Episteme, Phronesis and Techne vs. the Certification Madness

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Shall we open our philosophy bag and draw out three beautiful, albeit difficult sounding words? Yes? Ok, here they are:

  • Episteme
  • Phronesis
  • Techne

Given you are not a philosophy-historian-tester I assume that you are currently thinking: “Gee, what the heck does that have to do with testing?” The brief and crisp answer is: nothing and everything.

None of the three concepts is related to software testing directly but they are all very relevant when doing software testing.

Let’s clarify: Episteme, Phronesis and Techne are three different forms of knowledge.

  1. Episteme is what is commonly known as knowledge you can e.g. read in books, or what is known as propositional knowledge
  2. Phronesis is the knowledge of familiarity or practical wisdom
  3. Techne is the knowledge of application or craftsmanship

For the sake of honesty: I am pretending here a slight bit as I have not read the primary source itself which is The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. (Although I have ordered the book and it should be delivered to me soon)

Let’s say you read a book about software testing. The writer is a nice and knowledgeable person who really well describes the most fascinating testing techniques. At the end of the book and after having highlighted the key parts with a highlighter you close the book. What has happened inside you? How is your brain re-wired now? Can you actually have your hands do what you have read about? Could you teach it to others?

Now, this is the beauty of software testing. You need to do it in order to become good at it. It is not sufficient to only read about it no matter how much material you work through. The portion of tacit knowledge is huge with an experienced and skilled tester.

And this is for all the certification sectarians among you:

Scribbling a check mark at the answer some insignificant people with an outdated view on software testing have claimed to be correct in a multiple choice questionnaire is the lowest and most useless form of proving knowledge.

And it is skyrocketing on the stupidity scale. How dare these people speak about professionalism in testing when in fact they are a greedy bunch of money makers selling their overpriced pretentious courses and at the same time do not have the slightest clue about what software testing is.

OOOOOk, cool down again. I get heated up by this subject a bit too easily but it is one I simply fail to ignore because of its damage it does to our profession. May Techne be our guardian angel to protect us from ignorance.

Whenever you start applying knowledge you have just read you feel clumsy and insecure. This for many people would be a reason to not pursue it any further. Just embrace the feeling because in order to ever master anything you need to overcome this first dip. Milk, honey and chocolate await you at the other end.