Wednesday, August 29, 2012

TESTHEAD REDUX: Anyone Can Do It, Right?

The second post ever on this blog was my commenting on a commonly heard question, at least up to that point. I decided to revisit this one and see how I felt about this question, and what has changed in the ensuing 2 1/2 years to potentially change my opinion...


First and foremost, those of us participating agreed that Quality Assurance is not “easy” to do. More precisely, it’s not easy to do if it is to be done well and consistently.


It's taken me awhile, but I have almost completely purged my active vocabulary of the term "Quality Assurance". I don't believe such a thing exists, so in that sense, not only do I say that Quality Assurance is not "easy to do", I now generally say it is "Impossible to do", at least when we are talking about software, and when we are talking about software testing.


Do we get a bad rap in Q.A.? Why do so many look down their noses at “Testers” or "Quality Assurance Engineers” or "Test Analysts” or "[fill in the blank trendy job title]"? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I do have a few ideas. One of the biggest, I think, is the fact that our contribution can vary wildly depending on what it is that we actually do. In the software industry, developers get a lot of recognition for an obvious reason; they produce a shippable product that is tangible and people can use it and say “hey, this is great” or “wow, this isn’t good”. If you are someone who works with automation and creating test scripts, there is a little bit of this “shipping” phenomenon in that you have actual tangible items to point to (test scripts, test reports, etc.). For many of the things that testers do, there really isn’t a tangible product to point to and say “see, I made this”.


I used to believe this. I don't believe it now. We create all the time. We create a story. We provide vital information. We explore the unconsidered avenues, and we do so without a lot of the fanfare and positive press. I used the idea of being a beat reporter that I borrowed from Jon Bach. His example of getting the story and providing the story is what we do, but I didn't realize at the time that there is more to that process. It's intensely creative. It allows us the latitude to tell the story in a quick TMZ sensationalistic style, or we could go for a more New Yorker style approach, and anything in between. Much of this is going to depend on our intended audience, and sometimes we will have to do both.


When we say that “anyone can be a journalist” because anyone can write a few paragraphs, we tend to laugh, because we realize that to be a good journalist requires a lot more than just writing a few paragraphs. There has to be deep knowledge on the subject, or at least enough knowledge to know what to go after to expose a story. Journalists interview, they follow leads, they get both supporting and opposing viewpoints, and at the end of the day, they make a story that moves people to consider what they have discovered and add that to their world view.


Having written this blog for 2 1/2 years, I an even see how much more silly the statement "anyone can be a journalist" actually is. Almost 600 blog posts in, and I'm more critical of what I write than I ever was before, and nothing I write would stand up to solid journalism. One of the cute and amusing things about being a fresh blogger is the hubris that comes with it. We think that what we are describing is new and inventive, that we have something vital to say (and frankly, that's OK, I'll take earnest and eager but  overbearing over smug and jaded any day). With time comes experience, and with experience comes wisdom (often because we've done dumb stuff and watched it unfold in our blog pages or in our active testing). The past 2 1/2 years has taught me a lot, but most important, getting a compelling story is every bit as hard in testing as it is in journalism. The really good testers are a few and fabled lot not because they are naturally talented. They become part of the few and fabled because they are tenacious and keep at it. They don't accept their Status Quo efforts; they keep pushing to do great work.

Great work is hard. It's tiring, it's an energy suck of the highest order. It's also highly invigorating when, in those rare moments, you really do tell a compelling story, and it's recognized as such. That keeps me going. It keeps me going through periods of time where I'm less effective, where I'm distracted, where I'm wondering why I do what I do for a living.

Looking back, I can still say it's not easy, but my reasons for feeling that way are very different than what they were in March of 2010.


Chris Kenst said...


What has contributed to your evolution and understanding of the term Quality Assurance? For instance, are there certain published articles that caused you to question this?

Michael Larsen said...

Chris, I could give a long answer here... but instead, you've just inspired an article I hope to submit :).

Short answer, though, it's something that I came to over time, through interactions online with other testers and a shared sense of frustration and irritation. That, and quite a few conversations with James and Jon Bach, Scott Barber, Elisabeth Hendrickson, Matt Heusser, Doug Hoffman, Cem Kaner, Ben Yaroch and others over the last couple of years.