Reacting on a Previous Comment on what "More Knowledge" or "Being Better" Means in the Context of Software Testing


Q1. Can I write a blog post that is inspired by a comment on a previous post?
Q2. Can I name the person whose comment inspired me?

Ethical questions these are. And fortunately they are quite straightforward to handle:

A1. Now that is the beauty of being in charge: I can do whatever I please here in my hood.
That would be a YES.
A2. This one’s trickier: If I had a comment by someone I know but who preferred to stay anonymous in her/his comment, then probably no. If the commenter has stated his real name, has a picture of himself as an avatar and will be stated as an example of asking a very good question, then with high probability YES.

Who is it? Who is it? What’s the question? What’s the question? It is my friend Jesper L. Ottosen from Denmark and his question on the previous post was:

Where is the semantic definition of the ">" operator, it seems it operates on "k" functions?  In layman's terms: how do you determine "more knowledge"?

First of all I would assume that within our context-driven family there is a consensus on that there is no such global thing as “more knowledge”. Let’s explore some dimensions:

People Skills/Supporting the Team
I put this first. Not just so, but because I believe that testers who do not have a sensorium for the necessity of interpersonal skills will never achieve anything of long term value in organizations that are inherently built on team work. And team work means - well - working together.

Test Techniques
Now, this might create the impression of being a parrot who is able to list the names of test techniques as they are requested by some multiple-choice questionnaires . That’s not what I mean. What I mean is the ability to approach a testing problem with the mental tools necessary to solve a problem. Which leads to the next dimension:

Problem Solving
There are (at least) two fundamentally different areas of problem solving. First: At school where the problem might be served as a well defined question and might sounds like this: “How long was the Thirty Years’ War?” The answer to that question would be: “30 years”. Problem solved. Second: “Test this!” Answer: Well, there is no answer to that. There are just many more questions that need to be asked. Or in other words: The problem field is only fuzzily defined. You need to find a way to make sense of it. And you don’t get 10 points for a correct answer neither.

Software Development Abilities
No, it is not a disadvantage if you know how to code. But that’s something you already know. And one shouldn’t use double negatives. They take more time to interpret and are error prone on the sense making side. [Refactoring the sentence]: Yes, It is an advantage if you know how to code.

Fast Learner
I was recently asking myself if there is a correlation between fast learning and general smartness and it took me virtually no time to decide that: Yes, there is a correlation. In what way does smartness help being a better tester? Well, if you learn fast, you may use your learned content faster to do testing. And if you do testing sooner, you start to find bugs sooner. Actually not only sooner, but you actually find them based on your knowledge you just acquired. If you’re not a fast learner, you might miss them completely.

Creativity/Lateral thinking
Get your lateral puzzles rockin’ your brain cells. It creates agility on your ability to come up with good tests. And good tests of course find good bugs. Obvious, isn’t it? Now, go and find instances where this is not true. Or only half true. Or something completely else. Turn it upside down and then back again. What do you have now? Did you follow me? If so, can you explain?

Good Observer
Some time back I bought new glasses. One of my testers immediately noticed. He was the only non-glasses-wearer who noticed. (People who wear glasses seem to notice more often if somebody else wears new glasses). He does not only notice glasses, he notices a whole lot of good bugs in our product. He is a good observer.

Explaining/Teaching others
That is an ability you should either have yourself or if you don’t have it, then you have to fly in James Bach or Michael Bolton.

Inspire others
This one goes very much with the first category, the people skills. Testers who are able to inspire other testers to become better at what they are doing, are very valuable team members.

Don’t click here.

Experience (Been in the business for some time)
Ever heard of the 10’000 hours rule? It states that if you deliberately exercise something for 10’000 hours you get really good at it. Ok then, let’s do some 10’000 hours of testing.

Reader of Books & Comics
Can it be that readers of books & comics are just better testers? Who knows, it might be true. And I am sure I have a scientific study somewhere here that confirms my theory - let’s see….hm, just cannot find it right now. I am sure it is somewhere.

Resistance to Stress
If you’re resistant to stress, your heart keeps on beating instead of attacking you in the middle of a test cycle. Having a heart attack makes testing really hard. I put this in the “knowledge” section because handling stress can be learned.

Resistance to Stupidity
You know it when you see it. My take on this is that humor helps a lot. People should nevertheless have a finely tuned bullshit barometer in order to detect it in a timely manner.

So, whenever you employ new members to your team, I would recommend to test them on the dimensions above. And please, tell me your dimensions in the comments below. Thanks.


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.