Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Testers as Their Own Worst Enemies: an #STPcon Live Blog

Testers as Their Own Worst Enemies

Michael Bolton and I share a number of interests. We're both musicians and we have often talked about music and riffed with each other at conferences over the years. Michael starts out his talk with a clearly personal example. There's a, (rightly so, I believe) critical eye being placed on a variety of streaming services that are making a lot of money on technology to share music.

Those companies are leaving the key players of that product (i.e. the musicians) out of the equation, or at least are not compensating them in any way commensurate with their contribution. What happens when musicians are not ultimately compensated for their efforts and creativity? You either get less music or you get less quality music (a term that is hugely problematic and not something I will address; everyone has opinions on what good music is).

In many ways, software testers are feeling a bit like the musicians in the above example. Think about making music without musicians. Once that was considered unthinkable. Today, anyone with a laptop and some scripting skills *can* write a hit song (not that they necessarily will, but they absolutely can). What happens when we take musicians out of the equation of creating music? What do we lose? Likewise, what happens when we take testers out of the equation of making software? Some may argue that I'm stretching this analogy since programmers are closer to musicians than testers are but hey, my rules, I'm making them up as I go ;).

To torture this metaphor a little more, I want to make a plug to a person I think every tester should know. Truth be told, I do not know his real name. I only know him as "Blue".

Seriously, though, "Blue" is what I refer to as a "stand up philosopher" and in many ways, he's a great resource that I think any software tester will find value in both hearing and reading. Blue is young, like, I could be his Dad. Seriously. Still, Blue has a way of looking at the world and exploring how societies work that can be hugely helpful to a tester. He is also great at breaking down challenging topics and making them sound simple and I think this is the skill that every tester would benefit from. Seriously, check him out (end weird side tangent ;) ).

Testers need to be something other than just people who run tests. If that's all we bring to the table then we are ultimately expendable. We need to look at we actually do for a company. We test, sure, but if that's all we do, we are of limited value. If, however, we are capable of articulating what the issues are and why they would be positive or negative to the organization, using our brains and our persuasion, then we have some leverage. To that end, I will say that testers need to be stand up philosophers in our own right (see, I had a reason for pulling Blue into this conversation ;) ). When the dialogue about testers being social scientists comes up, this is what is meant by that. When we talk about risk, we need to humanize it. We need to make it relatable. We need to feel as though the issues affect us and others because, ultimately, they do.

Ultimately those of us that want to play in the testing game (for whatever reason) are going to have to make a case for the humanity that we provide. If we cannot or do not make the case for it, then we are effectively saying we are totally expendable. Testers need to stop looking at the areas where they can be farmed out or mechanized and draw attention to the areas that they really do provide value. Our mechanical output is not really that special. If it can be repeated, it can be automated, at least at the mechanical and procedural level. What can't be automated? Thoughtful synthesis and informed advocacy for doing the right thing and why our course of action would be right.

To borrow from my own advocacy area, I can talk about the fact that code can be checked for compliance when it comes to accessibility. Can I do that? Absolutely. can code do that? It sure can and probably a lot faster than I can. Can a system make an informed decision that the experience that a disabled person will have is comparable to one that a normative user will have? At this point in time, no machine can do that. You need people for that. People are good at advocacy. People are good at learning. People are good at making judgment calls. Testers would be well advised to place their efforts and emphasis on those humanities more so than the "Techne" of what they do.


Dave said...

Yay! Hurrah for Blue! I prefer watching Red (Blue's counterpart in their YouTube channel), but I see where you're coming from. We need the ability to make ideas from data both simple and relatable.

Michael Larsen said...

Dave, I enjoy them both but in this case, Blue was the better example as he covers philosophy. Literature and writing, as well as mythology, yeah, I dig Red, too. Lots!!!