maandag 3 oktober 2016

Bad-tester stamps, The why and Lingual Bias

Last week I saw a slide. The slide was posted on twitter.
Maybe the slide was pulled out of context (as many slides are that are posted from conferences), maybe the slide was made with the best intentions (aren't they the what pave the way to hell?) and maybe the message to be read (or understood) had more to it then met the eye (mostly slides accompany a spoken text).
But the slide did nevertheless anger me and the tweets and the blogs that followed didn't take away that anger (or maybe it's being annoyed that better fits the bill here). It bothered me, it still does.

I started reflecting what it exactly was that made me feel this way and I found that there are different things that have an influence. I decided I wanted to share them with you. Firstly because I felt I needed to 'justify' myself, maybe even find redemption of some sorts. Secondly because I think that something that I found, might help people in the testing community (or at least I like to think so).
Yes, this blog is self-centered. I hope in this way I can make some people understand why I do things the way I do them and I even hope some people can perhaps relate (or even identify themselves) and in this way I hope to create an understanding for those people as well as they might have the same way of coping with things. And yes; I also want to get some things off my chest, which is what I will start with.

Some years ago I was tagged a 'bad tester'. I was also told on another occasion that I wasn't a real tester and I was told that if I ever wanted to be a serious tester I could take a certain training. It didn't stay with one person stating this, it grew out of proportions. More people started to treat me as 'tainted goods'. I was shunned from and silences from a part of the testing world that I wanted to learn from and ask questions to. And all because I got this 'stamp' of no-good.

What that did to me, was triggering an older hurt. When one has been (extremely) bullied during their schooldays they know what it is I'm talking about. You want to learn and want to participate but not by becoming something you are not, it feels awful when you get locked out because of that.

I think I was tagged because of bad judgement and wrong assumptions that lead to prejudice. The first incident I remember is stating I was proud of my ISEB-P certificate. Although I left a wide opening to ask the question 'why', it wasn't asked. Instead it got me a load of scorn. I would have expected a bit more inquisitive behavior of people that value questioning and investigation with high regards, but that was apparently a stupid an naive assumption. For those of you that have made up their minds regarding this 'incident'. Here's the reason I'm proud of that certificate.

Most of you might not know this, but I have an extreme form of exam anxiety. Although my rationale is telling me otherwise, my body doesn't cooperate. My palms get sweaty, my face starts producing this minuscule drops of sweat, my mouth becomes as dry as the desert and my heart-rate goes up twice the normal beats and one of the really big downsides is that I black out. That is what happened the first attempt I went to the ISEB-P exam; I blacked out. I got to answering the first question of the three hour written exam and the next thing I know is that the supervisor is telling me that I only have a quarter left to finish. So I really prepared the next attempt. I got to specific therapy for the anxieties, I got some beta-blockers, learned (yes the theory!) my ass off and gathered as many practical cases and experience as I could so I could relate to the question. I went to the exam again and I managed to sit it through, despite the anxieties, and I passed. Not with brilliant figures, but I managed to cope with all the stress and I did it! So it's not the ISTQB/ ISEB stamp that makes me particular proud, it could have been any exam (although multiple choice is a bit easier for me), it's the victory on my exam anxiety that was the anwer to the 'why' that was never asked. Does that make me a bad tester? I believe this is not so.

Some of the people that shun me have strengthened their bias because I am involved in ISTQB via the BNTQB. Again, they have failed in asking the 'why' question. I believe, like lots of testers out there, that the ISTQB-F certificate particularly doesn't tell anything about skills. What is worse is that organizations value the certificate to be something it isn't. I joined the BNTQB because I wanted, and still want that to change. I want to at least make the attempt to add some skills to the foundation, to make it have some value. I want to make an effort on when that's not an option to at least inform organizations on what ISTQB-F actually is: a glossary of terms that can be learned  from a syllabus and doesn't say anything about the skills of the owner of that certificate. I also believe a learning program can have its benefits, but it has to be very clear what it embodies and what the value is. And yes; I have my doubt, as do others in the field, about the current curriculum of ISTQB, but I also know I can only take on so much at a time. Does that make me a bad tester? Does that make me a person not serious about the profession or a 'real tester', I think it doesn't.

Another thing that put another 'stamp' on me is my venture with the ISO29119. I was at the very start of the initiative; a workshop at EuroSTAR2006 and I got intrigued. Mind; I had only been in software testing for two years back then. The idea of a triptych that could serve as a guideline (book of knowledge) for testers worldwide was appealing to me. One part would be the document that would contain all the different (national) old standards, it would be complemented, updated with more recent stuff and be more broad then the 'component' testing focus it used to have. The romanticism of then has long gone, I got disappointed in what the document finally has become because of the 'standard for standards' of ISO. Is it a bad document?, I think it isn't, but it's important to value it for what it is and what it contains. It's important to inform (educate) organizations that aspire to use the ISO on the exact usage so they don't  'just apply' it without any thoughts and without context and adjustment, just to 'follow rules'. Do I advocate the usage? No I don't. Nor do I advocate the rejection of the standard. That doesn't make me a person who doesn't care, you retracts from responsibility. I just don't feel that its my place to advocate anything about this standard to a community or organisations.  And I certainly don't sign a petition just because someone says I have to. And that doesn't make me a tester who is not serious about the profession as was stated or a bad tester.

So far for the 'chest' part. Now back to the slide-thing and the blogging following that.
From one of the blogs I got that when we present on stage, keynote or not, that is an act of leadership and with that come responsibilities. I understand this. I also put as much as possible effort in thinking on how my actions help or hurt others. I also agree that we all have the right of response when a speaker takes a microphone to keynote (or otherwise have a presence) at a conference and I'm also a promoter of debate.

But I feel there is a catch here. I feel it's important to point this out. I feel this is something that I should share so that people in the community are aware of this. Maybe it will help in making things (feel) safer again. I just hope it helps.
I call it the lingual bias.
I'm as guilty in having it as I feel the native speaking English are guilty of it.
We take for granted that the English we use, in slides, during talks, on twitter, in debates is understood by others as we mean to communicate it. I also think native English speakers take for granted that - even more maybe because of that- the message that they send is understood as the way they intend them.
It is, I know from experience, not the reality of things.

When I 'go on stage', I prepare. Vigorously. It's necessary for me since I also get the reactions of the 'exam anxiety' when I have to speak (want to speak). I first type out the text in Dutch, then I translate it to English. I prepare for possible questions, I also find out the wording in English that might come in handy. I plan extra time for explanations and add extra examples to clarify. But you can only prepare so much.
One of the things that are very difficult, although I love a debate, discussions and dialogue, is the direct responses and dynamics.

The thing is: I'm not that good at spontaneous debates. I like to sculpt my answers, like the sculpture takes time to form his/her object. I want to think about answers, play with the thoughts in my minds before I can word them. That makes debating sometimes quite difficult, especially when emotions get involved. At more then one occasion after a debate I have thought of my answers and what I could have said or would have said would I have been given a bit more time. That is why I like dialogue and more paced discussions more then debates. Even more so because I feel in a debate with a native English speakers I'm already 3-0 behind, because of the language difference.
It happens on twitter too, although I can take my time composing answers and thinking about the answers, the lingual bias has more than once caused misunderstandings. Sometimes just a question, nothing more to it, was answered with a certain aggressiveness (perception by me, mind!), even blogs - as I'm certain this one will too- have the hindrance of the lingual bias.

The lingual bias, added with a sniff of prejudice it can make that you get a stamp that you feel you don't deserve, that you feel is unjustly put on you. The stamp also causes that answers are always read or perceived with a certain bias up front.  Sometimes even with broader consequences and it make you feel unsafe(r) to speak up. I certainly feel this way, hence my retracted behavior on different media to engage in debate. It's not that I don't care.
Maybe the question 'why' can help with the lingual bias or maybe it's a little bit more tolerance and kindness or compassion, maybe some like kindness...

just saying: in non-native English that is.