What I learned about testing from Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Andy Zaltsman

I’ve you’ve never heard about Andy Zaltsman, and if you enjoy sarcastic political humor, I recommend you listen to The Bugle podcast.

philosophersI am mentioning him because he recorded a 3-episode series with the BBC2 around the teachings of the Greek philosophies and how this would apply to today’s life called “My Life As…

Some 25 years ago, when I was in college back in Costa Rica, I studied one or two courses on philosophy and we talked about the classical schools, but listening to the series I realized I had already forgotten everything I managed to learn back then.

But more interesting to me was that, as I listened to the podcast while stuck in traffic, I could not wonder to see a number of things we could apply to our testing from at least 2 of the schools he reviewed on the series: Stoicism and Epicureanism.

There was a third episode about Cynicism that gave me a number of good personal tools, but less things to apply to testing, and so I am leaving it out for now 🙂

Let’s dive in and understand some of the stuff we can apply to our testing from these two philosophical schools.

Stoicism

Stoicism believes that via self-control and individual development (and self-understanding) we can overcome most of the challenges in life.

One of the stoic teachings that resonated with me most was that “We are not disturbed by events, but by our beliefs (or perspectives) of the events themselves“.

Once you think about the sentence it starts making sense, but I also think it is also easier said than done 🙂

From the stoic ideas brought forward on the BBC series I thought interesting a couple of exercises or practices that can be taken from the classical stoics:

1. Clearly define your intentions for every day At the beginning of your workday, take some time to clearly define your intentions of the day.  Write down a short list of tasks or actions you want to do, and review this list once or twice during your day to make sure you have not been derailed by the daily rollercoaster of new tasks and other distractions that bombard us constantly.

2. Finish your day by running a balance your achievements and loses

balance

Either at the end of your work day or at night before you go to bed, take some quiet time to recollect all your achievement and your challenges of the day.  Look at all the good things and the bad things in equal light, concentrating on how not to run into the same mistakes in the future.  Very much like an agile retrospective, but daily and personal 😉

In a more general perspective, the thought that sums Stoicism up for me, is the that I am responsible only for those things that I can control, and the things that I cannot control I am not responsible for.  Based on this understanding I should concentrate completely on attending those aspects under my control, while not losing too much sleep over those that are beyond me.

This resounded with me deeply and showed me some clear mistakes I made back when I was starting testing.  I remember especially how I used to suffer for finding really big bugs in the project, especially bugs that I knew would delay the product launch date.   I always felt half responsible for the bugs and for what they would do the project and to the developers who had written them.

Sounds weird?  Sure, today it does, but back then it was part of my daily experience as a tester working in a startup company that was desperately trying to close its initial deals.

My “today” tester would really like to go back in time and tell “young Joel” that it is foolish to feel responsible for the bug he found.  That the bug was there initially, and finding this bug is better than letting the end user find it.  What is my responsibility is not writing or fixing the bug, only finding it in an efficient and timely manner.

Epicureanism

EpicureanismMany of us wrongly believe that Epicureanism is about the pursue of unmeasured enjoyment, large feasts, illogical luxury – well maybe not many of us, but at least those of us who think about this topic at all.  While in truth, it could not be further from the truth.

It is correct that this school of philosophy believes the aim of life is the individual pleasure, but it also teaches to find pleasure in the simple and little things in life.

There are a number of things to learn from Epicureanism, but the part that I took into my “testing life” is the part where it tasks us with understanding more deeply which of our needs are wants are really important and separate them from the ones that are “empty” or unimportant.

Audit yourself you should do a self-assessment to understand what we want to do and what we need to do. Which are the things that are really important to us and those that we are only doing because we believe it is what is expected of us without seeing much sense or internal importance on it.

Obviously, once you make this distinction you will know what to keep doing and what to stop doing – hopefully.

Write your obituary or your retirement speech – a tool I found extremely concrete is the exercise of writing your own obituary, or if you find it is easier you can write the speech someone will give about you on your retirement party.

The idea is to think about what attributes or actions you will want others to remember you by, and this will be a good indicator of the areas where you need to invest as a person or a professional.

Looking for teachings in other places

One of the things that writing this blog post reminded me was of questions we have in the State of Testing Survey that was originally proposed by Jerry Weinberg.

The question is about how do you learn about testing as part of your career, and the addition Jerry added to the list of possible answers was that we learn about testing from other fields we are in contact with as part of work and of our daily lives.

This was for me a great of example of simple things in testing we can learn from the teachings of the Greek philosophers from thousands of years ago!

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