Sunday, 8 November 2009

Testing Is Overrated

Current reading is "Talent is Overrated" ( hence the provocative blog title, wonder if I get more hits when I have a negative headline... ) which is about the "nature v nurture" debate.

Is there a 'tester DNA' that people have or is there something more to those testers that seem to have the magic touch and break an app merely by their presence ?

I was thinking about this as a program was delivered to test and within a couple of days I'd broken it so badly that no-one was able to use it's main functionality.No-one else testing the app had found that particular defect. Luck ? maybe - but I do it consistently so there must be more to it than that

The "Talent Is Overrated" book explains how people who are considered gifted have actually been practising hard for years. Tiger Woods is the usual example trotted out - coached from a very early age by his father, Earl. Malcolm Gladwell explored the same area in his book Outliers: The Story of Success

So with 20 years of writing and fixing bugs as a programmer followed by a few years of deliberately trying to find the bugs then is really a surprise that I can find defects more easily than the average tester ?

The book also explains the concept of "deliberate practice" and by coincidence I found a recent blog where Mary Poppendieck had been explaining the concept.
Mary has the following four key components that are required for a person to be using deliberate practice:

  • Mentor - a high skills expert to review, critique, and highlight flaws

  • Challenge - tasks that require greater skill than we currently possess

  • Feedback - review and analysis of results used to improve future attempts

  • Dedication - hard work, time and energy applied diligently

Geoff Colvin, the author of Talent Is Overrated, has the following components

  • It's designed specifically to improve performance - Tiger Woods would drop balls into a sand trap and then step on them and then practice hitting shots to get them out

  • It can be repeated a lot

  • Feedback on results is continuously available

  • It's highly demanding mentally

  • It isn't much fun

Interesting to look at those components and see how many could be used to deliberately practice testing. Any of these in your practices ?


Markus Gärtner said...

Declan Whelan had an impressive presentation on learning in teams. Most of his models were based on The Fifth Discipline. Personally I believe it's crucial to learn as a team, not just as a single individual when it comes to day-to-day work. Single individual knowledge is worthy, but only when you're able to spread your knowledge among your team, you reach mutual benefit.

At work we try to incorporate Brown Bags and Lunch & Learn sessions for this. Some Katas in my spare time help me keep my knowledge worthy. In the end most of it boils down to experience and some bunch of systems thinking and/or mental models. I don't know why, but I think I'm particular good at these.

007unlicensedtotest said...

Good Post Phil!

I think you have to be careful about practicing the 'wrong thing' though.

Is it just practice? Hasn't Tiger Woods had the most experienced people around him to help him?

I can't corrobate this in any way, but it seemed to me that Tiger Woods watched all the tapes of previous competitions to see where the most successfull places to put the ball were, how people have successfully putted across difficult greens (How people sunk putts from different areas of the green?)

Is it more about doing the things you've learned about through experience? Or not afraid to try things out?

Glenn Halstead said...

Hi Phil,

I've also been reading Talent Is Overated for a while now (it's on my pick up from time to time) pile.

I like the book, it's ideas and the authors seemingly objective presention of those idea's and supporting evidence. I do believe the's one aspect that IS dependent on the individual; not talent as commonly percieved but INTEREST. I believe it's much easier to be succesful at something you're interested in. I don't believe that interest is a product of deliberate or 'common & garden' practice, I think it's just a natural attribute, different in each person.

ahy said...

Hmm. I'd like to disagree with Glenn's assertion that interest is a natural attribute of a person.

Interest can be ignited, or snuffed out, by what happens around you. To me, that's a lot more exciting - it means that it's possible to take a bunch of testers who've never been all that interested - and spark an interest, given the right conditions and the right moment.

Then 'all' you have to do is to foster the right atmosphere to keep that spark lit and fan it into a flame...