Hawaii False Missile Alarm – was it entirely a Human Error?

Software impacts human lives – let us put more thought into it!

Here is what happened and my take on how software design may have been partly responsible and could be improved >>

Miami Shocked!

Miami state in the US received a massive panic attack on Saturday the 13th of January 2018. More than a million people in Hawaii were led to fear that they were about to be struck by a nuclear missile due to circulation of a message sent out by the state emergency management. The message sent state wide just after 8 a.m. Saturday read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

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The residents were left in a state of panic. People started scrambling to get to safe places, gathering supplies and even saying their goodbyes. Some took shelter in manholes, some gathered their kids into the most sheltered rooms in their homes like bathrooms or basements, some huddled in their closets and some sent out goodbye messages to their loved ones.

Turned out it was a false alert. Around 40 minutes later, the agency sent out another message saying that it was a false alarm sent out by mistake!

The questions being asked was – how could this happen and why did it take 40 minutes to check and issue an all clear?

 

Why Did This Happen?

Investigations into the incident were revealed and the governor stated that It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift which they go through to make sure that the system is working, and an employee pushed the wrong button.”

The error occurred when, in the midst of a drill during a shift change at the agency, an employee made the wrong selection from a “drop-down” computer menu, choosing to activate a missile launch warning instead of the option for generating an internal test alert. The employee, believing the correct selection had been made, then went ahead and clicked “yes” when the system’s computer prompt asked whether to proceed.

Analysing the Root Cause

But is the fault only at human level? The software being used for such critical usage also needs to help out to avoid the possibility of such human errors.

After all triggering such a massive state-wide emergency warning should not have been as simple as push of a wrong button by a single person!

Could a better design of the software have prevented this kind of scenario from happening?

As reported, the incorrect selection was made in a dropdown – which lets imagine would look something like this-

Miami State Emergency Sample System
Miami State Emergency Sample System

After the selection was made, the system sent a prompt and the employee, believing the correct selection had been made, then went ahead and clicked “yes”.

So by this information we can assume that the prompt would have been something generic like

Miami State Emergency Sample Prompt
Miami State Emergency Sample Prompt

 

Though it definitely is a human error but isn’t the system also at fault for letting this happen so easily?

Better Design Ideas – More Thought – Improving Your Software

By putting in some extra thought into design of the software we can make it more robust to avoid such incidents.

Here are some things that could have helped design it better –

  1. Do not have the TEST options placed right next to the ACTUAL emergency options!

Have different fields or perhaps different sub menus inside the dropdown as categories.

Segregating the Actions in the dropdown into categories
Segregating the Actions in the dropdown into categories

 

>> Always have the TEST category of warnings higher up in the list

>>Have the Default Selection in the dropdown either as BLANK or as one of the TEST warnings and not the actual ones

>>Having the actual warnings section lower down and separated away from the similarly worded TEST warning would ensure lower chance of wrongful selection of the similar named option from the dropdown

 

  1. The prompt message must be made unique to each scenario and in case of selecting a real warning issue action, the prompt must ask the user to specify the emergency.
New prompt
Unavoidable Prompt with explicit message

 

>>Make the prompt appear critical with use of color and text

>>A critical prompt must catch the user’s attention and not be similar to the other screens and popups of the system, to avoid the possibility of clicking on it in a hurry.

>>Placement of Yes and No buttons on unusual sides (Yes is on the left which is not typical) avoids the click of the button – also used Red and Green to signify the importance situation. Red is the usual code for danger.

  1. Additional level of authorisation must be added to the scenarios of real emergency warnings being issued. So, for the TEST actions, user may proceed and begin the drill but in case they select ACTUAL warning then the steps take it to another level of authorisation where another employee – a peer or a senior- reviews the action and performs the final warning issue.

>>This prevents erroneous actions and also some possibility of hackers or notorious people issuing false warnings just by gaining access via one user.

>>Define your hierarchy of users or approvals for each case of emergency.

 

These ideas may sound basic but all these are components of good Usability of the software, its appropriateness of purpose and setting up basic security in usage of the application.

We are just playing around human psychology, easier understand-ability and attention spans.

Let us endeavour to give a little more ‘thought’ to the system

  • Think about its real world usage,
  • Implications of a wrong action in the system,
  • Add more practicality into the design,
  • Make space for human mistakes,           
  • Help humans make better & informed decisions,    and
  • Explore all possibilities to avoid such errors.

 

Cheers,

Nishi

 

Getting Featured in the ‘Top 10 Articles of 2017’ at Stickyminds!

Dear Readers

It is my pleasure and honor to share that my article on

                              “Let the Agile Manifesto guide your Software Testing”

published on Techwell Community forum http://www.stickyminds.com in 2017 has now been featured in the list of “Hottest Articles of 2017” , featuring in the Top 10 Most Read articles last year!

You can give it a read at https://www.stickyminds.com/article/let-agile-manifesto-guide-your-software-testing

I am happy that my thoughts, ideas and write-ups are getting noticed, and this motivates me to continue writing more and better always!

Wishing you a great year ahead.

Happy Testing!

 

Conducted a full-day “Applied Agile Testing” workshop @Singapore

Hey there!

The day finally arrived when I had the opportunity to conduct a full-day workshop in the beautiful Hotel Village Changi @Singapore on 16th June 2017, organised by 1.21GWs.

The workshop was titled “Applied Agile Testing” and was designed specifically to bring in practical agile knowledge to software testers looking for answers to their software testing dilemmas in agile teams. The agenda also included practical work, team exercises and a hands-on agile testing project with testing a live web application in sprints format. We focused on lean documentation and exploratory testing and each participant had a chance to bring out their keen testing skills and find the best bugs!

The audience was a good mix of people from different domains and varying skills and levels of experience. We had great questions and discussions during the day, enjoyed the networking over coffee and lunch, and an amazing response from the delegates. The team exercises and live project were a big hit! I received amazing feedback about the session, the topics and conduct and specially for the project.

Here are a few glimpses from the day –

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We also gave out hand-outs and certificates to all attendees for participation in the event issues by 1.21GWs-

Our delegate Mr. Rajesh Thomas from Semiconductor Technologies & Instruments was kind enough to share his feedback – here in his own words—

It was a wonderful workshop we had and it indeed helped me to learn on applying testing and its technique in Agile. The topics was very well arranged which helped us to sail gradually to the core subject. The techniques taught and applying sprint on real time project did help us to understand better”

More feedback by delegates –>

IMG_20170616_180709

It was a great experience and Singapore being the wonderful and welcoming place that it is offered us lots of love and appreciation! Hope to get there back again soon!! 🙂 🙂

Cheers

Nishi

Awesome day at NFTCon 2016- Great Event and being Awarded by UNICOM!

I had the chance to partner with UNICOM recently to help plan out a new event called NFTCon 2016 (Bangalore)- i.e.Non Functional Testing Conference 2016.

It was a niche idea for a one-of-its kind event catering specifically to non-functional testing, with main focus on Performance , Security & Usability testing along with Accessibility and Reliability testing. It was designed to be a 2-day event with 2 tracks on each day, with many great speakers, some wonderful round table talks and a zealous audience.

I was also felicitated by the nice team at UNICOM for my contribution to the event and chairing one of the tracks. It was such a nice gesture and kind words, I thank the team for their efforts and I look forward to our next association pretty soon! 🙂

Here is a peek into the event —

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Cheers

Nishi

Agile Tester, ISTQB and more – What I gained v/s what I didn’t from all these certifications

I am glad to share the latest article I wrote for utest.com forum of testers globally as a part of their #BackToSchool campaign – where writers are sharing their experience with formal education , degrees and certifications on their profession.

I was excited as soon as I read about the #BackToSchool campaign on http://www.utest.com. As someone who has 5 certifications and numerous conferences to my credit, I definitely needed to share my insight and experience here.

Please read and like my article on the forum at

https://www.utest.com/articles/agile-tester-istqb-and-more-what-i-gained-vs-what-i-didnt-from-all-these-certifications

certi

For a background – I am certified by ISTQB at – Foundation Level (CTFL), Advanced Level Test Analyst (ISTQB Adv TA) and Certified Test Manager (ISTQB Adv TM).

I am also certified by Agile Test Alliance ATA body at 2 levels—Master Agile Tester (MAT) and Automation Agile Tester (AAT)

Just to clarify– none of these certifications were a mandate for my job or a part of my yearly ‘goals’ as some companies I have now heard do to their entry or mid-level testers.

Why did I take these up?

I took up all these certification exams at different points of my career for different purposes.

When I started out my career, I was working as a tester in a start-up like company where I had minimum guidance or hand-holding into the testing world, its terminologies and processes, during being responsible for a huge project in its nascent stage. After about a year of working I had begun to realize that there were some things missing in my knowledge. Though I had learnt about writing test cases and had gotten pretty good at finding bugs and reporting them, I hardly knew the broader perspective of why we did what we did and what the industry outside was working with. I did not have any software background before that and did not study it in my college course too. So I decided to take up some kind of course of learning about the basics to gain confidence about my own work. I looked up online and found out about ISTQB which seemed to be the most popular course and certification for entry level software testers. I started to study for the same. I bought a book, researched online, and did self-study instead of taking up a training course. The course is designed to open up the complete picture of software testing world in front of you so that being in any industry or domain or level of testing, you can relate to where you are and what is the process around you. Every day I learnt about more types of testing that can be done, what they meant. I appeared for the exam and cleared it. But the purpose it solved for me was more than the certification. It was making me confident about what I was doing, what improvements I could suggest in my processes and even what terms we were using wrongly in our team. It also made me stand out amongst my peers – not because of the certificate only (start-ups hardly care about that right) but because of this drive to improve myself and my team and the knowledge I could now share.

Note – That is why I suggest the best time to do this exam is at the onset of your testing career, probably up to 2 years into it.

This later inspired me to take up the next level (ISTQB TA) which is supposed to be an extended level for functional testers at a senior level. I studied for the course just the same, but the exam experience was a lot different from the foundation level. It was a more scenario based exam wherein I had to apply the learnt lessons into real-world like situations and exercise decision-making. That was fun – and probably that is a reason why the pass-rate is so much lower for advanced levels.

After a couple of years of doing both these, I felt now I had reached a place where they did not suffice my needs. I was in a dynamic team working in Scrum and needed a more hands-on learning. I wanted to interact with people outside my team. I looked up online and stumbled upon ATA and their 3-day program happening in a nearby city. I talked to my company and being the supportive group they were always, they agreed to sponsor me! So, I went and participated in the CP-MAT (Certified Professional-Master Agile Tester) program by ATA. Now, that was fun! I met a small group of people from different companies and had deep discussions on their experiences, the trainers who had fun team exercises planned all along and a very hands-on final exam which required actual agile tester skills.

A month after it, ATA approached me and invited for their next level training and also offered me a train-the-trainer program since they liked my drive and skills. I was interested to give it a try and so decided to go for that. I did not ask for sponsorship again from the company though, just the leaves for those days. So, I went ahead and did the CP-AAT program which was based on behaviour-driven development using Cucumber tool and its integration with Fitness tool. Since my team was not into any of these practices, I never got to use the knowledge I gained in this program. So I thought it was too specific and confined.

So, now you know about why I did each of these and that they just sort of happened over my 8+ years in the industry.

What I gained from them?

As I explained, from my first ISTQB CTFL and TA certificates, I gained insight into correct testing processes and terms, and knowledge about the things that were not happening in my team. This gave me confidence that I was relevant around the industry and to share opinions in the team at an early stage in my career. But yes, it definitely also was a plus that I could put it in my resume and increase my chances of being shortlisted for interviews, because many companies find it as a plus.

From the Agile Testing certifications I gained the insight into agile and how testing should fit in and all the hats a tester must wear for the team to succeed. Since then I progressed into a mentor and leader’s role and also acted as a scrum master and agile pod leader, so it must have helped in some way.

It didn’t hurt that it also brought some credibility and value to my profile. So, when I had to move to another city and find a new job a year later, I wasn’t worried about the switch because of the background I had created for myself. It also pushed up my biography when I wanted to submit proposals to talk at national level conferences and I got the opportunity to speak there.

What I did not gain from them?

Please be sure that though some companies may give preference to certified candidates or they may get shortlisted quicker, but a certificate can never replace actual knowledge. The interview process has to ensure that you have practical experience and knowledge instead of just having cleared a few exams.

Agile teams, start-up teams and communities like u-test do not require any kind of certificates, they need real skills.

If you have worked extensively around the industry and gained that experience, good enough!

If you have self-taught yourself by keeping updated with different skill sets, good enough!

If you have had great mentors who have guided you through the learning, good enough!

If you have studied for different courses and learnt the skills of the industry, good enough!

Conclusion:

All study must be done with the aim of learning and gaining some skills and not to get some certificate. The advantages of having the certificate are shallow and short lived as compared to the learnings you get. Do a course only if it has relevance for the level and point in your career and if you have learnt enough without it, so be it. Some certificates even require to keep upgrading or reappearing every few years to ensure that your skills are still relevant.

The real knowledge will come from practical application of the learnings and skills and that is what will distinguish you from the crowd!

Happy Learning!

—– This post has been later featured by The Pirate Tester in 2019 in his blog at –>

https://thepiratetester.wordpress.com/2019/06/18/2019-06-18-should-istqb-exist/

Practical Session on Playing Innovation Games @MetricStream

Agile needs continuous improvement and innovation , and we are striving for the same at my new workplace MetricStream, Bangalore. As a part of that, I was invited to conduct a session on some practical and easily adoptable agile practices.
Well what better than Innovation Games for that !
So we went ahead and did a 3-part practical training exercise session wherein not only did we learn about the Agile workflow , the basics on innovation games and how they fit into Agile , but also conducted practical group exercises with sample scenarios and user stories.

It was a great experience and received quite well. The participants were encouraged to take back the learning to their own scrum teams and try out the fun and quick games for conducting various Agile ceremonies.

Here is a glimpse into the training room :

Playing Innovation Games
Playing Innovation Games

Playing Innovation Games
Playing Innovation Games

Playing Innovation Games
Playing Innovation Games

Playing Innovation Games
Playing Innovation Games

Cheers,

Nishi

Dear Testers and Agile Enthusiasts – Welcome!

Dear Testers and Agile Enthusiasts

I am a full-time software tester, a zealous and passionate one at that! With almost 7 years of experience working in Agile environment, I have a lot to share and talk about regarding its various aspects. So I am excited about my new found passion in writing about topics of interest in the industry.

As of now, my articles have featured at InnovateQA.com, and Techwell community’s AgileConnection.com and Stickyminds.com. But I figured I needed a space of my own to keep putting across new topics and ideas and open them for discussion with fellow enthusiastic professionals, hence this blog!

I shall endevour to bring the most relevant and the best topics of the agile and testing community for you.

Thanks and Welcome!

Nishi 🙂