A Tale of Two Testers

ORIGINAL PUBLISH DATE: 8/27/2010 1:18:00 AM

On his first day at the new job Phil was really excited to be working again. With the economy struggling, he was thrilled to be working in testing once more and was determined to be the best tester he possibly can be. He immediately started asking questions and contributing ideas from the very start. He was seated in a cube next to another tester, Bill, who was working on a different project. Phil greets him excitedly, explaining how great it is that they are both working for SynergyLeveragers, Inc.

Bill, uncertain of the amenities at his new job had brought a sack lunch, music with headphones, and some bottled drinks with him. It was also his first day. Although friendly enough, Bill was taking more of a “wait and see” approach. He’d been in many jobs the past few years, and in his opinion a job had better earn his trust and loyalty. He’s no eager newbie who just fell off the turnip truck.

Both Bill and Phil get their test strategy together and with their teams ramp up on the technology. Soon they are both creating test cases and getting plans finalized. Phil has some great days, some terrible days as his lack of knowledge leads to some difficulties. He smiles at people as he walks by, leading some people to believe he’s up to something. Phil mainly keeps to himself, but gets to know a few members of his team.

Soon Phil notices a problem with the schedule. Basically it is very compressed! In his worry, he asks Bill what he should do about it. Bill suggest he do his best, realize that this is pretty typical of schedules for projects, and to let his team know what his priorities and assumptions are and to accept feedback. Well, Phil is a bit excitable and just feels it would be better to be upfront. He tells his team, Bill, and just about anyone who will listen that the schedule is unreasonable and so fraught with peril that he can’t test it responsibly.

Bill casually shares his priorities with his team, and tests what he can, leaving some lower priority test cases totally unfinished. Bill does his work, but at the end of the work day, heads home to his real life. In fact, he makes sure when the team happy hour happens that he is there on time and enjoys a few drinks. While out he kids a bit about Phil, sitting in the room beeping and flapping unable to chill out. What is the point of life if you can’t enjoy it a bit too? Balance is normal, but hey, if Phil is willing to burn himself out, that’s his choice.

Phil stays late and gets his documentation finished and approved. He also finishes all of his test cases, working long days just to get every case he agreed to do totally complete. He proudly shows his 100% coverage off on the day that another bomb is dropped on him. Another unspecified feature is to be coming in to this already tight schedule. This time Phil has to put his foot down. He meets with his team, and flat out says, “We aren’t going to make it. This is a huge risk, but here’s how we are going to do our best to test this,..” He lays out a plan. The team says, “We don’t appreciate you being so negative. Here we have a chance to make a great change that the users need. You need to be flexible here. Don’t you understand that this is an iterative development model? We know there is risk, but just do the best you can. By the way, stop being negative about our project.”

Bill quietly does his testing. He writes some bugs, but stays pretty calm about the whole thing. In fact, when he gets bored of testing in areas of stability, he walks around and talks to other team members, sometimes getting new ideas. He takes some of them to lunch a few times a week just to ask questions about the software and get the lay of the land. Phil has stopped eating lunch and instead eats staring at the computer while testing. He eats dinner like that too. He’s so stressed out that it is even waking him up at night. Bill figures this is just Phil’s personality and he needs to chill out before he has a heart attack.

Then the first deadline approaches. Both Bill and Phil have missed their deadlines. Bill expresses total confidence. He says to his team, “I’ve completed testing in areas A, B, C, and additionally I’m about 50% complete with D. E hasn’t been started yet, because as you know from last week, we are still defining that feature. That means I’ll be working on finishing up D and E next week.” Phil says in humiliation, “I’m really sorry guys. I did all I could. I even worked 80 hours last week, but still I was totally unable to finish E. It wasn’t delivered and it was promised 2 weeks ago. I only got 50% of D done. I’ve missed the deadline and if our schedule doesn’t become more reasonable, I’ll miss it every single time and this project is going to be way over budget because you didn’t plan for all of this overtime. The gap between sanity and the way you guys here at SynergyLeveragers, Inc work is so large you could fit several Camel’s through the eye of the needle it would take to stitch up this mess.” He goes back to his desk, dejected, and vents to Bill, “I don’t know if this company drug tests or not, but they should start with the CEO and also introduce the people making plans to a calendar.” Bill just kind of stares at Phil, unsure what to say. He says, “Well, it is what it is. All you can do is your best.”

Bill has been promoted since and is really happy with his job. He fits in well with the team, something that is really important. Phil has since moved on to another company. You see, at SynergyLeveragers, Inc, a positive attitude is far more important than accurate deadlines. In fact, they are more of guidelines than deadlines. If only Phil had known that or listened to Bill in time he might have learned that (His definition of) good testing isn’t very important when the business people can’t see it.

This week a developer I admire told me, “The gap between what you say you do and what you actually do is how you know if you are crap, and if so, how much crap you are.” It occurred to me that when business people are the judge there is absolutely no gap between what you say you do and what you actually do. They have no oracle to judge by. Your attitude about what you are doing is the context. If you are stressed, insecure, critical, and in any way unhappy, they assume it must be you causing it. At some companies missing a deadline is a capitol punishment offense. It costs people their bonus for the year and sometimes their job, and certainly harms their reputation. That is no reason to assume that is always the case.

Yes indeed it’s pun time!
Don’t Phil up your head with assumptions and doubts. When you do, you’ll be the one paying the Bill. The person who will be calmly collecting and sitting pretty is Bill. He’s Bill(t) to last at this job.