Friday 11 November 2011

Sleepwalking into failure

"I feel happier when I have come to the same conclusion as experts in my field independently by making my own mistakes"
This was a statement that I posted on twitter last week, which had responses from a few people including a very witty response from citizencrane
"Don't skydive"
and a response from Lisa Crispin
"I'd just as soon not make the mistakes, but I guess it is a better learning experience!"
Whilst I agree that it is instinctively better to avoid making mistakes, I think that allowing ourselves the ability to try new things and make mistakes is essential to learning. In the week after my comment I saw some interesting ones on the same subject:-

this one from testerswain
For me, making mistakes while #testing is a great learning opportunity and more benefitial than gathering knowledge from books
and this one from Morgsterious
Learning new ways is not a matter of being told, but one of risking and discovering in a loving, trusting context." - Satir
So there are clearly other folks out there who feel the same way. Ironically though, in my post the mistakes that I was referring to were not those that arise from trying new things, but from specifically not doing this...

A questioning approach

Rather than simply accepting the contents of textbooks and certification programs on how testing should look, I strive to question the validity of everything that I do. I try new ideas in place of existing practices that I think are founded on invalid principles. Trying new methods invariably introduces the risk of failure. I've tried new things and failed, but in every case I have learned valuable lessons. The failures that teach me little, and I therefore regret the most, are the ones that arise through specifically not questioning what I do. These were the failures I was referring to in my original quote, the failures of adopting an approach because of accepted wisdom rather than validity and appropriateness for the context. The failures of sleepwalking through false rituals and meaningless metrics. Consider the following scenarios:-
  1. I read an article by a respected tester highlighting the invalidity of an approach that I am still using, with no thought on my part for how valid this is.
  2. I would naturally question my own approach and consider whether I could make any changes to improve my own testing based on what I have learned. I would also feel slightly embarrassed and potentially lose confidence in my own abilities and worth.
  3. I read an article by a respected tester highlighting the invalidity of an approach that I have myself already questioned and changed.
  4. I'd feel great. My confidence in my own understanding of my profession would have received a huge boost thanks to my own critical thinking being backed up by someone I have a great deal of respect for.
Both of these have happened to me, I know which makes me happier. For example when I read Michael Bolton questioning the concept of "Done" in this post and here , I feel justified in my own approach and writing on my own issues with this concept.

Evolving the profession

I believe that testing as a profession is constantly evolving. All of the testers that I hold in high regard are not those that espouse "best practices" and rigid models for success. Instead the individuals that I most respect are those that question the status quo and constantly look to improve testing as a profession (see the blog list on the right for a starting list).

While respecting the thought leaders in my field, many of the most vocal are working are offering consultancy services and reference books (Lisa Crispin, mentioned above is a notable exception. Whilst being a successful author she has also worked as a tester in the same agile team for many years). I believe that the art of improving testing should not be the preserve of the consultants and authors. Even with the most principled of individuals there will inevitably be a different bias for those trying to differentiate their own service in a market from a tester in permanent employment striving to ensure the medium-long term applicability of the methods they adopt. I believe that as a professional I have a responsibility to contribute to the same questioning process and try to improve my craft through my learning on a continuous product development, which is necessarily different from contract engagements. This recent rallying call from James Bach for all testers to spend time thinking, writing and coming up with new testing ideas, applies equally to testers in all types of testing situation. By adopting a questioning approach and writing about my own experiences, both sucesses and failures, I feel that I am at least making the effort to contribute to the testing body of knowledge, and not just sitting back and relying on the excellent individuals that I refer to to question my profession for me.

The alternative, where I neither question myself, nor read any material from any other respected testers to improve my own testing, well that really isn't an option that I care to consider.

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