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Testing rigorously, learning on your own: A chat with James Bach

My conversation with James Bach yesterday was certainly the high spot of my StarWest 2009 experience. We talked about topics dear to our hearts, such as critical thinking, self-education, wrong-headed notions about what constitutes good testing practices, Shakespeare and more.

Bach is author and founder of Satisfice Inc., a software testing and quality assurance company, but mostly he’s known as an articulate, passionate writer and speaker. His philosophy of testing is controversial, because he believes that what software testers know from experience and self-education is as valuable, if not more important, than certifications.

He knows, he told me, that certifications and degree help testers get jobs from strangers. Both “pieces of paper” serve as verification that the person has the skills needed for the job. Unfortunately, neither really verifies that the holder can think critically or creatively about what’s needed to do the job in various situations or work on a team.

That said, Bach is much more interested in personal fulfillment and the acquisition of real and not rote learning. He serves up his lifelong self-eduction journey in his new book, Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar. It’s taken years to write, he said, because he had to have experiences before he could write about them.

Besides self-education, Bach is currently on a quest to get test organizations to re-examine the concept of rigor in software testing. “Too often, they’re doing their testing rigorously, but they’re also doing their testing incorrectly,” he told me. Rigorously doing something wrongly compounds problems instead of solving them. He sees too many test managers equating success with the large number of tests run and defects found instead of effectiveness. You can read more of his views on test rigor in Mike Kelly’s interview with him, titled James Bach interview: Dispelling software testing myths

As I said, our conversation took off on many tangents, touching on our love for Kenneth Branaugh’s Shakespeare films and the cool things about testers, one of which is their curiosity. This experience was what actually going to conferences is all about, meeting people in person and talking about a little bit of everything.

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Jan - I'm glad to hear someone else is on the same page as me when it comes to certifications and degrees! (see and No amount of studying or "paper" is going to get you where you want/need to be. If you're going to get ahead you need to learn things the hard way. Thanks for the info.