This time last week, we had our ferry tickets and motel booked for mini-cycling tour of the South Island of New Zealand. It was an idea that my son and I had been putting together for a while ...
The thing was, I was really quite nervous about the trip. And on talking it over with my friend Elayne, I'd noticed it was a kind of nervous that as a tester I was somewhat familiar. Because it's a similar kind of nerves that I've had when any software project I've been a part of has gone live. How can that be?
What we were doing wasn't super-ambitious. We were cycling from Picton to Blenheim, a trip of 30km, we'd stay overnight, then return the next day. We could have just booked the tickets, jumped on the ferry and hope for the best. But to be blunt, though I love to be quite active, I'm overweight and getting old - and I don't like to set myself up for failure.
So since January we've been training. At first just 20km rides to get used to our bikes, and to enjoy the last of the New Zealand summer. We'd also complement this with Les Mills RPM classes during the week to help build up our "cycle fitness" (needless to say when a mid-40s father tries to compete with a mid-teens son, one builds up fitness faster than the other).
This was just a start - during this time, we found our bikes needed a number changes and repairs. Cameron decided that he'd like to use an old mountain bike of mine, my chosen bike needed a new wheel (we popped about 3 spokes over a month). Every weekend we'd be out on the bikes, performing a test on ourselves, our fitness and our bikes ...
Testing for geography
We used the internet to measure distances from Picton to Blenheim and get an idea of the terrain, and found similar routes we could try over here in Wellington which would contain the same challenges for distance and incline
Testing under load
We attempted to work out how much equipment and especially water we'd need to carry (New Zealand is very remote in parts, so can't just expect to pop into a supermarket and pick up what we need between destinations). So during March we'd attempt to cycle with various levels of clothing etc on our back. When choosing a couple of pairs of clothing here, a rain mack here, something in case it gets cold there, recharger for your phone there - each piece seems quite light, until you put it all into a pack, and stagger under the weight.
Previously in 2012, I'd gone with my son on a camp hike with the cadet force he was doing his Duke Of Edinburgh with. It was 10km hike, camp overnight in the bush, 10km hike back. I only tried the pack on the night before, and was close to quitting on the first 100m (the whole 2 days was complete misery because of this). In hindsight I should have tried just short walks with the pack, and saw how I went. It was a major motivator for both of us to be used to cycling with a similar level of equipment on us.
Testing for endurance
Being able to cover the distance with the same level of equipment was nice, but something we were very aware of, we had to get good at doing 30km on rough roads with a bit of an incline (and wind). Then waking up the next morning, and doing it all over again. That meant in late March, training on both Saturday and Sunday - getting used to doing that ride when we were feeling a bit sore.
And more ...
There was a lot more as well, trying out which clothes we found best to cycle in. Working out snacks/nutrition before/during/after. Going over the route on Google Earth so we were familiar with it.
Given all of the above, Elayne asked me "you've trained, you've prepared - what are you worried about?". And that was when I started to notice the similarity with testing.
All the training we'd done had allowed us to check our fitness (and RPM classes to help build those fitness levels). We were more prepared and knew that we could do it - but it wasn't assured. Fitness training doesn't assure your success come event/race day. It just increases the likelihood of success.
The same goes with good testing, it allows you to remove as many obvious risks as you can. But there can always be things you don't think about (like with walking with THAT pack with so much weight in it back in 2012).
Here are some near "gotchas" which nearly ruined our cycle event,
- We'd trained during a heatwave ... but on day one, there was heavy rain and severe wind. Ouch.
- We'd planned to cycle during daylight, so bike lights and hi-vis vests were a bit of an afterthought. But the weather was so bad that we needed them to be clearly seen (the sky Biblically turned black).
- Camerons bike suffered repeated punctures on day one. It was obvious something was wrong with the front wheel tyre (I'm usually good at running my finger and finding any splinters/thorns in it). We ended up just pumping the tyre every 2 km for 8 km to get us to Blenheim - where we got both the inner tube and tyre replaced. We'd originally planned to do this trip over Easter, and realised if anything went wrong, no cycle shop would be open to assist.
You can bet if we do another cycle event, we're going to try out some extra sessions to cover some of the above. This is the feedback loop - in testing and cycling, we get better by "doing", finding out what went wrong/wasn't so great, and focusing on improving it.
Life is full of events like this which allow you to learn an important lesson, which if you allow yourself to be mentally open to, will allow you to grow more, and feedback into your professional life.
For me, I think the takeaways are,
- Nothing can be assured, but the more variety of testing you do on your fitness/software the more you'll be able to find weak points, and be able to take action to address them.
- If you find you are easily achieving the goals of any session, then maybe it's time to be a bit more ambitious, and push harder. This can mean "trying longer/steeper/more load" in cycling or "add more complexity" when testing.
- You are always limited in testing fitness/software by your imagination - more importantly what you can imagine could go wrong. Your own experience is the best teacher, but knowing other people's stories of "what happened to me" always helps guide and expand your imagination.
- Sometimes it's just good to leave your cares behind, and hit the road with a good friend to have an adventure. It is possible to overthink these things you know ...
That darn pack