Recently I found myself counting up to 100 articles on my TestSheepNZ blog, and asked around for potential topics. One from Srinivas Kadiyala (@srinivasskc) involved a subject I had felt I’d already covered biographically in “how did you become a tester”.
I recently joked to a graduate that most testers were “ex-developers who were driven mad coding in assembler”. And yes, I was a developer before becoming a tester. But then I know a lot of excellent testers who were never developers. So it’s obvious that being a tester is more than being a developer turned mad, bad or dangerous to know.
Being both cursed and blessed with a remarkable memory, I searched back to try and find out where my testing skills began – and what I found was really quite shocking. It wasn’t when I learned to code and compiled my first programs; it wasn’t at university, or even at school. To put it bluntly, it seemed that I was actually a born tester … and I wasn’t alone.
My earliest memories go back to when I’m about 2 – I know this mainly because they involve my family “before my brother came along”. Yes, my baby brother did kind of upset my child utopia by making things “all about him”, instead of ME! And that no doubt is why my memory works so well because I was thinking, “I had a pretty cushy number here until you came along”.
But not all of my memories of this time involve my screaming and crying baby brother. A lot involve me trying to explore and understand the world around me, which I didn’t understand.
I remember being told I was wrong to be trying to put a triangular block through a square hole in the block sorter. But I knew the two shapes didn’t match. But I was curious over whether if you turn the triangle to the right angle if it was possible to “just fit” through the space.
Likewise I had this great idea for wearing pyjamas, by putting the top on your bottom half. I was intrigued at how your legs could fit into the “arms” of the top. And as an added feature you were able to wee through the head piece.
I also had an unfortunate fascination with the outflow in our bathroom sink. And noticed that when you put the plug in and left the water running, it was a safety feature which meant any excess water was drained away. Unfortunately I left it like this, not realising at the time the rate of outflow was greater than the rate of inflow … so it ended up flooding the house, and mother was not pleased.
But one particular memory shows the logic I was trying to put together. I hated baths – because baths were always so very cold. But I liked my vest – my vest kept me warm. So one day when it was bath time, I repeatedly tried to get into the bath in my vest, and wouldn’t allow my mother to take it off me. I found it really frustrating to try and get her to understand – and realise that maybe my internal logic of ideas probably did not match my ability to communicate any of this.
Good testers given software want to explore, try things and learn about the application under test. As my memories show, these are not things we develop, but skills we have from birth as we try to explore and make sense of the world around us. And the thing is every one of us starts from this position – knowing nothing, but interacting and discovering. But it’s a skill that many people lose as they grow older, when they feel they have “learned enough” about the world around them, and seek not to challenge that model.
In effect, people do not choose to be testers – people choose not to be testers by deciding that to try things, to learn new things is too scary, because it involves the potential for error and mistake, and they’d rather stick to what they’re comfortable with.
For a tester, the stigma of being “stupid” for trying a triangle block in a square hole will not stop them from wondering if there is any case where a triangular block could fit into a square hole. They will wonder how much arms are like legs – can you wear socks on your hands or use a mouse with your feet? Because for a tester, curiosity is king – it is child-like, but not childish.
Go and be curious about your software…
About the Author
Mike Talks has been testing the limits since early childhood, a practice he has continued into adulthood. He works as a bug whisperer at Datacom in Wellington.