Testing Mass Movements
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.