Why Have You Stayed in Testing?

I get asked this a lot. I’ve been doing some form of testing since the early 1990s and while my initial opportunities were provided by chance, my career was one of choice. Rather than say why I stay in testing, I’ll frame this around some questions and answers that may give some insight of how testing has allowed me to answer certain questions in a career-relevant way.

So, with that said, in the discipline of testing …

… what gives me energy?

What energizes me is working to build up a coherent picture of how things fit together, reconstructing lost (or just forgotten) history, working with people to ask more and different questions, building maps of understanding.

I get energy from working at the places where humans and technology intersect, using technology to appropriately augment humans rather than replace them. I’m also energized when I’m able to take ideas, reframe them so that they can be looked at from slightly different angles, and then use that to provide new and interesting perspectives.

… what drains me?

What drains me is when intellectual activities — those requiring a human mind — are entirely abdicated to tooling and technology.

I’m also drained when there is too much focus or emphasis on answers and too little attention to the questions; when there is willful ignorance, by which I mean an indifference to facts, a stubborn devotion to uninformed opinions and the outright dismissal of contrary ideas, opinions, or data.

Also a bit draining is when I’m working with people that have a perverse desire to try to achieve impossible goals via impractical methods.

… how I feel accomplishment?

Accomplishment comes when I’ve untangled the threads of some thorny problem, whether that be communication-based, knowledge-based, practice-based, technology-based, and so forth.

When new ways of thinking and doing become possible as a result of my work, that’s where I know I’ve accomplished something. If I become a credible, high-integrity reporter of information and ideas that people value — even when I provide examples of how not to think — I feel accomplishment.

… what drives and excites me?

I’m driven by a faith in uncertainty, a desire for mystery, and a cultivation of doubt. Those drive me because in those states I’m able to give people — including myself! — new ways to explore and thus new ways to consider what they are observing and the context in which they are doing so.

For me that has meant purveying and surveying many disciplines. For example, figuring out why — and showing how — testing is a lot like being a historian or archaeologist; or why and how having too many tests (or too few) is very much like grappling with quantum mechanics; or how writing fiction has a lot to tell us about discussing requirements and developing features.

It then becomes really exciting to avoid sounding either crazy or irrelevant when you talk to people about those things.

Does That Help?

I’m not sure if any of that answers the question of why I stay in testing. It hopefully answers a bit why I find testing fascinating.

As I think on my life, and how it has informed my career, much of it has centered around making sure people see aspects of myself more as charming personality quirks as opposed to glaring character flaws. A quote from Peter Watts’ Blindsight is entirely apropos:

“I have spent my whole existence as a sort of alien ethologist; watching the world behave, gleaning patterns and protocols, learning the rules that allowed me to infiltrate human society.”

I intend no hyperbole when I say that testing, given where I started in life and where I was going, forced me to become more human — and a better human — than I probably would have become.

To unpack that statement, would require much more insight into me than anyone likely wants. So, in lieu of that, hopefully this post will serve as a good enough substitute.


This article was written by Jeff Nyman

Anything I put here is an approximation of the truth. You're getting a particular view of myself ... and it's the view I'm choosing to present to you. If you've never met me before in person, please realize I'm not the same in person as I am in writing. That's because I can only put part of myself down into words. If you have met me before in person then I'd ask you to consider that the view you've formed that way and the view you come to by reading what I say here may, in fact, both be true. I'd advise that you not automatically discard either viewpoint when they conflict or accept either as truth when they agree.

2 thoughts on “Why Have You Stayed in Testing?”

  1. There’s an elephant in this particular room, and that’s the person asking the question, because it says a lot more about them than your answer says about you (excellent though your answer is). You come out of this dialogue way on top here.

    Frankly, asking people about their job motivations is always a dangerous subject, because you may not find their answers fit your preconceptions. I was once party to a conversation between two science fiction authors – the British David Langford, who used to work as a nuclear physicist in the Ministry of Defence before giving that up to write (and do a little software development) full-time, and Gregory Benford, who you may or may not know combines his fairly successful writing career with working as a bona fide rocket scientist for NASA. As Dave puts it:

    “Greg Benford asked me, ‘What made you give up the Big Science biz?’ I told him how little a grateful Government pays its weapons physicists, and he fainted.”

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