[Download] Best Paper 2018, Facing the Dragons, Dealing with Complex Unknowable Systems | James Christie

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Experts working with complex safety critical systems talk about “jousting with dragons” and “facing the dragons at the borderlands”. Dragons represent the dangerous unknown. Safety critical systems are complex and dynamic; no-one can understand or specify these systems completely, or even say where the boundaries lie. But experts know that users will stray into the unknown, to face dangerous dragons.

The safety critical community must deal with the real world or people will be killed. They say “I don’t know” when the frightening truth is that they can’t know. These systems will always fail somehow. In the hands of humans they fail in ways hard to envisage in advance. Increasingly problems faced by the safety community will confront all testers. Every eCommerce site is complex and dynamic, however simple it appears at first sight.

If we can’t handle complexity as honestly as the safety experts and face the dragons of the unknown then the future of testing is bleak. We must be brave enough to know when the right answer is “I don’t know”.

Key Takeaways:

  • A clearer understanding of the limits of what we can reasonably know in a complex, socio-technical environment.
  • An insight into how safety critical experts are handling that challenge, with specific reference to the Safety II framework.
  • An awareness of why testers will increasingly have to offer opinions that cannot be precise if they are to be valuable. Precise answers are of little value with complex socio-technical systems.
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The Author

About James Christie

I am a highly experienced IT professional with over 30 years commercial IT experience. I have worked as a test consultant, test manager, information security manager, project manager, IT auditor, business analyst, systems analyst/designer and programmer. I have a particular interest in testing’s relationship with audit and governance.

I spent 14 years working for General Accident (now Aviva) then nine years with IBM working with a range of blue-chip clients. Most of my experience was in financial services, but I also worked with clients in retail, pharmaceuticals, telecoms and central government.

I have spoken at conferences in Europe, the USA and Australia and written many articles and blog posts about testing and IT (https://clarotesting.wordpress.com/).

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