Testing Mass Movements

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A few weeks ago I began reading The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer. While I am not even half way through the text (and it is not all that large) I am able to see patterns of mass movements that exist in the field of testing; specifically, the desire for certifications, standards, and best practices.

In the text, the author makes the following statements, which relate directly to the problems I see with certifications, standards, and best practices:

"Nothing so bolsters our self-confidence and reconciles us with ourselves as the continuous ability to create; to see things grow and develop under our hand, day in, day out. The decline of handicrafts in our time is perhaps one of the causes for the rise of frustration and the increased susceptibility of the individual to mass movements."

"Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual?"

The difficulty I have with certifications, standards, and best practices stems from their tendency to remove or detract from the creative ability of those who become involved in them. While there are many good arguments for each of them, all of them are, by their very nature, substitutes for creativity, problem solving, and skill. Instead of taking the time to increase our ability to solve problems (what any good book will do or what many colleges are attempting to do by implementing courses on software testing) we spend time memorizing terms and templates that will provide us with the tunnel vision and buzzwords we need to get promoted in our corporation.

What a great shield certifications and "best" practices are for the ineffectual. So many feel that we could not possibly be expected to exceed what is often a bare-minimum set of steps, techniques, or processes they establish. If it is good enough for someone else - it must be good enough for me!

"A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves - and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole."

How quick are people to read something or see something and latch onto it as the correct way to do things? Why do we not test our own techniques and theories? Why do we not challenge them to be more then what they are? Why don't we adapt them to our context?

What I find especially ironic is that those who are creative, who develop the practices and standards that become recognized as "best," are often the most creative and effective people in the field. If you look at the innovative works of people like James Bach and his efforts in exploratory testing - a process promoting learning, creativity, and adaptively - or the work of those involved in www.testingstandards.co.uk who are trying to establish a common language and a repository of ideas for our field, you will find people who are trying to do exactly the opposite of what their efforts ultimately end up promoting. Suddenly "everyone" needs to do exploratory testing and "we should do things this way because we read it on some standards website."

I do not think all certifications are bad. I think certifications are good for helping entry-level people show employers they have some minimum set of knowledge (as defined by the organization that certifies them). All certifications are not created equal (as Michael Bolton demonstrated in his latest newsletter) and certainly I think their overall effectiveness is limited.

the more "posts and offices a movement has to hand out, the more inferior stuff it will attract, and in the end there political hangers-on overwhelm a successful party in such number that the honest fighter of former days no longer recognizes the old movement... When this happens, the 'mission' of such a movement is done for."

This is certification for most - a movement that hardly recognizes the original intention. Instead of developing a common language or a minimal set of skills, it delivers a pay increase and a stamp of approval.

I do not think all standards are worthless. In engineering many innovations are possible only because standards are developed so innovation can take place. In fact, I do not think I am against standards at all. I would even contribute to some if given the opportunity. My problem with standards stems from the tendency to rely on them blindly as a blanket "catch-all" (IEEE, CMM, FDA guidelines, etc...). Standards should be used when appropriate, when used in a thoughtful way, and when used effectively within your context.

And I do not think there are best practices. Well, maybe I do. All practices depend on your context. Some may be best for your context and some might not. That is a semantic argument more then anything else. Like standards, do not do something because it is "the best." Do it with thought and creatively. Make it better. Develop your own automation framework. Develop your own session based exploratory testing log. Develop your own test plan. And develop your own processes based on your context. Check out the context-driven school of testing for more on that topic.

I challenge you to look at the truly innovative people in our field and the people you work with. How many of them have the "ability to create" and the desire to "see things grow and develop." Are they the ones that inspire you to do something new and creative? Or do you feel that way when you read a book on testing dogma or review the material for a certification exam?

I recently attended WOPR3 and had the pleasure of being inspired by some of the more innovative people in our industry:

Henry Amistadi; Ross Collard; Ed Glas; Julian Harty; Dawn Haynes; Ed Hill; Paul Holland; Sean Hull; Chris Johnson; Karen Johnson; Richard Leeke; John McConda; Antony Marcano; Bret Pettichord; Eric Proegler; Rob Sabourin; Bob Sklar; Roland Stens

If you want to break away from the mass movements in testing, share your innovations and ideas and read about the innovations and ideas of others. The best way to learn is to experience. Share your experiences and what you have learned, listen to others, and develop a better practice, a new standard, or something so creative and innovative that no one could ever simplify it to a series of essay questions and multiple choice questions.


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Comments

Welcome to testingReflections Mike!

What a great first entry on your new blog!

I look forward to reading more great content from you in time to come!

Antony Marcano

Mike,

I understand the concern with certifications. I ask the question – “Doesn’t every craft have a set of basic?”

The most benefit that can be gained from certifications, standards and practices (best or not) is the establishment of baseline. As with any spoken language you must first learn the language arts – the alphabet, grammar, and sentence structure before you learn the idioms, synonyms, slang, etc.

Even between the different testing schools of thought the core competencies exist, but the terminology has some differences. You can pick up a book on testing by different organization or authors in the Test field and find difference (continuity can be found, but you have to know where to start).

If a novice tester chooses the wrong book to read, study, or follow they might end up on the wrong path. Who will to guide or inspire them back to the light or path?

Testing is a craft; as with any craft you need to have tools and terminology of the trade to start. How those tools or terminology are wielded to meet the need is up to the practitioner. I understand your concern that creativity could be stifled, but the mind it a tool – however the practitioner decides to uses their mind is up to them.

Maybe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs play in to people seeking certificates, standards and practices(best). All the prior needs are met before you reach self actualization.
“According to Maslow, when the deficiency needs are met:
At once other (and higher) needs emerge, and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still higher) needs emerge, and so on. As one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place.”
http://web.utk.edu/~gwynne/maslow.HTM

Some individuals are just meeting the need established by organization, geographic location or just to reach there self actualization.

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The most benefit that can be gained from certifications, standards and practices (best or not) is the establishment of baseline. As with any spoken language you must first learn the language arts - the alphabet, grammar, and sentence structure before you learn the idioms, synonyms, slang, etc.

I agree.

Even between the different testing schools of thought the core competencies exist, but the terminology has some differences. You can pick up a book on testing by different organization or authors in the Test field and find difference (continuity can be found, but you have to know where to start).

I find these differences to be the best part about picking up books by other authors. What good is one idea if I can't compare it to another?

If a novice tester chooses the wrong book to read, study, or follow they might end up on the wrong path. Who will to guide or inspire them back to the light or path?

They will inspire themselves. Why did they pick up the first book? If it wasn't to be inspired in the first place, but instead they did it for a paycheck, then they are already outside of the context of this conversation. They are in a separate mass movement - the one for money instead of knowledge or competency.

Testing is a craft; as with any craft you need to have tools and terminology of the trade to start. How those tools or terminology are wielded to meet the need is up to the practitioner. I understand your concern that creativity could be stifled, but the mind it a tool - however the practitioner decides to uses their mind is up to them.

I agree. I am simply encouraging people to actually use their mind. Or perhaps, more appropriately, just be creative with your thinking. I don't think most people approach things with a closed mind. I think they are simply too ready to accept without questioning.

Maybe Maslow's hierarchy of needs play in to people seeking certificates, standards and practices(best). All the prior needs are met before you reach self actualization.
"According to Maslow, when the deficiency needs are met:
At once other (and higher) needs emerge, and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still higher) needs emerge, and so on. As one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place."
http://web.utk.edu/~gwynne/maslow.HTM

The point Hoffer makes is exactly that:

"A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence." - Hoffer

Those that follow them are not self-actualized. They are following for the security - "refuge" - that these things offer. In the context of Hoffer's text, this seeking for refuge is a move away from self-actualization for the individual.

"Nothing so bolsters our self-confidence and reconciles us with ourselves as the continuous ability to create; to see things grow and develop under our hand, day in, day out." - Hoffer

If the individual desires self-actualization, they will develop original thought. They will challenge and criticize the conventional thinking as well as their own thinking.

Some individuals are just meeting the need established by organization, geographic location or just to reach there self actualization.

I'm not advocating getting yourself fired. I'm advocating finding a better way. In the context of an organization or geographic location (a community), I would suggest starting dialogs around making things better, instead of accepting them as they are and resigning yourself to follow a broken paradigm.
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[textile]Mike, In this one entry, you have made several points that I think have the potential to grow into articles or blog-entries in their own right.

Common terminology for one... I spend a sizeable chunk of my time with new clients finding a common language for testing related terms ("QA & Testing being just one pair of terms":http://www.testingreflections.com/node/view/827 as a case in point).

One message in here that leaps out at me from your article, however, is not letting "Agility" become the constraining factor... Where people dogmatically adhere to something they call an "Agile Processe" without being truely agile.

I think that first and foremost, agility is a mind-set. One has to train one's mind to think outside the box...

I think that flexible standards that set boundaries and a common framework are a good thing and that is where agility can deliver on its promises...

I believe, however, many testers have been trained to be rigid and inflexible... so much so that even if they worked in an agile environment they would still try to find the absolute metric of conformance... and probably fail. It takes a strong mind to "unlearn what you have learned" (yeah - I know Yoda said that).

I hope that rigid, "absolutionist" testers that are out there read your article above and consider whether they want to stay wrapped up in their security blankets or venture into the exhilarating world of applied creative thinking...

Anyone that does should understand that they will make mistakes... but they should only see it as a 'mistake' if they don't learn from it... that is when a mistake matures into a 'lesson'...

Preach brother, preach!

Antony Marcano