CC to Everyone

I sent this to someone who’s angry with me due to some professional matter we debated. A colleague thought it would be worth showing you, too. So, for whatever it’s worth:

I will say this. I don’t want anyone to feel bad about me, or about my behavior, or about themselves. I can live with that, but I don’t want it.

So, if there is something simple I can do to help people feel better, and it does not require me to tell a lie, then I am willing to do so.

I want people to excel at their craft and be happy. That’s actually what is motivating me, underneath all my arguing.

10 thoughts on “CC to Everyone

  1. Do not question anybody’s character, competence, or commitment. If the person lacks any of those, they will be exposed through their own actions and words. You can properly defend your ideas without attacking people.

    [James’ Reply: I don’t believe I can adopt that policy.

    Here’s what I’ve been doing since I came into this field and what I’m going to continue to do: I will question the character, competence and commitment of people in my sphere. This is completely consistent with what I have said in this post.

    I’m not questioning these things because I want people to feel bad. I’m questioning these things because that’s what is necessary to build a good craft.

    This is exactly why the medical community and legal communities created a licensing system. Although we don’t have a licensing system, and although I don’t know how to create a licensing system given our fractured craft, I believe that each of us has a responsibility to uphold our vision of what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of the categories you are telling me not to question.

    I’m sorry that it bothers you that I do these things. But I must do them. It’s a moral imperative. It is a principled position.

    (It’s also a moral imperative for you to do them, by the way. But I gather that you do not share my values along those lines. I accept that.)]

    • Your best opportunity to expose nefarious people is through education, not through accusations.

      [James’ Reply: A lot of good people agree with you. But I don’t. I think accusations are a popular and important part of human society. I don’t think any of us can escape politics.

      I would like accusations to be made carefully and reasonably, of course. For instance, in public politics, I expect professional politicians to have good reasons before making attacks on their opponents.]

      Misplaced accusations used to win arguments will decrease your audience and support network.

      [James’ Reply: Are you using “misplaced” as a modifier or an intensifier? If you mean it as a modifier, then I don’t know how that is relevant– I am not advocating misplaced attacks!

      If it is an intensifier, are you implying that all attacks are misplaced? I don’t see the sense in that.

      If you are warning me that an attack might be misplaced. Yes, I agree that’s a risk I take. It reminds me of the last time I dialed 911. I had to think, is this REALLY an emergency? You can always be wrong.]

  2. It seems to me that attacking someone’s character, competence, or commitment is a risky business, since a) I have no super-observer knowledge of their character—that is, I am not a mind reader; b) competence is to some degree multi-variate and context-dependent—and in attacking one aspect of competence, I might be missing other important related competencies that matter to that person and to others; and c) as with character, I don’t have insider knowledge of someone’s degree of commitment, nor do I know for sure, specifically, what they’re committed to.

    [James’ Reply: Sure. It’s theoretically risky. Sometimes it may be too risky. AND it’s also risky not to attack bad people. This is a risk I am more concerned about after 29 years of seeing the testing craft tolerate mediocrity with a smile.]

    Several years ago, you discussed the notion of the personal attack ( In that post, you said this:

    “I wish I never had to be in the position of speaking out against what looks to me like bad behavior. I wish I never had occasion to make an attack against a person. Perhaps someday I’ll give up and let other people stand up for what seems right. For now, I don’t see an acceptable alternative. Someone, somewhere, someday, is going to be killed by software that is tested by well-meaning people who got negligent advice about how to test. I feel like I should do something.”

    That, along with your post just above, conveys your motivation and passion accurately, so far as I know you. I share that motivation and passion. It’s a struggle for me (and presumably for others) to maintain humility and self-doubt. It’s often a struggle for everyone in a discussion to keep the people and the ideas insulated from each other. I try not to identify too strongly with my own ideas, and I try not to identify others too strongly with theirs. Yet sometimes things leak.

    In the replies to that earlier post, Jason Yip raised the risk of a personal attack being framed in terms of Fundamental Attribution Error (essentially, the error of ignoring context as a factor in someone’s behaviour). I worry about that risk, since many context factors are not there on the surface. Another correspondent, Doug, offered this:

    In your example, I think you were not making a personal attack. You were confronting bad behavior. This is different than making a personal attack.

    Confronting bad behavior:
    “I think you are behaving unethically by stating or implying, in your advertising literature…”

    Personal Attack:
    “You are an unethical person.”

    It is good to confront bad behavior in both personal and work relationships. Resorting to personal attacks is almost always bad for relationships, and therefore bad for any goal you may share in common with that person. If you resort to personal attacks, then you have some bad behavior of your own that needs confronting…

    To which you replied

    [James Reply: Ach! Great idea. I like that usage better. Thank you.]

    I like that usage better too. It is consistent with the fallible and incomplete nature of oracles. As a tester, I can’t tell whether something is a bug (“you are an unethical person”) but I can point out apparent inconsistencies between my observations and some principle desirable to myself or others. The decision as whether it’s a bug or not is up to some person for whom the decision matters, and different people may come to different decisions.

    [James’ Reply: I think I try to follow that.]

  3. I may be missing something regarding the debate so I am not going to make a comment on that, however looking at the posted responses I would say that I agree with what has been said. I would add that any time that as individuals we have to resort to the tactics that would win the debate on the elementary school playground, like name calling, or the use of colorful words that would get our mouths washed out with soap if our moms heard us, is a sign that we really don’t have much of an argument in the first place.

    [James’ Reply: The value of attacks, even personal attacks, is to separate people. Sometimes people ought to separate themselves or be separated. So, I don’t understand people who only look at how people could function well together and not how they might function better apart.

    Look at the world right now. Look at history. We humans pursue many different projects and theories of life. In a functioning pluralistic society (free of physical violence and intimidation) we must understand that humans make clubs and sub-societies to pursue goals and aesthetics that are completely incompatible or opposed to those of others. I have a view on what responsible software development and testing looks like. This does not mesh with what some other people think it should be. So, of course they question my competence and intentions and of course I question theirs.

    That’s okay. I don’t want them put in jail. But I think “calling people names” is just the ordinary process of identifying loyalty and membership in the various tribes that make up humanity.

    Of course, we must have an eye out for compassion and empathy. Donald Trump is a great example of someone who is using tribalism to acquire power and dominance merely for its own sake. He couldn’t do what he is doing if he had compassion and empathy.]

    Please keep up the example you have been setting over the years there are many of us who are actually listening, pondering and making testing process decisions based on that example.

    • That’s the point a good debate is a healthy process, that can drive innovation. Without opposing points of view driving debate we stop innovating.

  4. I have a question: What’s the purpose of these aggressive arguments?

    [James’ Reply: As I wrote in the post “I want people to excel at their craft and be happy. That’s actually what is motivating me, underneath all my arguing.” In other words, the purpose is to make a better world and make a better community in that world. I’ve helped a great many people in my career, and I continue to do so. And I’m still one of the very few people who coaches testers for free. I devote between 5 and 10 hours a week just allowing myself to be interrupted by students and doing what I can to help them.]

    If its to teach and change the opinion of ‘the other side’, then having an attacking aggressive nature (whether its as personal attacks or just as confronting bad behaviour) throughout the discussion seems to me like it would only lead to a bigger barrier.

    [James’ Reply: I know how to win friends and influence people, Dan. I’ve had good training and lots of practice in that. But, to understand why I’m sometimes aggressive, you have to separate out different categories of situation. What I’m doing may be more complex than you realize. The kinds of aggressive attacks you are referring to I make against three kinds of people (unless I mess up, which happens, sometimes):

    – People I take seriously, who profess to be experts or seek to be considered experts in our community and yet I believe are harming the craft with their ignorance or behavior.
    – People I take seriously, who are not even claiming to be testers or to have studied testing, and yet push ignorant opinions upon us.
    – Colleagues I take seriously, respect, and who should damn well know better than to say whatever they just said that set me off.

    I don’t get angry with people I don’t take seriously. If I think someone is essentially a clown or a child, I just stop worrying about him. I might block him on Twitter to manage my attention, though.

    I’m not primarily interested in changing the minds of the first two kinds of people. But if they pass the moral test of dealing with the arguments and the anger I display while making them, then they will earn my respect in a certain important sense. Not many people respond well to that, but some do, and I reward those people, thereafter, with the benefit of any doubts I have. That impresses me. It’s hard to respond gracefully to someone who is angry.

    The third kind of person I do want to change the mind of, but they know me, and they know, or ought to know, that I expect them to respond to reason with reason, even if I am angry at the time. Again, it’s a moral test, if they get offended refuse to engage, then they will lose my respect and I will no longer be associated with them.

    I don’t need to get along with any of these people (although it hurts when I lose a colleague I respect). For people who are weak or people who for whatever reason I feel I must get along with, I deploy different approaches. And I don’t speak angrily with members of my family. Ever. Or else I have to go through a whole forgiveness cycle.

    I’m primarily interested in making the community hostile to frauds and quacks, who have enjoyed a long history of exploiting our rather spineless and amnesiatic testing industry. As an industry, we have no immune system unless good people stand up. So, I want to drive them away. I want to signal the presence of a community of critical thinkers, of which I am one vocal member. At the very least I want to signal to anyone who respects my opinion whom I think is a hero and whom I think is a danger.]

    I don’t think this POV would work in influencing those people you are arguing with.

    [James’ Reply: Maybe not. That’s okay.]

    Personally, if the purpose of the debate was to open peoples eyes and teach them, then I’d be (figuratively) taking a few pages out of Dale Carnegie’s book “how to win friends and influence people” about being likeable, going in with a smile, watching the words I say, avoiding offence but still getting my point across, etc.

    [James’ Reply: That doesn’t work on spiders, Dan. Or ants, or termites. They will happily invade your home while you serve them tea or whatever. That method has failed countless times over to stop the pillaging and appropriation and bullying of our field. Do you begrudge that there are a FEW of us who take a bolder stand? Couldn’t we have a variety of strategies to deal with the problem? I’m not saying that everyone OUGHT to do as I do, but anyone COULD, and maybe at least a few SHOULD.

    I stand for excellence, and I have watched some of the people I respect most in the craft fail to change anything by shrugging and smiling. So, I’m going a different way.]

    Word choice is a big thing for influencing and teaching IMO.
    Take the example in a comment above:

    – Confronting bad behavior:
    “I think you are behaving unethically by stating or implying, in your advertising literature…”

    – Personal Attack:
    “You are an unethical person.”

    – My personal preferred choice of words in order to influence:
    “The advertising literature appears unethical because it states and implies XYZ… Do you have time to discuss how we can update the advertising literature together to enhance it, and I can share my perspective further?”

    [James’ Reply: That won’t change them, either. Meanwhile, by talking pretty to them you are lending them some of your credibility. You are conveying the message that their behavior is acceptable. After all, you have only suggested an appearance of unethical practice, you haven’t actually claimed they are being unethical. What I have done with my approach is stopped the encroachment of bullshit into my community. I have stopped it. It doesn’t come near me. And any of my students and colleagues accept that. Of course they do– they don’t want bullshit in their careers, either.]

    So if the purpose is to change opinions and teach people through public debates, do you think taking a sensitive approach, choosing words carefully to help with influencing might help with this?

    [James’ Reply: I choose my words with extraordinary care, compared to most people. I sweat over my choices of words. It’s just that I am doing things with my words that bother you. You have a strategy that makes you not unpleasant, but do people talk about your ideas far and wide? Do people have to reckon with your ideas? A fair number of people reckon with mine, to the degree that some accuse me of running a cult of my own personality. Well, no, I’m not. But if your ideas make sense like mine do, and if you present them with passion and conviction as I do, then yes, people will follow you to some degree. People will say your name a few times.

    And one thing I’m doing is erecting a gate. If you want to be my colleague, then there is a standard that must be upheld. If that means no one wants to talk to me, so be it. But I seem to get a lot of takers. Anyway, I’m 50. I’m well established. I’m independent. I innovate. I have enough fans to keep me in business. So I can afford the luxury of following my conscience.]

    • James, I absolutely love your spirit to debate and I can see why your colleague thought it would be a good idea for you to share this email. It seems to me that your approach to debate is similar to Kim Scott’s idea/book for Radical Candor ie: to challenge people directly while still caring personally at the same time. That combination is difficult to accomplish and requires a delicate balance. I find your blog inspiring to read as, I feel, you embody both of these characteristics and employ them within an industry I care about deeply.

      I think it’s important for software testers to be aggressive with their arguments but it is hard for people to dish out criticism and to receive it. Why? Thinking back to childhood, challenging people directly goes against an idea that most of our parents (probably) indoctrinated us with as children which is that: “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” The danger of that kind of ideology is that it prevents us from challenging others directly when it may be (and often is in the software testing industry) our moral obligation to do so. That’s how we grow and evolve.

      It’s evident from your post that you are challenging others directly because you care about people, to quote your post itself, “I want people to excel at their craft and be happy.” I love that. How else can we accomplish that goal than by speaking our minds, welcoming confrontation, and being willing to debate even if it makes us feel uncomfortable?

      In addition, I want to speak on your second line from this post. To quote your post, “So, if there is something simple I can do to help people feel better, and it does not require me to tell a lie, then I am willing to do so.” I think you hit the nail on the head with that line. There is no value to manipulative insincerity because you are avoiding confrontation (thus avoiding potential resolution) and, by lying, you are forfeiting both your integrity and ability to care personally.

      [James’ Reply: Thanks for the support, man.]

  5. I tend to like people who are not afraid to criticize what they see it’s wrong. I see it as positive impulse towards improvement and it often energize me to think about ways to improve the criticized practices or at least realize what are the reasons to follow those even with the perceived flaws.

    I think the ability to criticize and confront are sometimes very important in our craft. Just a week and some ago I was on lunch with my friend and former colleague and he shared some “QA” horror stories about people who know next to nothing about testing, read some books about Agile and think they are “intellectual shepherds” to the development and testing teams.
    This meaning they envision way of testing process that almost perfectly fits “Not to do” examples from Lessons Learned, starting with bad practices, leading to what could be called perhaps a terrorism (threatening to “educating client” by blowing up the project).
    Such people are not easily educated, they must be confronted.

  6. This post reads like a bad blanket apology.

    [James’ Reply: I had to go back and read it again. And… no, it’s not an apology at all.

    But I’m sorry if anyone might think it is one. Sorry for them, I mean. (Now, THAT is a bad blanket apology.)

    While it is not an apology, what it tries to be is an expression of my intent. I seek understanding, not forgiveness. At least, not forgiveness over the matter of arguing with people.]

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