Wednesday, April 20, 2011

True Confessions or Feet of Clay

Its funny how things work sometimes.  You go to a conference as a speaker and folks look at you as if you have all the answers.  People send you emails with questions and want an answer.  Sometimes they want a "Yes" or a "No."  Sometimes they are hoping that the "expert" they are asking will be able to shed some light on their archane situation.  (Yeah, I've done that.)

I had a strange thing happen the other day.  I was asked a question.  Now, don't get me wrong, I get asked questions alot.  I also ask lot of questions.  So, the fact that there was a question involved in this is not the strange thing.  The strange thing was the way the question was posed.  And it has something to do with the first rambling paragraph.  This person asked me a question and wanted an "expert's opinion."

What, me?  Ask Michael Bolton or James Bach or Cem Kaner or Karen Johnson or Boris Beizer or Elisabeth Hendrickson or Fiona Charles or... you get the idea. 

I guess my deal is that I don't feel like an expert.  I feel like a guy who makes mistakes.  Ask the folks I work with.  Man, did I ever have a blooter this week.  Huge mistake.  I missed stuff that if I had looked more aggressively, that if I had tried a variation I had not considered, I would have found it.  I didn't.  Then there was another problem that was a calculated risk.  We could not test everything because of a variety of constraints.  Then, as folks are trying it in the field, they found a problem in an area we could not exercise.  Gah.

The really weird thing is that even when I know I make mistakes, and my co-workers make mistakes, we all do our best to learn from them.  We can each push eachother to achieve better and do better testing.  How do we do that?  By looking honestly at what we do - both right and wrong.

To do that, you must put aside the CYA mode that most of us have learned and admit our shortcomings - first to ourselves, individually, then to our teamThen, and not before then, you can learn from your mistakes.

Am I an exepert?  I don't know - I don't feel like one.  I'm a tester who sometimes makes mistakes, even though I try and avoid making them.


  1. I'm not a big fan of the word expert myself, for anyone, even the so called experts. I think like you've highlighted it's often misused as "They know everything", when in fact no one can know everything, even if they were an expert in a highly specialised field. Like testing can't cover everything, an expert can't know everything :-)

    Likewise sometimes a so called expert will claim something which I don't feel is correct, or at least not how it should be. Some of them make very large statements and attempt to align people into their way of thinking, which is not a bad thing, it's down to that individual to know what is best for them and use their own mind.

    I guess I feel sad that some don't use their own minds and expect the answers to be given to them.

    That being said listening to you speak I can see why people would think you have all the answers :-) You have a real talent there, with very similar qualities to the way Bach and Bolton present themselves.

    Very nice and honest post Pete, thanks for sharing ;-)

  2. "I feel like a guy who makes mistakes." I can identify with that.
    I made a lot of mistakes and continue to do so. I call it learning, but only if I don't make the same mistake again.
    In very many ways the difference between an expert and someone who isn't is that the expert made more mistakes. Or they looked at other people's mistakes to not repeat their mistakes but there's a finite amount of time anyone can do that. As they say in Yoga, you don't learn by reading about it, you learn by doing it.

    In your example, was taking a risk and not testing an area a mistake? If you consciously thought about and decided that this is the most viable option it probably wasn't. Risk is a wonderful thing, if you don't want to repeat a "mistake" by not taking a risk then next time round very soon you won't take any risks at all to avoid "mistakes".

    Interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing.