Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Battle Of The Winshill Rec: And how it affects you as a tester ...

There are many shades of bullying - some so subtle, half the trap is that we don't even recognise or name it as such.

But at Abbott Beyne School, there was nothing subtle about the bullying I encountered as a young teen.  There was a gang who held Winshill in a grip of fear.  When they decided to pick on someone, they'd form a circle around them, and start to beat them up.  You were never attacked by the person in front of you - it was always a punch, a kick or a knee from behind.

Everyone was afraid of the Hawfield gang - but there was something they did to people that was far worse, and stripped them of even more.  They'd walk up to a group, but often just pick on one.   If you weren't the one being picked on, you'd just stand there and do nothing.  Too terrified to intervene even on the behalf of your friend or your brother.  Whether you were being kicked, or just watching, you felt robbed of your self-respect.  Powerless.

And then one day, someone decided they'd had enough.  It was a summer holiday, and everyone knew the gang spent most of the day at the Winshill Recreational Park "the Rec" holding court.  In those pre-cell phone days of the 1980s, the word spread like wildfire - if you'd ever been wronged by the Hawfield gang, be at the Rec at 3pm.

So there we were - me and my brother.  We'd both been caught the wrong side of this gang.  We had no idea if we'd be the only ones.  There were some nerves.  And then we arrived ... and we were far from alone.  In fact it turns out there were crowds at every entrance to the park.  It felt like the battle in Gladiator.

This gang had attacked me and my brother and countless others.  It was an age pre-bullying awareness.  And they'd made us feel weak, like no one cared, like we didn't matter.  Standing in that crowd is one of my brother's favourite memories of childhood.  Standing in that crowd we learned that contrary to what the Hawfield gang had tried to drum into us - we weren't alone, we weren't weak, we did matter.  It was a euphoric moment of clarity.

It was their turn to run - although they didn't get far.  I don't remember actually kicking anyone when they were down ... but I'm pretty sure I helped carry and dump them in the nearby stream.

It was a watershed moment - the gang was broken after that.  Some individual bullying did still go on, but the terror was gone.  And we'd done it ourselves.

There are of course some pretty terrible lessons you can take from this.  Perhaps that the answer to all societies ills is just to form a bigger gang and return to others what you've been dealt with?  Ironically that's just how some gangs start out ...

This weekend we had our companies first Test Camp - it was an amazing experience as testers from several cities within our company managed to share our experiences, network, discuss.  We gave feedback at the end of it, and one comment really blew me away "I no longer feel alone".

That comment took me back to the Battle Of The Winshill Rec.  We may be out of school, but there's a lot of that experience which we're still living out.

  • Peer pressure - hey all your fellow testers are doing scripting and metrics.  You don't want to be the odd one out do you?
  • Intimidation - let's face it, we're having schemes like ISTQB and ISO 29119 imposed on us.  We're called unprofessional if we oppose them.

If you have never read David Greenlees experience you need to.  This was where someone "representing ISTQB" wrote to his CEO over his public objections to the scheme, in an attempt to wreck his career.  Yes, that's the kind of bullying which can go on about having an opinion in testing.  Fortunately David seems to have a CEO who recognised this as the nonsense it was. 

The tyranny within testing is that there are forces and interests which seem to impose schemes and actions.  Some are well meaning but misguided, and others simply that certain parties have "an agenda".

The solution, much like the Battle Of Winshill Rec is that as testers we need to mobilise.  That means YOU, the person reading this post becoming more active in the testing community.  Consider it a challenge.

Back in the September issue of Testing Circus, to celebrate four years of the magazine, I talked about how helpful it had been in my first steps in writing.  But beyond that I laid the gauntlet for others to consider picking up their pen.  Consider writing something for a magazine.  Get active on Twitter.  Find allies online and in real life with whom you can have meaningful conversations about testing.  Sometimes you might not agree - but that's okay!  Try to find common ground where you can, but explore your differences.  That's how you learn!

Maybe after David Greenlees experience, that would be enough to make you really fearful?  However I will tell you that most companies love to have testers who are passionate about what they do - so long as they are professional, and do not talk openly about customers or those they work with.  I myself always try and anonymise events and data.  Push comes to shove - you can always use a handle/fake name.  Indeed it was because I was originally unsure of my companies reaction to my blogging, that I used the handle of TestSheepNZ over "Mike Talks, Tester For Hire".  But when my company found out - they loved the fact!

That's the way we face our own Battle Of Winshill Rec, and realise we as a community of professionals are not insignificant, have a voice and are a lot more empowered than we might be led to believe.

[But please - no flushing the head of your ISTQB tutor down the toilet ... however tempting]


  1. Perhaps we can all start here: http://www.ministryoftesting.com/2015/01/ready-zombie-apocalypse-fundamentalism/

  2. One key and most interesting feature of testing is that everyone can test the application in their own different unique way. There should not be any force to test in a particular way so that the application can be tested in unique ways which leads to a quality oriented software.

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