Sunday, October 7, 2012

Buccaneering knowledge ... or International Think Like A Pirate Day ...

So when I was talking about my man cave in the last entry, I was talking about a room with things which fascinate me, and which I'm passionate about.  Key amongst this is a bookcase which is filled with a variety of books, for which software testing is perhaps the least well represented.

Software testing as it relates to the technology of computers has only been around as long as computers themselves, a mere 60 years.  However software testing is about more than understanding computers - it's a big part of it yes, but it's not the only part.  It's about how human fallibility, it's about how people are psychologically wired, it's about how people behave in groups, it's about what people say vs what they mean, it's about human leadership, it's about how you take theories and prove/disprove them, it's about how ideas evolve ... it goes on.  And all of this stuff has been going on so much longer than computers.

As long as humanity has been around it's been building ... whenever it's been building there have been projects ... whenever there have been projects there have been mistakes.  Who is to know if the Tower of Babel failed because of God or because simply the architects weren't speaking enough to the on-site project managers?

So people have been analysing and writing about many of the themes common to software testing for hundreds of years.  They've analysed successful military campaigns and leaders, they've analysed the anatomy of a disaster.

James Bach when I met him this year talked about the idea of "buccaneering knowledge", going out looking for ideas and practises in other fields, and if they have value, bringing them and applying them to expand and pioneer the field of software testing.  I love the word "buccaneering" as it's so apt, you're going into another field and taking away their most valuable ideas ... at gunpoint.  But the point is you don't take everything, just the stuff you can see has value.  And being able to have an eye and a mind to challenge what you see before you and separate the good from the bad is how you become a truly innovative tester.  Because let's face it, testing comes with enough dirty laundry and baggage of it's own, without forcibly hoisting away another disciplines!

I've heard many other testers talk along similar lines.  Early in my blogging I was lucky enough to come across a video about Learning For Agile Testers by Janet Gregory which really inspired me (click to watch).

This is why it's important to be surrounded in a room by things which interest and inspire me beyond software testing, because I'm forever pooling and channelling this in with my writing, looking for the parallels and the parables and how to apply to testing.

Much like Janet says in the video, the path for your own learning by doing this is not by following someone elses passions, it's about following your own passions, and finding a way to bring it back and communicate your learnings from this area to the wider testing community.

Here are some other examples of testers whose passions feed the wider community,

  • Lisa Crispin, co-author of Agile Testing has a great compassion towards animals, most famously donkeys.  Speaking with her, the ideas of teamwork and compassion are important ones - and she's generally a motivator more by carrot than stick.
  • Bernice Ruhland, a regular contributor to Testing Circus really does feed the passions of the testing community, as she's passionate about good cooking and baking in her blog.  She's probably more of a motivator by carrot cake than stick.  In fact going deeper, we've had some conversations about following-a-recipe vs improvising-from-available-ingredients, which go deeper than cooking.
  • David Greenlees, who is deeply passionate about martial arts, and seems to have learned to break code with his BARE HANDS!
If you're reading this now, let me challenge you with this.  What are your passions, and how can they benefit the testing community?  Think on it ...


  1. I've learned a lot from my donkeys, especially about trust and the joy of doing work you love.

  2. This "buccaneering" you speak of sounds quite similar to interdisciplinary studies which has been around for a while. It is, however, undoubtedly more fun to picture oneself as a pirate than an "interdisciplinarian" (less of a tongue twister as well).

  3. Hi, Mike. Thanks for mentioning me! I am sitting at my iMac with Foodtv on. I am surrounded by several books. James Bach Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar, four cooking books, a HTML coding book, a correct writing book (since my grammer can always use a boost) and testing articles. The remaining books are upstairs or at work. They are testing books, more cooking books and magazines than I really need, a few fun-reading novels, and a lot of Christian books with different philosophies. Some better than others.

    When I cook I loosely follow a recipe. I tend to improvise and don't always measure exactly unless I am baking which requires precision. As with testing sometimes you need a boundary matrix because there are conditions you must test - other times a session-based charter makes more sense.

    As always I enjoy reading your articles and how you look beyond the obvious to see something else. That is always a good challenge for me!

    Regards! Bernice