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Facing the Dragons, Dealing with Complex Unknowable Systems

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The EuroSTAR Best Paper 2018 was awarded to James Christie for his paper Facing the Dragons, Dealing with Complex Unknowable Systems. We are delighted to present it to you as an eBook.

Experts working with complex safety critical systems use dragons as a metaphor to represent the dangerous unknown. These systems are complex and dynamic; no-one can understand or specify these systems completely. This poses intractable problems, and the response of the safety critical community has important lessons for testers who will increasingly have to work with complex systems. To view previous winners of this coveted prize, you can view here

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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Editor's Image

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 (

Twitter: @james_christie

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