Schools of (pro)testing

I have been discussing Cem Kaner’s announcement and the separation between the founders of the context-driven school of testing with some people, most of whom proclaim themselves as context-driven (myself included). This post was inspired by Cem’s response to the responses (confusing, eh?) he got for the original announcement.

I must say I like Cem’s way of thinking here as it would appear to me to be humane, and non-exclusive. I like that because it’s really close to my own world view and way of thinking. Here are some comments to what Cem wrote:

“An analogy to religion often carries baggage: Divine sources of knowledge; Knowledge of The Truth; Public disagreement with The Truth is Heresy; An attitude that alternative views are irrelevant; An attitude that alternative views are morally wrong.”

This is why I align myself rather closely with nontheistic Buddhist views and why Dalai lama is my idol. This is also something I wrote about in our discussions with the above-mentioned group of people. Here’s what Dalai lama has to say about religions:

“I always believe that it is much better to have a variety of religions, a variety of philosophies, rather than one single religion or philosophy. This is necessary because of the different mental dispositions of each human being. Each religion has certain unique ideas or techniques, and learning about them can only enrich one’s own faith.”
–His Holiness the 14th Dalai lama

As I wrote in our discussion, I don’t see any difficulty applying this more generally even within a single school – be it religion, philosophy or software testing. As long as there are opposing views and we keep our own thinking critical – especially concerning our own views and opinions – they can only help us become better and stronger by, for example, teaching us how many different angles there can be to viewing the same concepts/thoughts/ideas/practices/whatever.

You can’t credibly claim your favorite color is blue if you haven’t experienced red, green and yellow as well.

This is exactly why I am curious about the people who genuinely, for example, consider ISTQB certification a good idea. I wish to learn about their motives, their way of thinking and their reasoning, rather than just outright disregard their views as stupid, ignorant or irrelevant. That would be arrogant, inhumane and unfair. I don’t need to agree with a view to be able to acknowledge the value of enthusiasm and sincerity (even if unfounded or misguided). Note that I’m talking about the people, not the certification, of which I have less than favorable opinions.

As Cem wrote, controversy is a good thing. It’s just that there are constructive ways of dealing with controversy and then there are destructive ways of dealing with it and probably any number of ways that are somewhere in between. The Buddhist approach, in my view, is constructive. The purpose is to have your own view and then refine it by learning from others while accepting their right to differing views and different paths to learning. This approach can help you uncover faults in your own thinking you might never have realized had you not been dealing with people whose views disagree with your own.

This, by the way, is perfectly in line with People’s Assertive Rights (that I feel everyone should know about and would benefit from embracing) but I won’t go deeper into that here.

“In my view, there are legitimate differences in the testing community. I think that each of the major factions in the testing community has some very smart people, of high integrity, who are worth paying attention to. I’ve learned a lot from people who would never associate themselves with context-driven testing.”

I pretty much already covered this above but as an addition I would take the analogy of the spectrum of colors:

Think of the spectrum as comprising the entire testing community, everyone in it. Now, think of that spectrum as being arbitrarily split into smaller sections, or “schools” of testing. Undoubtedly, there are people who would like to over-simplify things by assigning a single color to each of these sections. “This is the blue section”, “this is the green section” and so on. Considering the generally acknowledged “schools” of testing that would give us what, 5-7 different colors? I don’t know about anyone else but I think that would make a rather poor representation of the beauty of the spectrum (is that a straw man? I would like to think it’s not since I don’t mean to attack anyone but, rather, just clarify my own views on the subject). Kind of like the shadow at the back of a cave as a representation of complex three-dimensional objects in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

The reality is that even if the spectrum is arbitrarily split into smaller sections, the color slide of the spectrum does not stop within any one of those sections. What this means in practice is that people within a single school will still have different views even if they generally adhere to a similar way of thinking on a broad scale. Fuchsia is still red even if it isn’t scarlet (though some people might argue that fuchsia is closer to blue and not completely unjustly so). There are those who would be considered analytical by the people in the context-driven school but context-driven in the analytical school.

My point here is that it would be unrealistic, naive even, to think that every proponent or representative of a specific school of testing would unilaterally agree on everything. In my view, it would be much wiser and better for the community as a whole to embrace the variety (and controversy) than try to force people into a single mold.

“One of the profound ideas in those courses was a rejection of the law of the excluded middle. According to that law, if A is a proposition, then A must be true or Not-A must be true (but not both). Some of the Indian texts rejected that. They demanded that the reader consider {A and Not-A} and {neither A nor Not-A}.”

I love this. This, I believe, is exactly the kind of thinking that is referred to when talking about “thinking outside the box”. I challenge, question and protest against any artificial boundaries and restrictions. Especially in software testing.

By the way, when I do that, the most typical response I get is: “nobody would ever do that!”

Sound familiar?

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4 Responses to Schools of (pro)testing

  1. Hi Petteri,

    Very good article that puts the current discussion in a balanced context.

    Let’s also not forget that the first principle of the context-driven school states:
    “The value of any practice depends on its context.”

    I have always interpreted it as being in oposition of any dogmatic application of any practice.

    We humans tend to squeeze our thinking in clearly separable entities. It is order we want to achieve. That is why we love to operate with models because the are reduced in their complexity and therefore become handlable.

    Of course the reality is more colorful (refering to your post :-). The boundaries are less sharp than we would wish them to be.

    Let’s therefore be context-driven AND take care to not become dogmatic. I would think of dogmatism being in sharp opposition of the core values of the context-driven school.


    • And a message for us all…

      “Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
      –Steve Jobs

  2. Cem Kaner says:

    Ilari wrote:

    “I would think of dogmatism being in sharp opposition of the core values of the context-driven school”

    This is also how I have understood the core values of the school.

  3. Pingback: Five Blogs – 5 March 2012 « 5blogs

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