Category: Self-management

Refusing to do bad work…

I talked at TestBash about context-driven testing in agile. I my talk I said that I refuse to do bad work. Adam Knight wrote a great blog post “Knuckling Down” about this: “One of the messages that came up in more than one of the talks during the day, most strongly in Huib Schoots talk on Context Driven in Agile, was the need to stick to the principle of refusing to do bad work. The consequential suggestion was that a tester should leave any position where you are asked to compromise this principle.

Adam also writes: “What was missing for me in the sentiments presented at TestBash was any suggestion that testers should attempt to tackle the challenges faced on a poor or misguided project before leaving. In the examples I noted from the day there was no suggestion of any effort to resolve the situation, or alter the approach being taken. There was no implication of leaving only ‘if all else fails’. I’d like to see an attitude more around attempting to tackle a bad situation head on rather than looking at moving on as the only option. Of course we should consider moving if a situation in untenable, but I’d like to think that this decision be made only after knuckling down and putting your best effort in to make the best of a bad lot.

Interesting because I think I said exactly that: “if anything else fails, leave!” But maybe I only thought that and forgot to speak it out loud, I am not sure. Let’s wait for the video that will give us the answer. But in the meanwhile: of course Adam is right and I am happy that he wrote his blog post. Because if I was too firm or too distinct, he gave me a chance to explain. Because looking back, I have done many projects where, if I hadn’t tried to change stuff, I would have left many of them in the first couple of days. There is a lot of bad testing around. So what did I try to say?

Ethics again.

This topic touches very closely to ethics in your work! Refusing to do bad work is an ethical statement. Ethics are very important for me and I hope more testers will recognize that only being ethical will change our craft. Ethics help us decide what is right and what is wrong. Have a look at the ethics James Bach summed up in this blog post “Thoughts Toward The Ethics of Testing“. Nathalie pointed to an article she wrote on ethics in a reply to my last post.

Ethics and integrity go hand in hand. Ethics are the external “rules and laws” and integrity is your internal system of principles that guides your behaviour. Integrity is a choice rather than an obligation and will help you do what is right even if no one is watching.

I refuse to do bad work!

Bad work is any work that is deliberately bad. I think along the lines of restrictions in a context, demands placed on them that they don’t know how to handle. Or even worse: intentionally doing stuff you know can be done better, but it is faster, easier or because others ask you to do it like that. Of course there are novices in the field and they do work that can be done better. I do not call that bad work since they are still learning. Still there is a limit to that as well. If you have been tester for several years and you still do not know how to do more than 3 test techniques without having to look them up, I will call that bad work as well. I expect continuing professional development from everybody in the field. Simply because working in IT (but in any profession) we need to develop ourselves to become better.

ethicsLying is always bad work. And I have seen many people lie in their work. Lying to managers to get off the hook, making messages sound just a little better by leaving out essential stuff. Also telling people what they what to hear to make them happy is bad work. What do you do when your project manager asks you to change your test report because it will harm his reputation? Or what do you tell the hiring manager in a job interview when he asks you if you are willing to learn? Many people tell that they are very willing to learn, but are they really?

Bad work is claiming things you can’t accomplish: like assuring quality or testing everything. It is also bad work when you do not admit your mistakes and hide them from your colleagues. Bad work is accepting an assignment when you know you do not have the right skills or the right knowledge. In secondment assignments this is an issue sometimes. I have taken on a project once where the customer wanted something I couldn’t deliver but because my boss wanted me on the position I accepted. That was wrong and the assignment didn’t work out. I felt very bad about it: not because I failed, but because I knew upfront I would fail! I won’t do that again, ever.

So how do I handle this?

I push back! Of course I do not run away from a project when I see or smell bad work. I do try to tackle the challenges I am faced with. I use three important ways trying to change the situation: my courage, asking questions and my ethics. Some examples: when a managers start telling me what I should do and explicitly tell me how I should do that, I often ask how much testing experience the manager has. When given the answer I friendly tell him that I am very willing to help him achieve his goals, but that I think I am the expert and I will decide on how I do my work. Surely there is more to it and I need to be able to explain why I want it to be done differently.

I also ask a lot of questions that start with “why”. Why do you want me to write test cases? What problem will that solve? I found out that often people ask for things like test cases or metrics because it is “common practice” or folklore not because it will serve a certain purpose. Also when I know the reasons behind the requests, it makes it easier to discuss them and to push back. A great example of this is the last blog post “Variable Testers” by James Bach.

Adam talks about changing peoples minds: “One of the most difficult skills I’ve found to learn as a tester is the ability to justify your approach and your reasons for taking it, and being able to argue your case to someone else who has a misguided perspective on what testing does or should involve. Having these discussions, and changing peoples minds, is a big part of what good testing is.

I fully agree. In my last on blog post “heuristics for recognizing professional testers” my first heuristic was: “They have a paradigm of what testing is and they can explain their approach in any given situation. Professional testers can explain what testing is, what value they add and how they would test in a specific situation.” To become better as testers and to advance our craft, we should train the skills Adam mentions: justify approach and being able to argue our case.

It will make you better and happier!

Jerry Weinberg listed his set of principles in a blog post “A Code of Work Rules for Consultants“. In this blog post he says: “Over the years, I’ve found that people who ask these questions and set those conditions don’t wind up in jobs that make them miserable. Sometimes, when they ask them honestly they leave their present position for something else that makes them happier, even at a lower fee scale. Sometimes, a client manager is outraged at one of these conditions, which is a sure indication of trouble later, if not sooner.

It will make you a happier person when you know what your limits are and you are able to clearly remind people you work with. It will prevent you from getting into situations that make you miserable. “That’s the way things are” doesn’t exist in my professional vocabulary. There is always something you can do about it. And if the situation you end up in, after you tried the best you can, isn’t satisfying to you: leave! Believe me, it will make you feel good. I have got the t-shirt! And… being clear about your values also will make you better in your work. Maybe not directly, but indirectly it will.

Daniel Pink speaks about the self-determination theory in his book “Drive“. The three keywords in his book are: Autonomy, Mastery and purpose: “human beings have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another, and that when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives” (source:

But but but….

Of course I know there is the mortgage and the family to support. Maybe it is easy for me to refuse bad work. Maybe I am lucky to be in the position I am. But think again… Are you really sure you can’t change anything? And if your ethics are violated every day do you resign yourself? Your ethics will act as heuristics signalling you that there is a problem and you need to do something. I didn’t say you have to leave immediately and if you are more patient than I am, maybe you do not have to leave at all… But remember: for people who are good in what they do, who are confident in what they will and will not do and speak up for themselves, there will always be a place to work.

Now you!

Have you even thought about integrity? What are your guiding principles, values or ethics? What would you call bad work? And what will you do next time when somebody asks you something that conflicts with your ethics?



While reading stuff online about (refusing) bad work I ran into this blog post by Cal Newport about being bad at work: “Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working (and Here’s What to Do About It…)“Interesting enough Cal Newport wrote a book called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love” about the passion hypothesis in which he questions the validity of the hypothesis that occupational happiness has to match per-existing passion. In several recent talks and blog posts I did I talk about passion. Also in the talk discussed in this blog post I claim that passion is very important and I show a fragment of the Stanford 2005 commencement speech by Steve Jobs. Exactly the passage I showed in my talk, Cal uses in the first chapter of his book. “You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” Anyway. Interesting stuff to be researched. I bought the book and started reading it. To be continued…




Happy New Year! Busy New Year!

I know, I am way too late to wish you a happy new year. But I wish you a very happy new year anyway! This year will be a very busy one for me. To create some overview for myself, I created a mindmap of my testing ambitions for 2012…

This truely will become a magnifiant year! Busy but awesome for sure. Some highlights:

And another DEWT peer conference to look forward to! A lot of testing, conferencing, meeting and learning to do!

How to become a software testing expert?

This blog post was originally written as an column for (English) and (Dutch).

This is the third and last part on the theme “how to become a software testing expert.” Part 1 “You can learn testing!” can be found here and Part 2 “What makes a good tester?” is here.

In part one I said that if you want to be an expert software tester, you must qualify yourself in many skills. That through feedback, actively seeking and making mistakes, helps you find out where you can improve. And that coaching is a great way to learn faster. In part two I stated that passion and attitude are most important. Then the skills, competencies and qualities such as proactivity, communication, social / emotional development, collaboration, fast learning, curiosity, but also the ability to apply test techniques. Knowledge to me is the least important. A good tester has test, technical and domain knowledge (in that order of importance).

Passion and attitude
Without passion no change and no progress” said Ferry Bezem of Twynstra Gudde in this Dutch Article. “How passion for your job can lead to success” is one of the other many articles I found when I googled “passion in your work”. To become succesfull, you need to find out who you are and where you get energy. To become good, you need to have passion for your profession. This article explains how to “develop” passion. In addition attitude or mentality are important as well. With the right attitude, you will be successful for sure! And don’t forget: you can change your attitude!

Critical thinking
Testing for me is questioning a product in order to evaluate it. A tester does this by learning everything there is to learn about the product and analyze this information. Critical thinking is an essential competency of a tester. But how many testers train it? On a well known Dutch book site I searched for books on critical thinking. What struck me was that there are several books on critical thinking for medical personal to find. And that sounds actually quite logical: medics diagnose patients, testers do the same for their “patients”: the test object!


We write comprehensive test plans that are never read. We use extensive templates to make sure nothing is forgotten (and we do not have to think too much). We do product risk assessments but subsequently we don’t do anything with the risks identified. We often do not use any test techniques. Why?! I think because many people simply don’t know how. I often ask why test techniques are not used. The most common answer is: because there is not enough time!? But these techniques should make our testing more effective and efficient, don’t they? As a tester you should be dreaming these techniques. You should OWN them!

Every novice tester in the Netherlands starts with TMap or ISTQB. With that fact in itself is nothing wrong. A three-day class where the basics of software testing are taught is a good start. But too often that’s it. We like to guide our testing with process models: ISTQB and TMAP are full of them. But the reality is often more complex and testers get in trouble when the situation is slightly different as they are used to. The choice of a particular tool, technique or method depends on the context. TMap Next claims to be an adaptive method, but do you remember how much time was spent on this topic in your class? And how adaptive are you yourself? Do you use the same template over and over? Do you simply copy the test plan for the next release using a search and replace?

Learn, practice and training
I learned very much by critical reading. There are many free software test magazines and there are many great books on software testing. The internet is an excellent source of (often free) information. There are many videos available of presentations at meetings and conferences. On my blog I keep a list of great resources for testers. Lynn McKee has a similar list. Or start reading blogs, twitter can inform you about new interesting blogs and other things worth reading.

Try weekend testing or a testing dojo to practice your skills. Join a local software test community or organize your own gathering with a group of testers who want to meet and learn. At several employers I introduced intervision meetings for testers. I also founded DEWT with a group of passionate colleagues: like-minded people who like to challenge and inspire each other. We spend many hours discussing our profession and we certainly do not always agree. We discuss and practice in a safe environment and learn from each other.

Try something different
Have you been a software tester for years and are you planning to spice up your resume with another certificate? Then maybe the BBST training is something for you. Let me warn you in advance: this training will give you no certificate and it requires you to study and do exercises almost daily for a month. If you really want to learn, you need to invest a lot of time. Malcolm Gladwell claims in his book Outliers that the key to success in any field is practicing 10,000 hours. Try a training that changes your view on testing: rapid software testing for example. This training has changed my view of my profession and inspired me tremendously. Visiting conferences can be very inspiring and instructive. Join TestNet or another (online) testing community like The Software Testing Club and get inspired. You have plenty of choice!

Learning from others
I enjoy working with others. As I observe, I ask questions or explain my view on the situation. We still can learn a lot from our colleagues in projects … and vice versa! And I’m not just talking about fellow testers. A programmer can build a tool or script in only a few hours that can save testers days of work. By doing unit tests together, we gain insight in what developers test and how they do it. Try working together: pair programming or pair testing can be a powerful tool. Unfortunately, it has a negative image, because it seems to double the effort. But I think it can be beneficial. The added value is mastering the details of a job easier, fewer mistakes, faster learning, team building, cooperation and fun.

Writing and presenting
Blogging, writing columns or giving presentations forces you to structure your thoughts. In addition, your stories or presentations will trigger reactions by others. By taking this feedback seriously, can you sharpen your thoughts and learn again.

Ask yourself what you can do better often. Evaluate! Ask for reviews on your products regulary. Also ask for feedback from your colleagues on the process, your skills and your performance proactively. Furthermore, my advice is simple: you need a lot of practice to become an expert. So what are you going to do tomorrow?


Huib Schoots sees himself as a context-driven tester. Currently he works as team manager testing at Rabobank International and he is board member of TestNet. He is a member of DEWT (Dutch Workshop on Exploratory Testing), student in the Miagi-Do School of Software Testing and maintains a blog on

What makes a good tester?

This blog post was originally written as an column for (English) and (Dutch).

What makes a good tester?
This is the second of a series of three columns. The central themes of the columns is “how do I become a software testing expert?” Part 1 can be found here.

The question “what makes a good tester?” keeps us busy. This was demonstrated by the attention this subject received at different conferences. At EuroSTAR Susan Windsor gave a well attended presentation about this topic called “How to Create Good Testers”. During the Agile Testing Days, a group of passionate and renowned agilist and testers got together to discuss various test subjects while enjoying beer and pizza. After an inventory and a “dot-vote” the topic “Great Testers” received the most votes. That gave great input for this column, thanks guys!

In this Dutch article on talent, personal qualities, skills and competencies, Patrick Schriel says: “A skill is the ability to be able to perform an act or solve a problem. Competencies are knowledge and skills, they are not innate, but are caused by intense and deliberate practice “. With skills I think of being able to apply a particular test technique, or being able to work with certain systems, etc. But for a tester key qualities and characteristics are important and these are much harder to train. Think of pro-activity and creativity. In addition, attitude (and / or mindset) is important. What is your feeling about change, what are your beliefs, how open minded are you?

What makes a good tester? It depends on the context. Every project is different, every team has its own dynamics and each test has different requirements. Lisa Crispin said during the meeting in Potsdam: “Most important is attitude, we will teach them the skills”. And I totally agree. Passion for the job to me is vital. In the attitude of a tester, I find curiosity also very important. Or as Richard Feynman put it: “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out“. A tester is always looking for information, how does this work? He constantly is asking questions to understand. I remember the following quotes from the rapid software testing training: “A tester’s responsibility to remain unsure when everybody is sure” and “Testing is about questioning and learning under conditions of fundamental uncertainty”. A tester knows that things can be different (Jerry Weinberg). And in Potsdam Michael Bolton added “a good tester is able to see the complexity of things that seem simple and the simplicity of things that appear complex.”

Passion provides drive for commitment and enjoyment. I think passion and skills enhance each other: the more joy you find in something, the more time you’ll spend, the more exercise and practice you get, the better you become. The better you get, the easier things are, the more you discover, it becomes more fun. The snowball starts rolling!

A good tester is proactive and able to work together and knows that software development is a team sport. Something you do with a team and you as a tester are actively looking for opportunities to work together with your team. A good tester knows that he is even more effective when he works with developers for example. A developer can help him test faster and smarter. Obviously communication is important. But what is communication anyway? In Potsdam Michael Bolton shared his list with 27 (!) items that have to do with communication: conversation, presentation, argumentation, rhetoric and visualization are some of them. In addition to all above social and emotional development is important to collaborate effectively.

Of course knowledge is important. But curiosity and the ability to learn quickly, makes that a tester can quickly attain knowledge and therefore makes it less important. A good tester has knowledge of the following (in order of importance) testing, IT and domain. But attitude, skills and qualities for a tester are far more important! It was Lasse Koskela who talked about the “Least qualified implementer” in his keynote at the Agile Testing Days. This is the principle that in an agile team someone with the right skills but the least knowledge picks up the work item in order to get the whole team as much as possible at the same level of knowledge. Interesting! I want to read more about this.

When I recruit testers, the behavior and attitude of the individual is most important: his competencies, motivation and attitude. Knowledge is also important for me, but is more easy to learn quickly … that is, if that tester is eager enough to make his work a success.

Note: in a reaction on the Dutch version of this column Derk-Jan de Grood mentioned that in the examples I cited I was limiting the tester to a error seeker, a developer and a critical questioner. It is certainly not my intention to confine the tester an error finder, developer and critical questioner. So if that is the message which you took away from my story, then I need to be clearer. Testing to me is: “questioning a product in order to evaluate it”. A tester is someone who provides information about the product. He does this by learning everything there is to learn about the product . It is possible that a tester does not find any errors (although we all know that they are in there for sure). While I was writing my reply to Derk-Jan I realized that I forgot a very important skill / attitude in my story: the ability to THINK! A good tester thinks! Systems thinking and critical thinking are skills that every tester should have and train.

The last part of this series looks at where and how you can improve your knowledge and experience.

Huib Schoots sees himself as a context-driven tester. Currently he works as team manager testing at Rabobank International and is board member of TestNet. He is a member of DEWT (Dutch Workshop on Exploratory Testing), student in the Miagi-Do School of Software Testing and maintains a blog on

Part 3: How to become a software testing expert?

You can learn testing!

This blog post was originally written as an column for (English) and (Dutch).

This is the first in a series of three columns. The central theme of the columns is “how do I become a software testing expert?”.

To become great in your profession, you need to learn a lot. This seems obvious. Jos van Rooyen wrote an article in Dutch entitled “Hoe goed zijn we als tester?” (How good are we as testers?). In this article he writes: “Many people call themselves professional tester without having a solid foundation. Yes, we follow the ISTQB Foundation, etc. and think that we are professional.” I fully agree with this. Lesson 272 in the book Lessons Learned in Software Testing: “If you can get a black belt in only two weeks, avoid fights”. You have to learn and practice a lot to become good at your profession. But that goes for everything: just think of sports or music.

Jos draws the conclusion that testers on average are good. I do not agree with his conclusion (besides from the fact that mathematically any population is average). I think testers can do much better! On my weblog I once wrote: “A lot of them claim that they are great testers. But are they? I think a lot of testers maybe aren’t that great…”

Knowledge and skills
What makes a great tester? The skills that make a great tester, I will discuss in Part 2. Testing is a profession, that is something I don’t need to explain. And it’s obvious that you need a lot of different skills to be a true professional. And skills, the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, need to be trained. To become an expert in a particular skill you must practice a lot, and improve yourself continuously. To be an expert in a particular field, such as software testing, you need to become proficient in many skills.

To become an expert, knowledge is important. Knowledge you can gain in many ways and you must never stop learning! “Stagnation means decline,” they say and especially in IT this is true for me. But applying this knowledge is often difficult. Experience is of great importance. James Bach said in his presentation Becoming a Software Testing Expert “Do not confuse experience with expertise.” You can have years of experience, but how do you know that you have gained the right experience? How do you know if you do it “right”? Because let’s face it: there is a lot to be improved in our projects. We have to do much better, but how do we achieve that? And how do we know what we can improve?

Looking at the different stages of competence in a learning process: you start unconsciously incompetent. So you need to find out where you can improve. Through feedback from others, but also by looking for new knowledge and experience, you find out what else you can learn. In Part 3, I will discuss where and how you can gain knowledge and experience. But we also learn by making mistakes. Preferably in a safe environment. We learn from feedback and evaluations. In the agile world, retrospectives are common and often used. In a retrospective the team identifies what went well and what can be improved.

For juniors coaching is essential. But not only for newcomers, for anyone who wants to learn, who wants to develop, a coach has added value. Antony Marcano wrote a nice article in which he says: “One thing that I notice is that while the teams are being coached, they do amazing things. They are more happy, more productive, fast to improve as if there are no limits to what they can achieve”. In many organizations, I notice that coaching is not often used. Here Marcano says: “So, if you have a professional software team without a coach, consider, are you really helping your business save money by going it alone? Or, like the professional sports team, is having a professional development team without a coach another example of a false economy.”

I want to conclude with a tweet from Michael Bolton: “Great sports teams treat practice with the same seriousness as a game — and every game as practice and learning. Testers take note. “

Huib Schoots sees himself as a context-driven tester. Currently he works as team manager testing at Rabobank International and is board member of TestNet. He is a member of DEWT (Dutch Workshop on Exploratory Testing), student in the Miagi-Do School of Software Testing and maintains a blog on

Second part: What makes a good tester?

Preparing a talk: so you think you can test?

I am asked to do a talk at a test consultancy company. To prepare for this talk I want to share my thoughts with you. Hope you can challenge me to rethink or sharpen them.

As a test consultant I have worked for numerous companies and have met or worked with hundreds of testers. A lot of them claim that they are great testers. But are they? I think a lot of testers maybe aren’t that great…

Being a great tester takes a lot of practice. I like this “Becoming a Software Testing Expert” talk by James Bach a lot. The video by the way can be found here. And I see a lot of testers do not study their craft or read books about it. They do not learn or experiment at all. As a matter of fact they claim that they improved by doing their job: after years of doing my job I have a lot of experience! But as James says in his slides: “Don’t confuse experience with expertise”

In this post I like to address three topics what I have experienced that could be helpful become a better tester:
1) Adapt to the context
2) Collaborate
3) Learn & practice!

Everthing is context, context is everything!
Testers in the Netherlands are often trained with the V-Model and methodologies like TMap, TestFrame or ISTQB. Although I do not agree with everything they claim, there is “nothing” wrong with these test methodologies. Not if you don’t take them literally and see them as a practice. We need to become more “agile” in using these methodologies. Since the value of any practice depends on its context. Testers should to be able to adapt to changing situations. Doing so they are able to provide the most value to their stakeholders. Testers should focus on their skills instead of focus on procedures and processes.

Being passionate is contagious! By being passionate you will get your team test infected. Showing your testing skills can help the others in your team. My experience is that even developers will participate in testing if you can show them your skills. They love to build handy test tools and automated scripts which can help the team being more effective in testing! Start using your testing skills and teach others to do better testing. Testers should teach their team members how to test better! I like the way Gojko Adzic descibes it in his presentation “Sleeping with the enemy“: our role in teams will change: from testing everything ourselves, we will also be advisers in our projects. Ensuring that the team does the testing right. Our value is getting the testing right. Of course we’ll still be testing ourselves, the critical, complex testing will always be our job. In exploratory testing or paired testing we can demonstrate our testing skills. Good software testing is a challenging intellectual process.

Times are changing and so is the way we do projects. Collaboration is the key in becoming more effective and efficient in testing. Software development is a team sport: people, working together, are the most important part of any project’s context. So why do we introduce lots of test levels and quality gates? Separate the different disciplines in our projects? Create bulky test plans individually which no one will read?

Learn & Practice
Have you ever seen TV series like Benelux’ next top model or X-factor? People battle to become the best model or singer and win the show. Of course testing is not about beating your colleagues in a match. But this might be the only difference… In the TV shows the models and singers need to show their quality in different areas, every week they are trained in boot camps or by very experienced gurus. These coaches come from different disciplines. To be the best you need to learn all aspects of your job. How do we testers learn?

We need to practice continuous learning. Become skilled in various ways of testing. Practical tips to become a top tester:

  • Take testing classes: Rapid Software Testing or BBST are good examples.
  • Learn and gather ideas from reading books, online magazines and blogs
  • Learn by visiting conferences, participate in online conferences or watch the video’s that have been put online
  • Practice in Testing Dojo’s, weekend testing, software testing clubs, or organize it yourself in your organisation or team.
  • Meet with enthusiastic colleagues and discuss your experiences: peer mentoring, intervison, peer conferences, SIG’s, workgroups, etc.
  • Collaborate, learn from other disciplines: writing/reviewing requirements, coding scripts, using tools, etc.
  • Try different (open source) tools
  • Start writing and presenting about your work and thoughts, get feedback and discuss your thought to improve and discover new ideas.
  • Coach and get coached! Even professional tennis players or soccer players have coaches and trainer to get better and stay on the top.
  • Evaluate often! Make sure you get feedback from your colleagues but also keep evaluating your own work: your processes and your products. Always keep asking yourself the question: how can I do better next time??

Markus Gärtner has written a great article about this stuff called Alternative Paths for Self Education in Software Testing in the July issue of Testing Planet.

Update: slides of the talk can be found in the download section or here.