I’ve spent a good deal of time underground the last 13 years…literally. One of my favorite weekend activities is caving. New caves are discovered nearly every weekend in the northwest Georgia area and responsible cavers survey these caves, make maps, then submit the data to their state’s speleological survey library.

Cavers are very methodical when it comes to finding virgin passage. Underground ethics specify that cavers survey (with tape, compass, clinometer, and sketchbook) the new passage as they explore it. It is frowned upon to just run through a new cave without performing a proper survey on the way in. Exploring without an initial survey is known as “scooping” or “eye-raping” a cave and it is a sign of an irresponsible caver (sometimes called a “spelunker”).

The responsible caver learns everything about the new cave by surveying as they go. The survey process forces them to examine all features of the passage carefully, often discovering new leads, which otherwise would have been missed. This patient approach keeps the caver fresh with anticipation about the wonderful cave lying ahead.

The irresponsible caver, who runs down virgin passage into the dark unknown, only experiences the obvious way forward. They assume they will backtrack to check for leads. In practice, they may grow fatigued or bored with the cave and never return. They have not collected enough data to qualify the cave with the state survey. They can brag to friends about a deep pit and borehole passage. But they cannot tell other cavers to bring a 250-foot rope because the pit is 295-feet deep, or that the big formation room is a half mile in on the northeast end of a 40-foot wide dome room. They don’t know which leads have been checked or how likely it is that this cave drains into a nearby cave further down the mountain. They have no hard facts about the cave; only memories, which fade very quickly.

A tester's approach to new AUT (Application Under Test) software features should be much the same as those cavers who survey as they explore. As a tester, my tools are my tests. And yes, for complex scenarios, I like to write the test before I perform it. At times, I want to scoop the application, to find the bugs before the other team members do. But I try to reign myself in. I keep track of what I have checked as I go in. I remember how satisfying it is to present team members with a list of tests performed and their results; so much more satisfying than saying “I’m done testing this”.


  1. Unknown said...

    It seems that in testing as in caving accountability makes the difference between someone great and someone just dabbling.
    Apart from the professional viewpoint, isn't it also more satisfying personally to be able to express what it is that you just did?

  2. Jeroen Rosink said...

    Hello Eric,
    A good post you made. A nice example to tell people about testing. Just wondering now you introduced a new term/approach in contradiction to "touring" to express ideas in exploratory testing; called: "Caving"


  3. Able Weis said...

    What a fantastic comparison. I think the primary activities might actually be the same :) Would love to pick your brains on other testing initiatives and their real-life comparisons :)

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