My community – quo vadis?

The basic intention behind this article was slumbering in my head for a while, I use the current emotions, to finally write it.

I am following the context-driven testing community now for about 4 years. Still I am not sure if I am part of the community itself, or as the question was changed during the last year, do I want to be a member of that community?

When I first found the context-driven testing community, I got answers to so many questions I collected during my first 10 years in the testing industry. I finally felt understood, or better I found people who favored similar approaches and were even able to express them in an understandable way. I found lots and lots of like-minded people, many of them I even consider as friends now, a handful or two even as good friends.
I began reading blogs and magazine articles and books recommended by the community in amounts never experienced before in my life. I would assume that I read more words in the last 4 years than in the 35 years before that. The community is a fantastic source for discussions, sharing information, insights and wisdom among all who are interested.

Through the CDT community I found my way into testing conferences and got the courage to stand up and speak. And from what I saw so far from conferences driven by CDT people and a few other testing conferences I visited or followed, there is a difference. The conferences closer to CDT excel in their range of topics by people sharing thoughts and ideas and personal stories. The “other” conferences often share success stories or marketing talks. There are multiple reasons for the existence of both. For me personally, the talks about thoughts and ideas help me more than the stories of what worked for others. And the personal stories tell me more about the people I interact with.

As many might already know, I found my way into the community after a EuroSTAR webinar by Michael Bolton in September 2012. And shortly after that I discovered James Bach. And those two became a main source for information, insights, approaches and points of view on so many topics, especially in the beginning when I was seeking for answers. But then I discovered so many others who were willing to share their knowledge and the portion of Michael’s and James’ influence on me became smaller and smaller.

I want to introduce a SCRUM analogy here. In general we are all part of a big team of equals with no hierarchy. But as in every team of equals you sometimes, maybe in tough situations, seek guidance through a leader. In my opinion, this is the reason for Michael and James standing out over the equals. They are two people who did so many good things and were willing to share so much of their time to help others. So if members of the community seek for guidance that’s of course one way to look.

From afar some seem to  assume that the CDT community is a group of disciples of James and Michael. Maybe even a sort of religion or a cult around them. And the community is often treated as such from “outsiders”. Maybe some members of CDT even see themselves as such, that’s their own thing. And, if something new is shared by James and Michael or approved by them, people read the words and spread the news. Challenges rarely happen. And I wonder why, because that is one thing I got taught by them. Challenge things! That’s one of the key drivers behind good testing. We accept too much as is every day. The tasks of a good tester is to challenge things and that also applies to things told about testing. (And yes, you can challenge the thought if challenge is a key driver of testing! As Michael often did with me, I invite you to do so.)

But then there are challenges from people, from outside the community and even inside. Which in general is good. And as James and Michael often emphasize, debate brings topics forward. Only, the tone often got extremely rough this year. There were several incidents around James and Michael, that I don’t want to list here, as most people will be aware of them, and also from others, where basic rules of interacting with people were ignored. There were also several harsh attacks from outside the community on the community itself, some on James and Michael directly. People were requested to take a side or stand against someone. Anyone arguing in favor was discredited at once. It seemed more like personal warfare.

The other day I woke up to a community that was asking for a code of conduct for conference speakers. Really? Why is that even necessary. Yes, I see, there is James who sometimes makes such a set of rules necessary. But do we really need a written set of rules for behaving like grown-ups and interact in a polite and civilized manner? Come on! There should hopefully be better ways to deal with that topic.

I don’t want to defend James behavior in any way, I want to distance myself from it. It was unacceptable. Still I highly value his addition to the body of knowledge to the community. But if he can’t behave on stage, maybe he should not be invited on stage by organizers. As it should happen for any other person who misbehaves on stage.

I spend much time every day with testing, thinking about testing, reading and sometimes even writing about testing. I don’t want to waste that time with bullying and rudeness, sadly the internet is already full of it. And until last year I thought that my community is free from such bullshit. I hope that people will stand up for their standards of politeness in interacting with people. In the end, a community is a group of like-minded people, and in the case of CDT, a group of people who believe in testing and want to bring that profession forward.

And while we are at it, people who call themselves context-driven should be aware of what that actually means, because often I observe people who argue with techniques and approaches generally accepted in the CDT world as best or even only choice to get the work done. That is context-imperial and is no quota better than consultants or companies who argue in favor of techniques or approaches as the only weapon of choice that are often chosen as bad examples in CDT discussions. If you are truly context-driven, don’t take it as a label to use approach X in every context, understand your context, know as many approaches out there, understand your stakeholders, your limitations and so on (context, eh), and then apply what you think fits best in your context. And if, for example, the context seems to favor test cases, and you hate test cases, you have three choices. Either leave, or find a method that really works better, or live with it and use test cases and do the best possible to get your work done professionally and help the project.

I for now will continue to build my own community, my collection of people I trust and like, my sources of information, recommendations, insights, wisdom and friendship. I will continue to share my thoughts with anyone who is willing to read it, I will take my time to discuss with anyone, who wants to question my statements. I will continue to reach out into other communities, as many useful things can be found there as well. I want to get shit done, and I want to be part of a testing profession that can help to build the future.
And I hope that I find the courage to stand up against bullying.

[Update] I want my community to be a safe place for women. I have learned so many things from the amazing women of the testing community in my career. A lot of my biggest break-throughs in my thoughts were triggered, motivated, intrigued by fantastic women. And I was always happy to be in a community with big female involvement, at least compared to some other technical disciplines. And by the way, the same is true for any other group. I don’t care about gender, sexuality, religion, color of skin, culture, age, or the style of music you listen to. We share a common ground that is in my eyes bigger than all possible gaps out there. We share the interest in testing, bringing forward the profession, learning about it, getting better at it. The interest in sharing and gaining knowledge. Testing has such a big human element, and from every influence we can only learn more and more, and get better and better. So I want my community to be a safe place. Challenges, debates, and discussions are welcome. You don’t have to agree on everything. But harassment, embarrassment, blame and alike have no place here.

Thanks to Lisa and Lanette for reminding me of this important fact that I have forgotten in the initial write-up. [/Update]

As my good friend Damian wrote, “labels can be helpful, and labels can be harmful.” (paraphrased) In general I don’t want to be labeled and put into a box. If there is one label/box I proudly accept, it’s “passionate”.

Thank you for your attention!


One very personal thing, I want to add here in that context:

Yes, I admit, I have a favorite person whom I was sort of attacking a few times over the past years, Rex Black. In general I have two arguments with him, that come up every now and then. 1) I don’t like the way the iSTQB certificate exam works. Partially driven by my disliking of the iSTQB syllabus, that many find useful, but I see some parts of it more harmful than useful for the wider testing community. 2) Yes, that’s a CDT topic, I don’t like the term “best practice”. Rex does. So we often argue about a freaking label, that for me is the personification of imprecision in management bullshit bingo lists. I know what he wants to say in favor of it and partially even understand it, but it usually only hits a nerve with me.
After some reflections last year, I stopped attacking Rex, because I found my own behavior was more than wrong. I even tried to interact on a normal level a few times with him, even if he tried stabbing again (might have been a reflex and I don’t take offence on it, based on our personal history). And it made me very happy when he answered to my first day of school tweet.

Rex, I hope we meet one day in person and can discuss about the topics face to face over a beer.


6 thoughts on “My community – quo vadis?”

  1. Why not a code of conduct for speakers? At CAST conferences (which is the locus of the CDT community), participants must use K-cards to comment or ask questions. The sessions are facilitated. It works so well, I use a similar process with my kids at the dinner table. It wouldn’t be a stretch to add some community standards for speakers as well.

    1. Thanks for you comment, Danny.
      K-cards are a way to facilitate, and it’s a great way. I was using this method at Let’s Test this year myself and enjoyed it. But that has in my view no influence on content. It enables the facilitator to better moderate in an orderly way. I wouldn’t count that as part of a code of conduct, though. Just my view.

  2. Patrick, thank you for sharing your story. It takes guts to admit you were in the wrong in a situation. And of course like any ‘failure’, it’s a good learning opportunity and you are open to that. Yay!

    The need for a Code of Conduct goes way beyond a “leader” attacking another conference speaker in his keynote. Perhaps women have not confided in you that they were physically attacked during or after conference social events, in places they thought were safe. Perhaps you haven’t seen enough people be made to feel bad and stupid because they asked a question or made a statement someone else thought was wrong. Hopefully these events are rare, but I suspect in most cases the victims are embarrassed to tell anyone. They are usually made to feel it is their own fault. “You were drunk” or “The person you questioned knows a lot more than you do”. I’ve discussed these problems with others for years now, and the best idea we can get conferences to even try is the CoC. It does seem to be helping. We have to be creative and keep trying ways to keep people safe, not only at conferences but in general in our professional communities.

    Of course people should be allowed to ask questions and challenge at conferences. But there are ways to do it in a safe and civil way. Watch Antony Marcano if you’re ever at a conference with him. The first time he was in a talk I gave, I thought, “Who is this guy asking all these questions?” But I realized his questions were good, they made me think, and he asked them in a friendly and kind way. He pushes everyone to up their game, without making them feel bad.

  3. The thing I liked the most about your post is the passion that stands out clear and unmissable from every single sentence you write, whether I agree with it or not.

    Showing passion like this takes courage and for this, I tip my hat to you.
    Thank you

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the test community. I totally agree that we all have the same passion for testing and it should not matter to which “school” we belong.

    Thank you!

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