What Does it Take to Change the Software Testing Industry? Courage!

My fellow AST board member and resident “software anthropologist & software tester”, Pete Walen, recently posted about what he felt it took to make a difference or change the world. He rather pointedly asked the question, “When was the last time you were proud of the work you did?” Excellent question! One of the values I talk about with my teams is integrity, and an example of how I see that being demonstrated in your testing should be a refusal to accept mediocrity. After some modest questioning from his readers about challenging processes and the fear of losing your job, Pete came back with this (emphasis mine):

“If that idea does not give you a certain period of pause, you might be independently wealthy,  have no responsibilities beyond yourself or, well, you just don’t care about the future. There may be something else at work.  There may be some ideas that I have not considered.  Or, maybe you just don’t care.

Even better! Changing the way you, your project, or your business conduct and value testing is hard work! And it takes more than brains – it takes guts. Software testing is loaded with unchallenged ideas from the last 20 or so years, and changing its perception works against ingrained bias and prejudice. Not only that, the industry is lousy with vendors and consultants who earn a tidy income from high volume, low margin (and low value) test factories. And trust me, successfully changing that environment is not about bringing your own lunch – its about eating someone elses!

So here’s why I think Pete’s post is so important. Jump eight thousand miles or so from snowy Grand Rapids, Michigan to sunny Pune, India. Now, I have travelled and worked in India for over 10 years, but something struck me about the conversations on my last trip – the tone. I had the distinct pleasure of participating in an AST round table discussion on testing skills with Pradeep Soundararajan CEO of Moolya, Justin Hunter CEO of Hexawise, Smita Mishra CEO of QA Zone and our hosts, Cognizant.

Keith Klain - AST India Roundtable

Talking testing with Hexawise, Cognizant, Moolya and QAZone

The discussion ranged from which testing skills are hot in the market to how best to use tools in a rapidly changing environment. But for me, the highlight of the night came when one of the over 200 people attending asked what it takes to improve testing in a company. The “Kung Fu Panda” from Moolya raised his hand and said “One thing – Courage!“. James Bach did a great write up in Tea Time with Testers about how Moolya are changing the way a software testing company runs in India (or the world for that matter), and after spending time with Pradeep and seeing loads of examples of their work, I know they take changing the software testing industry seriously.

And so should you. According to Mark Twain, courage is not the absence of fear – but the mastery of it. There are people working in software testing all over the globe who are questioning long standing ways of working – some for the first time. Get yourself energized and get involved. All it takes is a bit of self-reflection like the brand Pete Walen is selling, followed up by a healthy dose of action Moolya-style: courage!

11 thoughts on “What Does it Take to Change the Software Testing Industry? Courage!

  1. True Keith, very true.

    However I think I’ve worked out why most people I talk to in our industry say “I wish I worked for Keith Klain.” Having someone in a ‘higher’ position of authority that backs you up and actually agrees that a change is required goes a very long way in people tapping into their courage.

    I can see both sides – as a guy with a huge mortgage and family to take care of it can be easier to ‘go with the flow’ to ensure your ‘safety’. I can also say that making a difference in the way people test (for the better) is an amazing feeling, and should be done where ever possible.

    I guess people make this change in their own way… and whatever way that is takes courage.

    Great post, and here’s to more ‘people in positions of authority’ actually backing up their staff and making a change to our industry.

    • Hi Keith,

      Very good post indeed. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and it just feels becoming better! It’s fantastic to see people giving advises to fellow testers who might be struggling with some of the typical problems in testing.

      I aim for being both of these roles; the tester with courage and the authority who backs up my staff. Other people too, but I focus on the testing side.

      I have actually 3 mortgages and a family – and some other things. (Yeah, a long story.) I definitely know the temptation what feeling of safety can bring. Especially, since I know the market situation where I am living in.

      I make compromises on certain things, for a certain period or cause. I don’t want to make compromises on all things, however. Sometimes I disagree with other managers, my boss or clients. Sometimes they disagree with me. I think disagreement can a good way to improve the things we do. I’m also lucky that I’ve worked with a lot of intelligent people…

      What I can say for all those people who are scared to disagree or stand up, I know only a very few people who have gotten fired for disagreeing; even less for standing up. It might happen more in other countries/cultures/companies, but then you really could look for something else – if you can’t change it. What I have seen is that good work gets rewarded more often than bad work.

      By the way, Pradeep is not the CEO. 😉

      Best regards,

    • Thanks for the great comment, David, and I can empathize with people in a tough economic environment, but I don’t believe that trying to improve the state of testing in your company and constantly being at risk always related. HOW you approach improving things is as important as WHAT you are trying to do it, meaning you use different negotiating techniques and strategies to suit the environment. That may sound simple, but very often people get frustrated at the first go without considering other approaches or more importantly, recognizing their own contribution to the problem. I would call for more evolution than revolution, as the latter probably gets you out the door quicker in a hostile environment…

      • Good point mate.

        So winning the battles in order to strategically win the war (so to speak).

        Hmm, I think I’ll be calling on your advice in the year ahead! ;0)

  2. Reading this and commenting from the afore-mentioned snowy Grand Rapids, MI which seems to be turning into the hotbed of testing…

    So what would your advice be to a tester who knows that testing could be better, he has guts, questions things – but is met by a mix of apathy and hostility ? Courage makes a fine soundbite but dont they need to know how to go about changing minds and behaviours ? Through the STC I hear from many testers who feel stuck, who’ve tried speaking up but find nothing changes – and they read blogs from the testing names and feel ‘failures’ because they haven’t been able to make change happen. I know how they feel, after speaking up and getting nowhere I took the option of leaving to find a better place ( seems Michigan is that place ) but leaving is not always an option for many.
    Or is this going to be covered in your future posts about how you went about changing the culture ?

    Interesting post as always, keep ’em coming.

    • As usual, thanks Phil for the great comment, and I agree that it’s not easy which is why so many people feel frustrated. That being said, my simple advice for improving the environment for your testing team, would be to understand how you can contribute to people achieving their objectives. I can’t remember who said it, but I agree that “the only thing I know to be true, is that people act in their own self-interest”. I would also rate hostility over apathy, as at least hostile people have a position – apathy is harder to change. Since you mention it, I am going to be starting a new series on how to (try) to change the culture in your organization, and it is the theme of the talk I am giving this year: Creating Dissonance – Overcoming Organizational Bias Towards the Value of Software Testing.

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  5. As much as I have enjoyed reading this post, I have relished the comments and reactions here.

    Thanks for posting this Keith. I could relate to this post as my efforts are invested in bringing about this change for good.
    A leader must be encouraging and I sense that Moolya supports and encourages bold moves and courageous deeds. The name says it all(Moolya = Value).

    With respect to change, one has to believe that change is possible.
    As I see from where I am, the authority up there follows a protocol(though one can’t get them to admit it). A seeker of change must sow the seeds of change in the hearts and minds of the authority. The person himself/herself must wish for the change. Change is easy when it comes from an authority than from the person instigating the change. The need of the hour is to get as many people as possible to believe in the change.

    The change seeker must define change, explain and must be enthusiastic about the change. Change cannot be forced upon. But can gradually be injected by delivering and showcasing good work. General assumption is that the parameters that are used to measure good work and success are promotions/hike/monetary benefits. Sooner the population grows out and beyond this belief, the better.

    For the past seven years I have hoped, wished and pushed for change. I believe change is good and is possible. Good work indeed gets to see the light and then when faced with adversity, one must be bold.
    A seeker of change is not distracted by any parameter. Is more of a loner and less frustrated. As he/she wakes up to the thoughts of change everyday where ever they are placed.

    Many doors may be shut and the one that you seek will open up. I look forward to your posts on the new series mentioned.

    – A tester from Bangalore, India. Wishing that the population catches this change bug that’s going around and turn the software testing world around for all good.

    Change here refers to improving the state/world of testing.

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