Orienteering for Software Testers – A Map Full of Nothing

What do you know about orienteering? If you are not familiar with the sport here is a Wikipedia definition for you: “Orienteering is a group of sports that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed.” If you haven’t tried it I highly recommend it! In this blog series I talk about orienteering from amateur’s point of view and link these observations to professional software testing.


The most important tool for an orienteer is the map. It describes the terrain using various symbols. This includes landforms, rocks, water, vegetation and so on. No reason to list every symbol here. I think I don’t even know all of them. You get the idea.

Depending on the orienteering event you will see many kinds of maps. In smaller events you might get a map that hasn’t been updated for at least couple of years. Most likely the terrain has changed during that time somehow.

Bigger competitions obviously put in more effort. For example, in the world’s biggest orienteering relay Jukola – held in Finland – the mappers work couple of years to produce a map worthy of the event. A good map is both accurate and readable. Two requirements that don’t always go hand in hand.

To sum it all up, the degree to which the map matches the terrain varies. When the orienteer gets lost the map often gets the blame. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes it’s not. Does this sound familiar to you as a user of multitude of different apps?

Now consider that the terrain is a software you are about to test for the very first time. How good is the map you are provided with? Sure, usually there’s a bunch of requirements to give you an idea of the software and it’s features. Is it certain that the specifications are actually flawless? Do they cover every imaginable situation? For majority of software out there I can state with certainty that the answer to both of those questions is “no”. Sometimes the tester is even sent in the woods with a blank map!

Orienteering lesson 1: The tester has to act as a mapper. Explore and build a more detailed picture. Produce information of the software that wasn’t yet known.

Orienteering for Software Testers series:

  1. A Map Full of Nothing
  2. The Cunning Planner
  3. Are You a Racing Snake? 18.6.2018
  4. An Army of Donkeys 25.6.2018
  5. More Coverage from a Relay 2.7.2018
  6. Bulletin of a Champion 9.7.2018

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