So I was a sociologist…

Scrub that, I am a sociologist.

Being a sociologist doesn’t require a degree or a paid job title; it requires critical thought of the world at large. I did this before I ever gained the language to express it.

Taking an A-level course at age 16 in Sociology was one of the best decisions I ever made.

My teacher John Whincup was incredible in his ability to relate ideas and spur thought. He was the embodiment of everything you wanted in a teacher. He was able to entertain, engage and inform in an effortlessly charismatic fashion. I realised the thought-processes he was encouraging were how my mind already worked; I just needed the vocabulary. He mentored me and I’m grateful for the fact we still keep in contact fifteen years on.

After this period I went onto become a Computer Science and Sociology degree student and after a few years I became a Comp Sci degree dropout and eventually gained my B.A in Sociology. I then spent quite a few years having a fun and enriching time; although most people would probably call it being a loser.

Somehow I ended up working in Social Policy for a well-known British charity but due to various factors I couldn’t continue there. Through another serendipitous turn of events in November 2012 I ended up in the world of software testing.

I instantly felt at home.

After becoming acclimatised in my workplace I began to thirst for more knowledge. I wanted to understand the wider world of testing. I discovered the context-driven school of testing, James Bach and Michael Bolton who relate Cem Kaner’s idea that testing is a social science.

Now that got my attention.

Software testing is a social science.

I mulled it over and continue to do so. The idea that the digital software is just a vehicle, a human wrote it and a human is testing it. We have a collision of ideas; the interfacing of humans over the software is inherently social. Apparently requirements always suck which when thinking about it isn’t surprising. We humans can often suck at relating ideas to others, especially when we don’t know the person. Our interactions are littered with misunderstandings and that’s with people in our immediate life who may know us very well.

So as testers, we aren’t just testing software we’re also trying to understand the thoughts of the people who created it.

Another thing that rung bells with my sociology education was James Bach’s calculator exercise.

Now compare that to this classic sociology exercise which was one of the first things I remember John Whincup teaching.

There is a room with two people and a candle is lit, why?


Hopefully there are a number of things going through your head.

There is no definitive answer to this question. This question is designed to ignite thoughts. It should make you realise that a scenario can have many different reasons for occurring. The question doesn’t teach you sociology, it teaches you how to think critically which is the entire basis of sociology.

The calculator exercise works in a similar way, it makes you ask yourself the questions that get your brain to work critically.

This blog will continue to record my attempt to apply what I’ve learnt from sociology into the world of testing.


4 thoughts on “So I was a sociologist…

  1. John Stevenson

    A great first post and welcome to software testing and thank you for starting a blog to share your thoughts, experiences and skills. I look forward to having some great chats with you about sociology and how we can connect it more to testing. The world of software development is changing from a manufacturing driven process to one of people and their needs, ambitions and emotions. We cannot continue to ignore this and people like yourself are going to play a pivotal role in this change, keep up these type of posts and I for one are looking forward to more of them.

    I would add a couple of things to your post.

    You mention the thinking of the person who created it but also as important is the person who will use it.

    When you talk about the candle example you mention the need of critical thinking but this is a situation in which there is both critical and creative thinking, polar opposites but both useful in testing.

    1. sim Post author

      Wow many thanks for the comment and your kind words.

      Yes the end-user is v.important and I did fail to mention it. I was here talking about the route simply between dev and tester, both parties here should have the needs of the user in mind.

      RE: candle example – it is questionable whether creative thinking is necessary, you can argue that without creative thinking you can’t think of relevant scenarios but it can also be argued that relevant scenarios can be arrived at through critically evaluating the scenarios in which a candle could be necessary.

      As different as critical and creative thought can be, I’m not sure I’d ever see them as being polar opposites.

  2. Mohinder Khosla

    This is a good post from a newcomer. I can see you have the right mindset for a tester. Software as I see is non-deterministic when it is handed to a tester. It does not follow natural or engineering laws but is based on heuristic methods that matches customer needs to code. When rubber meets the road you find that there is gap in what is delivered and spec’ed to customer needs. Testers task is it to bring those two closer. If you follow systems thinking you will realise that SUT should meet the needs of those who interacts with it. They are part of the system and could be human/non-human. Then there are those in the super-system that interacts indirectly whose needs should be met as well. Testers need to keep in mind all those while testing. My advice would be not to resort to simplicity or accept trade-offs as they have unpleasant side effects.

    I like your example of a candle but I think it depends on how much light you need to uncover the hidden truth. You may start with a light house then move to a candle, to a torch or even a light switch. It would depend on the context. I believe keeping the whole in mind while working on the parts is the best approach.

    Welcome aboard!

    1. sim Post author

      Thanks Mohinder, some good points about the aims of what we do.

      RE:candle example – there is no hidden truth there, simply different scenarios of why the candle is needed. For example, there could have been a powercut, the two people may be having a romantic dinner, they may live somewhere without electricity and the candle is normal for them or one or both may have an aversion to electric lights and have to use a candle to avoid problems with their eyes.

      This was the point I was making there, no single answer just scenarios meant to engage the critical mind.


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