You are part of the rebel alliance and a tester

You are part of the rebel alliance and a tester…

The last two months have been exciting for me in the testing space. First it was Rapid Software Testing with James Bach then it was KWST and the follow up online discussions. From these discussions, I have noticed other testers in New Zealand who are thinking about the craft. This is important and I’ll tell you why… In New Zealand there is a problem.

There are not many testers who are:-

  • Willing to learn more about the craft
  • Promoting better testing practices
  • Not promoting ISTQB as the one true way
  • Defining what they mean by professionalism (associating professionalism with certification)
  • Blindly accepting the status quo

New Zealand is not unique. A lot of testers come from the business and have very little guidance in improving themselves as testers. A fair proportion that I have met are skeptic and critical but a lot are not. They are like sheep willing to adhere to standards or processes or templates as if testing is paint by numbers – produce this 42 page document and hey presto! – instant, credible testing.

Can anyone see the issue with this thinking?

Let’s look the problems I raised above..

There are not many testers who are willing to learn more about the craft.

 Maybe the Department of Statistics can tell us how many software testers have recorded testing as their occupation in New Zealand. I would have guessed a couple of thousand. Out these few thousand, maybe  a hundred or so would be actively involved in improving their testing skill.  Some will be corrupted by managers and HR who know nothing about testing and steer them towards syllabi or outdated practices that offer little value. Some attend conferences (like STANZ) to learn and network and a smaller few will challenge and actively discuss and debate aspects of testing that interest them. The last few are ones that I want to meet because they are the ones that may have an interesting voice and have some influence in their circles they run with (e.g. Oliver Erlewein).

Promoting better testing practices

Looking at testing from a higher perspective, we can do more to promote critical, technical and empirical work. Going to meaningful conferences (exhibition type and invite only peer conferences), participating in online discussions, being coached by James Bach, Michael Bolton or Anne Marie Charrett, attending meaningful training courses, networking – the list is endless.

However, what I’ve seen as common in New Zealand is the blind adherence to standards/non-thinking policy or listening to someone who holds the title consultant (but hasn’t really earned it) who really offers nothing. Here are two tips:-

*If your organisation promotes templates and standards as best testing practice, run.

*If a consultant uses the term best practice, be wary as there is no such thing especially in testing. Be critical of such consultants, challenge them, do not believe them. At best they are marketers not testers.

Promoting ISTQB as the only true way

It seems that management love to quantify and check things off. Certification seems to be something management love. The common responses I hear from management about having certification are:-

  • Certification raises professionalism
  • And it’s better than nothing

That’s wrong on both counts. Certification does not raise professionalism. Your own reputation and skill as a tester does that (look at the context driven testers like James Bach, Matt Heusser, Pradeep Soundarajan, Henrik Andersson, Anne Marie Charret, Darren McMillan, Richard Robinson , Aaron Hodder, Michael Bolton – (I think I’ve covered the globe!). I can contrast that with testers I’ve interviewed over the last six years that claim to be certified but couldn’t test to save themselves. Unfortunately, these *testers* are a dime a dozen and they are hired as *test* bodies to give the illusion of testing. There is A LOT MORE than certification people! There is skill, experience (good and bad), learning, context and so on.

The argument it’s better than nothing assumes that nothing existed before certification that was of any value. I had been testing a number of years before I even realised that certification existed. Was what I did nothing? Did it have no value? Of course not. One possible answer to this flawed response is to stress reputation and credibility. We may have stumbled in the dark not understanding some academic theory but we weren’t doing nothing. If we have developed a sound reputation then surely something existed before certification that was valuable. If we allow it’s better than nothing argument to foster then we aren’t being critical, thinking testers – testing is more than theory.

Defining what they mean by professionalism (associating professionalism with certification)

This is tied in with the point above. What is professional for me, will be different for someone else. For me, certification does not define professionalism. What defines professionalism is the respect, opinion and reputation of my peers and community i associate with (KWST, context driven school of testing).

Blindly accepting the status quo

Unfortunately, a lot of testers follow what they have been told without question. Most of the time it is organisation based – use this template, report this metric, follow this script. In my experience I don’t see questioning of the status quo to help make the craft better. It appears to me to be ignorance based as in “I don’t know any better.” Ignorance will only take you so far if you wish to be taken seriously as a tester (to me, this type of person is a checker or at best a check analyst, not a tester).

Question the consultants, the test policy makers, the certificationists – there may be legitimate reasons, there may not but at least you’re on the path of refinement.

These are some of the issues that I’ve seen and experienced in New Zealand (and to a lesser extent, Australia). However, there are pockets of testers that are breaking these bonds. KWST is a good example, Sydney Testers meet up and Software Testers New Zealand another. So there is hope in New Zealand and Australia. And where there is hope, there is the opportunity to help influence and shape the testing craft for the better. These pockets are the rebel alliance downunder, we look to counter and debate the threat of the evil empire. You can find them if look below the surface.

We are active in the community, we think, we are critical, we question and align ourselves with communities that hold similar values.

Above all we a passionate about the work that we do!

Author: bjosman

Principal Consultant at OsmanIT

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