Saturday, 25 July 2009

A Plague for Critical Thinkers?


Are you a critical thinker? Do you know? Do you care?

If you’re a software tester then the answer to the first question is probably yes.

It’s with this aspect in mind that I’ve been reading James Whittaker’s series on the 7 plagues of software testing. I enjoy reading James Whittaker – whether in book or in blog form. He has great insights and viewpoints.

I have become increasingly perturbed by the “7 Plagues..” series of blogs. Yes, there has been the research, analysis and insightful observations, but the thing that has been nagging at the back of my mind has been the use of “plague” in the titles.

Critical Thinking
I believe most testers are critical thinkers – they need to be due to the nature of the job – whether they realize it or not. It’s with this in mind that I feel uneasy about the use of plague – this is more of a rhetorical device (in the parlance of critical thinking.)

Critical thinking (to paraphrase) is the study of arguments/suggestions to analyse the underlying proposals and conclusions to determine whether the argument “holds together”.. In this field the idea of a rhetorical device is one where a loaded/weighted phrase is used without contributing anything to the proposal to advance an argument. I.e. it’s emotional weight is intended to sway the decision rather than a clear argument.

Clarity is king in software testing. Yes, there is room for analogy, but when a series of articles pounds the idea of a plague affecting software testing then it is reasonable to assume that some people will think of software testing being “plagued” by certain problems…

I am not going to go through the individual plagues here – I’ve made comments on some of the posts (both agreeing and disagreeing with the contents.) However, in summary, I can say that James highlights some potential pitfalls that testers (and the industry at large) can fall into.

I suspect the meaning was “plights” that can affect tester/industry rather than “plague or epidemic” – maybe even meaning that something was endemic. However, I was tripping up on the use of “plague” and that partly distracted from the content.

“7 plagues of software testing” sounds much sexier and has a better sound-bite than “7 pitfalls for testers and the software testing industry”. So that’s probably the main reason for the titles.

A Plague for a Critical Thinker?
The problem for testers is anything that distracts from the root cause, the underlying problem - the "reduced" argument. Rhetorical devices "get in the way" - they cloud the argument and don't help the analyser understand what a person/statement is trying to say.

So to repeat, "clarity is king".

Critical mass?
Sound-bites should not be what we strive for in the industry. Consistency, clarity and honesty will win more friends and supporters in the long run.

Software testing needs to achieve a critical mass of critical thinkers to carry the profession forward.

So: critical thinking – if you didn’t care before, do you care now?

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