The language we use

A recent debate on Twitter bought an interesting idea to light. The idea that the language used by testers can be separated from ‘testing’. The argument goes,

I don’t want to get hung up on language, I just want to concentrate on testing.

Taken at face value; it’s a reasonable view. Let’s cut the talking, it’s all about the testing.

I don’t think this is feasible. The language we use as testers; is central to what we do and shapes the testing itself.

As is usual in my posts; lets take an example from classic Sociology to illustrate this point.

Becker discusses Labelling theory in his book, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. Becker says that at one time or another most of us break the law, but only some of us are ever labelled as criminals. Becker says that once labelled as criminals; this not only changes the way that society treats these people, but also how these people see and treat themselves.

So let’s apply some of this to a common issue within our field. Use of testing tools. Now already you can see I’ve started the conversation by calling them testing tools. The language used informs you as to my view of the matter.

These tools are commonly referred to as automated testing. Now many of us have interacted with manager-type people who may say something like,

Can’t we just automate all our testing

In the head of the manager there is a picture that looks like this.

robo23

Labelling the use of testing tools as ‘automated testing’ has knock-on effects.

Those within testing understand that use of automated testing tools isn’t a magic bullet. The language used gives the impression that an automated procedure is an easy procedure. It’s an understandable reaction. There are many fields in which automating procedures have made things very easy. However, the same thing isn’t true within our industry.

Using automation tools doesn’t make things easier, it’s just a different kind of difficult.

Now let’s think about what would happen if the term ‘automated testing’ was never used. The manager wouldn’t have in mind the magic automation robot finding every bug. The picture in mind would be similar to any craftsperson using their tools.

The language we use has repercussions in many ways and for a species which uses language as our primary means of communication; it isn’t something we can easily separate from anything else we do. It is inherent.

The way we talk about testing is part of our testing.

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One thought on “The language we use

  1. michaelabolton

    Hear hear.

    Someone who says “automate all the testing” really means “automate all the evaluation and learning and exploration and experimentation and modeling and studying of the specs and observation of the product and inference-drawing and questioning and risk assessment and prioritization and coverage analysis and pattern recognition and decision making and design of the test lab and preparation of the test lab and sensemaking and test code development and tool selection and recruiting of helpers and making test notes and preparing simulations and bug advocacy and triage and relationship building and product configuration and application of oracles and spontaneous playful interaction with the product and discovery of new information and preparation of reports for management and recording of problems and investigation of problems and working out puzzling situations and building the test team and analyzing competitors and resolving conflicting information and benchmarking…” Which would be a lot to do.

    (This will appear on my own blog one day, but for now, you can have it. 🙂 )

    —Michael B.

    Reply

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