EverythingSoftware Testing

The Testing Dead – Part 4

If it’s true that zombie testers are being churned out faster than we can rehabilitate them, then what do we do about them? Asked in a perhaps less provocative way, how do we go about making sure that zombie-like testing behavior is neither encouraged, nor rewarded?

When you begin speaking with management types who have thus far only experienced zombie testing, when you engage them about thinking testing, you may well meet reluctance, disbelief and suspicion. A more highly skilled testing group sounds like a good thing, but how do you measure it? How do you make sure that people are doing what they are supposed to be doing? Skepticism is okay. Testers should be able to explain themselves and their actions. Sometimes it’s a little more than that though. Sometimes it’s a deeply ingrained cultural issue,  demanding adherence to procedures. To some extent, dealing with that sort of mindset and company culture goes beyond convincing them of the non-viability of zombies – there are apparently such things as zombie managers also. They tend to be the ones that roll out that little ‘What gets measured, gets done’ chestnut – to which I invariably reply ‘what gets measured gets gamed’. Nonetheless, thinking testing can be an accountable activity.

If someone wants to be able to see numbers on how effective testers are being, then have members of a project answer a brief questionnaire on how the testers did during the project. How well did they identify and report on risk during design? How well did they find and convey information during hands on testing with delivered builds? Did testers provide information that allowed you to make informed decisions about the project? and so on – if you ask these questions of people the testers interacted with and have them rate them on whatever scale you like (as well providing a few open-ended questions such as ‘what else could testers do / what information could they provide in order to be more effective’ Then you can put that into whatever pretty charts and things you like and you have a basis from which to begin conversation that doesn’t rely on nonsense like test cases executed or bugs reported. As an aside, you should be asking these questions throughout the project anyway. If you do, not only will you be able to alter your strategy when needed, you’ll give your peers points of reference when they’re filling in said questionnaire later.

We need the people we work with and the people we serve to understand what testing is in a way that is valuable to them – I spoke about this a little bit in the second post on this subject – not just within our own organization, but in a broader sense also. We need to make sure that programmers in general understand the value testing adds, the program managers, analysts, upper management understand the value of testing and to hold software testers to a higher standard, or at least to expect a higher standard from them.

Part 3 talked about taking steps in your own backyard. What about the wider world?

I semi-regularly attend gatherings for developers. I’ve given presentations on what developers should be expecting from testers. Initial reactions were interesting. I had some people say to me afterwards things like ‘I’d expect anyone with that sort of skill set to be managing a development group or test group’ or ‘you’re so wasted in testing, we need to get you into a programming role’. I think both comments stem from an overly low expectation of what value a thinking tester can add and my reply to both statements was basically that.

Now that they see that I am a tester by choice and I’m not looking to bridge into a ‘better’ role, they can see that value of having someone around that can speak the same language and brings a different set of skills to the table. Now they contact me for advice or ask me to help them hire skilled testers. I’m happy to do it. If you’re not attending gatherings by non-testers, then have a look around for some in your area and turn up. Spend time with them. You don’t necessarily have to evangelize or proselytize, just spend time and let them get to know you and what you do.

Attend non-testing conferences. This is a tough one. I’d like to see the Association for Software Testing put a grant together to let testers do exactly this. I think there is a lot of good that we could do by attending, and perhaps better still, presenting at non-testing conferences.

Offer to give guest lectures at your local universities. Rather than have young computer scientists indoctrinated to believe that testing is either synonymous with debugging, or something that the unwashed masses do, help them understand how deep and diverse testing can be.

If you can’t find any gatherings for non-testers (or even if you can), invite non-testers to your tester gatherings. Even if you have to bribe them with the promise of alcoholic beverages. Encourage your testing peers to do the same. They may come for the latter, but they’ll likely stay for the conversation. Relationships formed off the clock can have a deep impact when its time to clock on again, whether that be in your own environment, or someone else’s.

The fight against zombie testing will not be won overnight and it won’t be won by taking out the zombies already in the field. Thinking testers need to get amongst the thinkers of our non-testing peers and help them understand how much more we can do. When they start expecting a higher standard from the testers they work with, then zombie testers will start to find it more and more difficult to find work. Getting rid of the zombies will come down to thinking testers doing our part in whatever way we can. To mangle a phrase (probably) by Edmund Burke – The only thing required for zombies to triumph is for thinking testers to do nothing.

Previously on The Testing Dead
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Another interesting post linking Zombies and Testing




3 thoughts on “The Testing Dead – Part 4

  1. Great way to finish this excellent series of posts.

    You make a good point about mixing with non-testers, sounds like a more productive way to spend time than arguing with the zombies

  2. Wow – really enjoyed that.

    Oddly enough I’m really wondering if I can run a “Testing for Managers” course, because as you mention, I’m finding too many expect me to act like a zombie, and slowly shuffle in a straight line until I hit an obstruction.

  3. I love the analogy! Same thing can be said for some developers out in the field – just doing what they can to get by without thinking too hard.

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