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At the movies: Exploratory, performance, security testing a kiosk

Whenever I walk into a movie theater, I remember when I tested a self-service ticket machine. No one was paying me to test the kiosk. I was just killing time, waiting at a theater for someone to join me to watch a movie. The machine looked and functioned similar to an ATM. You select your movie, slide your credit card and print your tickets. What was great about the opportunity is that it allowed me to practice exploratory testing, usability testing, performance testing and security testing all at once.

I discovered that “playing” with the kiosk nicely illustrated what software testers do every day.

The system would allow you to select up to 10 tickets for each type of ticket you could purchase: adult, child and senior. While testing the limits of ticket selection and the proper calculation of the total amount, I noticed that if you max out the number of tickets for senior- and child-priced tickets, the system would beep at you each time you tried to select more then ten tickets. However, when you attempted to select more then ten tickets priced for adults, there was no beep. It made me wonder about the beep. Was it a usability feature?

After I was done doing my functional analysis of the system I had a chance to do some usability testing by watching people interact with the system. I noticed one case in particular that showed what I consider to be a serious defect. A lady using the system selected her movie, entered her credit card information and started waiting as the screen displayed the message: “Please wait while processing your transaction.” I assume that at this point the system was attempting to connect to whatever service it uses to process credit cards.

As luck would have it, at that moment credit card processing for the theater went down. I know this due to the very vocal population of customers at the ticket counter. Unfortunately for the lady making her self-service purchase, the ticket machine seemed to have hung as well. It just sat there saying “Please wait while processing your transaction.” No message saying: “Timed out while connecting to service. Please try again.” No message saying: “Trying your transaction again, please wait.” Nothing. It just sat there.

After about five minutes, the lady finally lost her patience and started pushing the cancel button. She pushed it once. She pushed it a second time – harder. She then pushed it five times in rapid succession. She then put all of her weight into the pushing of the button and kept the button down for several seconds. This processed continued for some time. I counted as she pushed the button over 40 times. Still the screen read: “Please wait while processing your transaction.” So much for the cancel option! She then left the machine and went to the ticket counter for help.

I found other issues while testing, but what stands out for me when reviewing this experience is not the issues I found, but that the process of finding issues “in the wild” is the same that we use “in the lab.” There was setup and configuration for my testing: show times; my credit card; connectivity to the bank; real users I could observe; and my watch to time transaction response times.

There was interaction with the system: myself and others pushing buttons: the system with the bank: the system with the system at the counter that the clerks used; customers swiping cards; and the system printing tickets and receipts.

There was observation of results: noticing beeps and information on the screen; looking at my receipt and tickets; looking at the time on my watch; listening to customer reactions and the conversations at the counter; and seeing the actions the user took under stress.

I was able to draw conclusions based on those observations: the need for better error messaging in the system; the probability of a bug around the beeping for adults; and the fact that the cancel key sticks could be due to multiple people applying fifty pounds of pressure for extended periods of time.

Does that testing process sound familiar?

I like this memory because it illustrates all the basic mechanics of software testing, regardless of the type. It doesn’t matter if it’s functional testing, usability testing, performance testing, security testing, or even automated testing:

  • Testing almost always requires basic setup and system configuration.
  • Testing requires that someone operate the test system or interact with it in some way.
  • Testing requires that someone observe the results of those interactions.
  • Testing requires that someone evaluate those results and draw conclusions.

What’s even better is that I learned something while waiting!

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