Of Testers & Soldiers…

If you google the therm “Military Intelligence”, among the first results you will find the following Creed of the (US) Military Intelligence Corps:

I am a Soldier first, but an intelligence professional second to none.
With pride in my heritage, but focused on the future,
Performing the first task of an Army:
To find, know, and never lose the enemy.
With a sense of urgency and of tenacity, professional and physical fitness,
and above all, INTEGRITY, for in truth lies victory.
Always at silent war, while ready for a shooting war,
The silent warrior of the ARMY team.

I couldn’t find the source to quote it, but this sounds close enough to what I know about Intelligence Officers from some friends with vast military experience.

 

Why am I writing this about “soldiers”?

The answer is simple.

A short while ago Jerry Weinberg commented to one of my posts (republished in Tea Time with Testers) that he was looking forward to my explanation on why I think the work of testers is in many ways similar to the job of Military Intelligence Officers.

I believe he was referring to the following quote from my post “To Protect and Serve“:
… In many cases we are serving as (Military) Intelligence Officers to our Organizations, helping to make the most complex and challenging strategic and tactical decisions.

Some of you may already know that Jerry is high in my list of admired testers, so I would not even dream of not answering his questions.  So I decided it was time to take upon this topic with a post of its own.

 

Back to basics: what is the role of the QA Tester?

In the past I wrote my definition of QA (or Testing) Intelligence as follows:

To provide concrete, relevant and timely information
captured from multiple data sources and using many disciplines 
to help our stakeholders make their tactical and strategic decisions.

This definition is composed of 3 parts:
(1) We provide the right information
(2) We gather the information from various sources
(3) The aim of this information is to help make the correct decisions

 

Mental Exercise:

Before we move forward I would like you to perform the following exercise.  I promise it won’t hurt, and it will take you less than 4 minutes to complete it.

PART 1:

Read the definition of QA Intelligence above and think about your current testing team.

– Does the definition help to define the objectives of your team?
– In a high level, does it help you to accurately prioritize your work and to explain to others in your team and outside of it what it is that you are achieving?

PART 2:

Now, think about a Military Intelligence Officer working alongside the Top Generals of an army, and once again read the definition of QA Intelligence but think about the Intelligence Officer’s work.

– Does the definition help to define the objectives of the Intelligence Officer?
– Does it help to prioritize his work and explain to other members of his team what are his responsibilities and tasks?

Conclusion:

In many ways the objective of the QA Tester and of the Intelligence Officer are very similar.

Each of us in his or her own contexts, are tasked with providing information that will help our superiors and the rest of the team/unit to do their work better and to make the correct decisions.

 

We are in the business of Information

Just like the intelligence officer is not tasked with fighting the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, as testers we are not tasked with writing the code that will be delivered to the end users.  Our job is to provide information support to the people who are making the strategic and tactical decision as well as those in the fighting and coding lines.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have an intricate and highly technical job.

Many times our jobs are even more technical than “only doing the coding”, because we need to think about and simulate strange but realistic scenarios where customers will be using our product in unforeseen ways, and that way seek out the issues that may be hiding under these extreme conditions.

Have you ever seen testers using “counter-bug-intelligence” tactics exemplified by the phrase: “if I was a bug, where would I be hiding…”?  I know I have!

Now seriously, one of the most complex jobs of QA Engineers is to make sure we are providing the correct information.  By correct I don’t (only) mean the right data from our test runs, but the actual information derived from processing all our data points and putting together an image that is both accurate and informative.

Not only that, but we need to work with incomplete information, making assumptions and explaining them as risks of things that may or may not happen.  Does it sound like guessing where the enemy is hiding and how they will behave?

In the end of the day our stakeholders don’t have the time to go over all the results and assumptions.  They expect us to do this processing for them.  All they want to receive are the synthesized pros and cons, described as simply as possible, to help them make the right decision quickly.

 

We gather information from multiple sources of raw data

Another thing that connects between testers and military intelligence officers is that we work with a large number of data sources and types.

Just as we need to run functional tests, API tests, Load tests, etc., intelligence officers need to gather data from satellites, personal observations, spies, etc.

For us is not only about bugs and tests but also about statistics of usage and different types of user behaviour as well as technological changes and different types of platforms and conditions where our products may be used.  In a similar way, for them is not only about the enemy and their weapons, but about the general population in specific areas and the political, economical and even ethnical connections between different factions of a war.

Both us and them need to provide concrete, concise and timely readings of all this information, presenting the current status of affairs and an appraisal of the future based on a limited number of assumptions.

 

Integrity and truth

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice something that was written in the Creed and connect it to words mentioned both by Jerry Weinberg and James Bach in their answers to my 5 Testing Questions.

The creed says:
“…and above all, INTEGRITY, for in truth lies victory.”

When I read this, I realized it was similar to what both Jerry and James answered to some of my questions.

Like when Jerry answered that the most important piece of advice for a tester would be to:
“Never lie…”

And when James wrote that among another number of traits a tester should always have:
“…a strong sense of ethics.”

 

What do you think?

Are there other similarities between QA Testers and Military Intelligence officers?
Do find another profession where with which we share many of the same traits and challenges?

Please let us know by leaving your comments!

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11 Responses to Of Testers & Soldiers…

  1. pkirkham January 21, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    OK, I’ll bite – and maybe give you an idea for a follow-up post….

    Sure, it sounds like there are a lot of similarities and yeh, there are other professions I could think of. So what ? How does that help ? Can you give me specifics of how learning about military intelligence will be useful ?
    🙂

  2. Thanh January 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Interesting article, Joel.

    I agree that tester job is to “provide information support
    to the people who are making the strategic and tactical decision” but do
    you have any comments about how come testers are often blamed for the poor quality
    of a product (more often is bug leakage) and what is your advice for testers in
    this case?

  3. Omri Lapidot January 23, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Here is Sears Israel mission statement, the foundation for my group’s vision:

    -Reflect an up to date status of our offering to decision makers

    -Assist developers and Product Managers in releasing higher quality offering

    -Champion the quality of our offering and be a major force in measuring and improving it

    Seems very similar to your own three points. What I’m missing from the “Intelligence Officer” comparison is the QA team’s “championing” the quality in the organization.

  4. joelmonte January 23, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Thanks for bitting Phil! 🙂

    I think that there is great value in looking outside our realm at professions and jobs that have similar challenges to ours and learning from them in order to improve ours.

    Just to give you an example from the Military Intelligence, one of the things these guys do is to understand not only understand the strengths and weaknesses of the army they are fighting, but to look at the population they are coming from and their socio-cultural heritage in order to understand how to better approach and combat their enemy.

    Isn’t this similar to not only testing our product, but also reviewing the weaknesses of the language used to write it in order to look for potential bugs and issues on these specific issues?

    I am sure you can find lessons to learn from every other profession that has similarity points to ours.

    Having said that, one of the reasons I like using the example of Testers as Military Intelligence is to take people away from the place where they see us testers as gatekeepers that need to STOP every bug from walking out the door.

    It helps to take people away from an existing image by providing a new image they can use to supplant the previous one.

    What do you think?

  5. joelmonte January 23, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Hi Thanh,

    Whenever a tester is blame for the quality of the product I think you should ask yourself the following question: “was I supposed to find this bug or not?”

    Sometimes the answer is YES, you should have run this scenario as part of your tests, and on these occasions you should learn from your mistake and improve for future times (this is known as continuous improvement, btw).

    But many times the answer should be NO, this bug was related to a scenario that I was not planning on running and I was not even aware there were potential bugs on this area. If this is the case then you need to raise a flag at your process and understand why you did not plan to cover this specific area of the product.

    In either case, my feeling is that company that still “blame” testers for the bugs are still leaving in the dark ages of development. They do not understand that quality (and lack of it) is the responsibility of the whole team and that the QA team is only one of the groups contributing to this effort.

    As Omri wrote on his comment to this post, one of the roles of the QA is to lead the road to quality by influencing the whole team to put quality at a higher level and by making sure the right tools and processes are in place to enforce quality throughout the process. In your place (or the place of the person getting the blame) I would try to shift the discussion into one of analyzing the process and improving it, and not so much as finding who is to blame…

    Hope this helps!

    -joel

  6. joelmonte January 23, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    Definitely Omri!

    I am not saying you can take an intelligence officer and build testers based on his/her mold.

    I agree with you that the holding and leading the flag of quality within our organizations is one of the most important (and IMHO coolest) jobs we have.

    Thanks for the valuable input!

    -joel

  7. Thanh January 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    Sure this helps, Joel. Thank you

  8. Paul Gerrard October 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Hi Joel,

    I came across this post only just today. I made a similar comparison in a keynote talk I gave at Eurostar in 2002. I invented the term ‘Project Intelligence’ to compare with military or battlefield intelligence of course. The parallel is that MI staff don’t fight, capture territory or kill the enemy. Testers don’t write code, put bugs in or take them out etc. A similar idea.

    You can find the original Powerpoint here: http://gerrardconsulting.com/sites/default/files/ValueOfTesting.ppt

    A couple of years later, I write a longer paper to describe the idea in more detail http://gerrardconsulting.com/papers/articles/ManagingProjectsWithIntelligence.pdf It’s probably a bit dated now – but it maps directly to the more recent notion of using testing to measure value, progress towards goals and coverage of risk. One day, the Agilists will catch up with me ;O)

    I tried to get the PI term accepted but it didn’t take off – I still use it but it’s not in common parlance of course :O)

  9. joelmonte October 21, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your inputs and for the additional links, I went over them and they have pretty good ideas that you went over further details than what I did on this limited post.

    I think you are right, and Agilists are slowly but surely catching up with the reality of our real job as testers in teams.

    Maybe the in future we will hear more about this approach, and not only from isolated voices like ours 🙂

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