August 27, 2010

Masters of Illusion - Fake Testers (Part-1)

Before you start, let me warn you that this is an experiment. I encourage opinions even if you do not agree. I am not sure how some readers will take this, but I assure you that my writing does not implicate anyone in particular.

Testing has come to be a mainstream job. There was a time when I wouldn't get enough resumes when I posted a job ad for a testing position. Not anymore. Now I am literally overwhelmed with the number of resumes I receive. But even then I am not able to hire testers who can do magnificent testing. I try to hire those who can learn to do magnificent testing. Even that is pretty hard to find. I am concerned about this predicament. I notice that most people I meet, testers or non-testers, seem to think they know testing and are clueless about how wrong they are.

Being a tester is about busting illusions, but what if the tester is the illusionist. Being a tester is about not being fooled, but what if the tester is the one fooling his audience. Things become worse as this illusionist is the one who is rewarded and encouraged in his workplace and community. Due to this he is even able to build followers and zombies. How do you recognize this fraud? I have identified some traits from my own experience communicating with testers. Do question my thoughts and knowledge. This post is for those who do not want to be fooled, and to encourage them to question the motives of such testers.

The attributes I outline below are sometimes, in my opinion, what fake testers possess. However, having these attributes does not necessarily make someone a phony. This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls the Round-trip Fallacy, i.e. "these statements are not interchangeable".

Escape Demonstration

You would think it's obvious that testing should be taught by "demonstrating" testing. Apparently that is not the case. Take for example the ISTQB trainings. Every time a student tells me that it helped him to know more about testing, I ask him if the instructor ever demonstrated testing to him or let him test something. Of course, he would answer NO.

Demonstrating testing is extremely important to teach testing. But it's extremely difficult to do if you never tested before or if you don't practice testing. This is probably the most effective way to expose a phony. You can tell a lot about someone's skill if you watch him test. It's also a great way to judge testers during interviews.

Usually a fake tester would avoid public testing demonstrations, and you can forget about rapid testing sessions within an hour or half an hour. He will always find some excuse. Mentors such as James Bach, Michael Bolton and Pradeep Soundararajan do demonstrations all the time, and when they can't, they articulate their testing in their blogs or articles. I sometimes demonstrate one hour rapid testing sessions to my testers on an application they choose for me. It's a great way to teach and also build my own demonstration skills. I find that demonstration for the purpose of teaching is more difficult to do, because you have to continuously communicate your thoughts and actions to your audience. I have certainly become better at it.

When my testers cannot reproduce a problem reported by the end user, I try to do it myself and then explain to them how I figured it out. Even if I can't reproduce it, I would still explain how I investigated. If my testers saw a problem, but can't figure out how they found it, I sit next to them and try it out with them. If my testers tell me they can't figure out how to test something, I would either explain that or demonstrate it in person. You will not see that happening with fake trainers or Test Managers.

Here is a question for you. If you never saw your Test Manager or Trainer demonstrate or articulate testing then how do you know they are testers?

Weekend Testing (TM) -- Why Not

As I was writing the last section, it got me thinking about Weekend Testing. If you haven't heard of this before, read what James Bach has to say about it. Oh, and it's no longer just an Indian thing.

I know I love testing and jump at the first testing opportunity, but why was I not participating in Weekend Testing? The obvious reason was that I was already working long hours during the weekdays and the electricity going out every other hour was just too frustrating to go on an online bug chase. An enticing bug chase. A mind boggling discussion opportunity with culturally diverse sapient testers of the context-driven testing community. The more I thought about it, the more pathetic my excuses sounded. This was what I always dreamed about. So I decided to give it a try one weekend, when I happened to be still in my office and the clock struck 3pm IST. It was just as awesome as I expected it to be. So I did it again, and then again.

I know that many testers feel shy or are afraid to participate because of the possibility of performing badly in public. It's kind of the same fear that some have questioning in public. I know my testers are pretty enthusiastic about it, but are shy. That's because every time I do a Weekend Testing, they find out what I had tested and start testing that at work on their own. They feel that they want to practice a little more before jumping in. That is ok with me. In fact I want to speed up this process. So recently I ditched the weekly 1 hour rapid testing sessions, and started a mock Weekend Testing session, at work. It's like we are all sitting in the same room but using Skype to communicate. We pick an application at random in 10 minutes and start testing the application in the next 30 minutes. Then 5 minutes for the experience report, followed by discussions, all on Skype. Sometimes when we have less time, we discuss without Skype. I am hoping pretty soon more of my testers will gather the courage to participate in Weekend Testing.

Anyone can make up their own brand of Weekend Testing if it works for them. Even James Bach said on Twitter, "They can set up their own weekend tester thing with just their own friends".

If you never did Weekend Testing, that doesn't necessarily make you a phony. But if you never plan to be in Weekend Testing, you probably aren't enthusiastic about testing at all. Here is what James Bach said on Twitter; "It would be like a carpenter saying that he'd never build something for fun, at home. Such a man is in the wrong job."

I Don't Know -- The Forbidden Phrase

When faced with a question you don't know the answer to, it is ok to say "I don't know". There is no shame in it, even if you are an expert. I say it all the time. Then I also say "But I will find out". However, that is not my exit strategy. I do try hard to find out. Unfortunately fake testers don't want to do that. I notice this during conversations and even in testing forums. Usually I have disagreements and debates with non-context-driven testers about what they preach as "Best Practices". So when I present them with credible scenarios and question their beliefs, they usually avoid the question or cherry pick the questions they "think" they can answer. But eventually, they would say something like they are busy or label me as a heretic or just wouldn't reply. Sometimes they will even give vague replies. I understand this could also be a side effect of my "Transpection" practices, introduced by James Bach in his blog:

"One of the techniques I use for my own technical education is to ask someone a question or present them with a problem, then think through the same issue while listening to them work it out."

When I read about "transpection", I did not feel foreign to the idea. But the post made me aware of the side effects of transpection. Also, I now have a name for it. I have only used transpection on the testers I coach and close associates. I don't think that was intentional though. I did it without thinking about my approach. I don't remember ever doing it in public so I can safely rule out that cause in my unpleasant scenarios. However as James mentions, it is a legitimate cause for someone to get irritated with you and look the other way.

To Be Continued...

And so ends Part 1 of "Masters of Illusion - Fake Testers". I have a lot more to say in Part 2 and Part 3. But I wanted to give you a break to ponder over what I have written so far.

Coming up in Part 2:
  • The Techie Tester: Fake testers are usually oblivious to the notion that there is more to testing than technology and process...
  • Exploratory Testing is not Predictable: They seem to assume that exploratory testing is uncertain (because testers make it up as they go) and scripted testing is not...

Picture reference:


  1. Wonderful post!! your writing is really interesting, i thoroughly enjoyed. Hope this post will help to increase consciousness of many testers & test managers. Here i should say, you are one of the most passionate tester and thought leader among the Bangladeshi testers. Really proud of you.

    - Selim

  2. Hi,

    Its an excellent post. I will too contribute in "Fake Testers" series in future.

    I dont know about your country, But in India I see couple of instances where testers work quite hard and doesn't get rewarded.

    On the other hand, the so call "Test Leads" "QA Leads" even dont know the product functionality, dont know how to figure out scenarios, dont know their mission and dont know how to finalize the strategy.

    Managers and Leads are more responsible than test engineers for faking the test project. They survive only the basis of the GOOD communication skills.
    The state is very bad in Indian companies.

  3. So we can test a tester in several ways to determine if she is a real tester. Real tester do not escape from public testing demonstration, she likes the idea of weekend testing and possibly participates in and she does not hesitate to say "I do not know". But you know there are many testers around us who do not have all the attributes so far you have mentioned. You are calling them fake, not real but they are tester. So, what is the major difference between fake tester and real tester? Is this difference like fake money vs. real money? From the time being you know the money is fake, that is completely valueless. Is it something like that when a tester is identified as a fake tester she is completely valueless to her company? Should the company terminate her as soon as possible like we do in the case of fake money?

  4. @Monirul, i have tried to answer your questions here

  5. @Selim: Thanks. I am honored.

    @Sumit: Feel free to post a link to your blog post here when it's ready :) Also, I don't think this is an issue with India alone. But as the number of sapient testers is growing and their thoughts and activities are getting noticed, things definitely look brighter.

  6. @Monirul: In my opinion, a fake tester (phony) knows he is not a good tester and consciously tries to hide his weakness and fool others into thinking he has desirable testing skills. That is very different from someone who is learning to be a good tester. If a fake tester adds value to his employer, I will be surprised if it's because of his testing.

  7. Interesting post.

    You are right about being the illusionist by the fake testers. But I think it is the duty of the real tester to break the illusions created by the fakers and help the fake testers to become real enough. "Show them the way".

    At last you blogged about weekend testing! If anyone is passionate about testing s/he will surely try this out. But have you thought about opening a Bangladesh chapter there? I think you are eligible and passionate enough to start up a session. If weekly is not possible how about monthly?

    Waiting for your upcoming posts specially for the "Exploratory Testing is not Predictable".


  8. I'm thrilled that you're passionate about recognizing the value of a true tester and helping others spot them in a crowd of fakes. And I agree that demonstration is the key, but keep in mind that some very skilled testers are shy and perform much better in private. I'd love to have the end results of my testing captured, but I'd almost freeze if I was being watched while testing.