Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Summer Reading: Busman's Holiday

#softwaretesting #books

A long holiday this year – with plenty of traveling and sometimes sporadic internet access, so I decided to take a few books with me.

I changed focus from my usual pick of biography, philosophy and science to something a little closer to the profession and ones I know will probably help in the next couple of months – so a little bit of homework and refresh at the same time.

The selection of books was some that I’ve read and dipped into many times and a couple of new reads - some classics and some potential classics.

Software Test Specific

Agile Testing: A Practical Guide For Testers and Agile Teams, Crispin & Gregory, Addison Wesley, 2009
First-time read.
A very good and comprehensive guide to hands-on agile testing for testers and team leaders. Can be used as a dip-into read (using the summary as a guide.) The use both non-Agile and Agile-specific observations and take in other well-established work (eg Marricks).
A good collection of research, observation and experience – follows one of the golden guidelines for good test literature (see below).

Lessons Learned in Software Testing, Kaner, Bach & Pettichord, Wiley, 2002
A re-read.
A potential classic. The series of lessons includes experiences that many readers will recognize – “yes, done that, seen that, been burnt by that etc, etc.” This is a “dip-into” book for me – almost a coffee-table book.

I don’t agree with all the observations – but that’s not the point of reading it – it’s there for the “on-tap” observations – having an observation that you don’t agree with can help clarify your own thoughts.

Perfect Software and other illusions about testing, Weinberg, Dorset House, 2008
First-time read.
A book that highlights the importance of information in testing – both information used in testing and how testers represent information. Some great thought-provoking comments around the typical everyday questions that testers face, e.g. “why don’t we test everything?”


An Introduction to General Systems Thinking, Weinberg, Dorset House, 2001 (Silver Anniversary Ed.)
A popular recent classic. This is a great introduction to how science looks at different types of problems and ultimately gains from the system approach – giving an important different perspective to the problem/model. Read this for the first time and enjoyed it.

Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide, Bowell & Kemp, Routledge, 2005
A re-read.
This is a great book for outlining and defining structures of arguments and how to distinguish valid contributors from erroneous ones. Not a “dip-into” book, but worth the work. Going over certain chapters as a refresher and for the exercises.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie, Vermilion, 1981
A classic from the 30’s that’s always worth browsing and re-browsing. Some of the ideas around influencing people and teams are valid today even when some of the references and quotations are 00’s years old. You’ll see similar principles being taught in modern-day child psychology books and docu-soaps on childcare and relationships…

I paraphrase some of the lessons and call them the “What’s in it for me?” principle. Before asking anyone (or a team) to do something different you must look at the proposition from their perspective and understand how that change/difference is going to benefit them (from their perspective, not yours!)

Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar, Bach, Simon & Schuster, 2009
I managed to squeeze in a copy of the free download. Interesting read. I pick up the essence of a challenge here: “Dare to fail”.

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Brooks, Addison Wesley, 1995
I had read parts of the original classic but bought the revised version for the additional essays – however, haven’t had the chance to open it so far.

I like this book for some of the great lessons that you can hear in SW engineering – “Throwing people at projects does not give the numerical pay-back” and “Avoid over-engineering”. I don’t find all the books thoughts relevant today, but there are still some thought-provoking observations. Looking forward to the newer essays when I get the chance.

A Golden Rule?
One of the golden rules about test literature relating to “handbooks or guides” is the way in which observations, lessons and ideas are presented.

Sometimes good literature actually re-states the obvious, whether it’s something you’ve heard or experienced before or something new that “clicks” with you and sometimes it’s a great collation of ideas and information – that is the research has been done, collated and summarized in a useful way.

If a handbook does this it has a greater chance of being more accessible. Think of this as the simplicity idea: “State the ideas clearly”, “State the relevant research and ideas around them”, “State the observations and arguments connected to the ideas” and “Summarize.”

When did you last take a busman’s holiday? What other books would you take and why?


  1. Just come back from vacation, as well as a couple of fiction books I took

    Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer


    Introducing NLP

    Nice to see that I have all the books on your list apart from the Critical Thinking one - but thats an area I've been looking for a recommendation for so thanks !!

  2. Hi Phil, you're welcome. You've just given me a tip for a book on writing - thanks!