Accountability for What You Say is Dangerous and That’s Okay

[Note: I offered Maaret Pyhäjärvi the right to review this post and suggest edits to it before I published it. She declined.]

A few days ago I was keynoting at the New Testing Conference, in New York City, and I used a slide that has offended some people on Twitter. This blog post is intended to explore that and hopefully improve the chances that if you think I’m a bad guy, you are thinking that for the right reasons and not making a mistake. It’s never fun for me to be a part of something that brings pain to other people. I believe my actions were correct, yet still I am sorry that I caused Maaret hurt, and I will try to think of ways to confer better in the future.

Here’s the theme of this post: Getting up in front of the world to speak your mind is a dangerous process. You will be misunderstood, and that will feel icky. Whether or not you think of yourself as a leader, speaking at a conference IS an act of leadership, and leadership carries certain responsibilities.

I long ago learned to let go of the outcome when I speak in public. I throw the ideas out there, and I do that as an American Aging Overweight Left-Handed Atheist Married Father-And-Father-Figure Rough-Mannered Bearded Male Combative Aggressive Assertive High School Dropout Self-Confident Freedom-Loving Sometimes-Unpleasant-To-People-On-Twitter Intellectual. I know that my ideas will not be considered in a neutral context, but rather in the context of how people feel about all that. I accept that.  But, I have been popular and successful as a speaker in the testing world, so maybe, despite all the difficulties, enough of my message and intent gets through, overall.

What I can’t let go of is my responsibility to my audience and the community at large to speak the truth and to do so in a compassionate and reasonable way. Regardless of what anyone else does with our words, I believe we speakers need to think about how our actions help or harm others. I think a lot about this.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying it’s wrong to upset people or to have disagreement. We have several different culture wars (my reviewers said “do you have to say wars?”) going on in the software development and testing worlds right now, and they must continue or be resolved organically in the marketplace of ideas. What I’m saying is that anyone who speaks out publicly must try to be cognizant of what words do and accept the right of others to react.

Although I’m surprised and certainly annoyed by the dark interpretations some people are making of what I did, the burden of such feelings is what I took on when I first put myself forward as a public scold about testing and software engineering, a quarter century ago. My annoyance about being darkly interpreted is not your problem. Your problem, assuming you are reading this and are interested in the state of the testing craft, is to feel what you feel and think what you think, then react as best fits your conscience. Then I listen and try to debug the situation, including helping you debug yourself while I debug myself. This process drives the evolution of our communities. Jay Philips, Ash Coleman, Mike Talks, Ilari Henrik Aegerter, Keith Klain, Anna Royzman, Anne-Marie Charrett, David Greenlees, Aaron Hodder, Michael Bolton, and my own wife all approached me with reactions that helped me write this post. Some others approached me with reactions that weren’t as helpful, and that’s okay, too.

Leadership and The Right of Responding to Leaders

In my code of conduct, I don’t get to say “I’m not a leader.” I can say no one works for me and no one has elected me, but there is more to leadership than that. People with strong voices and ideas gain a certain amount of influence simply by virtue of being interesting. I made myself interesting, and some people want to hear what I have to say. But that comes with an implied condition that I behave reasonably. The community, over time negotiates what “reasonable” means. I am both a participant and a subject of those negotiations. I recommend that we hold each other accountable for our public, professional words. I accept accountability for mine. I insist that this is true for everyone else. Please join me in that insistence.

People who speak at conferences are tacitly asserting that they are thought leaders– that they deserve to influence the community. If that influence comes with a rule that “you can’t talk about me without my permission” it would have a chilling effect on progress. You can keep to yourself, of course; but if you exercise your power of speech in a public forum you cannot cry foul when someone responds to you. Please join me in my affirmation that we all have the right of response when a speaker takes the microphone to keynote at a conference.

Some people have pointed out that it’s not okay to talk back to performers in a comedy show or Broadway play. Okay. So is that what a conference is to you? I guess I believe that conferences should not be for show. Conferences are places for conferring. However, I can accept that some parts of a conference might be run like infomercials or circus acts. There could be a place for that.

The Slide

Here is the slide I used the other day:

maaret

Before I explain this slide, try to think what it might mean. What might its purposes be? That’s going to be difficult, without more information about the conference and the talks that happened there. Here are some things I imagine may be going through your mind:

  • There is someone whose name is Maaret who James thinks he’s different from.
  • He doesn’t trust nice people. Nice people are false. Is Maaret nice and therefore he doesn’t trust her, or does Maaret trust nice people and therefore James worries that she’s putting herself at risk?
  • Is James saying that niceness is always false? That’s seems wrong. I have been nice to people whom I genuinely adore.
  • Is he saying that it is sometimes false? I have smiled and shook hands with people I don’t respect, so, yes, niceness can be false. But not necessarily. Why didn’t he put qualifying language there?
  • He likes debate and he thinks that Maaret doesn’t? Maybe she just doesn’t like bad debate. Did she actually say she doesn’t like debate?
  • What if I don’t like debate, does that mean I’m not part of this community?
  • He thinks excellence requires attention and energy and she doesn’t?
  • Why is James picking on Maaret?

Look, if all I saw was this slide, I might be upset, too. So, whatever your impression is, I will explain the slide.

Like I said I was speaking at a conference in NYC. Also keynoting was Maaret Pyhäjärvi. We were both speaking about the testing role. I have some strong disagreements with Maaret about the social situation of testers. But as I watched her talk, I was a little surprised at how I agreed with the text and basic concepts of most of Maaret’s actual slides, and a lot of what she said. (I was surprised because Maaret and I have a history. We have clashed in person and on Twitter.) I was a bit worried that some of what I was going to say would seem like a rehash of what she just did, and I didn’t want to seem like I was papering over the serious differences between us. That’s why I decided to add a contrast slide to make sure our differences weren’t lost in the noise. This means a slide that highlights differences, instead of points of connection. There were already too many points of connection.

The slide was designed specifically:

  • for people to see who were in a specific room at a specific time.
  • for people who had just seen a talk by Maaret which established the basis of the contrast I was making.
  • about differences between two people who are both in the spotlight of public discourse.
  • to express views related to technical culture, not general social culture.
  • to highlight the difference between two talks for people who were about to see the second talk that might seem similar to the first talk.
  • for a situation where both I and Maaret were present in the room during the only time that this slide would ever be seen (unless someone tweeted it to people who would certainly not understand the context).
  • as talking points to accompany my live explanation (which is on video and I assume will be public, someday).
  • for a situation where I had invited anyone in the audience, including Maaret, to ask me questions or make challenges.

These people had just seen Maaret’s talk and were about to see mine. In the room, I explained the slide and took questions about it. Maaret herself spoke up about it, for which I publicly thanked her for doing so. It wasn’t something I was posting with no explanation or context. Nor was it part of the normal slides of my keynote.

Now I will address some specific issues that came up on Twitter:

1. On Naming Maaret

Maaret has expressed the belief that no one should name another person in their talk without getting their permission first. I vigorously oppose that notion. It’s completely contrary to the workings of a healthy society. If that principle is acceptable, then you must agree that there should be no free press. Instead, I would say if you stand up and speak in the guise of an expert, then you must be personally accountable for what you say. You are fair game to be named and critiqued. And the weird thing is that Maaret herself, regardless of what she claims to believe, behaves according to my principle of freedom to call people out. She, herself, tweeted my slide and talked about me on Twitter without my permission. Of course, I think that is perfectly acceptable behavior, so I’m not complaining. But it does seem to illustrate that community discourse is more complicated than “be nice” or “never cause someone else trouble with your speech” or “don’t talk about people publicly unless they gave you permission.”

2. On Being Nice

Maaret had a slide in her talk about how we can be kind to each other even though we disagree. I remember her saying the word “nice” but she may have said “kind” and I translated that into “nice” because I believed that’s what she meant. I react to that because, as a person who believes in the importance of integrity and debate over getting along for the sake of appearances, I observe that exhortations to “be nice” or even to “be kind” are often used when people want to quash disturbing ideas and quash the people who offer them. “Be nice” is often code for “stop arguing.” If I stop arguing, much of my voice goes away. I’m not okay with that. No one who believes there is trouble in the world should be okay with that. Each of us gets to have a voice.

I make protests about things that matter to me, you make protests about things that matter to you.

I think we need a way of working together that encourages debate while fostering compassion for each other. I use the word compassion because I want to get away from ritualized command phrases like “be nice.” Compassion is a feeling that you cultivate, rather than a behavior that you conform to or simulate. Compassion is an antithesis of “Rules of Order” and other lists of commandments about courtesy. Compassion is real. Throughout my entire body of work you will find that I promote real craftsmanship over just following instructions. My concern about “niceness” is the same kind of thing.

Look at what I wrote: I said “I don’t trust nice people.” That’s a statement about my feelings and it is generally true, all things being equal. I said “I’m not nice.” Yet, I often behave in pleasant ways, so what did I mean? I meant I seek to behave authentically and compassionately, which looks like “nice” or “kind”, rather than to imagine what behavior would trick people into thinking I am “nice” when indeed I don’t like them. I’m saying people over process, folks.

I was actually not claiming that Maaret is untrustworthy because she is nice, and my words don’t say that. Rather, I was complaining about the implications of following Maaret’s dictum. I was offering an alternative: be authentic and compassionate, then “niceness” and acts of kindness will follow organically. Yes, I do have a worry that Maaret might say something nice to me and I’ll have to wonder “what does that mean? is she serious or just pretending?” Since I don’t want people to worry about whether I am being real, I just tell them “I’m not nice.” If I behave nicely it’s either because I feel genuine good will toward you or because I’m falling down on my responsibility to be honest with you. That second thing happens, but it’s a lapse. (I do try to stay out of rooms with people I don’t respect so that I am not forced to give them opinions they aren’t willing or able to process.)

I now see that my sentence “I want to be authentic and compassionate” could be seen as an independent statement connected to “how I differ from Maaret,” implying that I, unlike her, am authentic and compassionate. That was an errant construction and does not express my intent. The orange text on that line indicated my proposed policy, in the hope that I could persuade her to see it my way. It was not an attack on her. I apologize for that confusion.

3. Debate vs. Dialogue

Maaret had earlier said she doesn’t want debate, but rather dialogue. I have heard this from other Agilists and I find it disturbing. I believe this is code for “I want the freedom to push my ideas on other people without the burden of explaining or defending those ideas.” That’s appropriate for a brainstorming session, but at some point, the brainstorming is done and the judging begins. I believe debate is absolutely required for a healthy professional community. I’m guided in this by dialectical philosophy, the history of scientific progress, the history of civil rights (in fact, all of politics), and the modern adversarial justice system. Look around you. The world is full of heartfelt disagreement. Let’s deal with it. I helped create the culture of small invitational peer conferences in our industry which foster debate. We need those more than ever.

But if you don’t want to deal with it, that’s okay. All that means is that you accept that there is a wall between your friends and those other people whom you refuse to debate with. I will accept the walls if necessary but I would rather resolve the walls. That’s why I open myself and my ideas for debate in public forums.

Debate is not a process of sticking figurative needles into other people. Debate is the exchange of views with the goal of resolving our differences while being accountable for our words and actions. Debate is a learning process. I have occasionally heard from people I think are doing harm to the craft that they believe I debate for the purposes of hurting people instead of trying to find resolution. This is deeply insulting to me, and to anyone who takes his vocation seriously. What’s more, considering that these same people express the view that it’s important to be “nice,” it’s not even nice. Thus, they reveal themselves to be unable to follow their own values. I worry that “Dialogue not debate” is a slogan for just another power group trying to suppress its rivals. Beware the Niceness Gang.

I understand that debating with colleagues may not be fun. But I’m not doing it for fun. I’m doing it because it is my responsibility to build a respectable craft. All testing professionals share this responsibility. Debate serves another purpose, too, managing the boundaries between rival value systems. Through debate we may discover that we occupy completely different paradigms; schools of thought. Debate can’t bridge gaps between entirely different world views, and yet I have a right to my world view just as you have a right to yours.

Jay Philips said on Twitter:

I admire Jay. I called her and we had a satisfying conversation. I filled her in on the context and she advised me to write this post.

One thing that came up is something very important about debate: the status of ideas is not the only thing that gets modified when you debate someone; what also happens is an evolution of feelings.

Yes I think “I’m right.” I acted according to principles I think are eternal and essential to intellectual progress in society. I’m happy with those principles. But I also have compassion for the feelings of others, and those feelings may hold sway even though I may be technically right. For instance, Maaret tweeted my slide without my permission. That is copyright violation. She’s objectively “wrong” to have done that. But that is irrelevant.

[Note: Maaret points out that this is legal under the fair use doctrine. Of course, that is correct. I forgot about fair use. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that though I may feel annoyed by her selective publishing of my work, that is irrelevant, because I support her option to do that. I don’t think it was wise or helpful for her to do that, but I wouldn’t seek to bar her from doing so. I believe in freedom to communicate, and I would like her to believe in that freedom, too]

I accept that she felt strongly about doing that, so I [would] choose to waive my rights. I feel that people who tweet my slides, in general, are doing a service for the community. So while I appreciate copyright law, I usually feel okay about my stuff getting tweeted.

I hope that Jay got the sense that I care about her feelings. If Maaret were willing to engage with me she would find that I care about her feelings, too. This does not mean she gets whatever she wants, but it’s a factor that influences my behavior. I did offer her the chance to help me edit this post, but again, she refused.

4. Focus and Energy

Maaret said that eliminating the testing role is a good thing. I worry it will lead to the collapse of craftsmanship. She has a slide that says “from tester to team member” which is a sentiment she has expressed on Twitter that led me to say that I no longer consider her a tester. She confirmed to me that I hurt her feelings by saying that, and indeed I felt bad saying it, except that it is an extremely relevant point. What does it mean to be a tester? This is important to debate. Maaret has confirmed publicly (when I asked a question about this during her talk) that she didn’t mean to denigrate testing by dismissing the value of a testing role on projects. But I don’t agree that we can have it both ways. The testing role, I believe, is a necessary prerequisite for maintaining a healthy testing craft. My key concern is the dilution of focus and energy that would otherwise go to improving the testing craft. This is lost when the role is lost.

This is not an attack on Maaret’s morality. I am worried she is promoting too much generalism for the good of the craft, and she is worried I am promoting too much specialism. This is a matter of professional judgment and perspective. It cannot be settled, I think, but it must be aired.

The Slide Should Not Have Been Tweeted But It’s Okay That It Was

I don’t know what Maaret was trying to accomplish by tweeting my slide out of context. Suffice it to say what is right there on my slide: I believe in authenticity and compassion. If she was acting out of authenticity and compassion then more power to her. But the slide cannot be understood in isolation. People who don’t know me, or who have any axe to grind about what I do, are going to cry “what a cruel man!” My friends contacted me to find out more information.

I want you to know that the slide was one part of a bigger picture that depicts my principled objection to several matters involving another thought leader. That bigger picture is: two talks, one room, all people present for it, a lot of oratory by me explaining the slide, as well as back and forth discussion with the audience. Yes, there were people in the room who didn’t like hearing what I had to say, but “don’t offend anyone, ever” is not a rule I can live by, and neither can you. After all, I’m offended by most of the talks I attend.

Although the slide should not have been tweeted, I accept that it was, and that doing so was within the bounds of acceptable behavior. As I announced at the beginning of my talk, I don’t need anyone to make a safe space for me. Just follow your conscience.

What About My Conscience?

  • My conscience is clean. I acted out of true conviction to discuss important matters. I used a style familiar to anyone who has ever seen a public debate, or read an opinion piece in the New York Times. I didn’t set out to hurt Maaret’s feelings and I don’t want her feelings to be hurt. I want her to engage in the debate about the future of the craft and be accountable for her ideas. I don’t agree that I was presuming too much in doing so.
  • Maaret tells me that my slide was “stupid and hurtful.” I believe she and I do not share certain fundamental values about conferring. I will no longer be conferring with her, until and unless those differences are resolved.
  • Compassion is important to me. I will continue to examine whether I am feeling and showing the compassion for my fellow humans that they are due. These conversations and debates I have with colleagues help me do that.
  • I agree that making a safe space for students is important. But industry consultants and pundits should be able to cope with the full spectrum, authentic, principled reactions by their peers. Leaders are held to a higher standard, and must be ready and willing to defend their ideas in public forums.
  • The reaction on Twitter gave me good information about a possible trend toward fragility in the Twitter-facing part of the testing world. There seems to be a significant group of people who prize complete safety over the value that comes from confrontation. In the next conference I help arrange, I will set more explicit ground rules, rather than assuming people share something close to my own sense of what is reasonable to do and expect.
  • I will also start thinking, for each slide in my presentation: “What if this gets tweeted out of context?”

(Oh, and to those who compared me to Donald Trump… Can you even imagine him writing a post like this in response to criticism? BELIEVE ME, he wouldn’t.)

28 thoughts on “Accountability for What You Say is Dangerous and That’s Okay

  1. Hi James,
    I have read your post (and several others on the issue), and the whole thing made me write down some of my own thoughts.
    After posting, I recalled that I don’t post my name anywhere in my blog (for various reasons, I don’t want to do this just yet), and since most of my post is about “why I disagree with you”, I don’t want to hide behind anonymity in case my post makes its way to you (http://always-fearful.blogspot.com/2016/10/landslide.html)

    [James’ Reply: I appreciate your de-cloaking.]

  2. Having been offline for a few days I came late to the comments on Twitter and wondered what it was all about. I respect Maaret, and when I read what people were saying I inferred that something truly terrible had been said by someone. Then, upon reading further, I realised it you who had said “it”, whatever it was. There were also many references to your objection to her breaching copyright and it all seemed to be quite mad. Now I’ve read your account above and I have this to say. You are, rightly, very highly respected, and your frankness intrinsic to this. You call a spade a spade and that’s so necessary. But I guess that I would prefer if you were less blunt since often people take offence. I am confident that no offence was intended in this case, and that, for me is key. We cannot legislate to prevent people appearing offensive since anyone can be offended by whatever they feel like. However I think I understand why Maaret reacted to your slide; it’s human nature to sense an attack and respond. Where strongly held views are at odds, emotions run high. If I were she I’d possibly feel the same way. But that doesn’t make it right, nor make you wrong.
    However, when emotions enter the debate, the quality of that debate drops significantly.

    [James’ Reply: In many ways that is true. But on the other hand, without emotion, nobody cares.]

    We have to remember that there are many more in the debate than just the main protagonists. I worry that this comes to cloud the real topic, and becomes the topic itself. From some of the more extreme comments I’ve read on Twitter, I know this is already the case. People who should be listening to you are turned away by their perception of you.

    [James’ Reply: I agree. And there are people who wouldn’t know me at all if it weren’t for my particular sharpness.]

    I’ve said that we can’t and shouldn’t legislate against being offensive. But would the debate not be better served by endeavouring to help keep irrelevant emotions out of it? This means perhaps toning it down slightly; only to prevent the response being about the form of words used rather than the message. Please don’t compromise on the message.

    [James’ Reply: This is an ongoing struggle for me. In this case, I don’t believe that the emotional temperature coming from me was all that high. I don’t believe I was abusive in any way. I expressed a criticism, and I think Maaret resents that and insists on her claim that my slide means something that it does not mean.]

  3. I’m not an active member of the testing community, therefore my voice might not really matter. I haven’t been in the conference, so I cannot assess the context of the slide, not in your keynote, nor in Maaret’s. However, my opinion is that the slide you’re showing in your post is not one conducive to debate and progress in the field. You’re stating that “What I’m saying is that anyone who speaks out publicly must try to be cognizant of what words do and accept the right of others to react.“ and I couldn’t agree more. However, your slide just doesn’t reinforce this belief. I’ll try and explain myself:

    [James’ Reply: Okay, I’ll listen.]

    – the title of your slide sets a cognitive frame for its content. It is not neutral, it does not state an idea, but how you differ from her. It’s the difference of 2 personalities, and not 2 ideas

    [James’ Reply: They had just heard her speak. Maaret spoke. They heard from Maaret. They were about to hear me speak. Me. I. Saying “How I differ from Maaret” is just plain clear speech. And it IS two personalities. I am representing that I am someone with convictions and so is she. I am saying we have a dispute, and we do.

    I was following the Golden Rule: Do Unto Others and You Would Have Them Do Unto You. And I’m annoyed when someone is talking about me but won’t name me, because if they name me I can have the direct right of reply. It invites me to reply. Thus, I feel it is more respectful to name the people I am talking about.]

    – accepting that the frame was created, we know that some ideas will be left out when considering the content of your slide and the focus will be on things reinforcing the evaluation of 2 personalities. it’s the mind’s default that gets into action now

    [James’ Reply: I agree. Storytelling is all about filtering. By getting up to tell a story I am imposing a filter.]

    – every statement on the slide is now filtered through the benchmark of “difference”.

    [James’ Reply: Yes, that was the exact purpose of using a contrasting slide.]

    I might infer from this that Maaret is either inauthentic and non-compassionate, or that her trust in nice people is a mark of inauthenticity etc.

    [James’ Reply: Nowhere on that slide are any words that would imply that trusting nice people is a mark of inauthenticity. That doesn’t make any sense. I said that I don’t trust them, because I worry that niceness is inauthentic. How would that make someone else who trusts nice people inauthentic? Does that mean if you get conned by a telemarketer that you, somehow, are now a liar? Of course not. So that’s just not a fair reading of the slide.

    As you see from my post, I did apologize for poor construction of that particular sentence that could be read as “I am authentic and she is not.” I didn’t see that possible interpretation when I wrote the slide.]

    I could also believe that she doesn’t consider debate critical to learning (though I don’t know what she does consider to be so) and that the craft of testing doesn’t require attention/energy. I infer Maaret’s ideas from your opposition to them, but I don’t actually get to read her statements! True, I might have access to them if I were in her keynote, but we all know slides are posted and re-posted often, and it would not take a lot of effort to correct such possible misinterpretations by mere “slide-ethics” :))

    [James’ Reply: She was in the room and I invited her to react. Of course, she has reacted and that’s fine. She claims that I misrepresented her ideas, and I claim that SHE is misrepresenting her ideas. But that is all part of discussion and debate. That’s what conferring is for. The slide was only ever going to be seen in that room as part of that whole event.]

    I think such debates would be more content-focused and less harmful to anyone’s self-image if the testing community would take some inspiration from the academia and their conferences – citation of idea, followed by the author’s name. We shouldn’t care of who said what, but we should be able to assess the what without someone else’s inference on it.

    [James’ Reply: A lot of people agree with you.

    There is also another theory of debate which says that the ideas expressed must be interpreted in their context, and the person expressing the idea is the major part of that context. When philosophers argue they cite Wittgenstein or Russell or Quine and they are not just referring to individual ideas but entire structures of thought and bodies of work. I was trying to talk about a culture and to contrast one culture with another. I think naming people– and identifying myself– is an important part of that.]

  4. [James’ Reply: Hi Kate.]

    I’d like to get a little meta and debate on debate.

    My concern which you reacted to on twitter (https://twitter.com/jamesmarcusbach/status/781958486624178185) is one of consent. I do not question the value of debate. I do not question that if you are putting forth a view publicly then there is inherit expectation of being able to to back that view up in some fashion. That’s the difference between a professional based community and comments on YouTube.

    However, debate is a very specific means of questioning facts. It’s different both in structure and social impact from questions, conversations, and dialog.

    [James’ Reply: It’s different, but is it that specific? There are many kinds of debate, from super informal to highly regimented. What I meant when I used the word debate is the whole spectrum: anything debate-like.]

    It requires both parties to KNOW they are in a debate in order for that debate to be effective. Otherwise the line between debate and a public argument is just too thin.

    [James’ Reply: How is a public argument not a debate? People debate on political panel shows all the time.]

    It also doesn’t allow the other person to prepare debate worthy responses if they don’t expect to be in a situation where they will be participating in a debate. Therefore continuing to degrade the value of the debate itself.

    [James’ Reply: When you walk into a conference and you do a talk, you have already consented to debate. That’s my belief. I’m shocked and disappointed to find that many of my colleagues don’t agree with this. So, this episode has revealed a fault-line in the community. And that’s why the next conference I organize will have a code of conduct that makes it clear to the speakers: this is not a therapy group; this is the public square. I also think we should have a speaking track for people who don’t want to be exposed to that risk. I don’t know what to call it. People in this track will not be asked to take questions and everyone else will be asked not to rebut them directly in their talks.]

    Regardless of your personal interests debate is not the default mode of presenters at a conference unless the expectation is specifically set.

    [James’ Reply: In the Context-Driven world, it has always been the default mode. The first CAST was organized around that.]

    Unless that expectation is set then there isn’t the value you seem to be looking for which will lead to a lot less learning and a lot more drama. It has the opposite reaction than one you seem to intend.

    [James’ Reply: I agree. But I thought that was the expectation. I agree that the expectation should be made explicit.]

    One topic I personally speak on is one of setting clear expectations. Many have asked for clearer Codes of Conduct at Conferences. I agree with this. Speakers such as yourself may then choose when and how to speak accordingly. I hope this does not change the content that is presented but only HOW it is presented. As much as I am a proponent for clear expectations of behavior I also don’t want to encourage an echo chamber effect and lose challenging voices of all types.

    In summary I agree with you that debate is needed. However, just like it takes two to tango, it takes two to debate effectively. My argument is to make debate effective by making sure both parties are in agreement on how they communicating.

    [James’ Reply: Well said. I support your view.]

  5. Hi all,

    Got late to this “scandal”. Can I say I find it ironic? Maaret (sorry, don’t know you personally so can’t really judge) proposes “nice” but here we are in a fierce discussion that is a way from “nice” all triggered by her posting the slide to twitter. I am a bit confused I must admit.

    This is the second time I see an issue in a conference go directly to twitter/blog after the fact without the parties or other involved people first trying to understand and resolve in private. I’m saddend by this because it means the trust is not there. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be out in the open but it might have helped form the context 1st. This is the more critical issue to me than doing a slide at a conference.

    As for directly reacting at a conference I tend to love that stuff. That means the people are engaged and not just doing pre-canned stuff. Yes, things get a bit rough when scripting powerpoints with very little time. Nonetheless we should be thinking about wider impact. At our LAWST style conferences we also warn about how things might look if taken out of context. So if it is critical, don’t say it. But in this case I think it was right to have the slide and discuss it but beware context.

    That means we’re right at the border of that “nice” discussion. Yes, James could have toned down his slide and could have polished a bit more. He could have been “nice” but hey then it wouldn’t be James now would it? It’s like saying i’m gonna drive a Ferrari and complain about the fuel use or that I can’t put the kiddie seats anywhere. It misses the point. And if I take the context of the slide into account, that it would have only been presented there for discussion’s sake then posting it to twitter was actually the step that made that slide hurtful (for lack of a better word).

    On the topic of “nice” my take is that we have too much of that already. that’s where we’re coming from. The testers I have met so far all tend towards nice and accommodating it is a cancer to the value of our trade. It makes us and what we deliver weak. It means we don’t stand up to what is right. I have yet to see the project where difficult discussions are convincingly won by being “nice”. Just the opposite is true. Too much bypasses scrutiny because we fail to discuss, we fail to stand up for our findings and call a spade a spade.

    Now, I think I’m at least a semi-nice person (even have that black on white somewhere on a yearly review). To be honest I have ethical issues with me being like that. There are things I should be doing that I am not BECAUSE they are not “nice”. That is WRONG. It makes me a bad tester. So I can fully understand where the allegiance to “nice” comes from but I also understand fully the issues that lie therein.

    I haven’t been part of either talk so this is totally my take/interpretation on what “nice” means. But if we fail to even accept that there can be fierce discussion within the community, how can we ever do that when it really counts on the coal face? I don’t like raising my voice or being hard nosed about things and I will always prefer calm reason but that is only one side of the coin. We have to align it with our ethics when we use what method. And I think that is what we’re talking about here. The give and take between those extremes and where is that elusive ethical borderline?

    I think that this will always be a contentious issue but I generally agree with James that the direction in the current context is likely to tend towards being more open to discussion and even confrontational discussion. There is a problem though which i have been advocating for a while now, which gets ignored in IT completely and that is the “mortgage issue”. You need a job and by being “nice” you get to keep it. I have seen testers that do not have the “mortgage issue” and it is a refreshing sight. They are all guns blazing every day. They straight talk and they are very combative, all to the real benefit of the project. It is the world that I’d like to see, a world where we do not hold back. Maybe once we have evolved to that we can then evolve further to a “nicer” but less confrontational course but I still think before we haven’t learned to fly we shouldn’t be discussing gliding.

    Anyway hope that makes some sense. And apologies in advance if my take on “nice” has nothing to do with what Maaretis describing or James is contradicting. Happy to be corrected.

    Cheers
    Oliver

  6. Debate has been a structured default mode in the Context-Driven world since the first CAST. There’s a talk (during which we ask clarifying questions) and then there’s the open season. I expected your personal attacks during my open season and I consented to that. I did not consent (and still don’t) for you move the debate to a frame it has no place in – your talk. You had an audience expecting to hear your story of the future of the testing role. Your take on kindness (lack of thereof) might be relevant to that, but you don’t need me to be a center of that argument.

    [James’ Reply: In my view of a good society, your consent to be responded to is implied from the time you speak publicly about your ideas. You and I have different values about what conferring means in a good society. I understand that.

    You can offer your advice about what my talk needed or didn’t need. That’s fine. But I think it served our audience for me to directly contrast my ideas about the testing role with yours. Referring to you by name is, to me, a courtesy that I would expect from other speakers who want to contrast themselves to me; thus, I extended you that courtesy instead of referring to you as “that other person you heard from today… you know who I’m talking about, wink, wink.”]

    • James, I am reading your book “Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar” which is exceptional, and there is a reference to your blog in the book. So I checked out your blog tonight.

      I know neither you or Maaret personally. I know of you only because I am reading your book, and know only of Maaret due to what is written above.

      The comments you and Maaret have written above relative to your slide are extensively interesting and I only know of what is written above.

      Based solely on reading what is offered above I am certain that Maaret’s discontent with you was present well prior to the conference at which you both were presenting.

      I simply am writing to offer my thanks to you both and my hope that neither of you lose much sleep over this. All the best to each of you.

      [James’ Reply: Thank you. Yes, Maaret and I indeed have an ongoing professional disagreement. It’s not just her. It’s not just me. It’s us. And it didn’t start at that event. I believe professional disputes should be fought and resolved out in the open (more or less). That’s what I was trying to do at the conference.]

  7. Hi James,

    “There seems to be a significant group of people who prize safety over confrontation.” Yes, I would guess that applies to an overwhelming majority of people 🙂

    [James’ Reply: Let me put it a different way. COMPLETE safety and NO confrontation; there seems to be a significant group of people who feel unsafe in any self-moderated intellectual confrontation.]

    When I’m having a healthy debate with someone about their ideas and mine, I see that others in the room start to feel uncomfortable despite both of us enjoying the conversation. For many, the lines between civil discourse and personal attacks have become blurred. They don’t realise that people can critique each other’s ideas without being offended or getting upset. The concepts of safety and confrontation are emotive and should relate to personal criticisms and style of delivery, rather than feedback on ideas and theories.

    I wasn’t there so I can’t comment on your style of delivery. So much of the message we convey to others comes from body language, tone, etc. and not from the words we speak. I don’t know if you came across as derisive or sarcastic, and even if I’d been there each person in the room will interpret these delivery aspects differently based on their own personal experiences.

    [James’ Reply: You have seen my style of delivery, before, however.]

    It’s a shame that Maaret was offended by your slide which – from your explanation above – was not intended to cause offense. It’s also a shame that Maaret tweeted your slide out of context instead of speaking with you about it, so that you had to spend time writing a lengthy and considered response. There’s so much else that you could both be doing with your valuable time. I like Maaret and I agree with her on more points than we disagree on, but that’s irrelevant to the point I’d like to make.

    You mention that in future you’ll consider whether each slide can be tweeted out of context. That would be another waste of your time. Each sentence you speak during a presentation, each tweet you post and each blog comment you write can be repeated out of context. If every slide in your presentation includes fine print stating your current context in that moment, CDT principles, conference rules, etc.. well, it’s just impossible.

    Beyond your actual keynote, the burden of providing context lies with the person who is quoting you. Otherwise whoever reads the quote with no context should seek more information themselves, just as those who contacted you have done in this case. (As with anyone who has googled the veracity of a quote meme). I regularly live tweet quotes during presentations and it’s impossible to provide context on twitter in that scenario. When any of the quotes are questioned, I try to add context in follow-up tweets, and I enjoy considering how the quote was viewed from a different perspective which I hadn’t considered.

    You mention compassion, and I think that goes both ways. Yes you should be held accountable for the content of your presentations, but I’m a little tired of everyone assuming the worst about your intentions. I live in hope that we can all keep moving forwards…

    Cheers,
    Kim

    • Nice one Kim! (I’m stumbling on this post rather late) and nice post James! I think we could have an interesting discussion around the best “culture” for testing, in the same way that the airline industry did late last century which led to I believe the 2nd massive period of improvement in airline safety in the history of the industry. I work in a company where people are incredibly “nice” (in a genuine way i.e. they really care about each other) but my belief in the importance of debate in the development of good software causes me to struggle sometimes.

  8. Hi James

    I was not at the conference, but like many others have seen this unfolding over Twitter with the many different tweets going off in many directions.

    It is helpful to read your view point as to why you used the slide, and it helps to outline what your intended message was for those who were in the audience.

    Much has been said by others, so I would only like to focus on two points:

    1. You mention above that “Maaret has expressed the belief that no one should name another person in their talk without getting their permission first. I vigorously oppose that notion.”
    I understand what you are saying, and as someone who does do the occasional talk, I would expect that once I stand up, I am open to healthy criticism and debate for my views, BUT I would expect anyone who wishes to quote me to have the courtesy to tell me first.

    [James’ Reply: Is that what happens in ordinary public debate? Do people speaking out about issues of public interest (the future of the testing role is a matter of public interest) refrain from saying whose attitudes they are criticizing? I get that it can be very hurtful to drag someone into a public debate situation when they never sought to speak out. This is not that situation. I was contrasting my ideas with those of another keynote speaker, not those of a random attendee. Furthermore, the context of all of this is an ongoing conflict in our field about whether such a thing as testers should even exist. Maaret and I had already publicly clashed on this very issue, on Twitter.]

    Maybe, with hindsight, had you spoken to Maaret to explain first, you would have been able to explain in person the why’s and wherefore’s and the issue may not have blown up in the way that it did (but the hindsight is a wonderful thing).
    Thats not to say that people cannot be referenced without their permission, but if there is a criticism to be leveled at someone, then the other party should be given a platform to respond, otherwise it is one-sided, rather then a dialog.

    [James’s Reply: I keynoted at the first CAST conference, in 2006. There, I attacked the idea of certification for testers. (Rex Black was so upset that I used his brochure as evidence of the outrageous claims of certification that he demanded his sponsorship money back.) In the audience was Stuart Reid, who was working on ISTQB. He ask for and received the right of replying to me. We re-organized my keynote into a semi-formal debate ON THE SPOT, allowing him to take the stage. So, I very much agree with you.]

    2. I am concerned that this could deter new speakers from making their way into the conference circuit. Those of us with many years experience in testing and/or public speaking have a duty to be encouraging to others, and the way to do this is for us all to show respect to our fellow professionals, no matter what our differences are. The nature of testing is that there will always be many differing opinions. No-one is right or wrong – they just have a different approach and opinion to us based on their own life and career experiences.

    Anyone thinking about going to do their first conference speak could be forgiven for looking at all of this and wondering whether they are about to be ‘character assassinated’ by someone they look up to just because they disagree with what they are saying. And that would be worrying.

    [James’ Reply: I know. At my first testing conference (as an attendee, not a speaker… probably 1991) I stood up to ask a critical question of David Parnas, who gave an insulting and dismissive reply. My reaction was not to stop going to conferences, though. My reaction was to become a speaker so that I would be able to help the craft with better ideas AND to treat people better who had the guts to challenge the speaker.

    But, I would also like people with softer temperaments to confer. For this a “no challenge” track could be established. We can make accommodations.

    The problem I’m struggling with is that the testing craft has stayed in a state of perpetual childhood for decades. Some specific testers learn and grow, but the craft as a whole is stuck. And this stuckness has a lot to do with charlatans and quacks who operate with complete impunity in our midst. There is no mechanism whatsoever for cleaning this up. In fact, the people who need cleaning up the most are pulling the levers of fake tester certifications. I have been lobbying my colleagues year after year after year to toughen up. We must embrace some kind of peer review, somehow. At least respond to objections when you speak at a conference!]

    There is a need for us to be kind and compassionate towards those new to testing or public speaking to show that they have a right to speak and share their views. I have been in testing for 28 years but I certainly don’t know everything and am prepared to listen and learn from others. I may disagree with what people say, but thats my problem, not theirs.

    [James’ Reply: My point is that such an attitude leaves us completely unable to evolve into a more responsible craft. While the Twitter mob may stir to push back at me for being “mean,” no one is hounding the ISTQB out of business, and they have done stunning damage to the field– diverting effort and focus worldwide from the very real need to develop the profession by supplying to befuddled management a sop; a placebo; that they call a tester certification.]

    I see nothing wrong with either being nice or working/interacting with people who are nice – as long as it is genuine. Being nice doesnt mean that I will be a walkover, and it doesnt mean I wont speak out if I disagree with someone or something – but it does mean I will consider my actions and what I want the outcome to be, and this will not be to belittle or alienate someone but to enter into a dialog to explain my thoughts and understand theirs, and come to an agreement.

    We are all Testing professionals, no matter our views, and the best way to encourage people to continue sharing knowledge and a sense of community is by respecting and encouraging each other.

    Thanks

  9. As a slight aside, this whole episode has given me much more clarity as to why I have been feeling so uneasy recently as the sole tester in my organisation and really beginning to miss the team dynamic I had in previous roles.

    I am given the freedom to do what I will as far a testing goes, the kind of freedom and supportive management most testers would love to have but quite frankly, it makes me nervous. I want to be challenged, I want to be questioned in the decisions I make, not simply told “sure, whatever you think is best”. Obviously I try my best to do the best testing I can and its great being able to experiment with different testing idea, but i’m still only seeing things from my own perspective and worry that having this freedom will make me lazy and i’ll miss a lot of potential opportunities that other opinions could have given me.

    Obviously even when I’m making a decision and being questioned I will think im right, I wouldn’t have made the decision otherwise, but I want to remain open to being proved wrong.

    [James’ Reply: Skype me (ID: satisfice) and describe your test strategy. I would be happy to challenge it. I know just what you mean.]

    • Hi Fiona

      That is one of the reasons I set up a ‘Test Chapter’ in my organisation as I was aware of a few lone testers who like yourself felt that they were working without a support network to help them.

      It works really well (its a global chapter) so we have UK, US and Dutch testers all communicating and asking questions of each other. I dont know whether you work in a big or small organisation, but it sounds as though you need to join a network of testers where you can sense check your test approach with others. Is there anything like that near you?

  10. James,
    I just read this post, and I have to say that the lack of debate, and the trend towards being as you said “Nice” seems to leading to the softening, or the thin skinned society that we live in.
    I am a 6’2” bald white guy who is active in his church, and who is dyslexic, I will get to that in a bit. I like NFL over Collage, I have worked construction, fast food, telecom, and Testing, and you know the thing that I am proudest of is my ability to test. Even as a kid I would QA my Star Wars toys, it seems to be something that comes naturally.
    I mentioned that I am dyslexic, in testing I have found that my minds ability to do things in its own way is the best tool I have. Being dyslexic has also been the source of spectacular arguments with nice people, who take it upon themselves to teach me how to spell, this despite the fact that many well educated people have failed to do that very thing over the years. Why do I bring this up, because it has given me a thick skin, and it has been a key part of building my core values, to the point that I really don’t care what other people think of me, if I feel like wearing cargo shorts and Netflix says it’s bad and out of style, I say “Nuts to them” and do what I want.
    Along with that core belief I believe basically this “If we aren’t being challenged we aren’t growing”. I am for one am getting tired of a society that wants to hold a dialog as long as it is in agreement with my ideas. How is this pushing anything, how will this enable growth? I for one believe the answer is no it is not pushing for growth, but is allowing stagnation.

    • An interesting thought, as a grownup if I am going to debate some on I am going to argue a point with anyone, I am going to argue on something that I believe in. A point was made that its useless to debate with James because he thinks he is right. Isn’t that the point of a debate, you are “Sparing” with someone who is equally as convinced they are the one who is right as you are, so if you have valid points and good data it should change someone else’s mind. If not don’t complain about it.

      [James’ Reply: Anyone involved in an honest debate believes they are right. But the act of debate helps people sort themselves and evolve themselves and their emotions.]

      • Exactly. The interesting thing is my good friend/ mentor, and I have gone the rounds to come up with the best idea, because we both have the drive to be better at our craft we let these debates help forge our friendship. No one keeps score, we just do this to get the best result we can. By the way its 23 to 14 in his favor.

  11. Perhaps the brouhaha could have been mitigated by not adding the slide at all, or by greatly simplifying the content (especially if it was more hastily-prepared than the rest of the slides).

    That would help to highlight what you say at the conference to those who were there, and reduce the impact of the slide being tweeted out of context. I’m not a big fan of using slides for presentations, and this is one of the reasons. I’m not suggesting changing what you say, just the content of the slides.


    [James’ Reply: I suppose there are a lot of things that will lower the probability of brouhahas. On the other hand there is always some chance of people taking offense. The interesting question is not what will lower the probability. The interesting question is: what is reasonable behavior?]

  12. External article quote: “Even after they became movie stars, the Marx Brothers would tour the vaudeville circuit, testing out new material and refining it before a live audience before immortalizing it on film. Of course, that could never happen today, because on the first stop of the tour some jerk with a smartphone would film the part of the act that didn’t work and post it on YouTube with a sensationalist title like “GROUCHO GOES NUTSO IN TOLEDO” or something.” Source: https://goo.gl/4o4x5m

    This is why Dave Chappelle (professional comedian) doesn’t allow people to use/hold up their smartphones during his performances to live tweet or post video out of context on YouTube, because his performance is dynamic and meant for the room, as was yours. In our world of new mediums where everything is instant, sure, it’s not reasonable to limit the freedom of people who wish to use their own devices, but it is those instances that causes the /story/ to be lost, many times twisted, such that follow-up actions like this almost become a mandate.

    So, while I know you’re an adult and made your own decision to write this post, the fact that you’re even having to do so is not as much the product of your behavior, but rather that of the over stimulated, hyper-sensitive and ever-reactionary culture of today that made such rash claims.

    And sure, there’s multiple sides to everything, but thank you for filling in that /story/. I’d rather hear clarification of intent from the horse’s mouth than the online water-cooler.

    [James’ Reply: Yes, the Twitter classes seem to come to every conference. I had the unpleasant experience of questioning a speaker, via Twitter, about curiosity. I had a conversation with Huib Schoots, who was at the conference in question, about the speaker’s definition of curiosity. I came to the conclusion that her point of view was reasonable. But hours later she (who had not been in the conversation) saw my tweets questioning her and became angry. She accused me of harassing her. Bizarre situation to be excoriated by someone who has only read the first part of a back and forth between two friends she hasn’t met who were reacting to her talk.]

  13. Questioning and challenging is needed, but are you sure you know what you are questioning when you question Maaret? I see a gap between you two that is not primarily about thinking differently of testing but more about misunderstanding the other ones point of view. In case you are interested, these thought are better explained here: http://savutesti.blogspot.fi/2016/10/mixed-thoughts-about-context-and.html

    [James’ Reply: I don’t understand what you mean when you say this is about points of view rather than testing. Maybe you are saying this is a paradigmatic difference? I’m not sure. I hear her words; parse her words; and respond with my own words. That’s the process.

    I left a comment on your blog.]

  14. There is definitely a push in Agile to be a ‘Nice’ tester and member of your product team so you don’t hurt the developers feelings or hold up the release cycle and yes you do need to be diplomatic, listen and empathise.
    But we don’t stop being testers and this is an important role in software development. It is the questioning role, by asking the questions it encourages debate and there will be disagreements and lots of them.
    Once the issues are out there they can then be worked through.
    I think that Maaret’s statements on testing are far more offensive to those of us who want to be testers.

    [James’ Reply: Diplomacy, etc. is important. I preach that and I apply that toward developers.]

  15. Hi James, after just over a week, I’m still grappling with why I keep coming back to this debate and why I was initially drawn to it. I think it’s because (probably like many others) I saw this as “Oh no, not another war of words between James Bach and “anyone of a thousand other protagonists”. Whether you like it or not (and I think you like it) you are seen as notorious and folks who attract notoriety polarise people. I am one of those people who has been polarised by this debate and (interestingly to me) my thoughts on The Slide and the ensuing “shit storm” have varied greatly from day to day – you may or may not know that I was one of those who posed the hypothesis “is James Bach the Donald Trump of Testing” on Twitter.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, I have endeavoured to read all the material (on the various blogs and, of course, on Twitter) and I now believe that there is enough evidence for folks to make up their own minds rationally rather than hysterically (as I know I did, initially).

    The (technology-driven and technology-focused) world we live in today is far different from the one we both entered many years ago and I have tried to embrace it by joining the likes of Twitter and even writing my own Blog. During my own journey I have noticed (and you may have to), that once the conversation goes global all sorts of misunderstandings occur and because the majority of the conversation is in English (and there are multiple versions of that too!!) those not growing up with English as a first language are at a distinct disadvantage. I, for one, struggled initially with the many colloquial terms used in Australia when I first moved here. I have also been targeted by various testing groups because of my use of those colloquialisms.

    I think what I’m trying to say here is that, there will always be misunderstandings and folks jumping to conclusions when stuff is taken out of context but (as you have mentioned previously) you can’t provide explicit context to every piece of dialog.

    I have learned a great deal from this incident (and the many others that you seem to have been involved in over the years) and, on balance, I still believe the majority of your ideas are sound and interesting enough for me to continue to take notice of them. I know you will continue to challenge my own beliefs and this is a good thing (for me), but I also know that you will really piss me off. I accept both of these situations and hope that everyone else in our myriad of testing communities can too.

    Last week I was pissed off. This week I am more circumspect. Next week I may be pissed off again. In the overall scheme of things very few people will notice (or care), but I will still have grown from the experience.

    Cheers
    Colin

    [James’ Reply: What a sensible and honorable message! I appreciate you for sending it. I am learning from all this, too.]

  16. This blog post just comes off as an excuse, nothing more.

    [James’ Reply: That comment is dismissive, nothing more.]

    Reading the slide without any context comes off as negative towards her.

    [James’ Reply: I agree. That’s why I provided you context in this post. This is the very same context that you JUST said is nothing more than an excuse.]

    And with this post you seem to expatiate the topic.

    [James’ Reply: That was my aim, yes.]

    Also, I took the “be nice” or “be kind” in her presentation to mean to be respectful, not to not argue. One can have a discussion/argument/debate in a respectful/kind manner.

    [James’ Reply: I dispute that she meant that. I am concerned that her true aim is to suppress dissent by appealing to ritualistic politeness. I know she claims that is NOT her aim, but I find that her behavior indicates otherwise. I want to talk about that. I want a debate about that. And I think I AM being respectful in the way I am doing this.]

    • James’ Reply: I agree. That’s why I provided you context in this post. – are you aware that there are attendees who will share your slides with their team members, as I tend to do (but have and will not share yours because of that slide), and so people will be reading your slide without the context?

      [James’ Reply: Of course they can, but they generally don’t do so in a malicious way. If they do, then I deal with it. I’m not complaining about people sharing my slides in selective ways. I don’t think it was wise to share that particular slide without context… but I do not seek to stop my fellow adult humans from talking about whatever they think is interesting.]

      James’ Reply: I want to talk about that. I want a debate about that. And I think I AM being respectful in the way I am doing this. – Your tone states otherwise. I guess it’s the way you write 😉

      [James’ Reply: I don’t know what tone you are referring to, or what it is about the tone that bothers you. Perhaps we have a different idea of what it means to show respect. For instance, I think it is disrespectful to dismiss a whole post as “nothing more than an excuse” without offering a single argument or any hint of explanation. I find that contemptible. So, I wonder if you know enough about respect to be advising me about it.]

  17. I quit reading Maaret a few months ago when I couldn’t stand seeing another column about how she wanted to eliminate the tester role. I quit reading Alan Page a ways back for the same reason. They belong to that weaponized faction of Agilista developers who have nothing but disdain for the testing role, like how Kent Beck has always been. I don’t regard them as “testers”. I regard them as development interlopers who are Trojan Horses in the testing community. They want to kill testing, gut it, wear the hide, and all the while demanding that we respect them.

    [James’ Reply: That is just how I feel. It’s possible I am overreacting… but it’s an issue that deserves to be debated.]

    As for Twitter, I can’t believe that you’re still on that joke. Jack Dorsey is a total wannabe oligarch who despises free speech on views that aren’t his own, and the company is largely built on fraudulent numbers. I hope you eventually decide to leave that toxic platform.

    [James’ Reply: I guess I have not yet experienced Jack Dorsey trying to stifle my freedom of speech. But if that happens, I will tell him to get stuffed. Meanwhile, Twitter has some marketing value to me, since I don’t do Facebook.]

  18. Twitter is anathema to rational “discourse”, debate, and especially “compassion”, not because it’s owners are conspiring to silence anyone. Rather, because the tool itself encourages unconsidered self-referential emotional outbursts, severely limits the capacity for well-formed thoughts, and offers no reasonable means of dispute resolution.

    This brief reply to you would be too long for Twitter. And if I’d broken it into 6 or 7 separate tweets, I wouldn’t be able to get the full thought out, before someone had already reacted to the half-finished thought incorrectly, and probably angrily. And that’s a problem. This is why you had to go to other platforms, James, like the telephone, email, and then this blog post.

    Twitter is not a “free speech” platform. It is a marketing channel. Thinking of it as such, is like trying to water your lawn not with a garden hose, but with a bakery piping bag.

    • To put it another way, out-of-context interjections into your stream of consciousness are often an excellent tool for advertising and marketing. They shock and surprise you. They get you to notice a product or service or brand. That’s what they’re designed to do.

      And that makes twitter exactly the wrong place for reasoned debate, and passionate argument. Because there is no context, because the messages coming from all parties is short and shocking, and because debate – honest debate – requires deliberation and context.

  19. I would like to highlight the cultural perspective on this. The IT-business is very much at front in the growing global common labor market and many of us experiences culture clashes when we get the opportunity to work with people from all around the world.

    [James’ Reply: Okay.]

    I’m from Sweden, a land not far away from Finland. Our part of the world is (together with a lot of other things) a culture of anxiousness and consensus and I would like to suggest that at least a small part of this dispute is due to the culture clash between American and “Nordic” culture. I would not like to, in any way defend these values that we keep here, they are certainly not very stimulating to debate. But the “land of consensus”-culture is not what I want to explain or discuss here.

    [James’ Reply: I don’t mind consensus. Science involves lots of consensus. Underneath that is respect for evidence and a distrust of appeals to authority or “common sense.”]

    My motive of bringing this up is simply to highlight the fact that debate between people of different cultural environments is more difficult and complex. To acknowledge these differences might be necessary in order to be respectful and compassionate (?).

    [James’ Reply: If I understood the differences, I could start doing that. As it is, I think I am pushing for a culture of critical thinking; scientific thinking. I feel that is a culture we all should embrace.]

    I do think that the cost of being to civil can result in and less fruitful debate. On the other hand as someone mentioned before, to much emotion in a debate might also be counterproductive.

    [James’ Reply: By definition “too much” of anything is some kind of problem; as is not enough. One of the tricky things is to determine what “enough” is. I prefer the approach of offering information in the form of expressed emotions. I prefer this because I believe it is a more trustworthy form of communication and because we can and ought to learn to cope with that information.]

    I would very much like to hear your thoughts about this James. Do you think that culture is relevant when we communicate more globally? (I’m interested in this aspect not so much in this particular case but in general.)

    [James’ Reply: I think I should use everything I know in order to interpret what people mean when they speak to me. I don’t know much about Finnish culture, except they are quiet when I teach there. And someone (a Finnish man) told me about how Finnish women tend to behave, but I have no idea if what he told me is true, nor if I understood him properly, nor what to do about it even if I did understand.]

  20. Wow, I’m very late to this argument..

    Confrontation can be a good or even great thing. In my opinion, if you aren’t able to defend ideals that you hold dear (without the need for a warm-up) you surely have to concede that you need to consider your stance.

    Debate is a great thing. It can open you up to alternative viewpoints or even the opposing viewpoint albeit from a different angle.

    I personally dislike the argument against the existence of testers. It doesn’t make sense to me – and it triggers an emotive response in me: what I do is important and is a craft.. and I don’t like being told otherwise, I find it borderline insulting.

    How then can someone who de-skills an entire profession then feel hurt or upset about a representative of that profession distancing themselves from her before addressing that argument?

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