"Some birds aren't meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright"- Morgan Freeman, Shawshank Redemption. This blog is from one such bird who couldn't be caged by organizations who mandate scripted software testing. Pradeep Soundararajan welcomes you to this blog and wishes you a good time here and even otherwise.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What is our competition on?

There is a trend that is picking up in the software testing industry. To be more precise, I am talking about a trend of competitions, prizes and rewards. This is good. I love the idea of being able to compete globally and with testers whom I may not have known otherwise.

When someone wins a testing challenge and the report is published to those who participated, it influences others to ape some of the good practices and end up creating their own styles out of it. The flip side, what the winner does becomes best practice for wannabe winners of the next competition. For instance, having been practicing video recording as a part of my bug reporting style, I posted videos of bugs in Utest bug battle last year. When I coach testers, I also help them understand what kind of bugs need video recording and help them practice it. Santhosh Tuppad who is a regular bug battle winner in Utest told me that many testers have started to upload videos instead of screenshots and he published an experience report where he mentioned that point.

At this point of my post, I'd like to appreciate all companies putting up competitions that is helping to bring out new, fresh and different kind of talent to the public view. I like to support you in as many ways I can. I have been a participant, creator, winner and loser of such competitions. Its all fine.

However, I am starting to have some concerns about the competitions that are coming up which demands voting by public to decide who wins. Now, I need to clarify something. I am not talking against those companies who are doing it. As a matter of fact, I am not talking against "anything". The company wants a way to get more people to know about them and such voting based competitions help in doing that. If I start an organization, I'd like to do things that helps in getting a lot more people to know about the services my organization offers. 

The problem with the voting to decide a winner, could be hurting, to those who have put in lot of efforts but couldn't gather enough votes. For instance, Eurostar conferences organized a Videostar competition. By looking at the marketing flyer of the competition which said something like, "Put on your Holywood director hat" and about creativity, I assumed the video with the Holywood movie type creativity will probably get me to be the Videostar and did the Joker act. Anne Marie did a video that I personally liked. Nothing less of all that was from Rob Lambert who had a different way of putting things that he wanted to talk. Maybe all that was driven by seeing how creative were Eurostar folks who put up this video. Finally, the video that won, by that I mean, the one that got the most number of votes, was not so exciting as others in the list. We are independent consultants who don't have a mailer list to whom we can send and help generate a lot of votes for ourselves. Being an employee of a large company and gathering votes is much easier, especially if the Head of Testing is the one asking for votes. I guess that's what happened. Now, I am not questioning about anyone's ability but I am talking about the system.

I could have still won. I could have got a 99% lead over all others if I wished to. The Videostar page recorded a vote from a browser-computer and registers it or probably sets a cookie as well so that I cant vote twice. However, I could clear the cookies, refresh the page and vote for me again. How long would it take to automate this and leave it running overnight to wake up in the morning to declare myself as a winner?

I didn't win the Videostar. That is a testimonial that I didn't try winning with the "hacked way" I discovered. Oh, if you think there would have been an assessment of votes coming in from the same IP, I could have gone a step ahead and used the cloud to make it up or use tools that helps me mask my IP and hence not reveal where the votes came in from.

In that case, should winning be decided by a panel of judges who may not understand my skills? For instance if I take up the ISTQB Foundation Level exam, I will fail. I did fail in a mock test that I took online. Does that mean, I don't know how to test or I don't know the foundation of software testing? 

A competition has a set of rules. I am just asking if the rules can be made in such a way that the skill factor plays a vital role in winning and not the votes or my ability to memorize answers and vomit it out on an exam.

Let me repeat this: I am fine with companies organizing competitions to increase their visibility but I want to know if there can be a better way to do it than the voting system. I am dreaming of testing competitions where the winner is judged based on the skill demonstrated. A report is published by the panel as to why the winning entry amongst others were eligible for the top prize. Every step we put must help us move forward. Movement is important but there is a vector in it. What direction are we moving in and by what magnitude?

Bug battles are one kind of a competition that I like. There are more kinds of skills that companies can try to focus on. When I organized a testing challenge for Test Republic, I did a Bug Advocacy Challenge. I think there needs to Bug Investigation Challenges, Rapid Test Planning Challenges, Test of agility challenges, Test Management Challenges, Interviewing Tester Challenges, Collaborating with Developers Challenge, Understanding Requirements Challenge that can help in bringing out winners with skills of different kinds. 

So, there was a competition announced from Eurostar on blogging. I was about to pounce on it because I wanted to go to Eurostar and I have been one of the earliest Eurostar blogger. I skimmed through to see if there was anything related to voting and there it was. I decided to not enter the competition. 

I would be highly stupid if I was trying to write this post to create a negative impression of Eurostar or any other organization. That is not my intention. I'd like to say that Eurostar is a great conference I want to go but not because I got a lot of votes than someone else. I want to go if my skills get me there. I understand why Eurostar or companies that are running a voting based competition might be doing these competitions but I'd like them to think if there can be a better way to do things. I have respect for organizations like Utest and Eurostar because they are trying to do some work that is helping people change things the way they do. That is the reason I want them to be able to cause a much higher and better influence on the community, to take it forward. 

A tip to the winner

If you, a tester, happen to win any testing competition, here is something that I hope you think about from what I say to myself from my experience of winning several testing competitions; I won because the mightiest chose not to compete. This thought helps you a lot when you work with people. They shall embrace you not see you as a person they should stand away or just merely stare at.

Competitions could remain but what is our competition on? 
  • Choice A.  Number of votes
  • Choice B. the breadth and depth of skills? 
To add a little humor to this serious post; what is your vote for? A or B?