Yes, please Sir, you may take your train in platform 1 or 2 to Amsterdam Central.
These were the words that gave me a breath of confidence inside the Amsterdam Airport train station. Amidst many signs in the undecipherable Dutch language (insert jokes about Hebrew letters here), numbers are easy and I know these from tender age. Off I go to platform 1 (where a computer screen did indeed say “Amsterdam Central” in large fonts) hopping in the first train that arrives.

After a couple stations in which the small computer screen in the wagon did not show anything resembling “Amsterdam Central”, I asked the young boy sharing the bench with me whether I’m on the right direction. Turns out I was not, ha! Had to have waited for a later train in that now far-away platform 1.
In the last moments before the train left with me for another city altogether (Utrecht), I got off the train and a station operator helped me to a platform that had a direct train to Maastricht (for EuroSTAR 2015!). And I felt back in control.

Ok, not a remarkable story. Why am I breaking a 4 years blog-hiatus with such inanities (other than to humour a good friend)?
It’s because I’ll try to tie it with testing and learning. Let’s try it together:

Meanwhile I texted my Wife, explained that I’d lost time by getting in the wrong train. “OTOH,” she asked, “if you got on an earlier train and then did an exchange, you may have saved time. Right?
And that’s the point: I don’t know.

I learned a few things about Netherlands trains during the 20 minutes this happened: that platforms are used for many different lines and directions, that even though the main sign for a platform points to one destination there are smaller trains that also stop there before the big ones, that even though we are told to change trains in a station we can exchange in others… but I still didn’t know whether what I did was a delay or a lucky win. Even though I am empirically experiencing the trains first hand, I’ll have to wait to meet a friend to show me the train rails and timetables before I can start to understand more of what had happened. Either that, or opening the info by myself to make sense of it, or alternatively spending a couple days doing the trajectory between the stations taking notes.

Sitting in the train right now, it felt similar to what we feel testing software. We act, the application reacts, we do one thing and the software replies with another. Sometimes we go in a wrong direction, take notes of the new learnings and then go back. And, after a while testing, a question pops: We’ve been learning all day long, now this peculiar behavior — is it a bug or not? Is it a problem or perhaps a lucky feature?
And often we don’t know. Only after we admit that our learning is not complete, we can look for a friend to help us with the answer, or identify the materials needed to fill the knowledge gap, or decide on the next empirical steps required to elucidate the question… or at least get closer to an answer or recommendation.

Software is tricky (it’s invisible, it’s intangible) and it is infinite. Learning software is infinite as well. If we fall in the trap of feeling in control, we’ll not notice when big questions are yet unanswered.

Well, I should post this online, before I miss my station.