"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.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Who is making software testers, dumb and bad?

Not so long ago, I thought there existed a set of testers called, "bad testers". I hated them. I wanted to punch them on their face and get their face to bleed. I wanted to become a powerful politician and kill them all and escape without being charged for genocide. I wanted to become a superhero and get people to fire them from their jobs. I wanted them to beg for jobs, money and survival. I thought that is the way to get them to open their minds for learning. All this should have shot my blood pressure up while those bad testers remained cool. They were untouched by my criticism and continued to think that I was an asshole.

Whenever I found them, I insulted them as much as I could till I realized that they needed more care from me than those whom I was already caring about. I started caring for them. My world changed and so did theirs.

I was always wondering how these bad testers are happy. Needless to say I thought I am a great tester and still continue to think that way. By "great", I mean, "just what is required". Today, you can be a great tester by being just what is required. Tomorrow, the case might change.

I tried shifting the question from "Why are bad testers happy about themselves?" to "Who is making these bad testers happy?" and "Who is preventing the bad testers to learn that they are doing bad testing?"

That's when I said to myself, "There are no bad testers. There are some who are forced to practice bad testing. The force is either internal or external or a combination of them".

That was an important shift in the strategy that helped me in my exploration of identifying what factors cause a tester to appear bad or practice bad testing.

Internal forces 
I mean, ones that the testers themselves are responsible for or have control over.
  • Money more important than anything else: For some testers who are sole breadwinners of the family, they might internalize the idea that what works for others is a safer route to traverse than exploring new paths and risking their cash flow. They spend their life traveling those peoples route who themselves have followed someone else's route. All finding it to be safe and hence not wanting to change.
  • Fear of losing the job: For some testers, losing a job means unbearable social pressure. These testers don't ever try to speak against anything to protect their jobs. Their whole life is spent on running just one test case - Is this the right time to shut my mouth? - to which the result always remains - Pass.
  • Shallow ambitions in life: For some testers, their ambition is to never do something fascinating but just run the rat race, build a house, buy a car, get married & have kids. They also try to ensure that their kids continue to run the rat race. I am not speaking against taking care of the family but taking care of the family should be balanced with building high ambitions in life and working towards it.
  • Victim of Rutherford-Bohr's experiment: Some testers, no matter what exciting stuff they are presented with, try to return to their most stable state of ignoring all the exciting stuff because their life is already happy (grounded). 
  • Living someone else's dream: Some testers, don't have dreams of their own. They just pretend to have their own while they are living other's dream. Some live the dream of their parents and rest their manager's. Living others dream makes their life boring and they give up on almost everything, forget testing.
  • Taste of early success causing a drift from continuing to learn - Mostly a very dangerous one. These kind of testers think they are on the right path and there is no reason for them to change. 
  • Having learned that good testing is hard - Some testers acknowledge what good testing is but they also learn it is very hard to test well. Out of that, some of them make up their mind saying they are not in for such hard work because they think life is bigger than doing good testing. Nothing wrong but they don't seem to be doing to the big part well, either.

External forces
I mean, the ones who are responsible or has a power or influence to get good testing done.
  • Head or Tails of testing - I have talked to at least slightly less than a hundred Heads of Testing of big, medium and small scale organizations. They have so much power to change things and yet they don't seem to be doing anything about it. I must also admit that some people are doing very well while most don't appear to be. Why don't these people take a break from their work, sit along testers on one of the project and test for just a couple of days to realize how hard it is and what can they do to help these testers do a great job. 
  • The interviewers - At least people in India, when they are out of college, want to just learn enough to crack an interview. When interviewers emphasize on demonstration of memorization than skills, its easy for a billion plus population to crack them. Fakers get in, Genuine people might not.
  • Testing institutes - Business demands scale, I agree. Scaling at the cost of quality of education is in my opinion, spoiling your own country's chances. Please read the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell and more specifically Chapter Five - The Three Lessons from Joe Flom. You'd know what your business needs for future if it has to remain scalable.
  • The experts - If you have great ideas, please price them a little lower for the first few years or based on the geography. You won't be considered cheap, trust me. Don't make money an entry barrier to someone who wants to get excellent at testing. 
  • Commercial conferences - If you have have had good deals of sponsorship and paid delegates for a specific year, consider giving 80% discount to 10 people who cant afford it but want to attend it.

Combination of internal & external forces
When the external forces & internal forces combine, its a killer combo for bad testing
  • Lack of speed in firing poor performers - If the people responsible to get good testing done are delaying in firing poor performers then the hope in the poor performer rises that he or she is doing well and should continue doing that. In at least half the organizations I consult, I get the opportunity to consult because they haven't fired the poor performers for a long time and something went kaput.
  • Not paying good testers well - I have been to a few conferences in India where Head of IT or Head of Dev or Head of Testing are keynote speakers. Their speech is usually, "We have come to realize that testing is of great importance" but then they don't match the pay of the good testers they have to their claims. People call that "keynote". Can you walk the talk?
  • Waiting till the year end to spend on training budget - Wondering why many organizations keep their training budget till the year end and not organize a training when the team needs it sometime mid year? As a side note, I wish, in India, the Learning & Development department, which is a separate entity in the organization is eliminated and every department becomes Learning & Development apart from what they do. 
  • The book writers - When you write books that are not different from any other books that are available, you are re-iterating the point that the industry isn't changing. Many testers who accidentally pick up a book and skim through it read stuff that they have read a couple of years ago feel they are on track (and also end up not buying your book). Is that a message your book wanted to communicate?

I am 30 now. I am more curious about my age of 50 and waiting to get there, because I hope, I would have seen many changes - lots of positive ones. Mostly because the generation to which I belong or the generations junior to that of mine would have solved the problems I have listed and might have gone beyond that. I am not discarding the fact that the older generations have not solved it. There are dozens of them out of a population of millions.

When I tried punching just one bad tester I met, blood oozed out. Not on the face but in my hands for it was a mirror that I saw. 


Anonymous said...

A few years ago, when I knew that I wanted to do something more as a tester, but didn't know what to do[Of course, I was a lot more directionless then], all I thought was 'OK, let me give myself another chance. Let me be best at what I do right now. At the least, I am thinking of doing something big which is great in itself!'

Over a period of time, I realised that my internal forces were bigger obstacles than anything else. How could I blame my lead or manager or director or the organization I worked for when I myself don't want to change!

There was no looking back ever since. I quit my job and found another one in a small startup that gave me a lot more freedom to test apart from the hassle of working 11 hrs a day. But, It was FUN and it still is!

When I look back now, As you say, people who are doing bad testing need a lot more care than the others, but are they open to learning is the question. Again, is it worth caring for them when they themselves think of others as assholes who are useless [Apologies for using that word].

I am sweet 16. And Yes, I am waiting desperately to see how our generation is going to fare in the years to come in testing. OK. OK. I am 30 too before you stare me in the face like you did a few months ago ;-)

I have gotten over the internal forces, its time to move to the external ones. I only hope I have the patience and determination to fight for the profession that I am so proud of!

Wanting to be Anonymous just for this post!

Ola said...

Very good post Pradeep.

Besides a very good analysis of what the driving force, or lack of driving force, may be you also hit on an important thing that I have been contemplating this week in team building and team leading.

I got this from John Madden who in his first book, I think, wrote something like this about how to handle your team in success and during hard times.

"You need to adjust you attitude towards your team. When you are winning everyone will pat them on their back tell them they're great. As the coach you need to get on there case more and make them work hard. Thsy can handle it, that's not a problem when they feel great about themselves and everyone tells them they're great. When you loose. You need to be more gentle and don't get on there case. Everyone else is doing that already. You need to tell them thery're ok and keep working hard and you will get back to winning. You have to be the opposite of what may come as your initial reaction."

Not easy but it helps! Something along those lines and that was the first thing I thought of when I started reading.
Your point about what may motivate people not to try and become great testers is very good. To me it's important to understand, and remember, that we are all different. We are all individuals and as such we have different goals and different priorities and we need to rember to respect that and listen to people so that we understand where they're comming from.

Again, it's a good one Pradeep. On my mind I have a bunch of ideas with me from EuroSTAR so I'll start writing again.

Anonymous said...

I would say it is the organization that is responsible for making dumb testers. One org I worked for claimed that testers/testing are important and even paid the testers well. They pushed for coming up with test cases n question everything but when the time came for testing they wanted one and only one flow to be tested - they wanted to verify that this one flow worked and did not care if any other flows to reach the same output, failed. That's when I realized that it was all lip service and nothing else. They religiously held the tester responsible when the customer used some other flow and failed.

Another org was all for testing & freedom to the tester but most of the issues were invalidated saying they weren't priority. All my pleas why they should be fixed on priority fell on deaf ears. I was held responsible - in a negative way - when the customer came back with all those issues which I had reported. Did I mention they paid peanuts too? When the next time I shut my mouth and did not defend the priority of my bugs I was told my communication skills were bad. I was even asked to leave the co. Good for me I have not deterred from being the person I was. Imagine if it were someone else?


Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot to add.
I was put into a project where my skills did not match and repetitive pleas to put me in a more suitable project fell on deaf ears. I was eventually called a bad tester and another checker-tester (who was working on my previous project as my replacement instead of having that tester in the new project) was called a good tester. How dumb is that?


SS said...

Good blog.

I believe testing should be developed as an attitude. A person who is got an inclination towards manual testing cannot be forced upon automation. Similarly, person who is more interested in just analyzing the requirements cannot be asked to do system/regression testing.

Most of the times I feel it is companies/managers forcing things upon tester or a person himself takes it upon as a challenge to negate peer pressure.

shilpa said...

good post. Love your insight.

TestSheep said...

Behind a bad tester is a bad mentor.

Of course if you look in the mirror and see a bad tester, then you're on the road to enlightenment and becoming a better tester ... It's easier to see faults in others, harder to see it in ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Very True... But being a good tester is not easy. A bad tester has lot of time to manipulate things, win attention and to make more money. Whereas real good and hard working testers have just enough time to self satisy themselves of having done a good, thorough testing. Also, sometimes the fact that bad testers are being paid more might also demotivate them.

Pradeep Soundararajan said...


The reason why good testers might not be paid well is also because they don't know how to communicate the value they are adding. Read one of my latest post about how Manoj let know the management the value he is adding.

And, ah, I know some good testers who are paid much more than the best of the developers the company has.