHub.

Podcasting

It was fun to kick off a new podcasting venture with two good mates from the local testing industry, Paul Seaman and Toby Thompson. We’ve produced three episodes of The 3 Amigos of Testing podcast so far and aim to get back on the podcasting horse early in 2022 to continue our discussions around automation started back in August. The process of planning content for the podcast, discussing and dry-running it, and finally recording is an interesting one and kudos to Paul for driving the project and doing the heavy lifting around editing and publishing each episode.

Volunteering for the UK Vegan Society

I’ve continued to volunteer with the UK’s Vegan Society and, while I’ve worked on proofreading tasks again through the year, I’ve also started contributing to their web research efforts over the last six months or so.

It was exciting to be part of one of the Society’s most significant outputs of 2021, viz. the Planting Value in the Food System report. This 40,000-word report was a mammoth research project and my work in proofing it was also a big job! The resulting report and the website are high quality and show the credibility of The Vegan Society in producing well-researched reference materials in the vegan space.

Joining the web research volunteer group immediately gave me the opportunity to learn, being tasked with leading the research efforts around green websites and accessibility testing.

I found the green website research particularly engaging, as it was not an area I’d even considered before and the carbon footprint of websites – and how it can easily be reduced – doesn’t seem to (yet) be on the radar of most companies. The lengthy recommendations resulting from my research in this area will inform changes to the Vegan Society website over time and this work has inspired me to look into offering advice in this area to companies who may have overlooked this potentially significant contributor to their carbon footprint.

I also spent considerable time investigating website accessibility and tooling to help with development & testing in this area. While accessibility testing is something I was tangentially aware of in my testing career, the opportunity to deep dive into it was great and, again, my recommendations will be implemented over time to improve the accessibility of the society’s own website.

I continue to enjoy working with The Vegan Society, increasing my contribution to and engagement with the vegan community worldwide. The passion and commitment of the many volunteers I interact with is invigorating. I see it as my form of vegan activism and a way to utilize my existing skills in research and the IT industry as well as gaining valuable new skills and knowledge along the way.

Status Quo projects

I was honoured to be asked to write a lengthy article for the Status Quo official fan club magazine, FTMO, following the sad passing of the band’s original bass player, Alan Lancaster in September. Alan spent much of his life here in Australia, migrating to Sydney in 1978 and he was very active in the music industry in this country following his departure from Quo in the mid-1980s. It was a labour of love putting together a 5000-word article and selecting interesting photos to accompany it from my large collection of Quo scrapbooks.

I spent time during 2021 on a new Quo project too, also based around my scrapbook collection. This project should go live in 2022 and has been an interesting learning exercise, not just in terms of website development but also photography. Returning to coding after a 20+ year hiatus has been a challenge but I’m reasonably happy with the simple website I’ve put together using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and a MySQL database. Gathering the equipment and skills to take great photos of scrapbook clippings has also been fun and it’s nice to get back into photography, a keen hobby of mine especially in my university days back in the UK.

In closing

As always, I’m grateful for the attention of my readers here and also followers on other platforms. I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy my posts and other contributions to the testing community to come through 2022!

A year has gone…

Almost unbelievably, it’s now been a year since I left my long stint at Quest Software. It’s been a very different year for me than any of the previous 25-or-so spent in full-time employment in the IT industry. The continuing impact of COVID-19 on day-to-day life in my part of the world has also made for an unusual 12 months in many ways.

While I haven’t missed working at Quest as much as I expected, I’ve missed the people I had the chance to work with for so long in Melbourne and I’ve also missed my opportunities to spend time with the teams in China that I’d built up such a strong relationship with over the last few years (and who, sadly, have all since departed Quest as well as their operations there were closed down this year).

I’ve deliberately stayed fairly engaged with the testing community during this time, including giving a talk at at meetup, publishing my first testing book, launching my own testing consultancy business, and blogging regularly (including a ten-part blog series answering the most common search engine questions around testing).

Starting to work with my first clients in a consulting capacity is an interesting experience with a lot of learning opportunities. I plan to blog on some of my lessons learned from these early engagements later in the year.

Another fun and testing-related project kicked off in May, working with my good friends from the industry, Paul Seaman and Toby Thompson, to start The 3 Amigos of Testing podcast. We’ve always caught up regularly to chat about testing and life in general over a cold one or two, and this new podcast has given us plenty of opportunities to talk testing again, albeit virtually. A new episode of this podcast should drop very soon after this blog post.

On more personal notes, I’ve certainly been finding more time for myself since ending full-time employment. There are some non-negotiables, such as daily one-hour (or more) walks and meditation practice, and I’ve also been prioritizing bike riding and yoga practice. I’ve been reading a lot too – more than a book a week – on a wide variety of different topics. These valuable times away from technology are foundational in helping me to live with much more ease than in the past.

I’ve continued to do volunteer work with The Vegan Society (UK). I started off performing proofreading tasks and have also now joined their web volunteers’ team where I’ve been leading research projects on how to reduce the carbon footprint of the Society’s website and also to improve its accessibility. These web research projects have given me the welcome opportunity to learn about areas that I was not very familiar with before, the “green website” work being particularly interesting and it has inspired me to pursue other opportunities in this area (watch this space!). A massive proofreading task led to the recent publication of the awesome Planting Value in the Food System reports, with some deep research and great ideas for transitioning UK farming away from animal-based agriculture.

Looking to the rest of 2021, the only firm commitment I have in the testing space – outside of consulting work – is an in-person conference talk at Testing Talks 2021 in Melbourne. I’ll be continuing with my considerable volunteering commitment with the Vegan Society and I have a big Status Quo project in the works too! With little to no prospect of long-distance travel in Australia or overseas in this timeframe, we will enjoy short breaks locally between lockdowns and also press on with various renovation projects on our little beach house.

(Given the title of this blog, I can’t waste this opportunity to include a link to one of my favourite Status Quo songs, “A Year” – this powerful ballad morphs into a heavier piece towards the end, providing some light amongst the heaviness of its parent album, “Piledriver”. Enjoy!)

Lessons learned from writing a ten-part blog series

After leaving Quest back in August 2020, I spent some time working on ideas for a new venture. During this time, I learned some useful lessons from courses by Pat Flynn and got some excellent ideas from Teachable‘s Share What You Know Summit. When I launched my new software testing consultancy, Dr Lee Consulting, I decided to try out one of the ideas I’d heard for generating content around my new brand and so started a blog series, inspired most notably by Terry Rice.

After committing to a ten-part series of posts, I decided to announce my intention publicly (on Twitter and LinkedIn) to keep myself honest, but chose not to commit to a cadence for publishing the parts. I felt that publishing a new blog post once a week was about right and made an internal note to aim for this cadence. Some posts took longer to write than others and the review cycle was more involved for some posts. The series also spread over the Christmas/New Year period, but the entire series took me just on three months to complete so my cadence ended up being close to what I initially thought it would be.

My blogging over the last several years has usually been inspired by something I’ve read or observed or an event I’ve attended such a conference or meetup. These somewhat more spontaneous and sporadic content ideas mean that my posts have been inconsistent in both topic and cadence, not that I see any of this as being an issue.

Committing to a series of posts for which the subject matter was determined for me (in this case by search engine data) meant that I didn’t need to be creative in coming up with ideas for posts, but instead could focus on trying to add something new to the conversation in terms of answering these common questions. I found it difficult to add much nuance in answering some of the questions, but others afforded more lengthy and perhaps controversial responses. Hopefully the series in its entirety is of some value anyway.

My thanks again to Paul Seaman and Ky for reviewing every part of this blog series, as well as to all those who’ve amplified the posts in this series via their blogs, newsletters, lists and social media posts.

The ten parts of my first blog series can be accessed using the links below:

  1. Why is software testing important?,
  2. How does software testing impact software quality?
  3. When should software testing activities start?
  4. How is software testing done?
  5. Can you automate software testing?
  6. Is software testing easy?
  7. Is software testing a good career?
  8. Can I learn software testing on my own?
  9. Which software testing certification is the best?
  10. What will software testing look like in 2021?

(Feel free to send me ideas for any topics you’d like to see covered in a multi-part blog series in the future.)

2020 in review

It’s time to wrap up my blogging for the year again, after a quite remarkable 2020!

I published 22 blog posts during the year, a significant increase in output compared to the last few years (largely enabled by the change in my employment situation, but more on that later). My blog attracted about 50% more views than in 2019 and I’m very grateful for the amplification of my blog posts via their regular inclusion in lists such as 5Blogs, Testing Curator’s Testing Bits and Software Testing Weekly. November 2020 saw my blog receiving twice as many views as any other month since I started blogging back in 2014, mainly due to the popularity of my critique of two industry reports during that month.

I closed out the year with about 1,100 followers on Twitter, up around 10% over the year – this surprises me given the larger number of tweets around veganism I’ve posted during the year, often a cause of unfollowing!

COVID-19

It wouldn’t be a 2020 review blog without some mention of COVID-19, but I’m not going to dwell too much on it here. I count myself lucky in so many ways to have escaped significant impact from the pandemic. Living in regional Australia meant restrictions were never really too onerous (at least compared to metropolitan Melbourne), while I could continue working from home (until my COVID-unrelated retrenchment).

The only major inconvenience caused by the pandemic was somewhat self-inflicted when we made the unwise decision to travel to the UK in mid-March, arriving there just as restrictions kicked in. It was a stressful and expensive time finding a way back to Australia, but I’m very glad we escaped when we did to ride out the pandemic for the rest of the year at home in Australia. (I blogged about these interesting international travels here and here.)

The end of an era

My 21-year stint at Quest Software came to an end in August. It was an amazing journey with the company, the only job I’ve had since moving to Australia back in 1999! I consider myself lucky to have had such a great environment in which to learn and develop my passion for testing. Of course, the closing out of this chapter of my professional life took a while to adjust to but I’ve spent the time since then focusing on decompressing, helping ex-colleagues in their search for new opportunities, looking to new ventures (see below) and staying connected with the testing community – while also enjoying the freedoms that come with not working full-time in a high pressure corporate role.

Conferences and meetups

I started the year with plans to only attend one conference – in the shape of CAST in Austin – but 2020 had other ideas of course! While in-person conferences and meetups all disappeared from our radars, it was great to see the innovation and creativity that flowed from adversity – with existing conferences finding ways to provide virtual offerings, meetups going online and new conferences springing up to make the most of the benefits of virtual events.

Virtual events have certainly opened up opportunities for attendance and presenting to new people in our community. With virtual conferences generally being very affordable compared to in-person events (with lower registration costs and no travel & accommodation expenses), it’s been good to see different names on attendee lists and seeing the excitement and passion expressed by first-time conference attendees after these events. Similarly, there have been a lot of new faces on conference programmes with the opportunity to present now being open to many more people, due to the removal of barriers such as travelling and in-person public speaking. It feels like this new model has increased diversity in both attendees and presenters, so this is at least one positive out of the pandemic. I wonder what the conference landscape will look like in the future as a result of what organisers have learned during 2020. While there’s no doubt in my mind that we lose a lot of the benefits of a conference by not being physically present in the same place, there are also clear benefits and I can imagine a hybrid conference world emerging – I’m excited to see what develops in this area.

I only attended one meetup during the year, the DDD Melbourne By Night event in September during which I also presented a short talk, Testing Is Not Dead, to a largely developer audience. It was fun to present to a non-testing audience and my talk seemed to go down well. (I’m always open to sharing my thoughts around testing at meetups, so please let me know if you’re looking for a talk for your meetup.)

In terms of conferences, I participated in three events during the year. First up, I attended the new Tribal Qonf organised by The Test Tribe and this was my first experience of attending a virtual conference. The registration was ridiculously cheap for the great range of quality presenters on offer over the two-day conference and I enjoyed catching up on the talks via recordings (since the “live” timing didn’t really work for Australia).

In November, I presented a two-minute talk for the “Community Strikes The Soapbox” part of EuroSTAR 2020 Online. I was in my element talking about “Challenging The Status Quo” and you can see my presentation here.

Later in November, I was one of the speakers invited to participate in the inaugural TestFlix conference, again organised by The Test Tribe. This was a big event with over one hundred speakers, all giving talks of around eight minutes in length, with free registration. My talk was Testing Is (Still) Not Dead and I also watched a large number of the other presentations thanks to recordings posted after the live “binge” event.

The start of a new era

Starting a testing consultancy business

Following my unexpected departure from Quest, I decided that twenty five years of full-time corporate employment was enough for me and so, on 21st October, I launched my testing consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. I’m looking forward to helping different organisations to improve their testing and quality practices, with a solid foundation of context-driven testing principles. While paid engagements are proving elusive so far, I’m confident that my approach, skills and experience will find a home with the right organisations in the months and years ahead.

Publishing a testing book

As I hinted in my 2019 review post at this time last year, a project I’ve been working on for a while, both in terms of concept and content, finally came to fruition in 2020. I published my first testing book, An Exploration of Testers, on 7th October. The book contains contributions from different testers and a second edition is in the works as more contributions come in. All proceeds from sales of the book will go back into the testing community and I plan to announce how the first tranche of proceeds will be used early in 2021.

Volunteering for the UK Vegan Society

When I saw a call for new volunteers to help out the UK’s Vegan Society, I took the opportunity to offer some of my time and, despite the obvious timezone challenges, I’m now assisting the organisation (as one of their first overseas volunteers) with proofreading of internal and external communications. This is a different role in a different environment and I’m really enjoying working with them as a way to be more active in the vegan community.

Thanks to my readers here and also followers on other platforms, I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy my posts to come through 2021.

I’ll be continuing my ten-part blog series answering common questions around software testing (the first four parts of which are already live) but, please remember, I’m more than happy to take content suggestions so let me know if there are any topics you particularly want me to express opinions on.

Common search engine questions about testing #3: “When should software testing activities start?”

This is the third of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I answer the question “When should software testing activities start?” (and the related question, “When to do software testing?”).

It feels very timely to be answering this question as there is so much noise in the industry at the moment around not only “shifting” testing to the left but also to the right. “Shifting left” is the idea that testing activities should be moved more towards the start of (and then throughout) the development cycle, while shifting right is more about testing “in production” (i.e. testing the software after it’s been deployed and is in use by customers). It seems to me that there is a gap now forming in the middle where much of our testing used to be performed (and, actually, probably still is), viz. testing of a built system by humans before it is deployed.

Let’s start by looking at what we mean by “testing activities” and who might perform these activities.

For teams with dedicated testers, the testers can participate in design meetings and ask questions about how customers really work. They can also review user stories (and other claims of how the software is intended to work) to look for inconsistencies and other issues. Testers might also work with developers to help them generate test ideas for unit and API tests. Testers with coding skills might work with API developers to write stubs or API tests during development. Testers might pair with developers to test some new functionality locally before it even makes it into a more formal build. For teams without dedicated testers, the developers will be covering these – and other – testing activities themselves, perhaps with assistance from a roaming testing/quality coach if the organization is following that kind of model. All of the above activities are performed before a built system is ready for testing in its entirety, so are probably what many would now refer to as “shift left” testing in practice.

The shifting left of testing activities seems to have been heavily influenced by the agile movement. Practitioners such as Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin have written books on “Agile Testing” which cover many of these same themes, without referring to them as “shift left”. The idea that the critical thinking skills of testers can be leveraged from the earliest stages of developing a piece of software seems sound enough to me. The term “agile tester”, though, seems odd – I prefer to think of testing as testing, with “agile” being part of the context here (and this context enables some of these shift-left activities to occur whereas a different development approach might make these activities difficult or impossible).

In more “traditional” approaches to software development (and also in dysfunctional agile teams), testing activities tend to be pushed towards the end of the cycle (or sprint/iteration) when there is a built “test ready” version of the software available for testing. Testing at this point is highly valuable in my opinion and is still required even if all of the “shift left” testing activities are being performed. If testing activities only start at this late stage, though, there is a lot of opportunity for problems to accumulate that could have been detected earlier and resolving these issues so late in the cycle may be much more difficult (e.g. significant architectural changes may not be feasible). To help mitigate risk and learn by evaluating the developing product, testers should look for ways to test incremental integration even in such environments.

The notion that “testing in production” is an acceptable – and potentially useful – thing is really quite new in our industry. Suggesting that we tested in production when I first started in the testing industry was akin to a bad joke, Microsoft’s release of Windows Vista again comes to mind. Of course, a lot has changed since then in terms of the technologies we use and the deployment methods available to us so we shouldn’t be surprised that testing of the deployed software is now a more reasonable thing to do. We can learn a lot from genuine production use that we could never hope to simulate in pre-production environments and automated monitoring and rollback systems present us with scope to “un-deploy” a bad version much more easily than recalling millions of 3.5-inch floppies! This “shift right” approach can add valuable additional testing information but, again, this is in itself not a replacement for other testing we might perform at other times during the development cycle.

In considering when testing activities should start then, it’s useful to broaden your thinking about what a “testing activity” is away from just system testing of the entire solution and also to be clear about your testing mission. Testing activities should start as early as makes sense in your context (e.g. you’ll probably start testing at different times in an agile team than when working on a waterfall project). Different types of testing activities can occur at different times and remember that critical thinking applied to user stories, designs, etc. is all testing. Use information from production deployments to learn about real customer usage and feed this information back into your ongoing testing activities pre-deployment.

And, by way of final word, I encourage you to advocate for opportunities to test your software before deployment using humans (i.e. not just relying on a set of “green” results from your automated checks), whether your team is shifting left, shifting right or not dancing at all.

You can find the first two parts of this blog series at:

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks again to my review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.

Common search engine questions about testing #2: How does software testing impact software quality?

This is the second of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

In this post, I address the question “How does software testing impact software quality?” (and the related question, “How is software testing related to software quality?”).

It’s worth taking a moment to clarify what I mean by “quality”, via this definition from Jerry Weinberg and Cem Kaner:

Quality is value to some person (that matters)

I like this definition because it puts a person at the centre of the concept and acknowledges the subjectivity of quality. What is considered to be a bug by one customer may well be viewed as a feature by another! This inherent subjectivity means that quality is more amenable to assessment than measurement, as has been well discussed in a blog post from James Bach, Assess Quality, Don’t Measure It.

So, what then of the relationship between testing and quality?

If we think of testing as an information service provider, then the impact of testing on the quality of the end product is heavily dependent on both the quality of that information and also on the actions & decisions taken on that information. If testing provides information that is difficult to interpret or fails to communicate in a way that is meaningful to its consumers, then it is less likely to be taken seriously and acted upon. If stakeholders choose to do nothing with the information arising from testing (even if it is in fact highly valuable), then that testing effort has no demonstrable impact on quality. Clearly then, the pervasive idea in our industry that testing improves quality isn’t necessarily true – but it’s certainly the case that good testing can have an influence on quality.

It may even be the case that performing more testing reduces the quality of your delivered software. If the focus of testing is on finding bugs – over identifying threats to the software’s value – then performing more testing will probably result in finding more bugs, but they might not represent the important problems in the product. The larger number of bugs found by testing then results in more change in the software and potentially increases risk, rather than reducing it (and the currently popular idea of “defect-free/zero defect” software seems to leave itself wide open to this counterintuitive problem).

Testers were once seen as gatekeepers of quality, but this notion thankfully seems to be almost resigned to the history books. Everyone on a development team has responsibility for quality in some way and testers should be well placed to help other people in the team to improve their own testing, skill up in risk analysis, etc. In this sense, we’re acting more as quality assistants and I note that some organisations explicitly have the role of “Quality Assistant” now (and it makes sense to say “I am a QA” in this sense whereas it never did when “QA” was synonymous with “Quality Assurance”).

I like this quote from James Bach in his blog post, Why I Am A Tester:

…my intent as a tester is not to improve quality. That’s a hopeful side effect of my process, but I call that a side effect because it is completely beyond our control. Testers do not create, assure, ensure, or insure quality. We do not in any deep sense prove that a product “works.” The direct intent of testing – what occupies our minds and lies at least somewhat within our power – is to discover the truth about the product. The best testers I know are in love with dispelling illusions for the benefit of our clients.

Testing is a way to identify threats to the value of the software for our customer – and, given our definition of quality, the relationship between testing and quality therefore seems very clear. The tricky part is how to perform testing in a way which keeps the value of the software for our customer at the forefront of our efforts while we look for these threats. We’ll look at this again in answering later questions in this blog series.

I highly recommend also reading Michael Bolton’s blog post, Testers: Get Out of the Quality Assurance Business, for its treatment of where testing – and testers – fit into building good quality software.

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

The first part of this blog series answered the question, “Why is software testing important?“.

Thanks to my review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.

Common search engine questions about testing #1: Why is software testing important?

This is the first of a ten-part blog series in which I will answer some of the most common questions asked about software testing, according to search engine autocomplete results (thanks to Answer The Public).

The first cab off the rank is “Why is software testing important?” (with related questions being “why is software testing necessary?”, “why is software testing needed?”, “why is software testing important in software engineering?” and “why is software testing important in SDLC?”).

Let’s begin by looking at this from a different angle, how would teams/organisations behave if software testing wasn’t important to them? They’d probably try to cut the cost of it or find ways to justify not doing it all (especially with expensive humans). They might devalue the people doing such work by compensating them differently to other team members or look upon their work as a commodity that they can have performed by lowest common denominator staff (perhaps in a cheaper location). They would capitalize on their confirmation bias by appealing to the authority of the many articles and presentations claiming that “testing is dead”. They would ensure that testing is seen as a separate function from the rest of development to enable their desire to remove it completely. They would view testing as a necessary evil.

Listening to the way some organisations and some parts of the software development community talk about testing, it’s common to see these indications that software testing just isn’t important to them. In trying to understand why this is so, I’ve come to believe that this largely stems from the software testing industry traditionally doing a poor job of articulating its value and not being clear on what it is that good testing actually provides. We’ve spent a long time working off the assumption that it’s obvious to people paying the bills that testing is important and necessary.

To be clear, my preferred definition of testing comes from Michael Bolton and James Bach, viz.

Testing is the process of evaluating a product by learning about it through experiencing, exploring, and experimenting, which includes to some degree: questioning, study, modelling, observation, inference, etc.

I like this definition because it highlights all of the aspects of why testing is important to me, with its focus on interacting with the product, engaging in learning and exploration, and running experiments to help find out if the thing in front of me as a tester is the thing we wanted. It seems to me that this type of evaluation is important and would likely also be viewed as important by the business. However, if we sell the importance of testing based on providing turgid test reports of passed and failed test cases, it’s not too surprising that stakeholders view testing as being more of a costly nuisance than a valued and trusted advisor. Too often, I’ve seen the outputs of testing being focused on describing the testing approach, techniques, test cases run and bugs logged – in other words, we too often provide information about what we did and fail to tell a story about what we discovered during the process.

The reality is that most stakeholders (and certainly customers) don’t care about what you did as a tester, but they probably care about what you learned while doing it that can be valuable in terms of deciding whether we want to proceed with giving the product to customers. Learning to present testing outcomes in a language that helps consumers of the information to make good decisions is a real skill and one that is lacking in our industry. Talking about risk (be that product, project, business or societal) based on what we’ve learned during testing, for example, might be exactly what a business stakeholder is looking for in terms of value from that testing effort. In deliberately looking for problems that threaten the value of the product, there is more chance of finding them before they can impact our customers.

Another spanner in these works is the confusion caused by the common use of the term “automated testing”. It should be clear from the definition I presented above that testing is a deeply human activity, requiring key human skills such as the ability to subjectively experience using the product, make judgements about it and perform experiments against it. While the topic of “automated testing” will be covered in more depth in answering a later question in this blog series, I also wanted to briefly mention automation here to be clear when answering why software testing is important. In this context, I’m going to include the help and leverage we can gain by automation under the umbrella term of “software testing”, while reminding you that the testing itself cannot be automated since it requires distinctly human traits in its performance.

Let’s wrap up this post with a couple of reasons why I think software testing is important.

Software testing is important because:

  • We want to find out if there are problems that might threaten the value of the product, so that they can be fixed before the product reaches the customer.
  • We have a desire to know if the product we’ve built is the product we (and, by extension, our customers) wanted to build.
    • The machines alone can’t provide us with this kind of knowledge.
    • We can’t rely solely on the builders of the product either as they lack the critical distance from what they’ve built to find deep and subtle problems with it.

I’m providing the content in this blog series as part of the “not just for profit” approach of my consultancy business, Dr Lee Consulting. If the way I’m writing about testing resonates with you and you’re looking for help with the testing & quality practices in your organisation, please get in touch and we can discuss whether I’m the right fit for you.

Thanks to my review team (Paul Seaman and Ky) for their helpful feedback on this post.

Going meta: a blog post about writing a blog post

My recent experiences of authoring blog posts in WordPress have been less enjoyable than usual thanks to the use of their latest “block editor”, leading me to ask on Twitter:

WordPress seems to update their post editor very frequently so I just about learn the quirks of one when it is superseded by another.

This post will serve as my (long) answer to WordPress’s reply. I’m going to spend the next 45 minutes running an exploratory testing session, creating a blog post and noting issues as I come across them while using the block editor.

Session from Tuesday 21st July 2020 , on Windows 10 laptop (using keyboard and mouse controls only) using Chrome browser

4:10pm I’m starting my session by writing a very basic block of unformatted text. I note that when I move my mouse, a small toolbar appears which covers the end of the previous block (this could be an issue when in the flow of writing). The toolbar disappears as soon as I type and reappears on every mouse movement. The content of the toolbar seems very limited, maybe to just the most used formatting features (most used by the whole WordPress community or most used by me)? At least each icon in the toolbar has a tooltip. There’s a very odd control that only appears when hovering over the leftmost icon (to change block type or style) which appears to facilitate moving the whole block up or down in the post. I wonder why the toolbar is so narrow, snce there is plenty of room to add more icons to allow easier discovery of available options here. I’ve been distracted by the toolbar but now resume my mission to complete a basic paragraph of text.

OK, so hitting Enter gives me a new paragraph block, that makes sense. Let’s get more creative now, how about changing the colour of some text? The toolbar doesn’t appear to have a colour picker, oh, it’s tucked away under “More rich text controls”. I’ve typed some text, highlighted it and then selected a custom colour. That worked OK once I found the colour picker. The colour picker control seems to stay in the toolbar after using it – or does it? I’ll try it again but lo, it’s back under the hidden controls again. There’s probably a deliberate choice of behaviour here, but I’ll choose not to investigate it right now.

I’m trying to select some text across blocks using Shift+Arrow keys but that doesn’t work as I’d expect, being inconsistent with other text selection using this keyboard combination in other text processing applications. (Ctrl+Shift_Arrow keys suffers the same fate.) Shift+Page Up/Down only select within the current block, again not what I’d expect.

4:30pm After adding this new block (just by pressing Enter from the previous one), I’m intrigued by the array of block types to choose from when pressing the “+” button which appears in seemingly different spots below here (and I just spotted another “+” icon on the very top toolbar of the page and it looks like it does the same thing). There are many block types, so many that a search feature is provided (a testing rabbit hole I’ll choose not to go down at the moment). Some of the block types have names which indicate they require payment to use and the available block types are categorized (e.g. Text, Media, etc.) I decide to try a few of the different block types.

Adding a “quote” block now, which offers two areas, one for the quote and one for the citation. It appears that the citation cannot be removed and so more space is left below the quote text than I’d like (but maybe it doesn’t render the empty space when published?).

A test quote without citation

Moving on to adding a list and this works as I’d expected, offering a choice between bulleted and numbered with indentation (maybe there’s a limit on nesting here, but not investigated).

  • First item of my list
  • Next item of my list
    • Indented!

Even though I’ve been using this editor for my last few blog posts, I still tend to forget that auto-save is no longer a thing and I just happened to notice the “Save Draft” in the top right corner of the page, so let’s save.

In reality, my blog posts are mainly paragraphs of text with an occasional quote and image so exploring more block types doesn’t seem worth the effort. But looking at images feels like a path worth following.

Copying an image on the clipboard seems to work OK, though immediately puts cursor focus into the caption so I started typing my next bunch of paragraph text incorrectly as the image caption.

Options in the toolbar for the image make sense and I tried adding an image from a file with similar results (deleted from the post before publishing). Adding images into a post is straightforward and it’s good to see copying in directly from the clipboard working well as there have been issues with doing so in previous incarnations of the editor.

4:45pm Returning to simply writing text, I often add hyperlinks from my posts so let’s try that next. Ctrl+K is my usual “go to” for hyperlinks (from good ol’ Word) and it pops up a small edit window to add the URL and Enter adds it in: http://www.google.com Selecting some text and using the same shortcut does the same thing, allowing the text and the URL to be different. The hyperlinking experience is fine (and I note after adding the two hyperlinks here that there’s a “Link” icon in the toolbar also).

I remember to save my draft. As I resume typing, the toolbar catches my eye again and I check out “More options” under the ellipsis icon. I notice there are two very similar options, “Copy” and “Duplicate”, so I’ll try those. Selecting “Copy” changes the option to “Copied!” and pasting into Notepad shows the text of this block with some markup. I note that “Copied!” has now changed back to “Copy”. Selecting “Duplicate” immediately copies the content of this block right underneath (deleted for brevity), I’m not sure what the use case would be for doing that over and above the existing standard copy functionality. OK, I’ve just realised that I’ve been distracted by the toolbar yet again.

I just added this block via a “hidden” control, I’m not sure why products persist with undiscoverable features like this. Hovering just below an existing block halfway across the block reveals the “+” icon to add a block (though it often seems to get ‘blocked’ by, you’ve guessed it, that toolbar again).

My time is just about up. As I review my short session to create this blog post, I think it’s the appearing/disappearing toolbar that frustrates me the most during authoring of posts. I almost never use it (e.g. I always use keyboard shortcuts to bold and italicize text, and add hyperlinks) and, when I do, the option I’m after is usually tucked away.

Thanks to WordPress for responding to my tweet (and providing what is still generally a great free platforms for blogging!) and for giving me a good excuse to test, learn and document a session!

ER of international travel during the coronavirus pandemic (part 2)

This is the second part of my travelogue/ER about travelling between the UK and Australia during the coronavirus pandemic (the first part can be found here). I’m writing this post on day 5 of our enforced 14-day home quarantine period following our return to Australia.

This second week began on Monday 23rd March and you might recall that we were now based in Aberystwyth on the West coast of Wales. The day started with news from Cathay Pacific about our new return flight option, that being a departure from London on 18th April and only getting us back as far as Sydney as their routes to Melbourne were stopping completely. We suddenly felt like mid-April was a long way away given how fast things had changed in just the previous seven days, so we decided to look for alternatives to get us home earlier. (As it turned out, Hong Kong would soon announce the banning of transit passengers through its airport so these new return flights with Cathay would never happen anyway.)

Looking for flights back to Australia, we spotted some Emirates options via Dubai and booked new flights departing London on 1st April, costing almost AU$3000 for the two of us. This process wasn’t straightforward as these newly-announced flights were selling so fast that the website didn’t respond well to the load and we missed out on flights for several other earlier dates as the transactions failed part-way through. At least 1st April didn’t feel so far away and we felt comfortable waiting it out for a week-or-so in Aber before we could return home. With the flights booked, I refocused on my Quest work for a while before we made the most of the lovely sunny day with a walk along the Prom and South Beach. We bumped into my Mathematics PhD supervisor from all those years ago, Alun Morris, and his wife Mary while walking and it was great to see them. They stopped for a chat (at a distance, of course!) and it was our first interaction with someone we knew since we’d left Australia. Alun looked in great health (it’s that Aber sea air!) and seeing him again was a fillip to our morale. Lunch back at the apartment gave way to more work in the afternoon.

Work was soon interrupted, however, by an announcement from Emirates that they were suspending operations from 25th March (and, as it turned out shortly afterwards, Dubai would be prohibiting transit passengers), rendering our newly booked flights useless.

We were really disappointed and again looked for alternatives, this time coming across flights with Etihad from Manchester via Abu Dhabi to Melbourne leaving the next day. We booked these flights, accruing another AU$5000+ on our credit card, and started to make our plans for leaving Aber (including informing our host that we would now be leaving earlier than expected).

Now thoroughly distracted, we headed out into the late afternoon sunshine and took what we thought would be a last chance to climb Constitution Hill. The stunning views over this pretty town and coastline never fail to impress and we soaked them in, before again watching the starlings doing their thing at sunset over the Pier. Back at the apartment, we cooked up a big meal to use up at least some of the nice organic veggies we’d bought at the Farmers Market. It was shortly after devouring this feed that the news came through that Abu Dhabi (as part of the United Arab Emirates) was also banning transit passengers with almost immediate effect, so our latest flight booking was again rendered useless. Our host came up to see us about our early departure and, luckily for us, she was very understanding about the fact that we would yet again have to change our plans and stay on. We were thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day after all the ups and downs.

View over Aber from Constitution Hill

We woke early on Tuesday morning to read the news that Australia was enforcing a complete travel ban, even on its own citizens (this was an escalation of the previous restrictions on entry) so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were in for the long haul with our stay in Aber. We considered ourselves fortunate to be in stable accommodation in a familiar place and my ability to continue working meant we were under no financial pressure. Many other stranded Aussies were in far worse situations across the world.

As resignation set in, we tried to reset mentally and I buried myself into work again. It was another sunny and very mild day so we enjoyed a nice walk back out to Tan-y-Bwlch beach (which was completely deserted) before returning for lunch in our apartment. Back into work in the afternoon, a strange Twitter DM arrived from Qantas re: a new flight option to replace our previous Emirates booking. This new flight would be via South Africa, leaving on 27th March. This was very confusing in light of the news we’d heard around border closure in Australia, so we called the Australian High Commission in London in the hope of gaining some clarity. It turned out that the new restrictions were only on Australian citizens leaving Australia and that citizens could still enter if they could find a flight to do so. The poor communication by Scott Morrison (Prime Minister) on this was unhelpful, but we were at least comforted that we could return to Australia if only we could find a way. We took up the option of the new Qantas flight through South Africa and were pleased that they waived the ~AU$3000 change cost on these new flights thanks to my Frequent Flyer status. We reset our plans and expectations yet again around a departure from the UK at the weekend.

A nice walk along the Prom and South beach late in the afternoon and a tasty dinner made up of food from the Parsnipship and Anuna bakery rounded out our day. We called it a night believing our luck had changed and we’d be right to get home fairly soon thanks to these new Qantas flights.

It was a frosty, clear and sunny start to Wednesday and forecast to head right up to 18C, beautiful! An early start secured a good few hours of work in the morning before we headed out for a walk, this time to try and find a modernist-style house we’d noticed from almost every vantage point over Aber. It turned out to be towards the top of Cae Melyn and it was great to see this unusual piece of architecture up close, we could only imagine what the 270-degree views out across Aber must look like from inside the place. A stroll through the lush greenery of Penglais Nature Park was great for our spirits and we walked back to the apartment along the Prom in time for lunch. Returning to work in the afternoon, we soon spotted news that South Africa was heading into lockdown from 26th March – of course! We failed to find any information on the impact of this on transit passengers so sought assistance from the Australian High Commission in South Africa. They were also unsure and suggested we ask our airline. We contacted Qantas and, you’ve guessed it, they suggested we seek government advice. By now we were exasperated and had no confidence that this set of flights would happen either. Desperation was certainly setting in as we searched again for any remaining options for flights from any UK airport to any Australian airport.

The only flights we could find now were with Qatar Airways via Doha. We’d seen their flights before but dismissed them based on long layovers in Doha, scared that regulations might change during the layover and leave us stranded somewhere we really didn’t want to be. We were encouraged, though, by the fact that some Australian relatives had successfully made the trip back with Qatar just the day before so we decided we’d book flights with them, from Birmingham (as the closest and easiest airport to return to from Aber) to Melbourne via Doha. Demand, of course, was really heavy for their flights as they were basically the last option flying into Australia so the flight prices were very high at around AU$5000 each. This presented us with our next problem. We’d been transferring cash over to our credit card as fast as we could, but the timezone difference to Australia meant that this basically took a day each time. We didn’t have enough credit left on our main card for both flights, but could cover one. A call to our bank asking for an emergency credit limit increase fell on deaf ears as it was during the night in Australia with no-one available to authorize such a request. I did have one more credit card in my wallet, unused for years and with enough of a credit limit (from memory) to also cover one ticket, but would this go through? We tried booking one ticket with this card… and it went through successfully! We could then book the other on our usual card. By now, we’d spent close to AU$20,000 on flights in a few days (and no refunds in sight, as Qantas/Emirates and Etihad all want to issue credit notes and not cash refunds), so this really was our last gasp attempt. (The eventual cancellation of our Qantas flights via South Africa was not communicated to us until after we left the UK, by the way.)

With our new flights in place, we needed some fresh air and we headed to the Treehouse to grab some supplies to sustain us on the very long trip home. They were doing a great job of continuing to service the community via their “shout your orders through the door” approach! We came away well armed with enough snacks to keep us going. A final (maybe?!) walk along South beach and the Prom on this lovely clear Spring afternoon was delightful, Aber looked resplendent in the sunshine. Dinner back in the apartment was an exercise in using up what supplies we already had open in order to save waste (we’d already decided to leave most of our haul of vegan organic goodies with the host, as a small token of our appreciation for her help and flexibility). She popped up later in the evening and we said our farewells (maybe?!).

View of the Old College, Prom and Constitution Hill

We had to make an early start on Thursday to pack, tidy the apartment and make the trip to Birmingham. It was with some trepidation that we first checked SMS and email, as well as the latest news updates, to see if Qatar had decided to end transit overnight, but all seemed well.

It was sunny and frosty as we headed out onto the deserted streets of Aber at 7.30am and loaded up our hire car. The drive over Pumlumon Fawr was just stunning with frost-covered paddocks, an abundance of newborn lambs and clear blue skies. The familiar drive back to the Midlands was effortless with so little traffic on the road so we comfortably covered the distance in under three hours including a fuel topup before returning the hire car to Budget at Birmingham airport. The agent at Budget mentioned that her only customers recently were people just like us, returning way too early (we still had sixteen days of our prepaid hire to go) and to the wrong location (we should have returned to Brighton), resulting in over three hundred early returns and basically no cars going out. Wandering down to the terminal, it showed all the signs of being closed – no cars, no passengers walking around, no signs of life. Even after entering the terminal, it was still deadly quiet and our Qatar flight was basically the only sizeable flight departing during the day. Check-in was easy at about 11am, leaving us no rush to make our 2pm flight. There wasn’t too much in the way of distraction during our wait, with only WH Smith’s and Boots being open in the entire terminal (and nowhere to source even a coffee!) The flight unsurprisingly left on time and the six-and-a-half hour flight down to Doha was very comfortable – and we experienced awesome service from an airline voted world’s best in recent times. As we’d booked our flights less than 24 hours before departure, we couldn’t order special (vegan) meals for this first flight. We notified cabin crew when we got on and they promised to look into it. We got amazing personal service from Melina who cobbled together a tray of vegan goodies from other meal trays to keep us going, then later delivered us a delicious vegan meze plate from business class. Impressive attention to detail and we actually felt like she cared about us, very much appreciated under the circumstances (and hopefully her employer does something nice for her based on the feedback we’ve given to them).

The flight arrived into Doha early at 11.20pm local time – and the airport was packed! It was strange to see so many people – for the first time in a couple of weeks – and attempts at social distancing during the lines for security checks weren’t very successful. Many people were in full hazmat gear from head to toe, we had no protective equipment at all as our attempts to source even a face mask in the UK had failed. On entering the main terminal, we were impressed by the spaciousness and feel of the place, but very surprised again to see all shops and eateries open seemingly as usual here, certainly in stark contrast to Birmingham airport.

As we passed into Friday in the airport, we had around twenty hours to kill before our (hopefully!) last flight from Doha direct to Melbourne. We managed to find a quiet spot with comfortable seating we could fashion into a makeshift bed and tag-teamed short spells of sleep. We had power and internet too, so could pass the time on our laptops even if most of that time was spent  following the latest news updates in the hope that nothing scuppered our plans during the long wait.

Of course, it wasn’t too long before another potential problem arose with the news that all arrivals into Australia would soon be subject to 14-day quarantine in hotels of the government’s choosing (to replace the existing home quarantine scheme). The messaging around this change of policy was again inconsistent and confusing – some reports said this new scheme would be in effect “by midnight on Saturday 28th” while others said it would take effect “from midnight on Saturday 28th”. We were due into Melbourne at about 6pm on Saturday so this small difference could potentially make a big difference to us. We didn’t get clarity on this point before the time finally rolled around for us to board the flight to Melbourne after our long, long wait.

The flight left Doha on time and landed early into a deserted Melbourne airport at about 5.30pm on Saturday. We still didn’t know what we’d find as we left the plane and headed to immigration. Thankfully, we had a lucky break and were one of the last flights from which passengers were allowed to head home to begin their 14-day quarantine period, so we were very thankful for that!

The journey home had been long but we were grateful to finally get back to our little house on the beach to begin our quarantine. The ups and downs of the previous few days had taken their toll and, five days later, we’re still adjusting to the new normal. Looking back on the events of last week while writing this blog, it almost doesn’t feel real and it feels all the more remarkable that we actually made it home at all. Attempts to obtain cash refunds from Qantas and Etihad continue…

There were many issues that made the process of finding a way home more complicated and stressful than it needed to be. Firstly, the information on changes to regulations coming out of government was not clear or well-communicated – the complete closing of the Australian border and the timing of the hotel quarantine scheme were two examples of this. Sourcing precise information in both of these cases was difficult as news outlets and even trusted sources like the High Commissions didn’t have consistent or reliable information at hand when the announcements were made.

Secondly, a number of IT systems had clearly failed to account for load and automated systems haven’t accounted for changes along the way. We have numerous examples of such problems, from the Emirates booking system failing part-way through flight bookings to automated “online check-in is now open” emails from Qantas just today about a flight already cancelled almost a week ago. The icing on this particular cake, though, has to go to Qantas again who sent us this SMS about a rescheduling of our South Africa-routed flight after it was cancelled due to the lockdown (asterisks and bold are mine):

We’ve now rebooked you onto flight QF9324 on Fri * Apr from Johannesburg at 10.00 arriving Fictitious Point at 11.00

It feels like we’re actually living at Fictitious Point right now, but we’re home and safe and, so far, feeling healthy. If there is a moral from this story, it’s probably that travelling during a pandemic is not a great idea!