In indoor climbing, there are already a lot of things to think about:
- from the critical “have I tied my knot correctly?”,
- through the worrying “if I fall now, I’m going to hit that large volume on the way past”,
- to the self-questioning “I’m not sure my fingers can hold me here without them snapping”.
Sometimes I wonder why I do it. But there’s one thing in particular that’s rare enough for me to never expect it, but unexpected enough to cause me surprise at best or a fall and injury at worst. The spinner.
Indoor climbing holds are made of plastic and are bolted to a pre-drilled wall. Some are small and have one bolt, some are small but long and still have one bolt, maybe shaped a bit like a propellor, and with the force of an entire climber on the wrong end, it can come loose and spin under your hand – there’s nothing quite like trying to hold onto (fake) rock and finding it’s not as solid as you hoped, right at that important moment.
Sometimes, the spinner doesn’t cause you to fall – you might be fortunate to be on the ground or be in a stable three-points-of contact position already. However generally as a climber facing the unexpected spinner that I can’t control and is going to affect my ascent, there’s really only one outcome. Crucially, I’m on a rope so I shouldn’t hit the ground although I might hit a few rather solid objects on the way down. But that’s OK and does tend to happen during a normal session – just ask any of us, we’re bound to be carrying a few scars at any point in time:
Expecting the unexpected isn’t something I do a lot of on the wall. Falling is generally an expectation (not exactly ideal but if you’re pushing your grades, it’s going to happen), as is tying the knot badly or missing a harness loop. To counteract those expected events, good climbers do safety checks before each climb and use a regularly checked, appropriate (length, stretchiness, etc.) rope for the task. If Heraclitus was to be entirely accurate with his quote that:
He who does not expect the unexpected will not find it, since it is trackless and unexplored
then the spinners wouldn’t be encountered, but I’m sure he hadn’t tried indoor climbing.
In our everyday testing work, we do need to make contingency plans but there’s a limit to how far we should go, from limits of time, money and information. We ask to test early, rather than in the final hour of Friday afternoon, not just so that there’s time for fixes to be made but also so that we the testers have some chance of handling situations like test environments going down, scripts being lost, additional requirements arising and so on. To my mind, these are all expected events for which I will make some attempt to prepare. It’s not just additional time that’s a contingency – there are other plans that can be put in place from avoiding silos of information who may suddenly be taken ill, ensuring regular backups of important information and scripts, making and broadcasting testing plans to parties who may be able to evaluate or adjust, and of course many more.
Sometimes, we can still recover from an incident. I might be able to call upon friendly colleagues to help me out in a bind, use other servers as environments, run comparable tests, or any one of a number of other workarounds I’ve thought about or used before.
At the end of the day though, there’s always the possibility of a “spinner” – some rare event that has the potential to railroad an entire testing task but without leaving me any good way of handling it. A fire alarm leaving the entire workforce outside for two hours while the fire crew kindly make sure we really are safe to return. Workers building the nearby new dual carriageway who cut through the mains electricity leaving all the local businesses without power (Aside: I’ve had that happen – it was before lunch, but even the local pub had no power, so we all went home instead).
Sometimes, these unexpected events happen and no amount of contingency planning, cunning workarounds nor luck can bail you out. Sometimes, you just have to take the fall, get a little bruised, dust yourself off and get back on with the job.