This past Friday, May 21st, 2021, was exactly 34 years since my first day at Apple Computer as a tester. Before that I was a dev, but I have been a tester ever since. This has put me in a retrospective mood.
The industry has gone through changes, yes, but it seems to me there has been a constant throughout my entire time observing this field: almost everyone in the software world thinks they understand testing, yet almost no one makes an effort to study it. Testing was not taken seriously in the 80’s, even though there were a lot of people called testers and money was being spent on it. For the most part, testing is not taken seriously today, either. It is the fashion, today, to say “quality and testing is everyone’s job!” (and then treat that as license to do testing in a shallow and amateurish fashion).
When I joined the craft, the dominant idea was to formalize testing by writing procedures, then automate those procedures if you can. It was thought that testing specialists were needed to create those procedures and to operate the automation. We had test teams and test managers. Testers were always under pressure because everyone except testers wanted to ship the product ASAP.
I and a few colleagues took up arms (metaphorically) against the idea that formalizing testing is always good and that informal testing is not good. We claimed testing is about people who learn and think and question, not about procedures and factory assembly lines. We pushed for testing craftsmanship, and respect for those who dedicated themselves to that.
The coming of Agile, which is at least overtly humanist in its outlook, seemed supportive at first. But it quickly became another would-be oppressor. Agile was not created by testers, nor by people who had worked with good testers. As Cem Kaner liked to say “Agile fired the testers” because they had only known the kind who hid behind their fortresses of written procedures. Ultimately, Agile and DevOps put a new, hip, turtleneck sweater-wearing, Lean Coffee-drinking, millennial face on the exact same problem that we suffered through in the 80’s. Some of the details have shifted around. Now there is pressure to dismantle the whole idea of having people who call themselves testers. Testing craftsmanship, which had previously been undernourished, is now under active attack by people who want to appear cool and evolved. Some of my old friends, once testers, now have become “quality coaches.” Some of them have even convinced themselves that testing is passé.
What is that same old problem that we have today just as we had in the 80’s? Managers who believe that all testing should be formalized and automated.
Why do they believe this? Because they do not know and never have understood what good testers actually do and how they do it. They don’t even want to learn, in most cases, because learning that would take away the only excuse they have (i.e. ignorance) for treating testing like a crisp algorithmic process instead of a fuzzy social process.
Is anything really different today? Today there is much less protection and nurturing for testers (a lot fewer test managers and smaller test teams), while the pressure to ship is much greater (because of instant delivery). Today organizations such as the ISTQB are happy to take your money and exploit your fear and doubt to give you crappy advice and recycled myths in the name of testing. On the good side, there are fantastic resources to learn testing available online that I never had… but the good resources are swimming in a sea of bad ones.
Why can’t testing be something that everyone does? Everyone can help testing. That’s good. What I’m saying is that it takes special dedication and focus to analyze the need for testing and to prepare oneself to do what should be done for deep testing– to find every problem that matters. Anyone can test, just as anyone can defend themselves in a court of law. Not just anyone can test responsibly, or be an effective lawyer in their own defense.
If the dominant culture regarding testing is so backward, how come it doesn’t change? Because testing is the sort of activity, like management and teaching and politics, in which it is easy to do a bad job, then blame anyone and anything other than yourself for the problems that ensue.
Why doesn’t the testing field grow up? Because testers keep leaving the field before they attain wisdom and learn to assert themselves. Also, ambitious, smart people tend not to want to get “stuck” in testing.
Why are you still in testing, James? Because I became a teacher of testers. I developed a system of teaching and doing testing that people seem to find helpful. And that gives my career meaning, despite the perpetual attacks on the culture of excellence to which I aspire.
Michael Bolton wants me to add something hopeful. He wants me to suggest a solution to this. Of course I have a solution. This website is full of useful knowledge about testing. I also teach testing. There’s a link to my classes on this website, somewhere. If you want it, you can find it. Really, all the rest of this website is about solutions.
Given what I’ve experienced since I first walked into 10500 De Anza Blvd. as Apple’s newest tester, I think there will never be a general solution to the problem of bad testing. But any one of you, reading this, can decide to make your own small part of the testing world a little better.
Luke Liu says
Thank you James for sharing your 34 years of experiences.
I’m committed to make my own small part of the testing world a little better.
Very insightful for a test engineer who has been in this for almost 16 years.
I have been following you and your work from long and have read most of the book you recommended.
However i still feel there is a lot that can be done on the resource wise, like you said in the blog above there are good works in a sea of bad ones.
Can you please recommend some good ones. I need some for the following categories.
1. Freshers who have just been introduced to the world of Software.
2. Managers who think testing is a drain
3. CXO who are the final approvers.
Even if there is no material as of now, i am willing to work on this. If you can point me in the correct direction.
[James’ Reply: I created a document called “How to Talk About Testing” that might address each of these groups.]
Inspiring. Thank you!
Tom McElman says
Bravo Mr. Bach! I’ve been a tester for almost 27 years and it’s been my experience that corporations fear what they can’t count.
[James’ Reply: Yes, because uncountable things require social skills and diligence to manage.]
If you’re not making widgets then you’re not helping the cause. People know this and it’s because of it, they treat testing as a stepping stone to widget making so that they can have safe employment and their work can be quantified. With the popularity of automation now, they can sort of have it both ways (at least they think they can). They are tricked into thinking that writing automation scripts IS testing and their souls will be saved. I’ve been a Manager (a role that has gone the way of the do do bird) and have seen talented people shun the art of testing for the interest of making more money and receiving the love of CFOs. I don’t blame them but if the industry keeps going down this path, I fear we’re doomed.
[James’ Reply: I believe we are actually living in this doom, now.]
I had the pleasure of meeting you back in 2004 when you came to my company in Milford OH to give a class on Rapid Testing. Those three days enhanced my testing skills and I hope as a leader, I’ve been able to pass on or even inspire someone with those skills. Please keep doing what you’re doing as it is quite the worthy cause. Thank you!
[James’ Reply: The class has gone through some changes since then!]
Jeanne Collins says
James, I know I’ll always receive good ole fashion common sense thoughts on testing from you! Bravo for another article of common sense.
Thank you for sharing. I do agree for your point about tester should be. But lately automate testing more in demand, and yes automation limit creative thinking while doing test on process. This is what i feel in my testing process as manual tester.
Antonius Momac says
You don’t have to automate it all. Just the boring (unimportant stuff) maybe…
Maybe data entry or maybe some data validation. In that way, you can still be creative, but use tools to make the test more fun.
Thank you for writing such insightful 34 years of experience in testing. I have just completed 9 yrs of testing. Still long way to go.
Will create small part of the testing world a little better.
Inspiring. Thank you James.
Joshua Gorospe says
Wow, 34 years is an amazing accomplishment! Please continue to fight the good fight in our industry.
Shrini Kulkarni says
20 years done in testing for me — James. Out of these 20 about 15 years were under influence of your teachings. you have taught me (and many others) one thing – how to think for ourselves and reason. Thanks for being such a great teacher (like Socrates). Wish many more years.
Looking forward for your silver jubilee in Testing.
Pari Jayaraman says
It’s Inspiring.!! Thank You.!
James Little says
As usual James you are right on point. It must be the first name ;).
Theo Roe says
James, I enjoyed reading, and reflecting on, your state-of-the-union of software testing. As a professional software tester I appreciate your insights just as I did in the early ’90s when I was one of your test conference groupies. Happy Testing!
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
Thanks for your sharing.
I am a testing with 13 years experience. This is true that the software testing is impacted by DevOps. We have the new slogan is “Everyone should be in charged of testing” that also mean “Nobody is in charged of testing”.
I am thinking if we need to define the testing in DevOps. Hope James can share more thought about the testing role in DevOps (or Agile).
Very nice article, felt a fresh warmth after reading testing vs Agile and the need of a tester with involvement and desire to find. The simple explanations makes it more interesting and easy to understand. I wish all the codes I tested are this nice.
Tomas Lindqvist says
Insightful and well written as usual, think this line describes a tester “people who learn and think and question” quite well. There are many areas that improved since i started testing in 1987, but many areas we still struggle with more or less the same problems but life would be pretty boring if there was no challenges left to overcome.
Thanks for these 34 years and hopefully there will be at least another 34 to come
Matthew Heusser says
“almost everyone in the software world thinks they understand testing, yet almost no one makes an effort to study it.” I’ve been thinking about this lately, using different words. The way I would say it is that (hopefully) one of the more painful insults I might lay at a would-be guru is that they “haven’t done the work.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with learning enough to give a good talk about a particular technology, like, say, git, and giving a nice one hour talk. That is fine. Presuming to know the answers, to synthesize a variety of tools and approaches then tell people how they should or could work across a larger domain … that takes some confidence. That confidence is perfectly fine, if it is warranted, if the person has done the work.
Sadly, I could say that far too many people have not done the work.
Context-driven testing has its gurus. For all the criticisms that one can lay at you, or Michael Bolton, or Rob Sabourin, I dare submit that “they haven’t done the work” is not among them.
Further, I dare submit that I could stand with you in that category.
It’s a nice place to stand.
Ankit Sadariya says
This is really inspiring. I have completed 7 years in this industry as a quality engineer and hope I will contribute something to make testing better.
(This BlogPost)——> Succinct and emboldening!
Challenge accepted! <——("…make your own small part of the testing world a little better.")
Thank you: James, Michael + Cem.
I can not believe that I just discovered you!
Finally someone who thinks the same as me!.
[James’ Reply: Cheers! I miss New Zealand. I have taught there a bunch of times… Oh you are in the Melbourne area. I enjoyed teaching there, too.]
Seokjun Jin says
Thank you for always sharing your wisdom.
As before, I would like to translate your article and post it on my blog.
It will not be used commercially.
I want to share your wisdom and insight with my fellow testers around me.
[James’ Reply: That’s fine with me.]
Andrew Robins says
I like to try and stay positive, as you know – but its hard to argue with lived experience. My current role gives me scope to build a high functioning test team again, but it has been a long time since I have been able to make that claim with any truth.
So today I get to sit down and start work on a bug advocacy workshop for my team. It is nice to be able to actually apply the full range of my skills. Early days, but hoping to be able to build something good again.
[James’ Reply: I miss you, Andrew.]
Andrew Robins says
Back at you James 🙂
Things are still going well here- so we will see where we get to. Maybe we will see you back in Christchurch sometime 🙂
[James’ Reply: I do miss NZ…]
Momoh Serah Ene says
Great! I’m Inspired, thanks