Software Testing Debate Becomes Open Warfare
By Ted Smillie , Montrose Computer Services on Thursday, October 31st, 2013
Features in QESP NewsletterVolume 25 , Issue 2 - ISSN 1325-2070
Is it a sign of the times that a decade or more of dignified software testing debate has sparked into open warfare? Those of us who remember the early 90’s, when client/server was the “next big thing”, may be feeling a sense of déjà vu. Back then, the new era was ushered in with a rebellion against traditional waterfall-based approaches and the emergence of agile development methods. Is the move to mobile apps and cloud computing evoking a similar rebellion against existing methods? Out with the old, in with the new?
On the face of it, the current software testing strife is about the ISTQB® (International Software Testing Qualifications Board) software tester certification process but it goes much deeper than that and, appropriately for our present day and age, appears to have started on Twitter. It started in the UK, featuring Keith Klain, head of the Global Test Center at Barclays, and Rex Black, a prestigious ISTQB training partner, current board member and past ISTQB president. It all became more formal with an open letter from Keith to the ISTQB on April 26, 2013 regarding the validity and governance of the Foundation level exam (see http://qualityremarks.com/an-open-letter-to-the-istqb/ .) In particular, Keith was asking “about whether there have ever been problems with the certifications validity, specifically the reliability coefficient.” Keith’s open letter was accompanied by a petition appealing to the ISTQB board for answers. (The petition currently has 311 signatures.)
Keith then reported that, resulting from his letter, “an important conversation in the software testing community has been reignited over Twitter, LinkedIn, multiple blogs, and loaded up my inbox. And that conversation is NOT about testing certifications or the rackets employed to “regulate”, train, and issue them. Let me be clear, the certification debate is very important, but it is a symptom of a disease in our business: the disease of not owning our value proposition” (see http://qualityremarks.com/certifiable-fighting-the-fights-worth-fighting/.) Keith’s impassioned post concludes with “I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of everyone outside of the software testing community defining our industry. I’m sick and tired of having our craft boxed up and “commoditized” by people who don’t understand what we do and only look it at as Jerry Weinberg would call “the “appearance of work. (long hours, piles of paper, …) “. And I’m absolutely fed up with self appointed “experts” telling us they care about software testers while putting a ribbon and bow on our jobs for people to devalue our craft.”
Now as it happens, the Tester Certification issue had been identified here in Australia way back in February 2013 in an iTesting, blog by Colin Cherry, Editor of the quarterly OZTester magazine. Colin wrote that The Tester Certification Debate (Part 1), was to be the first in “a series of posts on this subject because (in my humble opinion) it is one of the most important issues we face in our profession today and is therefore worthy of in depth analysis”, Colin noted that “there are some very strong opinions regarding the value of Tester Certification and it is because of this that I believe we need more definitive information and guidance as to it’s value and context.” In this blog, Colin outlines his credentials (impressive) and his aims for the series of posts, and concludes “My aim is that within the next three to six months I will have provided a balanced and up to date view of the Tester Certification landscape in order that individuals and organisations can make a more informed decision when it comes to the value of Tester certification.” (See http://itesting.com.au/2013/02/22/the-tester-certification-debate-part-1/.) Good on him!
In his follow-on blog, The Tester Certification Debate (Part 2), posted on May 3, 2013, Colin comments on “the (often heated) debate that is currently playing out on Twitter. The main protagonists currently are the Context-Driven School and a leading member of the ISTQB fraternity.” Colin notes that “In the context within which I started my own (internal) debate this past few weeks has been fantastic as a lot of the work I intended to undertake myself is playing out in real time on Twitter every day.” At this point Colin is staying neutral (see http://itesting.com.au/2013/05/03/the-tester-certification-debate-part-2/) but the situation will soon deteriorate.
In the May 2013 OZTester Newsletter (a combined issue for both NZTester and OZTester magazine readers) Colin and Editor-in-Chief Geoff Horne write a joint article, What’s All The Fuss About? Structured vs Unstructured Testing. They agree with Keith Klain’s observation that the “conversation is NOT about testing certifications” and have identified it as a deeper argument about traditional vs relatively newer approaches. They note that “there is a definite ground swell of friction between fundamentalists from each of the Structured and Unstructured camps” and go on to urge: “Folks, the last thing we need is infighting within the ranks. We are already challenged enough by the advent of new technologies eg. big data, mobile applications, virtualisation etc. along with the never – ending campaign to continually promote the value of testing. This type of “civil warring” can ultimately only serve to detract from and dilute the effort to deliver the most successful outcomes to our clients and employers – surely they have the greater right to our intellectual and creative energies.”
This is followed up with some suggestions for a calmer debate, see http://www.nztester.co.nz/oztester_1_files/Newsletter02.pdf
(It is worth mentioning that Geoff’s section of the article was challenged by the Hello Test World team, who disagree with some of his points of view on the discussions at the KWST – Kiwi Workshop on Software Testing, including the distinction between Unstructured Testing, Exploratory Testing and Context Driven Testing, see http://hellotestworld.com/2013/05/25/structured-v-unstructured/.)
But that is by the way. Colin was already becoming involved in the hostilities despite his best efforts to remain impartial.
On June 17, 2013, Colin posts The Tester Certification Debate Just Got VERY Personal, in which he notes ” I got an interesting EMAIL, the other day, from the current Chairman of the ANZTB (the local ISTQB Testing Board). He wanted to inform me that a recent request of me to fill in for a (now unavailable) speaker, at their upcoming Melbourne SIG, was being withdrawn. He was very specific in his reasons for doing so. He felt that “somewhat negative” feedback from my recent “Lightning Talk” at the ANZTB Annual Conference in Canberra was grounds enough to rescind the offer and overrule the local Chairperson (who asked me the favour in the first place).” After detailing the circumstances of the Lightning Talk ( which he had recorded), Colin goes on to say “Now, I’m not one to over-analyse or lose sleep over constructive or warranted feedback, but when it comes in the form of an attack on my values, beliefs and ethics I want to know what’s behind it.” The rest of the blog shows Colin’s bewilderment, hurt and disappointment over the ANZTB criticism. (See http://itesting.com.au/2013/06/17/the-tester-certification-debate-just-got-very-personal/.)
Colin’s final, angry and sorrowful post in the series is on July 30, 2013, My Final Word on Software Tester Certification, in which he says “When I posted my Tester Certification Debate Just Got VERY Personal article on June 17 I had no idea what a profound and long-term effect the episode I described in that Blog post would have on me. Today (after considerable reflection), I no longer value what the ANZTB stands for in the Asia Pacific region. Today, I no longer respect the current Chairperson of the ANZTB.” Colin goes on to specify why changes are needed in order to advance the software testing profession, bring value to the IT industry and develop future generations of software testers, see http://itesting.com.au/2013/07/30/thelastword/.)
So that is where we now stand and I think the real question is whether this saga is just a small skirmish in a larger battle, not just about software testing but about the whole software engineering life cycle. However, that will have to be another article.