How do I know I’m a good Tester? Inspiring thoughts from James Bach!

James Bach. What comes to your mind when you hear the name? Disruptive & Controversial Tester. Founding member of the Context-Driven School of Software Testing. Creator of Rapid Software Testing™, Session-Based Test Management, and one of the progenitors and advocates of skilled exploratory software testing. The original buccaneer Tester. His thoughts are revolutionary & an inspiration to both entry-level & experienced testers. He is straight-forward & fearless in advancing the Software Testing technology. James Bach is synonymous with testing, and has been disrupting the industry and influencing and mentoring testers since he got his start in testing over 30 years ago.

A month ago I thought of starting a ‘Inspiring Thoughts of…’ series to get insights & advice from some of the expert testers around the world. It’s always great to read about the leaders and their views around Software Testing. Excited about the thought, I shot an e-mail to the top 10 Testers in the world (whichever Email ID I could find) I follow and respect.

It’s 2 A.M in the night and I am surfing the web gathering ideas around Software Testing. What! Seriously! I get a notification on my mobile – a new email from none other than ‘James Bach’. My heartbeat skips a beat. Is this real? The legend has replied to the email. Never thought that it will work the first time, will have to follow-up instead. Elated by the response email, I go through the write-up two-three times to understand a leader’s thought process. The views range from professional career building, the current state of Software Testing, and advice to young & experienced testers to help us test better and why approach to software testing needs a change. Presenting to you a leader’s vision of Software Testing,

STS: How did you start your career in Software Testing?

James Bach: I was a video game programmer in the early 80’s. I got sick of programming, though. It was too lonely and repetitive. When Apple Computer offered me a Test manager job in 1987, I jumped at it.

“My temperament is suited to testing because I enjoy finding trouble more than I enjoy ending it. Also, testing is a social process and I need that stimulation.”

STS: Did you ever think of quitting the testing technology and move to some other stream? When, why & how you motivated yourself then?

James Bach: Yes, I would like to be a teacher. So I teach testing and systems thinking. I would also like to be an analyst of complex things, thus I take any opportunity to serve as an expert witness in software related court cases.

“If I were starting over again I would probably go into security testing as a specialty, because it’s deliciously complicated as well as important.”

Any ambitious thinker looks for ever increasing challenges, but if you test commercial software you quickly face an important limit: your employer will never pay you to test as thoroughly and carefully as you can. No one has enough time or money to allow truly deep testing in the commercial world. This is why I get most excited about testing in the context of a legal proceeding, because it’s always high stakes and big money. The client usually wants you to do the best possible job and will pay for it.

As a teacher and consultant, I don’t get to do much testing on the job (I have to do it on my own time, instead). But there are other rewards. I find it endlessly fascinating to poke a student’s mind and try to get the lights to turn on in there. It’s also very gratifying when a former student experiences worldly success.

“Testing skills are pretty fundamental. No matter what else I do, I am always going to be a tester.”

STS: The current role of ‘Software Testing’ in the new-world development process (short time-to-market)

James Bach: The role of testers varies with the specific industry. However, in general, testers have done a poor job of explaining what they do and why they matter. The opportunists who market tester certification programs have made a mockery of testing professionalism, because their certifications are so shallow and poorly designed. This has had the effect of convincing many employers that there is nothing important to the testing field and has made it easy for them to disrespect and de-emphasize the testing role.

“The testing role depends on testers themselves to demonstrate the value of that role.”

This has nothing to do with “short time-to-market.” It has to do with what people believe really matters. If people who run projects truly believe that incremental releases and the ability to do roll-backs means that testing is no longer necessary, then the testing role collapses, and testing becomes just another little task that will be poorly handled. Companies can get away with this if there truly is very little risk involved with their products, OR if they are good at shifting the blame for trouble onto other people.

Look at all the updates happening, every day, for the apps on your tablets and phones. Endless bug fixes and security holes! If arbitrarily bad software is acceptable to the public, then why would anyone pay a good tester to test it?

STS: The future market trends you foresee…

James Bach: I am not a market analyst. I have no opinions on that.

STS: What were the biggest milestones in your Testing career?

James Bach:

  • In 1993, I spoke at my first major conference. I spoke about exploratory testing and people responded enthusiastically.
  • In 1996, I created the first class in exploratory testing, and also created the Heuristic Test Strategy Model, which helps testers rapidly size up a testing situation.
  • In 1999, I started my own consulting company, Satisfice, Inc.
  • In 1999, I co-founded the Context-Driven Testing School of testing thought.
  • In 2001, I created the Rapid Software Testing class.
  • In 2001, I co-wrote Lessons Learned in Software Testing.
  • In 2006, A client won a court case based almost entirely on evidence I produced from testing. (So far, it’s the only case I’ve been involved with that went all the way to a jury.)
  • In 2008, I wrote Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar (a book about self-education).
  • In 2016, I taught my testing class in Vietnam — the 25th country that I have taught in.

STS: What do you think is the most important trait of a successful Software Tester?

James Bach: Love of mysteries. Testers are people who are constantly faced with things they don’t understand, and they must resolve that by learning about what they are testing as fast as they can.

STS: Do you believe the chatter ‘Software Testing is a dying profession’?

James Bach: Unfortunately, testing never has been a profession. It was moving toward professionalism a decade ago, but now I’m just not seeing the next generation doing the hard work of studying and building the community of self-criticism that a profession would require.

I call upon every ambitious tester out there to ask yourself: “How do I know I’m a good tester?” and keep striving to answer that question deeply, and hold your peers to a high standard of excellence.

Creating a professional community is a matter of personal heroism. When enough heroes work together, the world will change. Right now I feel like I’m almost alone in holding a torch for testing excellence, since most of the people who talk about testing these days seem far more interested in building automation to do simple output checking rather than building their analytical skills.

STS: Your thoughts on the old-age ‘Manual vs. Automation’ debate.

James Bach: There is no such thing as test automation. What people call test automation is not automated testing, but rather testing performed with the aid of tools. I think if you want to be an excellent tester then you need to learn a lot about how to use tools (and maybe build tools) to get the job done.

“Test automation” is a favorite topic of people who don’t really enjoy testing and have no intention of learning how to do it well.

STS: One biggest challenge to Software Testing profession or Tester’s biggest hurdle.

James Bach: The biggest challenge is that testing is an abstract activity. It produces information, but not any tangible product. This is why it might not ever get more sophisticated than it is right now: humans don’t get excited about abstract jobs.

“To make testing important we must de-abstract it.”

That means drawing very clear and strong connections between bad things that products do and the importance of testing those products. We must make risk as tangible as we can.

STS: Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to take up Software Testing?

James Bach: Among the living, I admire Jerry Weinberg and Cem Kaner — neither of whom am I actually on speaking terms with, any more. I have disputes with them, but I will never deny that the quality of the work I do, such as it is, owes much to the learning I had from debating with them. I also have been greatly inspired by Harry Collins, a sociologist who studies how scientists think and work.

The closest colleague I have right now is Michael Bolton, whom I’ve been collaborating with for over a decade. Almost all of my writing and great ideas are reviewed by Michael Bolton before I can feel comfortable publishing them.

Among the dead, I admire Ludwig Wittgenstein, for his unbending intellectual integrity and fierce independence; the physicist Richard Feynman for being a brilliant teacher and an eclectic learner; David Hume for suffering slings and arrows while pushing ahead with his groundbreaking work on Epistemology; Herbert Simon for his work on heuristic problem solving; Socrates for being an unpleasant man who changed the course of human intellectual history; Victor Frankl, whose ideas about the meaning of life were forged in a Nazi death camp; and finally, although it may seem strange for an American to mention, I am influenced by Arjuna, whose dialogue with Krishna before battle struck me as the behavior of a true seeker and leader. Having heroes like these tends to make me very annoying when I’m around ordinary modern people.

STS: What’s the best advice you ever received? Any career advice for young entry-level Software Testers? Where to start with to build a solid understanding of Testing?

James Bach: The best advice I ever received about testing is to,

“Study how people actually think rather than focus only on how they should think.” — Cem Kaner convinced me that I needed to take cognitive science and social science seriously.

Begin building a solid understanding of testing by learning to see something that is right in front of you. It’s surprisingly difficult to do.

STS: Tell us something about your venture…

James Bach: If you mean my business: I spend my time studying, day-dreaming, and teaching software testing. I also consult with testing organizations and coach testers over Skype. I do testing itself for research purposes or as part of court cases that involve software quality issues.

STS: Off note, how do you spend your weekends?

James Bach: I own my own business! There is no such thing as a weekend for me. Or maybe it’s all weekends. Technically, all my time is more or less free time, unless I sell it to someone.

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of hiking. At my age, exercise is no longer about looking good or being strong — it’s about staying alive at all.

Thanks to James!

Thanks to James for taking the time out for this inspiring write-up. I’m sure this will inspire both young and experienced testers around the globe. Above all, for his unique & insightful approach to software testing. For advocating and revolutionizing the software testing profession. For his teachings. For sharing his experiences. Thanks James. You are a true inspiration!

Note: James Bach has authored multiple books & articles and consulted and presented on software testing worldwide. For more on James’ background, his body of work and his testing philosophy, please listen to his presentations, read books and his excellent articles. And Yeah! Don’t forget to ‘Learn’!


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  • There is no such thing as exploratory testing. You can either “explore and observe” or “Test and compare the result”.
    The term is so misused.

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