Think Like a Tester


After more than thirty years in information technology, the last fourteen spent focused on testing and quality assurance, Dale Perry has come to believe everyone can benefit from thinking like a tester. In this article, Dale offers comical, yet serious, insight on how a tester views airport bathroom stall designs.

As a tester I look at things from two perspectives, does something work or behave as I'd expect (positive aspects) and what are the issues or problems with something (negative aspects). I've found that applying this type of thinking full time makes me more effective at assessing various aspects of software. Let's consider usability for an example.

Did you every wonder who designed the stalls in the men's room in airports? (I haven't been in too many women's rooms so I cannot speak to them as directly.) Let's review several aspects:

Why do the doors open inward? When traveling, you typically have luggage with you. When you attempt to enter the stall with the door opened inward, you cannot get in with your luggage. You have to place your luggage on the toilet, turn, close the door, and then place your luggage on the floor. To leave the stall you have to reverse the process. Would it not have been simpler to have the door open outward?

  • I've had some say it's a safety issue. You don't want people crashing into stall doors as they open. This is an excuse. If someone is moving so fast in the narrow isles of a restroom that they get hit by a door, there are other issues at play. Besides, the door to the handicapped stalls open outward. It seems they got the solution half right.

I don't know about you, but there is not a lot of room in a typical stall. I'm not a large person--5 foot 8 inches, 190 pounds, but I can barely move in the space provided. I constantly bang my elbows on walls and those silly trays placed in some stalls. Heaven help me if I have luggage in there with me.

Did you ever notice how the paper dispenser is placed in a stall? I've noticed three common placements:

  • Right next to the toilet at the same level as the bowl so it aligns perfectly with where you have to place you knees. This virtually guarantees you will crack your knee at least once. It also makes access to the paper difficult as you have to lean over and down.
  • Right next to the bowl, but at shoulder level limiting the room you have even further in a narrow stall. I've found myself tilted to the side on numerous occasions.
  • On the wall at the back of the stall (my favorite). To reach this position you need to be a contortionist.

Then there are the various types of paper dispensers:

  • I love the ones with the metal flaps over the rolls. What are these for other than making it difficult to access the paper?
  • The multiple roll dispensers are even more fun. It seems either both rolls are available at the same time (so you get double the paper required) or the spare roll is either missing or will not drop down.
  • Finally there is the roll that limits the number of sheets of paper dispensed. You pull on the roll and it typically gives you (if you're lucky) four sheets. I'm not sure if someone determines the amount of paper that is distributed, but three or four sheets are often not sufficient!

Finally we come to the auto-flushing toilets. I find these particularly annoying. They never seem to be calibrated to actual human activity. They invariably flush while you are still sitting down (all you need to do is lean forward a bit), or they don't flush at all. If you want to really throw these devices off, wear dark clothing and rock forwards and backwards. It's flush city.

The point to all this is simple: Did anyone actually test these facilities in a real world situation? I think not. As with the restrooms, too often on projects we get pulled into the "let's build something" mentality, and we forget about how it will work or not in real life. That's why we need more people to "think like testers."

About the author

CMCrossroads is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.