Software Testers Eat Steak!

(From the Archive – 1/14/06)

Now that I’ve explained exactly what a Software Test Engineer does, the question burning in most minds is certainly “How could I learn to be a Software Test Engineer? I want to earn big money, play the piano, and eat steak!”

That’s a great question, Bob! By the way, how’s that sister of yours?

If you have the basic qualifications (equal parts left-and-right-brained, obsessive attention to detail, unbridled arrogance, and the ability to remain permanently dissatisfied) then you can learn testing in one simple and largely ineffective lesson.

(If you’d prefer 293 good lessons, then be sure to pick up a copy of the superlative Lessons Learned in Software Testing, by my good friend’s brother James Bach, et al.)

My non-patented and completely unwarranted single lesson method is as follows:

Before you look at anything, assume that you can find ways to make it better.

(Yes, I know what they say about assumptions making an ass out of you and umption, but, in reality, I can’t even get out of bed in the morning without making at least 84 assumptions.)

It sounds simple, like me, but I’ve seen it proven under near-scientific circumstances, time and . . . well, just the one time.

I was working with a friend of mine whom I’ll call Anne, since that is her name. She was curious about testing, so I was giving her a look at the sort of work that I do. As an experiment, I told her about an art asset (one of our aircraft visual models) in the product I was working on at the time, and went on and on about how good it looked. Then, I showed it to her, and asked her what she thought of it. She immediately, and quite accurately, listed a dozen or so great features, and agreed that it looked really good.

Then I told her that there was a similar object that was a real mess, needed a lot of work, and I asked her to look that over, and promptly showed her the same model from a different viewpoint. She found 5 or 6 bugs (flaws, anyway) per minute for 5 minutes, non-stop.

I eventually, begrudgingly told her the truth. At least, I think I did. If not, and she’s reading this . . .sorry, Anne.

The point of this anecdote is not that Anne is or was especially susceptible to the power of suggestion – that isn’t the case at all. The point is that the difference between the two evaluations, or test passes to use the vernacular of the cognoscenti, was that I helped her change her starting assumption.

When she assumed something was going to look good, she found the high points. When she assumed that something needed improvement, she was immediately transformed into some kind of unstoppable bug-finding machine.

You can try it yourself, with anything – books, movies, the way people talk, their personal and political beliefs – and you’ll find that, to some degree, if you approach it correctly, you can test anything.

Movies are full of continuity problems (hair that parts and unparts, props that appear and disappear, airplane changes), books are rife with spelling errors and misplaced words, advertising abounds with misused "quotation" marks and catchy aphorisms that don’t mean what somebody thought they were supposed to (“At Shorepoint assisted living, each day is better than the next.”) The list goes on, as I so often do.

Once you decide that nothing could possibly be good enough, you’ll be testing constantly, finding flaws in everything you see, even when you close your eyes! And, most importantly, while the other chumps are lined up at Skeezix’ Soup Kitchen taking whatever they can get, you’ll be eating steak! Steak that’s just a little overdone, and not exactly the cut you were promised, ordered from a misspelled menu, served by a waitress with a crooked name tag on a plate that really doesn’t go with that tablecloth while a Muzak version of In My Life plays in the background in the wrong time signature . . . but steak, nonetheless.

The only tricky part is learning when to stop.

For more on this, you can ask my wife.

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