The argument for being a sceptic tester

Are you the type of person that believes (nearly) everything they hear? Never questioning claims, doubting viewpoints, or thinking that you might not be getting the whole truth from people?

Or are you the type of person to challenge claims, have doubts and have a thirst for finding things out for yourself?

There is an advertisement for a wonder product that seems to promise the world and solve all of our problems.

“Can it be true?” We ask.

A policeman pulls over a driver on a Friday night and asks the driver how many drinks they’ve had.

“Only two officer.”

“Really? But you were swerving all other the road…”

Or how about when we’re told that a feature should have no bugs?

Should we believe that?

What is scepticism?

Scepticism can be summed up as the position in which a statement can not be described as factual without evidence to back it up.

Described as science in action. Scepticism encourages us to reject the notion that something is certainly true “because we were told so”, and instead, invites us to question the answer by applying critical thinking and reasoning to the evidence presented to us.

But being sceptic about an answer is not an invitation to keep on asking endless questions just for the sake of it. Not unless you want to be labelled as annoying anyway.

Sceptics are often perceived to be perpetually negative or exclaim “I don’t believe you!” as their response to every answer.

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

Bertrand Russell 

On the contrary, being sceptical about the answers we receive and even our own beliefs. Allows us to open our minds to an increased amount of possibilities and new ways of thinking.

Being sceptical is not a position. A line in the sand, or barrier to our understanding.

Instead, it is best thought of as a process. One that is creative, encouraging us to be curious and all the while, redirecting our thought process towards discovering the hard evidence behind peoples claims.

Why do I need to be a sceptic software tester?

Have you ever had a developer tell you after they’ve made a bug fix:

“No need to check everything. My fix only affects that one area”.

If you take what they say at face value. I’m willing to bet some of you have been burned once or twice. That’s OK, so have I.

Instead, a tester should apply doubt and scepticism to such claims. We know X has happened before. So why won’t it happen again?

What should I be sceptical about?

Scepticism does not apply to one thing or one single idea. It is instead something that should be applied to everything in life. However, here are a few things to get you started:

Certainties

“If a user does this, the software will certainly respond accordingly.”

“Really? What proof do you have for that claim?”

Scepticism encourages us never to take assertions of certainties at face value without being able to question them first. Instead, do your own research and conduct your own testing and fact-checking process if you are truly unsure.

Of course, there is no need to be convinced you are being lied to. Paranoid that developers ‘facts’ are baseless statements with no real meaning. Instead, consider them as being only the truth as they see it. Or even that they don’t know the whole truth themselves.

What you see

Can you really believe what you see? Or are you seeing what you want to believe?

It’s easy for us to think we saw a UFO in the sky, a face on Mars, or even the face of Jesus in our morning toast. But our senses are fallible. Easily tricked into thinking we see something. That doesn’t exist.

This also affects our brain when we see patterns or sequence of events. Believing that one thing is likely the cause of something else.

This can often happen because we want to see a pattern, causation or something that we can contribute to the reason for some event occurring.

An example of this is people being superstitious over the number of magpies they see, trying to avoid stepping on cracks when walking down the pavement. Or that testers are the reason for errors in your software (hint: it’s not).

Our own ideas

Scepticism is most effective when it is applied to ourselves. Our own ideas, our own experiences and our own perceptions.

There is no point in rejecting everybody else’s ideas and only believing in your own. If you aren’t able to question how you come to those conclusions. Or why you hold them as the truth in the first place.

Questioning your own ideas of certainty will lead you to investigate more, ask better questions and in the long run. Improve your understanding of software testing.

So I should doubt everything?

Doubting doubt means certainty… and now my head hurts.

Descartes once said “Doubt everything”. And while that may not be possible in most scenarios. In a software testing context. I’m almost sure that is possible.

I absolutely advocate questioning claims, finding things out for yourself, saying you don’t know when you’re uncertain.

And above all, asking the right questions instead of accepting answers that can’t be questioned.

Some people are sceptical to the nth degree and even with scientific evidence. They are still sceptical. Take the flat earth theory for example. But of course, I am not suggesting you go that far.

Use your scepticism wisely, question the evidence (where possible), challenge certainty and reveal the indisputable truth in your software testing.

Being credulous certainly has its place. And I’m certainly not suggesting that you ask “why?” as a response to everyone’s claims. But in an environment like software development in which the potential for things going wrong is so high.

Can we really afford to take claims at face value?

Posted by Kevin Tuck

Kevin Tuck is an ISTQB qualified software tester with nearly a decade of professional experience. Well versed in creating versatile and effective testing strategies. He offers a variety of collaborative software testing services.

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