Saturday, November 23, 2013

The "boring" thing...

The "boring" thing comes up on a regular basis. So often, that I think we testers often buy into it ourselves, and start saying things like "you need to be able to tolerate some boring stuff" about testing.

Erm - you mean like any job, right? Like you know, if you want to learn programming, or play the violin, or calculus, there's a certain amount of work you just have to do. So why do we allow people, including ourselves, to make out like a high tolerance for boredom is some kind of beneficial personality trait in testers specifically?

I think that's a very, very, dangerous path. Because, apart from making us look like button pushing dullards - It's. Just. Wrong.

(I happen to have a pretty low boredom threshold myself - which is part of the reason I stayed with testing - so you might detect a certain degree of self-serving bias here but IT'S MY BLOG DAMMIT. So I'll forge right ahead with telling you why my personality weakness is, naturally, a secret strength.)

Frankly, I use a sense of boredom as a very important warning flag when testing. It may mean a variety of different things, from "you are trying to do something a small shell script would do better" to "this workflow is both tedious and difficult to get right without several tries: this is useful feedback that I should be providing" to "could the reason I'm bored out of my skull be that I actually know the task I'm doing right now is pointless and ineffective? Perhaps I should do something about that."

I hope you can see where I'm going here.

I don't think it benefits our testing, ourselves, or our profession to accept the "boring" label. I wrote this post in response to an aside in an interesting post (that I'm still digesting) by Liz Keogh.

I commented as follows (first indented bit is Liz's words):

" Testers are very happy to do the same thing over and over again, with minor tweaks. Their patience amazes and inspires me, even if they are utterly evil."

Very interesting and useful post, but I had to jump in on this one: I am a tester. Doing the sane thing over and over with minor tweaks doesn't make me happy, it makes me very unhappy. I have an extremely low boredom threshold. As do many good testers. So I wouldn't call it patience, so much as crazy levels of stubborness when I think I've caught a sniff of something. Finding out something new or interesting isn't boring. I think the distinction is very important, because if what non-testers see is "testers like doing boring stuff" then they start feeling it's okay to dump boring stuff on them (and bad stuff ensues, like demotivated testers, loss of trust in the team, etc). Whereas the truth may be more that "this tester has got their teeth into something potentially interesting to them - even if it looks boring to you from the outside, your judgment of what looks interesting to someone else isn't as reliable as theirs".
 I clearly didn't get it right, as she didn't quite get my point. I hope I'll have explained well enough in the follow-up comment, but don't really want to hijack her comments for an aside.

Eventually, I hope I'll strike on a better way of explaining it. How do you explain it? Or do you genuinely believe that your chosen profession is actually meant to have more boring bits than other professions?


  1. I have the same thing, a low boredom threshold. Fortunately, I find that testing is a broad enough field that, even if I am on one project for months on end, there are plenty of things to do that you can get variety (it is the spice of life after all).
    At any point in my day I can be coding, from quick helper scripts to working on an automation framework, to testing using all my faculties of observation and deduction, to conversing about the product, project or process to improve the experience of both the customer, and all who work with/on the product.

    I was once interviewing a graduate and they were asked what they knew of testing. Their response was that they heard it was quite boring. Leaving aside the implied insult and question of why you'd want to do boring work, I think it was very much a symptom of the lack of testing education within computer science courses. All this person had heard about testing was the factory school mentality of scripted checking.

  2. Some of those folks coming out of computer science courses are our future colleagues, so it is a problem :( And I agree with you that computer sci/software engineering courses don't do a good enough job of testing education.

    What gets me is when people apparently working with testers who *aren't* doing factory school scripted tests still carry over that "boring" assumption without question (and sometimes defend it doggedly). They don't necessarily use words like "boring", perhaps they might say "oh, you are so diligent" or "so patient", but it all means "you are doing boring work that I don't want to do".

    I don't mind if it's "you are doing work that is boring to me, I am glad it isn't boring to you". It's the implied attribution of success to brute force slogging and "innate attention to detail", rather than to skill, knowledge, creativity and inspiration that REALLY annoys me.