“Sometimes the best way to know what your app should be is to know what it shouldn’t be. Figure out your app’s enemy and you’ll shine a light on where you need to go.”

– 37 signals “Getting real”

This week, there were two testing conferences at the same time in Europe.

One was the “Let’s test 2014” conference which goes about testing the Context Driven way. This is also where I would’ve gone, had I the chance. The other conference was Expo: QA Conference 2014.

That last one had the stated goal of: “providing industry professionals with access to the  best practices and latest trends and developments related especially to software testing.”

Now, there’s two things that indicate the last conference does not have the best interest at heart for Software Testing as an intellectual process.  The first is the term “Best Practice”. There are no best practices when it comes to software development projects.
Imagine a tester working on a space exploring robot at NASA. What ‘Best Practices’ would she use?

Imagine a tester working the newest version of Candy Crush. Would she use the same ‘Best Practices’ as the person at NASA?

The first two principles of Context Driven Testing are:

  1. The value of any practice depends on its context.
  2. There are good practices in context, but there are no best practices.
    Pasted from <http://context-driven-testing.com/>

Promoting Best Practices promotes an impoverishment of our craft. You can define good practices and decide whether your project will benefit from it. If a practice stops being beneficial, kill it.
Furthermore, they serve as a beating stick to intimidate creative, less assertive minds into walking between the lines.

The second reason why I wouldn’t attend the Expo: QA Conference would be the close affinity with ISTQB and likeminded organizations.  I fear that, in the eyes of those organizations, testing is but a product that needs to be put inside a box, properly marketed and sold, sold, sold.

It’s clear that there are at least two schools in Testing. One focuses on the skills and cognitive processes which make testers good, responsible professionals.

The other focuses on standardizing, simplifying(?), and selling testing to people who are ignorant of how true testing is conducted.

I would like to explain these two views as a black and a white box. The context driven way of testing is the black box. As someone who is not knowledgeable in testing, these activities might seem alien, unknown, unstructured,…

You might be afraid that, if you don’t understand it, you might not be able to manage it.

The white box appears to be much simpler, transparent. The system works to what you’d expect from Testing as a process, there’s deliverables, you see artifacts being produced and get a weekly report that shows growth, so to show that something is being done.

However, I’m wrong in reasoning this way. It is not the processes, the difference in artifacts, reporting and deliverables that are at odds. No, it’s the philosophy behind the testing.

I started my career as a tester by being prepared to take an ISTQB Foundation exam the first few days of workmanship. I was advised to immediately forget what I’d studied afterwards and learn about testing through experience and listening to other tester’s their experiences.

“Healthy uncertainty vs unhealthy certainty”
– Fiona Charles

Now, years later I find myself explaining what I actually do as a tester to people who have learned testing from the textbook.

They ask questions such as “How many Test Cases have you created?”, “How much time will you need to test User Story X?”

I lose and waste large amounts of time explaining real testing vs. textbook testing to colleagues and stakeholders.

I feel that the “textbook testing” promotes, markets, teaches and sells the testing field based on misconceptions and rigid processes that produce waste in. and that it sucks the professional testing world into a dark pit of redundancy. If one side influences the perception of our craft in a bad way, both sides hurt in the long run.

Therefore, as an enthusiast of the Context Driven School, I feel that disagreeing with the school that deteriorates testing to a checking factory is a necessity.

Picking fights, discussions and battles harnesses you as a tester. One needs to be able to spar with equals.

I’m unhappy that such school exists and undermines the true purpose of testing, but on the other hand it is interesting to have a nemesis. Something to differentiate yourself from.


Originally written 26/05/2014