Don´t hustle my flag! Henrik Andersson

I´m sure you have heard it before. Everyone can test or Everyone does testing. Is that so? Is that really the case? Do you test just because you use a product? Do you test just because you stumble upon a bug? Do you test just because you can write some detailed step into a test management tool?

What meaning do we put in the word *testing*?
I know that some separates testing by unskilled testing and skilled testing. But is unskilled testing really testing? I will claim not.
Too me, this is just like saying that I do surgery just because I slice up a stomach and poke around. This is not surgery, this is just what it is: “slicing up a stomach and poking around”. Still, to an untrained eye it might look like surgery and so does lots of the unskilled so called *testing* too.
I do think it is hurtful for us when we, who by reputation are considered to be good testers, recognize unskilled poking around as testing. Even if we call it unskilled testing, most people will only hear and remember the word testing.
Let me draw another parallel to this. Everyone can drive, right?
Most likely everyone without any disability that hinders them can figure out how to open the door, start the engine, put in the gear, push the throttle and turn the steering wheel. So if you do all of this are you then driving?
You might be driving and you might not be driving. I think it depends on the level of awareness and consciousness. If you do not know what you are doing, you push the brake you turn the radio on full power and put the gear in parking as you push the throttle to the floor. Or if you turn the wheel clockwise and at the same time signal to turn left and you hope to go straight ahead. What I’m trying to say is that it looks to me that you are just doing random like things with little awareness or at most you are trying to figure out how to drive, but you are not driving even if this by luck takes you to the fast food stop by the corner that you wanted to go to. Some of the testing that occurs is much like this and I would not like to name this testing. It is something else, it is pesting, it looks like testing and can fool many but it is just like the pest or plague to testing.
To put a non tester in front of a program to evaluate the outcome can have value but that is very different to putting a person who don’t know how to test and then to expect testing to be done. The first is a conscious decision with a purpose. The other one is ignorant and degrading.
When someone uses the product and finds a bug, you are not testing just because you find a bug. Everyone can find a bug, since a bug is a relationship between you and the product, it is something that disturbs you.
I do not mean to say that testing always has to be done consciously, we testers treat serendipity with the highest respect and acknowledge the power of it. But we are aware of this, that is the difference.
You better be able to describe why you do this test, how you are doing it, why it is valuable and what you learned from it. I believe that test framing is crucial in testing and to be able to tell a story of you testing. I think then we are getting closer to say that we are testing.
So the million dollar question is then of course what values could we put in the word testing to give it some depth and meaning.
I do not believe we are at a point where we should define that you must know this and that and have skill #1, skill #2 and skill #3 to be testing or this is the best way to do testing.
But maybe we can define values or emotions to the word. Something that can demonstrate to others that what you are doing is thoughtful and sapient actions and that others can value your work upon. I might not agree or like your flavor of testing but consensus of how to test is not what I’m looking for. Im looking for values that we can use to say that if you do not embrace and apply them we will not call it testing, it is simply not credible. I have mentioned a few like awareness, consciousness, framing, serendipity, valuable to stakeholders, learning, evaluating. I’m not sure that these actually are relevant for this or maybe they are?
What I’m afraid of is that someone steal the word testing from us just like when the freaking racists in Sweden during the 90′s stole our Swedish flag and claimed it to belong to them.
Or if the word testing become like milk and water.
As you probably have noticed by now I’m not giving much answers here. I’m not that far in my own process of this and my purpose is to open the door for your thoughts on this matter.
However, I do believe we need to raise the bar!
So when you are testing it is much like hitting the bars on a piano. Everyone can make a sound but when does it become music?
7 Comments
Robert Sabourin March 20th, 2012

Hi Henrik

I m curious as to what inspired this inspiring blog post?

Cheers

RobSab

Henrik Andersson March 24th, 2012

Hi Rob,
Sorry for my late response. The notification mail to your comment ended up in my spam filter so i just noticed it.
I guess what triggered me to this is that i quite often see activities called testing but looking at it a bit closer it is much like “slicing up the belly and poke around”. Also there are many people proclaiming themselves as testers and it is sad to see some of them in action.
Im getting frustrated of being in a profession that has very little pride and self-respect. Don’t get me wrong here, many individual testers have but the testing as a whole lacks it, too me.
Compare it with the guy that flips burgers at McDonalds. He don’t call himself a chef and others don’t call him a chef. To be a chef you do not have to have a license but the craft has pride and in itself means something. But it does not guarantee i like a chefs cooking though but i do expect some level of quality of the work.

But in testing i see many “burger flipping testers” and it is generally just accepted.
Im not ready to accept this and thinking how we can change this before it has gone too far.

Rikard Edgren March 27th, 2012

I agree the respect thing is a problem for testers.
At the same time, respect is something you deserve, and perhaps we don’t deserve more at the moment?
And as you say, it’s about providing value; so if we make sure we do it, and help others be helpful, it will gradually change.
It’s a slow process, but things are changing if you look back 5 or 10 years.

I also want to add that “slicing up a stomach and poking around” can be a very powerful way to test!

Henrik Andersson March 28th, 2012

I agree i do not think that testing in general deserves more respect then it got at this moment.
However i do believe that we testers should hold our selves to a higher standard then we do to day and by doing so we hopefully get more respect from others. That is much of my point with this post, we have to raise the bar within our profession. This is not something others will do for us it is solely up to us with in the profession to deal with this.

So next time you have stomach pain come to me and i slice you up. As you say i might be lucky and maybe I fix it for you and then it is very powerful what i have done.
Or you can go to the doctor who will ask you lots of questions to understand the context, he will use his library of heuristics to help him find what is the root problem, he will use is experience and learned skills to diagnose you, if needed he will talk you case over with his peers and hopefully he is right with his diagnose and can cure you, although that is not a guarantee he offers.
Yes the doctor might not all of the time be sure and he do lots of different things to get more information and sometimes he will try things that i don’t know if it will work or not but he does this with consciousness and awareness.

Which one do you prefer?

Rikard Edgren March 28th, 2012

I’m all with you on your main point. That’s why I’m involved in a lot of education, hopefully making a little change (Weinberg’s Law of Raspberry Jam…)

I understand that your analogy refers to thinking and understanding what you do, but I have never been happy with the doctor analogy (most often used to stress the need of technical skills.)
There is a huge difference with software testing, because we can make mistakes and provoke problems, and no harm is done (rather the opposite!)
If my body was unharmed after any action, I wouldn’t mind if the doctor tried many different things, including poking around in my belly, in order to learn more about my potential problems.
I would be glad if several “doctors” tried different things, some of them knowing everything about stomach problems, some about other things, seemingly unrelated.

So of course I would prefer a careful doctor, but I like software testers that consider messing with a database to see what happens (as long as it can be restored if necessary…)

Henrik Andersson March 29th, 2012

I see your point and i agree, i do not like the doctor analogy if it refers to technical skills, mostly because it believe the analogy to be wrong.
And of course there are huge differences between the different professions. But there are also similarities and i do not agree to the example you are making.
I think this is one of the problems with much testing going on. The belief that we can do no harm and therefor we can do things the way we like it. Why bother being serious, we kill no one if we are sloppy. Or do we?
Just as a doctor can do huge harm to your body. We testers can do great harm to our company, project, revenue, growth etc.
In fact we can do lots of harm to our body by being a lousy tester, how does your body feel when being sacked and having a hard time getting a new job.
So both doctors and testers can do harm with their professions. Now you may say, but i mean lethal harm to my body. Well, what if you test a medical product or are a tester in the defense industry. Potential harm of bodies in two different ways, one unwanted and one wanted!

Now, since i know you Rikard, I understand that this is not the point you are trying to make. However one can read your comment that you are saying that a tester don’t need to think to much of what he is doing and do not have to understand any stakeholder because he can’t do no harm so go ahead and do what ever you feel like.

Also if you do “poking around” with the intention of learning as you mentioned, then it is no longer “just poking around” as i refer to it. Then you have a purpose, you are very aware since you are trying to learn and afterwords you can tell a story about what you did.

In my post and comment I’m talking about awareness and continuousness. I have never said that it is a bad idea to provoke problems or mess with a database or any thing similar. That is your responsibility as a tester to make the calls when to do what different test.

Rikard Edgren March 29th, 2012

I like this, we are slowly aligning, but not all the way.
I know we believe in very similar things, so I guess it’s more a presentation difference.
You want to raise awareness and thinking (which I also want)
I want to increase diversity in methods, including things you don’t really know how to do (which you also want, but not when you are raising this other issue.)

Sorry if I diverted your original topic.
I’ll make it up by holding the flag with steady arms.

/Rikard