Why choose between Optimism and Skepticism?

Ying and Yang in the head of a tester

Ying and Yang in the head of a tester

I was chatting with a friend, who also happens to be a PractiTest user from Down Under, about testing aptitudes and I found myself describing my general approach to testing as Optimistic-Skepticism.

I am not sure how I came to this definition, but the more I thought about it after our chat the more I understood that Optimism mixed with Skepticism is a trait I’ve like to see in a tester.

Why?  Because it combines (IMHO) the two most important requirements of our profession.  Let me explain.

Skepticism – A tester who is not a Skeptic cannot really be a good tester.

In our work we are constantly looking for flaws, mistakes and bugs in all possible places within the apps we test.

We need to be specially careful not to miss important stuff simply because they are in places that our developers told us “they didn’t touch”, or because these issues are not located in the main path of our users’ common behaviour.

I think that the best definition of this is given by the context-driven approach, where although you have a path or script you are looking to test, you will always look at the areas near (and not so near) this path to make sure nothing is hiding in places that may not be trivial to find.

Another reason to be skeptical is because most of the other people in our team who are not testers but also (directly or indirectly) perform tests, such as developer, product managers, etc., tend to do this from a positive perspective.  They check that the system does what it needs to do, and so we are left with the responsibility of ensuring the system doesn’t do what it should not do (read, all the negative tests).

There are many other reasons why we need to be skeptics but I guess you catch my drift.

Optimism – you stay away from being seen as “The boy who cried wolf”

After reading all I wrote before, how can I still think a tester needs to be an Optimist?!

Well, if not we would end up being like Grumpy Dwarf or Grouchy Smurf… and I fail to see how these guys can actually be productive as part of any testing and development team.

As testers, although we approach the application with much skepticism, we still need maintain a positive attitude about the future outcome of the project itself.

We are “too deep” in the land of bugs, failed tests and delayed deliveries, and if on top of that we also have a pessimistic approach to the project we will not be able to do our work correctly – I mean “why bother?”.

We need to be positive, believing that the application we are testing will end up fulfilling the needs of our users, that the project will go out the door (eventually), and maybe most importantly that everyone in the team is doing his or her best to ensure their work is professional and that they are developing a high-quality product.

There is also the very important point of not becoming “the boy who cried wolf” in your project.  As one of my R&D managers once told me in the past, “you need to be regarded as a positive person in order to be taken seriously when you communicate negative news”.


Think about it

I am sure it will also make sense to you…

And if not I will be love to hear what you have to say about it 🙂

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14 Responses to Why choose between Optimism and Skepticism?

  1. Joe November 6, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    Hmm, I’m not quite sure I agree about the Optimism part. http://www.allthingsquality.com/2010/04/optimistic-developers-pessimistic.html

    I’ll have to think this one over a bit more.


  2. Joel Montvelisky November 6, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Thanks Joe,

    Go ahead and think about it.
    BTW, most of the things you listed underst pessimistic tester could have been filed under skeptic tester too.

    In any case, I stand behind my case that if you are a pessimistic tester (and not an optimist) you will either be left outside the team or simply find another job you enjoy more…

    My 2 cents.


  3. Mauri Edo November 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    So sad you didn’t make it to EuroSTAR 2013, you would have seen two great keynotes and a direct talk on skepticism and questioning by @morendil, @fionaccharles and @tonybruce77 that went in the same line as yours.

    About optimism, I think it is a personal choice, which depends directly on your personality traits, how you want to be perceived, and your direct context. But yes, I prefer to stay away from being seen as “The boy who cried wolf” 😉


    — Mauri

  4. joelmonte November 17, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Hi Mauri,

    I was sorry to miss Eurostar and I liked your summary of Fiona Charles keynote.

    Hopefully I will be able to take on these type of sessions on StarEast next year, where I will be speaking.

    I think optimism can be a personal choice, but if for some reason you choose not to have it then you will need to have some other personal trait to help you push your message through at all times.

    For example, this morning I heard someone in the news saying that the secret for the success of an Israeli politician was the fact that even though he seldom talked in public, when he did every word was measured, true and worth thinking about (as you would surely agree, these are very uncommon traits for any politician…)

  5. Mauri Edo November 19, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    Hmm, I see your point and understand it, but don’t you think this need for a complementary trait to help your message be delivered properly depends on the context and its characteristics? I have seen teams and companies where pessimism worked perfect “as is”, whereas optimism needed some backup to be trusted and useful in communication.

    PS: You’ll be speaking at StarEast’14? Congrats! 🙂

  6. joelmonte November 19, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    And here’s a question for you, would you be happy working in a place where pessimis worked perfect “as-is”?

    I am sure there are plenty of those, but I am not sure I’d want to be part of them…

    Re-StarEast’14 Thanks! Pretty excited about it…

  7. Mauri Edo November 19, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Me? At all! I get the energy both from theoretical sources (books, music, life itself) as well as from people, positive people. Also I’ve learnt that I am happier and mentally healthier when optimistic, so in my case it is a personal choice based on experience.

    What about you? Although I have an idea of your position… 😉

  8. joelmonte November 19, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I think you pretty much captured my attitude towards this point in your tweeter picture so I will post it here – https://twitter.com/Mauri_Edo/status/402726824716689408/photo/1

    I will always give it a try or two at making the organization (and its people) change their attitude towards positive/productive optimism, but if after a couple of tries I understand that this will not change I move FORWARD.

    As a point for context, when I started working in testing (too long ago to count) I developed 2 bleeding ulcers in the laps of year from taking everything too hard and negatively. Then I learned better… you can be serious in your work without becoming Grumpy.

  9. james bach November 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Skepticism means openness not grumpiness. Skepticism refusing to embrace certainty. You seem to be talking about being critical, not being skeptical.

    I can think of reasons optimism might be helpful for a tester, but I’m surprised that you have given no reasons here. I hope you edit this post and add some. For instance, you assert that I will not be able to do my work “correctly” without optimism. Why? What is the basis of that assertion? You say nothing more about it.

    “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” was not a pessimist. He was a manipulator. So that story and that moral also have nothing to do with pessimism.

    Here’s me being optimistic: You’re a clever man, Joel. I believe you have something worth saying here. It’s not getting across to me, yet. But I think you can get it done in the end.

  10. Mauri Edo November 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    100% agree with this: “You can be serious in your work without becoming grumpy”, although it is hard to not mix grumpiness, professionalism, politics, communication, optimism, honesty and testing, as you can see from the little debate the picture has generated.

    As I see it, it is a personal matter, and talking about personal matters provokes personal emotions, which is a dangerous field to walk into.

    Thanks for the post and chat anyway!

  11. joelmonte November 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Dear James,

    Thanks for your feedback and for pointing at the things that you feel are missing.

    Based on Mauri’s and your feedback I think I have what I need in to amend it and once I do I will let you know.



    Ps. I think the trait that I like about you the most is the fact that you sincerely and openly challenge people into improving themselves. THANKS!


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