Why can’t we all get along? – Why testing schools of thought need to find a middle ground

27 June 2016

I recently attended two 1 day testing conferences held in the city of Melbourne – one week apart but with entirely different agendas – or should I say driven by different schools of thought. One was a Context Driven Testing Conference and one was hosted by the local board of an International Software Testing Qualifications Board.  

I thought to myself – if I didn’t know much about the two schools of thought – if they were just testing conferences per se; with the aim of teaching us something about testing, and if I didn’t realise that these so called schools of thought are practically diametrically opposed, was there such a big difference between the two conferences?

In my opinion if we took away the names of the conferences and the bodies that organised them I would have learned just as much in either and if I had swapped some of  the speakers around from one conference to the next it wouldn’t really have made much of a difference.  

The problem arises when a representative from one school of thought attacks the belief system inherent in the other school of thought. Then you have a stand off and the two groups sustain a war-like stance forevermore. This divides the community and doesn’t help the testing profession.

Two opinions I’ve read recently resonated with me; the SD Times Editorial Board, argues it’s necessary to understand that “a testing world can’t be defined by a single set of standards or a dogmatic school of thought. It’s not either this or that. It’s all of the above. Testers must come at complex problems from a variety of ways, combining strategies that make sense in a given situation—whatever it takes to mitigate risks and ensure code and software quality. The means don’t matter, only the ends do.”

Alistair Cockburn wrote: “I’m tired of people from one school of thought dissing ideas from some other school of thought. I hunger for people who don’t care where the ideas come from, just what they mean and what they produce. So I came up with this “Oath of Non-Allegiance”. I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation.”

From Softed’s agnostic perspective we strive to give our participants tools and techniques that come from a range of belief systems and practices. We urge our students to think hard about how tools and techniques can be applied in their specific context. We invest a great deal of time in developing our training courses to provide the latest problem solving ideas and how to navigate through the sea of buzzwords, acronyms and fads in order to achieve pragmatic outcomes for their workplace.

So back to the two conferences – for the hour or so slot that is taken up by a speaker you can only get so much value. Sometimes the session is a not very well disguised sales pitch, other times a bit of an ego trip, but on the whole you get to learn some interesting snippets of information from experienced and passionate practitioners and they are more than happy to share their experiences in solving particular testing problems.

I’ve always believed that if you can take one new thing from a conference then you’ve done well. Here’s one of the many pieces of information that I’ll be able to talk about in my forthcoming courses and it is a low-tech Agile approach to getting a user story clarified and the acceptance criteria confirmed so that it is ready for development – click here for more on Example Mapping.