Are you a Buccaneer Parrot?

I’ve had a couple of ‘epiphanies’ this morning and consequently have that weird floaty, happy/anxious feeling that I get at moments like this.

I didn’t go to StarEast but I, along with countless other software testers have been watching the virtual show through twitter.

Some of it I let go, but a couple of links I’ve clicked on to see what all the fuss is about. Boy, if the two links I clicked on are anything to go by, it would have been a great event to be at.

The first seismic changing event for me was listening to James Bach’s clip on what it means to be a buccaneer tester.  Now James is a tester that I have mixed feelings about. I went on his RST course a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I loved his FOCUS/DEFOCUS heuristic and its one of my key techniques that I apply when I test. BUT, sometimes I find his style can be overly aggressive, especially when it comes to:  oh crap, here I go, CERTIFICATION.

But not today. Today he was sublime and this key point hit me:

“We have got to be testing from our own place, not copying like parrots”

This resonated heaps with me as its a trap that I constantly fall into.  Now, I pride myself on my software testing skills. I do have a fondness for exploratory testing and have a knack in asking the ‘right’ question when determining context. Here’s the crunch though. I call my approach pragmatic. In other words, I DONT ROCK THE BOAT.

So when asked, I will happily manage a team of scripted testers. Why? Because that is the process. That is how things are ‘done’ in that company.

This creates a dilemma for me, because it leads me to ask what in  software testing do I really believe in? Where is my “own place”?   To what lengths would I go to ensure Exploratory Testing was used in a team I led? (I know I would never personally create a test script, or follow one for that matter). This is pertinent to me because I’ve just gone for a test lead role that requires ‘strict adherence to a process’.

In order to be able to answer these questions, (and writing this post is helping me decide mine) and as James puts it ‘test from your own place’, y ou have to know where and what “that place”  is. The only way your going to find it, is by taking a stand, having an opinion, suggesting a new approach and being prepared for people to disagree with you.  To quietly agree(or disagree) is not going to help you know what you believe in.

It’s funny you know, I’ve always thought that being outspoken is such an ‘American’ thing. We ‘Europeans’ are way too polite to express our views so, well, blunt. Perhaps there is an element of difference in culture, but I don’t think I can hide behind that excuse any more.

Here’s the great thing though,  when you find ‘your place’ you will be a lot more secure and that is going to help you become a better tester.  Why? Because being secure about your place means you don’t have to worry about what other people think. You are less fearful one thing I know for sure:


It kind of goes with Elizabeth Hendrikson’s article that says “Not knowing answers isn’t sign of weakness; not asking question is”  Being fearful of looking stupid, prevents you from asking the dumb question. By the way, before you pat yourself on the back about being able to ask ‘dumb questions” I believe its easy to ask the dumb question when your experienced in an area, but try doing it in a field where your not so experienced. It can be a real challenge.

And it can be a real challenge for experienced testers to ask ‘dumb questions’ when they want to appear knowledgeable. I think for wannabee experts this is a real trap. If you try and spend all your time looking like you have the answers,  you put yourself in a situation where you stop asking ‘dumb questions’

Why do I believe all these things, because its what I feel and do sometimes. No often. And its something that it going to change. Now.

So thats why James Bach’s Video resonates so strongly with me.

Thank you James, you have once again been instrumental in my growth as a software tester.

Arghh, what’s that pieces of eight, pieces of eight?

9 replies on “Are you a Buccaneer Parrot?”

Your post and the video of James struck a chord with me too. I share your views on James; brilliant and inspirational, but well, sometimes a bit much. Everything can be a bit black and white.
You wouldn’t want him alongside if you were wanting things nice and cosy, but that’s the point. We need to live in the real world. We need to work with people who’re prepared to pay us, but there’s a danger that we can just slip into a compliant mode and do whatever is asked of us.

“Hey, if you say testing just means shovelling crap from here to there then that’s just fine by me so long as you’re paying me £x00 a day.”

After a while we stop even recognising that what we’re doing is shovelling crap. We’re professional testers only in the pedantic sense that we aren’t doing it for free.

I’ve seen loads of people like that, and companies that reward that attitude. When I worked for IBM I acquired the reputation for being a rebel. I wasn’t happy with that label. I saw myself as a good, loyal company man who was trying to do the best for the company by challenging false and dangerous assumptions. I was an iconoclast, not a rebel.

Eventually I realised that it was right for our ways to part. There were several factors, but a big one was that I couldn’t face the thought of spending the rest of my career having to shovel the crap, and being regarded as an irritant.

Sometimes you have to take a stand and say “this is right; right for me, and ultimately it will be right for you”. Self-respect demands we do it. It is an article of faith that in the long run self-interest demands we do it too, and that the people who do stand out will be rewarded, and the parrots will be sidelined.

This post sooo reminded me of the last one you wrote – as soon as you sit down to write something you find that someone else has already done it. AND better than I ever could.This article really resonated with me – I feel that there are some cultural differences when it comes to making your opinion heard as well (that’s me parroting now).

Where I disagree is where you wrote:
“I know I would never personally create a test script, or follow one for that matter.”

I can think of scenarios where I’d create or follow a test script/checklist. Examples are when I don’t know a domain very well and would use test scripts to guide me through the application with values that make sense in that domain or to learn the business workflow.
Another example is where very specific test data has to be used and I wouldn’t know how to load/create/enter the test data into a system or where it’s not feasible to remember combinations.

I’d always try NOT to use a test script where possible but sometimes it’s easier to use one than fighting against it.

One thing about finding your place though is that, if it’s anywhere in the region of James Bach et al you’ll have a hard time finding a job unless you get some experience under your belt AND promote yourself. Sending your CV to a recruiter who looks at keywords (that you won’t be able to produce) won’t get you anwyhere so starting out this way is more difficult.

Yes, perhaps that was a bit of a sweeping statement, but in general I still stick by it. I would use mind maps where I dont know a domain very well, though I take your point on complex scenarios. Wether that is a test script is perhaps down to semantics, but I take your point.
Now the second point you make is an interesting one. I work for myself and continuously have to fight for work. I believe that knowing your place will bring confidence to you that will help you stand out. I think the keyword argument doesn’t really stand up as you can still approach companies directly, or in the case of Ajay Balamurugadas and Google, get the company to approach you. Get the grey cells thinking and a way will come up. The key problem as I see it, is: Can you sustain you (and perhaps a family) that way. Now that is real challenge! Anyhow I suspect that James is not saying “if you don’t get sacked you are a parrot” More “start thinking for yourself”

To find “your place” does not necessarily mean that you will be a James Bach type expert. (I suspect that is not what you are suggesting here!).

I know that is not where I want to be. Not because I don’t admire him, but because a) I’m more interested in getting my business off the ground and b) I just don’t want to follow software testing that closely. Other things interest me as well and c) I ain’t got half the ability he has. But what I can do is think for myself and express those thoughts.

Like yourself, I was involved in a process of testing I did not necessarily agree with. I tried to slowly inject what I thought were better ways to do things. At first I started doing within my own cocoon all by myself, probably for fear of being ridiculed.
After a while a few people asked how I was testing — I reluctantly showed them how I approached the areas I was testing. I was then moved to a new group where luckily my “got it” and actually promoted the kind of testing I wanted to do. Not just because it was “different”, but because we actually got results.

James Bach certainly has been instrumental in getting me to open my eyes and not just go with the status quo of testing approaches. “Oh, I better write “x” test cases or what will management think.” or “We better have “x” percentage of our tests automated or else we are not doing the right thing.” Getting our testers to actually THINK while testing and asking themselves why they are performing certain tests was one of the biggest boons to our group. I have been lucky enough to have started “following” Bach since the early 90’s.

Whether it’s a question James B. will pose, or a book recommendation, he always seems to stir up new ideas in my testing approach; which is part of his goal I believe. Break out of the norm, keep asking yourself why and create new paths in your testing.

Hi James, you’re the third James to comment on this post.
On the subject of abrasion, us quiet ones need people like you shaking us up every now and then and while I may not agree with all that is said, its sincere & comes from some-one I respect and admire. I can handle that and I suspect you can too.

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