Last week a group of us testers, programmers, and business analysts volunteered to sort, inspect, and pack donated food, beverages and health products at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Most cities have similar gigs and this is a fun way of doing volunteer work that is related to the old school usage of the term QA. If you’re a tester, volunteer to be an inspector.
As an inspector, you’ll go through all the donated items and decide which get packaged up to become meals, which get thrown in the trash, or which need special treatment. This is QA at its most primitive and I found it incredibly fun because unlike software testing, I actually got to make my own decisions as far as what would go to production and what would not.
- Black Box Testing - Regular food (e.g., canned soup, cereal, pasta) would get thrown away if its expiration date was <>
- White Box Testing – Sometimes food looks good on the outside, but if you screw off the peanut butter jar lid and look inside, you may find someone has broken the inner seal and helped themselves to a few spoonfuls.
- Cosmetic Testing – Cans with no labels or bags of food without an ingredient listing were rejected.
- Bugs – Literally. Reject it if the food was exposed. Finding damaged secondary packaging (e.g., cardboard cereal box ripped but plastic bag intact) was like finding a software bug. Let the dev tape it back together, then you can accept it.
- Usability Testing – Some cans are smashed; can they easily be opened? Is it so smashed the user can injure themselves on sharp corners?
- Security Testing – Was the product recalled? Example: Campbell’s Spaghettios were recalled due to uncooked meatballs. Fail!
Things that helped us succeed:
- Motivation – we were told what the average work performed by volunteers was. We consider ourselves above average so we set a goal to beat the norm. Thus, we worked hard to achieve our goal and prove we were the best.
- Roles – We were assigned to roles as either inspector, sorter, or packer. When any role was caught up, we switched roles to keep busy and keep things moving.
- Collaboration – “I forgot, what do we do with baby food?”, “What is the rule for powdered milk?”, “Can you hold this shut while I tape it up?”. We worked side-by-side in the same room and answered each other’s questions.
- Breaks – They forced us to take breaks. Without the breaks, fatigue may have set in. The breaks allowed us to reflect and exchange stories about mistakes we had made (spilling salt all over the place) or gross encounters (sticky stuff leaking out of jar). This also motivated us to work harder after the break, attempting to encounter good story material. They gave us free beverages and chocolate during the break (donated chocolate can’t get packaged because it melts), which means we didn’t have to be distracted with food/beverage as we worked.
- Oracles – When we couldn’t help ourselves, we knew which volunteers were the oracles. They knew all the answers based on prior experience.
- Music – Who doesn’t love listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller?
After a mere two hours of work, we beat the average by packaging 8,109 lbs of food, which translates into 5,460 meals.
...if only we could weed through software bits this quickly.