Diversifying Heuristics with Social Media
I’ve had a talk rejected a few times this year that I *really* want to give somewhere, so I thought I’d blog about some of the ideas I had for it. This will help me to work through some of it, as well as hopefully generate some interest! I talked through some of this during a Twitter Space with Ministry of Testing (those aren’t recordable :() and with Karen Todd on her Testing Advocacy YouTube channel if you want to hear me ramble on about it as well as read!
Social media is… not always a great place to be. Even so, I have learned a ton about a wide range of people and their experiences, and I feel like it has in turn made me a better human, as well as a better tester! It is incredible, if you think about it, that you can get a more personal view into what life is like for people all across the globe, and with a variety of challenges that face them every day. Social media can be used to build empathy for things you never knew existed!
Heuristics are the guideposts that, as a tester, allow us to find common bugs more quickly – the more ways bugs appear that we experience, the more heuristics we have to find them, and the better we are at our jobs as testers. This article from Ministry of Testing has this great description of heuristics:
If you are a practising tester, you will be using your own heuristics – whether you are aware of it or not. This is partly because the use and development of heuristics are intuitive and innate. But, also because everything testers do in software testing could be considered a heuristic. From all the test techniques we use to the next test ideas we come up with during exploratory testing; they’re all born out of cognitive shortcuts that aid us in quickly making decisions and solving problems.
Read up on that article if you’re looking for more information on heuristics, it covers a ton of great information.
So how do I apply what I learn on social media to my heuristics? Have you ever seen a social media post like this?
I’M SCREAMING LMFAO THIS IS A PAYMENT FORM Y’ALL I. I LITERALLY CAN’T CHECK OUT pic.twitter.com/bjOGP3ZYYW
— S. Qiouyi Lu 🧧 陸秋逸 🧮 Lù Qiūyì (@sqiouyilu) February 22, 2022
A Tweet from user SQiouyiLu showing a payment form saying her last name (‘Lu’) is too short
Software that tells you your name is invalid, essentially, really sucks. It makes you feel bad, like an ‘other’ that doesn’t deserve whatever this software provides.
If you saw a post like this, would you immediately test all of your name fields to make sure it would accept the name ‘Lu’? Would you read through the thread and replies to see what other folks are experiencing, and test those things out too? Congratulations! You’re using social media to diversify your heuristics!
It’s not just name fields. Let’s take limb differences as an example.
Here’s a TikTok I saw of a person that had to get fingerprinted, and the software that was used really struggled with people that didn’t have 5 fingers on each hand! I’ve never worked on software that depended on a certain number of limbs or digits, but I certainly would add this to my heuristics list right away! Think about how this would make you feel if you experienced it yourself.
And skin color – that’s a whole other ball of wax! You may remember a few years ago a story that went viral where a Black man couldn’t get the automatic soap dispenser to work, but a white man could.
With the pandemic leading to kids learning at home, and the rise of proctoring software, there were plenty of stories like this:
Daughter 1 was taking an exam today being proctored by some type of software that apparently was not tested on dark skin. She had to open her window, turn on the lights, and then shine a flashlight over her head to be detectable. 😡😡😡
— Janice Wyatt-Ross, EdD (@JaniceWyattRoss) February 23, 2021
People are just trying to live their lives and use the software they have to. How would this feel if you were just trying to take an exam but the software couldn’t see you so I guess you don’t get to pass this class!
There are sadly so many examples like these, and more (I’ve saved plenty!). And while diversifying our heuristics will help us to build software that is usable by more people, it’s not the end of the story. Software gets this way because we need to diversify tech! If the teams working on something are all able bodied, white, and cis gendered, the software they create will most likely be catered toward that audience, BUT could have consequences if the rest of us need to use it (like facial recognition software used by police departments that can’t recognize differences between non-white people so Black people keep getting wrongfully jailed). And if you say “it’s a pipeline problem” you can get the hell outta here. That’s a myth that’s been debunked over and over.
I’m not a DEI expert by any means, and I can’t fix these issues myself. But every time I see, in the software I work on, a way for us to improve the experience of EVERY user of our software, I will advocate for it. The software you work on may not change peoples lives for better or worse (like facial recognition), but being able to fill out a form and not feel like shit about yourself should count for something, too, right? As testers (and developers), I think we all have a part to play here. Really think about how the end-users of your software will be affected if things go wrong. And if you’re on social media, start following folks that don’t look like you. You’ll learn something, and hopefully improve your software in the process.
I’m Hilary Weaver, also known as g33klady on the Internets. I’m a Senior Quality Engineer working remotely near Detroit, I tweet a lot (@g33klady), and swear a lot, too.