In Search of a Context

In mid-December, we had an excellent Lunch and Learn on Rapid Software Testing. The speaker was Michael Bolton (no, as he pointed out, not the singer and not the guy from Office Space).

Michael’s presentation was excellent. He was funny. He had great demonstrations of his points. And he covered a lot of good ground.

Anyway, one of the points that he mentioned in his presentation was the idea of Context-Driven Testing. This was a concept that I’d heard about at a workshop with Brian Marrick and Cem Kaner. One of the common sound bites that I hear in such conversations is that there are no “best practices” — only “best practices in a particular context”.

Me, I feel as though I’m missing an Aha moment. Given the number of times I’ve heard people make a big deal about the whole “context-driven” idea, I kind of expect it to be a big insight. But I don’t have that reaction.

To me, it seems obvious that practices exist in context. So now, each time I hear this concept, I find myself wondering: “what history have these guys experienced that make them so interested in reinforcing this point?”

I don’t call myself a tester, so I suspect that there are a lot testing trends that I haven’t seen up close. My interpretation of the messages I see from people like Cem Kaner and Bret Pettichord is that the commercial automated testing tools were pushed in a way that was mostly unhealthy to the task of testing. I don’t know that for sure; that’s just a guess.

It does seem to me that whenever agile people and testing people start talking about what they do, there’s conflict around the role of test automation.

As an agile programmer, I say things like “continuous testing is one of the key agile practices”. And, in response, the testing people say, “there are no best practices; only best practices in context.” And I find myself thinking, “huh?”

And the urge, at that moment, to think, “these guys just don’t Get It” is huge. And that’s dangerous thinking.

I feel I’ve learned a great deal listening to expert testers (and I especially recommend the book Lessons Learned in Software Testing), but I do think that the agile communities and the testing communities are having communication problems.

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