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SnapStream Blog

All in! Playing poker is a lot like testing software

October 14 2011 by tvsearcheradmin

Several of us SnapStreamers enjoy playing America's game, which involves neither a helmet nor pigskin, nor the trajectory of a wingless bird (cue avian grumbling). We like football and Angry Birds too, but this classic game is poker — No Limit Texas Hold'em to be exact.

You won't see us on this year’s World Series of Poker broadcasts on ESPN, but about once a month we wear sunglasses at night for our own main event, replete with quotes from the cult movie hit Rounders. Highlights from the first SnapStream Poker Night include:

Realizing we were in trouble when our lead tester Zack shuffled up like a dealer from The Bellagio, Zack sending two summer interns to the rail with a full house (Jacks full of interns), and...Zack earning consecutive first place wins. If the urban term ownage applies here, and it clearly does, then so does rematch!

Texas Hold’em is a game of situations that requires knowledge of hand probability, keen observation, a little math, and a lot of intuition. Many times you don’t know for certain if an opponent's hand is strong or weak, so you have to lead out with a bet to gain information, often with only a marginal hand yourself. Knowing how much to bet, and when, is key to success at the table.

If this game of calculated risk sounds a bit like a metaphor for business strategy or investing, then you’re onto something. Rewind to the mid-70s, when part of the money raised for a start up named Microsoft came from the founder’s poker winnings at Harvard. Here’s a passage from Bill Gates’s prophetic 1995 book, The Road Ahead:

"In poker, a player collects different pieces of information—who's betting boldly, what cards are showing, what this guy's pattern of betting and bluffing is—and then crunches all that data together to devise a plan for his own hand. I got pretty good at this kind of information processing."

Pretty good indeed (he says, 16 years later, from a PC running Win7 Pro)... Evidently, the kind of analysis Gates uses to arrive at a poker hand strategy is common to many professions requiring the ability to size up a situation. As an example from software testing, here are a few vectors from our lead tester’s playbook on preparing to test at SnapStream:

“What is the scope of this code check-in, what are the requirements and expectations, what are the boundary cases, performance considerations, security concerns etc? What’s the plan of attack?”

Tackling these and other fundamental questions sharpens our game by clarifying the situation and a course of action. We then play against the software to help strengthen it for our customers. If that sounds like fun, it is!

On that note, the SnapStream Series of Poker continues at the end the month, near Halloween. No doubt a few well-disguised A-games will be lurking at the table, behind some very unusual poker faces. May your full house be pleasantly haunted this autumn, and remember:

“You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle... but you can’t win much either.” - Mike McDermott (Matt Damon, Rounders)

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