What Exploratory Practitioners Are Called

An exploratory DOCTOR is known as… a “doctor.”
An exploratory WELDER is known as… a “welder.”
An exploratory PILOT is known as… a “pilot.”
An exploratory WRITER is known as… a “writer.”
An exploratory SCIENTIST is known as… a “scientist.”
An exploratory TRUCK DRIVER is known as… a “truck driver.”

A non-exploratory doctor is known as… “irresponsible.”
A non-exploratory welder is known as… “irresponsible.”
A non-exploratory pilot is known as… “killed in a plane crash.”
A non-exploratory writer known as… “a plagiarist.”
A non-exploratory scientist is known as… “a tobacco company scientist.” (also “Creationist”)
A non-exploratory truck driver is known as… “lost.”

Can you spot the pattern here?

There is no such thing as an “exploratory tester” except inasmuch as a good tester obviously can and will do exploration as a basic part of his work.

18 thoughts on “What Exploratory Practitioners Are Called

  1. Hi James,

    Very good point. It reveals the truth where we are at the moment as a Testing Society. There is so many work places where “tester” is a synonym for “human script executor”. Hopefully it is going to change.


  2. I think ‘exploratory’ is one of those words that, rightly or wrongly, prime people (usually in either a positive or scary/threatening way). So they have a fixed perception or association with it (a bit like the word ‘quality’).

    [James’ Reply: It’s not the word, it’s the fact that some of us use the word to drive change. If we used any word to buck a bad trend, people who like the bad trend would decide they don’t like that word.]

    This leads to a question that has a need for an answer: Why do we need to use the word exploratory and why do folk get hung up on it? (Other than to distinguish the active – on-your-toes thinking – testing from pre-defined, non-active testing.)

    [James’ Reply: But that IS why I use the word exploratory. I’m trying to talk about exploring– thinking while doing.]

    As you implied: If you’re not thinking about your testing, refining and adapting it as needed, then you’re not really doing good testing. (That’s my interpretation/take anyway.)

    [James’ Reply: Correct. What some people want us to do is give them credit for being good testers even though they insist on closing their minds during their testing. Let’s not do that.]

    So the other question I’d then float (to someone who doesn’t like the word ‘exploratory’): If you agree that thinking about your testing and adapting the test approach (including test content) as needed is a good thing, then what phrase would you use for this, as opposed to not thinking about (or adapting) your testing?

    If there are people out there not prepared to actively think about and adapt your testing, please raise your hand or identify yourselves now.

    [James’ Reply: Typically, such people would claim that they are always thinking, and the distinction is unnecessary. In which case, I would present to them an example of a script and ask them to tell me how they would follow it. I would demonstrate that different people may follow it substantially differently, even though all are claiming to be “thinking”, and thus that thinking is not some minor assumption that we make, but a huge source of variation. It’s the crux of the testing. Therefore, we must understand this variation, look closely at it, and learn to do it well. We must not leave it as a dangling variable.]

    This reminds me of a post I’ve had in draft for a while that I need to dust off. Thanks!

  3. A non-exploratory tester is known as … “outsourced”.

    If your company’s idea of a tester is someone who blindly follows a script without continually thinking, refining, and adapting, then you need to decide if that’s a role you really want.

  4. In my eyes, this post is an additional important step in establishing a better terminology in the community regarding “What is testing”.

    The first one (At least to expose the idea to me) was Bolton’s “Testing Vs Checking” post.

    [James’ Reply: I agree, Issi. We made a big point twenty years ago about ET because the testing world was so repressed. It’s not so repressed today– at least in some places– and in those places talking about ET is mostly redundant. We just test.]

  5. Agree in spirit. Gotta say, tho, that there are plenty of non-exploratory writers. Two categories I can think of are the high school english teacher teaching the five paragraph essay ( http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html ) – or, alternatively, I’m told that some very high-selling novels can be written using a templated, design-up-front approach: Romance Novels.

    [James’ Reply: I don’t agree that any of that is an example of non-exploratory writers. Less exploratory, sure. But still exploratory. Perhaps you could construct some exotic example of something involving “writing” that is mostly “scripted”, but it would be pretty weird.]

    Both of those might be considered acceptable for many people — the English teacher gets essentially guaranteed employment through the union and a job for life, while the romance novelist makes people happy and makes a fair amount of money.

    [James’ Reply: They may be acceptable to many people, but they are exploring. Especially the romance writers!]

    Yet for some reason, I would say that isn’t the kind of gig /I’m/ looking for. I suspect that holds true for James, and many of the people who are attracted to context-driven testing, as well.

    [James’ Reply: I’m not simply saying that I don’t like non-exploratory work. I’m making a much stronger statement than that. I’m tired of people looking at exploratory work and not seeing it. Indeed, the exploratory nature of most of our lives is illegible to most people, but we need to be better than most people.]

  6. Thinking about the title of this post… are we not talking about “learners” here? Where there is to explore there is to learn, I feel.

    [James’ Reply: Some levels of exploration aren’t normally described as learning. But I guess the answer is yes, strictly speaking.]

  7. ‘Can you spot the pattern here?’

    Yes, the pattern is as follows: An exploratory PERSON has their name in upper case; a non-exploratory has their name is in low case.

    [James’ Reply: Thank you for playing. That is not the pattern I had in mind. Perhaps you could keep trying.]

    Also the statement ‘There is no such thing as an “exploratory tester”’ is incorrect. An “exploratory tester” is a tester that thinks….

    [James’ Reply: A tester who doesn’t think is not a tester. So, “exploratory” in that context is just redundant.]

  8. If you’re saying that it’s a continuum, and even the guy who does a design using a template up-front, then does what he considers a relatively “simple, straightforward” implementation is still doing /some/ exploration and /some/ revision, sure I can buy that.

    And I agree that the exploratory nature of most people’s lives is the kind of thing many people don’t want to talk about, and if you tried, their head might explode. (Not literally. Metaphorically. C’mon now.)

    But I find the head-exploding (metaphorically) conversations are often the most interesting.

  9. I noticed that you threw “Creationist” with non-exploratory scientist. Kinda curious as to where you would place “Evolutionist”?

    [James’ Reply: I don’t know any particular reason to criticize Darwinian evolutionary theory as being dictated by higher authority or following a script. But organized religion, which seems to inform popular creationism, is all about the script.]

  10. “But organized religion, which seems to inform popular creationism, is all about the script”

    For a brilliant and scholarly discussion about the convergence of scientific and Biblical traditions, see Gerald Schroeder’s “Genesis and the Big Bang”, and “The Science of God”. (http://geraldschroeder.com)

  11. >But organized religion, which seems to inform popular creationism, is all about the script

    I think that’s the view that people who are non-creationist seem to have. I’m not in either camp on this one and have spent some time looking at the views of both sides. It would be possible to consider an option where you have a creator who “creates” evolution and other such mechanisms for life to evolve.

    [James’ Reply: Considering it makes you a philosopher. Committing to that belief makes you scripted by it from that point onward.]

    >A non-exploratory truck driver is known as… “lost.”

    Wouldn’t a non-exploratory truck drive be on route given that he’d be following the script of his map/GPS system?

    [James’ Reply: If following the script is ALL he does then it’s just a matter of time before he ends up in a river.]

    >There is no such thing as an “exploratory tester” except inasmuch as a good tester obviously can and will do exploration as a basic part of his work.

    I concur.

  12. I am using this approach without knowing that is called Exploratory Testing. I am sure still lot of people using the same and calling it in different name. Your post clears that misconception that Exploratory Testing is different from Testing. It is an essantial part of Software Testing.


  13. Dear James Sir,

    Another superb explanation for Exploratory Stuff. Its so easy for us to understand from your arcticle when we have to dig inside and tell everyone that what is exact exploratory testing. People ask what the difference when we do something from the usual . Everything comes with experience and that applies for exploratory testing too. A good tester knows what to test and up to which extent. Thanks for your wondeful post.

  14. As you know, I am not really a tester. I am a 64 year old kid who loves to play with his toys. Those toys usually involve writing test automation scripts these days, but often I am called on to do the other QA tasks as well.

    Most of the testers I’ve met who live to be as old as I am are fairly crusty. I don’t blame ’em, I think the field can be full of people who don’t know their assumptions from a hole in the ground. My particular fun in life is giving people tools to make their jobs easier. The irony is that they don’t, though, because what happens when your productivity doubles? a) They give you a medal. b) They give you a raise. c) They give you more work to do. Pick ONE. Still, I don’t live to test.

    I am not an exploratory tester, or a scripted tester. I am a 64 year old kid… However, don’t tell my potential employers that. I ‘name-dropped’ ‘exploratory testing’ and ‘James Bach’ at one of my interviews a couple weeks ago… the interviewers got fidgety and I haven’t heard back from ’em. Probably happily.

    [James’ Reply: I’m a rabble-rouser. I talk to the rabble and rouse them up. That can be scary.]

    Still, if I had to do a scripted test pattern all day I’d retire and go sailing instead. Maybe buy myself a place in the San Juans.

    Now, regarding ‘creationism’ vs. ‘Darwinism’ – I agree to some extent with James’ argument – where I diverge is in assuming that ‘Scientists are necessarily exploratory’. The institutions of science can be just as hidebound and scripted as the institutions of religion. And the spiritual practice of religion (not as an institution) can be just as exploratory as the curiosity-driven practice of science (not as an institution) can.

    [James’ Reply: I can’t stop people from calling themselves scientists. But, to me and my heroes, the only people worthy of that label are exploratory thinkers. Science is a sapient activity.]

    I don’t think anyone calls me crusty. Have a nice trip to Sweden, James. We’ll miss you this year in Portland.

  15. When I try to picture a “non-exploratory tester” I think of an automated test script. What about:
    A non-exploratory tester is known as … “software”.
    And then, the non-exploratory pilot could be… the automatic pilot.

    This assumes that a ‘tester’ (and a ‘pilot’) can be non-human, and in both cases you still need someone with a brain involved.
    I doubt whether you can be alive and non-exploratory at the same time, what do you think?

    [James’ Reply: I think of testing as a sapient activity, and therefore human, by definition. Checking an be done by machines, however.]

  16. Nice Post ! James.

    Positive + Positive = Positive
    Negative + Positive = Negative

    Exploratory (Positive) + Doctor (Positive) = Doctor (Positive)
    Non-Exploratory (Negative) + Doctor (Positive) = Irresponsible(Negative)

    Is this the Pattern ?

    [James’ Reply: No. That’s not the pattern. “Exploratory” does not mean “positive.”]

  17. Pattern Analysis:

    Let the Profession(Doctor\Welder\Pilot\Writer\Scientist\Truck Driver) be “Original”. Lets see how it Combines with “Exploratory” & “Non-Exploratory”

    “Doctor” + Exploratory = “Doctor” (Original Retained)
    “Welder” + Exploratory = “Welder” (Original Retained)
    “Pilot” + Exploratory = “Pilot” (Original Retained)
    “Writer” + Exploratory = “Writer” (Original Retained)
    “Scientist” + Exploratory = “Scientist” (Original Retained)
    “Truck Driver” + Exploratory = “Truck Driver” (Original Retained)

    From Above,
    The Pattern IS:

    “Doctor” + Non-Exploratory = “Irresponsible” (Original Deformed)
    “Welder” + Non-Exploratory = “Irresponsible” (Original Deformed)
    “Pilot” + Non-Exploratory = “Killed in a Plane Crash” (Original Deformed)
    “Writer” + Non-Exploratory = “A Plagiarist” (Original Deformed)
    “Scientist” + Non-Exploratory = “A Tobacco Company Scientist” (Original Deformed)
    “Truck Driver” + Non-Exploratory = “Lost” (Original Deformed)

    From Above,
    The Pattern IS:



    Is this the Pattern ?

    [James’ Reply: I actually have no idea what you are saying. Will you please look in the dictionary and discover what the word “exploratory” means?]

  18. A good tester must be an exploratory tester – yes

    [James’ Reply: There isn’t really any such thing as an exploratory tester. All good testers think while they work.]

    Exploratory tester must be a good tester – no (?)

    [James’ Reply: No is correct. You can be a bad tester and still explore. In fact, that would describe every novice tester.]

    I agree with the original statement you made, that all of these professions (done well) require a level of exploration. But then again, what professions (done well) do not require it?

    [James’ Reply: Maybe there are some, but none I care to think about.]

    Exploration is basically a study to try to learn something new (right?).

    [James’ Reply: Exploration is not just study, it means searching a space of unknown or ultra-complex, or constantly shifting structure. Learning without a map.]

    I assume, there are situations where the people in these professions go into more exploratory, or into less exploratory path. Few ideas with the doctor analogue:

    – If a doctor has no idea on a subject s/he should investigate, I assume s/he might first explore the literature or some colleagues who know more on the subject. They are exploring the subject without exploring the system under test, and creating scripts for the investigation. Someone really familiar with the subject would not need this exploration at all, as s/he would be so familiar with it. Less exploration, better results?

    [James’ Reply: That’s true. However, no doctor who is responsible for his own work would merely be a transceiver for someone else. You can get clues from lots of other people, but you have to integrate all that information.]

    – Doing something the first time, may at the same time be really exploratory and really scripted. Person starting to do a investigative medical procedure s/he has not done before, is using instructions (scripts) but exploring (learning) a lot of stuff on the process while doing it.The better the basic process of doing it becomes known (after rehearsing it a few times), the more it is possible to focus on widening the process, and reaching the ultimate target: finding new information on the subject of investigation. Then again someone who has already done all this, does not need any exploring on the process, and may have a really clear view on the variety and probability of the expected results.

    [James’ Reply: That’s true.]

    – Level of exploration may also depend on a persona/role. Doctor House is a bit more explorative than is my doctor in the local health center. That partly comes as a role of the position they are in; my local doctor does a few basic checks, and if these do not retrieve enough info, they send the patient forward to a person who knows more about the subject we suppose is the problem. There is no-one to forward to from House. Could/should the local doctor be a bit more explorative? Could/should doctor House be a bit less? How much is mandated by the role and how much by the person?

    [James’ Reply: Good thinking.]

    With the definition of checking vs testing, I am not sure how does the exploration fit in. Has the old Exploratory testing changed to be Testing, where as non-exploratory would be Checking? Does exploratory checking exist..? Does non-exploratory testing exist?

    This comment was partly provoked by a comment to my blog post here: “http://hellofatester.blogspot.fi/2013/04/the-miseducation-of-exploratory-testing.html”. Hope that clears some of the motivation behind this comment. (you may gladly moderate this reference out)

    [James’ Reply: Listen carefully. I make two claims: ALL good testing is exploratory to some degree. ALL good testing is scripted to some degree. I love your examples, as they speak for the scripted side without disparaging the exploratory. By speaking up for exploratory work, I do not mean to disparage scripting per se. I am disparaging obsession with scripting and I am disparaging giving scripting a privileged place.

    Checking is not exploratory in the sense I use the word exploratory, because checking cannot encompass learning (gaining knowledge of a fact is not learning in the sense of that word that interests thinking professionals like us, but only in a restricted digital sense). Learning happens outside of checking. Checking can occur within an exploratory process, in which case it is more proper to call it exploratory testing, since checking is part of testing.]

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