The Pursuit of Scrutiny

“It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves” – Arthur Miller, The Crucible

I love scrutiny. I love it so much that I try to constantly surround myself with people who challenge my views. Either by directly asking for critique or by putting my work up to public review, I seek honest perspectives on my work to continually improve. I need scrutiny in the same way crucibles are used in laboratories or for scientific purposes: they withstand high temperatures to remove impurities. Scrutiny burns off impurities in my ideas and actions. It clarifies them. And I set the pace and tone for that scrutiny through how I give feedback to others: straight and to the point.

And guess what drives my desire for scrutiny: insecurity. That probably sounds funny coming from me, and might even sound like a weakness, but I assure you it can be one of your greatest strengths if used properly. My insecurity drives my quest for excellence in myself and in turn, in my teams. I am not confident we are always doing the right thing. I am not convinced we are always pursuing the right strategy for tools, process, and people. And it is exactly because I am not 100 percent secure in all my decisions, that I don’t just “like” scrutiny, I NEED it! In the never-ending pursuit of excellence, scrutiny is my compass.

Far too often I have seen testers get crushed under the weight of their own insecurities. And coupled with a fear of failure, that can have a paralyzing effect on either a person or team. Face your fears! Put yourself out there! Let the heat of challenging views and rigorous debate clarify and sharpen your ideas. At best you will have strengthened not only your position, but also your character, and if you fail, it would be, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I want my work to be excellent and able to withstand scrutiny, and if people aren’t willing to give it freely, I must wring it out of them. It’s my responsibility as a leader. I shout and bang my fist on my desk because I demand excellence from myself and my teams. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but through our pursuit, some awesome things are starting to happen. If testing is questioning a product in order to evaluate it, it is my opinion that questioning must start its focus on the questioner.

Recently, I have witnessed or been involved in several discussions and Twitter threads that seem to be equating challenging an idea with attacking the person who proposed the idea. I reject that premise as no idea, person or thing defines me – so it is impossible to offend me. But even if they did offend me, or I felt it was a personal attack – so what! Force it through the crucible of your own scrutiny and all the imperfections will burn away. Professional testers honing their skills should never shy away from challenges to their ideas – they should not just welcome, but court them!

I leave you these words to inspire you to seek your “crucible”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910