Testing the image in the mirror
– or –
Why a good tester needs to be Self-Critical?

It all started while talking about parenting…

I had a short chat with James Bach the other day.  We didn’t talk about testing, certifications or software development; we talked about the challenges of being a good father, a more challenging task than any software project I’ve ever seen.

After that I tweeted with James and he sent me a very encouraging message saying (don’t remember the exact words but along the lines of) that he thought I would be a good father since I was self-critical.

The term SELF-CRITICAL got me thinking.
I started by analyzing how my self-criticism has helped me in almost every aspect of my adult and professional life.  Then I looked at the people around me, and realized that I was (and still am) able to work and communicate better with those in my environment who are able to auto-evaluate themselves and accept criticism more openly.

My conclusion was that the most valuable asset a self-critical person brings into a relationship is his ability to improve it by dynamically learning from the wins and losses, and evolving as the circumstances continue to change all around us.

What does this has to do with Testing?!

Well, the trivial answer is that it has EVERYTHING to do with testing!
The tester is the player in the development team that needs this quality more than anyone else.  The main reasons for this being that:

1.  Testing is a constant-learning activity.  As you run your tests, you analyze the result and evaluate them in light of your previous assumptions, in order to modify and even re-determine your testing path(/s).  The only way to do this effectively is if you are constantly open to self learning and ready to throw away your previous assumptions based on the feedback you get.

and

2.  You will never be able to provide good and deep criticism to the people around you if you are not able to accept such feedback yourself.

The most brilliant testers I’ve worked with share at least one common trait: they’re happy to learn from their mistakes, and are always willing to learn from what others tell them about what they were doing wrong and how to do it better.  Once you start accepting criticism freely you develop the ability not only to give and accept it from others, but also to give it to yourself and get it by constantly questioning if you are doing the right things.

So what is self-criticism?

It is the realization you are not expected to be perfect, since apparently no one is.
It is also the “permission” to make mistakes and errors in fair judgment, as long as you are willing to learn from them in order to make a better future.

It doesn’t mean that there are no consequences to your mistakes, but that these consequences don’t mean you cannot correct your actions the next time you have a chance to do it right.

Going back to raising kids, self-criticism might be the most important instinct we posses and one of the things we need to help develop in our kids; it is the principle that allows us to learn to walk by letting go, falling down and trying it again, realizing that falling-down doesn’t really matter in the long run.

,

6 Responses to Testing the image in the mirror
– or –
Why a good tester needs to be Self-Critical?

  1. Jon Bach June 2, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    Hi, Joel,

    I *almost* like your blog entry here. I like the spirit, but I have some issues with it and hope you're willing to take some unsolicited criticism. 🙂 First, it doesn't go far enough for me. For example, is there such a thing as too much self-criticism? Can't we be so hard on ourselves that it become counter-productive? What would you say to those of us who struggle with beating ourselves up for missing a bug, for example?

    It also seems inconsistent with some of the text I saw on this blog and on Practitest's site. For example, I saw you use the words “only” and “never” which are absolutes. As testers, absolutes are dangerous (because they can't be proven) and therefore threaten our credibility as critical thinkers.

    On the site, I saw statements like “complete management solution”, “the ultimate solution”, “the most flexible and customizable platform”. Shouldn't I, as potential (critical, discerning) customer, get to test the demo first and decide those claims for myself? And shouldn't you, as provider, be critical and careful about what you mean by those claims?

    I guess I'm feeling some dissonance here between your post about being self-critical and what your business face presents to me as potential client. Mostly, I'm wondering what your reaction might be to my critical questions and I'm hoping you can answer in a way that makes this post resonate more with me.

  2. joelmonte June 2, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    Jon,

    Thanks for the feedback, and in the spirit of the post (& my personal believe) even if there may be unsolicited criticism there should never be unwanted criticism 🙂

    With regards to moderation even (or specially!) in self criticism, I feel a new blog-post starting to form around that subject so thanks for the idea! In essence, I think there is no sense in over-criticizing yourself to the point where it becomes counter-productive to your development as a person or to your work. As they say there can be too much of a good thing, even here.

    With regards to PractiTest's marketing material on the site… good point and something I will take a look into. Marketing messages can sometime try to put your product under the best possible light, but we need to make sure to still keep them objective and respectful to our customers and potential customers.

    On the other hand, and contrary to many other vendors out-there we believe in criticism and we walk-this-talk:
    (1) We have a completely-open-demo where you can try PractiTest for yourself on our demo environment and reach your conclusions without needing to contact us before hand to have a sales guy drive you crazy with their pitch-lines.
    and
    (2) We have an open feedback forum where our users and even people who are not users but have ideas or comments on the product can add their feature requests and even vote for them. We also make sure to add these features into the product on a regular basis – http://practitest.uservoice.com/.

    So even if we are not perfect we are trying to improve by getting and listening to inputs all the time.

    Again thanks for the valuable criticism!

    -joel

  3. Jon Bach June 2, 2010 at 7:18 am #

    Thanks for listening, Joel. Your response was respectful and thoughtful. Also pleased that you're open to being careful (or at least, less dogmatic) about claims. That will go a long way toward establishing credibility and respect with people like me.

  4. Sarah Murphy June 14, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    Hi Joel,

    Your description of effective testers:

    “they’re happy to learn from their mistakes, and are always willing to learn from what others tell them about what they were doing wrong and how to do it better. Once you start accepting criticism freely you develop the ability not only to give and accept it from others, but also to give it to yourself and get it by constantly questioning if you are doing the right things.”

    I completely agree with.

    As testers we must continuously be looking for new ways to break the software. To my mind, this involves both having an open mind and proactively seeking out feedback from fellow testers but also from our stakeholders (including development). Non-testers provide a valuable perspective.

    Being open to feedback is an extremely effective way to learn, and lets face it, one aspect of effective testing is continuously learning!

    Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it.

  5. joelmonte June 17, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    An “open mind” should be consider one of the most important tester-assets, agree!

  6. Shilpa Venkateshwara October 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    “The most brilliant testers I’ve worked with share at least one common trait: they’re happy to learn from their mistakes, and are always willing to learn from what others tell them about what they were doing wrong and how to do it better.” —– cant agree more

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