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8 Nobel Prize Winning Characteristics applied to Software Testing

  • 04/11/2011
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR

October saw the announcements of various Nobel prizes – or as I heard from a Norwegian economics professor recently: The <organisation’s> prize in <subject> in memory of Nobel…

I read an article, ref [1], on some characteristics that could be identified in Nobel prize winners (especially the physical scientists) and I started seeing a similarity to some good/useful traits in software testers. Of course, there is no such prize for software testing, but if we were to ‘recognise’ good testers and good testing, what might some of those characteristics look like? Well, let’s take a look…

1. Be inquisitive – your whole life

This is one of the building blocks of good testing. Inquisitiveness leads to reflection which leads to questions which leads to more reflection, etc. The subject of the reflection may be the product or project under test, it may be ones own toolkit (both physical and mental) or it may be a discussion or conference presentation.

“Every man ought to be inquisitive through every hour of his great adventure down to the day when he shall no longer cast a shadow in the sun. For if he dies without a question in his heart, what excuse is there for his continuance?” Frank Moore Colby

2. Tell and describe to others what you are doing.

This is another building block for a good tester – and crucial. The ability to describe (report) on your activities – why you are taking certain courses and not others is an important ability. Describing and discussing the activity with different people (especially non-testers) is a wonderful educational exercise – learn to like it and you’ll like to learn!

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of very part of your life.” Brian Tracy (American TV host)

3. Question commonly-held truths

If you’re not asking or thinking about questions then you’re probably not learning. Do you know what assumptions you work with in your daily work? Are they good/ok to have? Do you know why you are doing things? Maybe, now is a good time to re-evaluate.

“In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other” Mark Twain

4. Be tenacious

It’s not usually plain sailing being a tester. Sudden unanticipated changes occur in a projects or assignments. Some discovery might mean some amount of re-work or backtracking is needed. It might mean you ‘wasted’ some work or effort in a different direction. Setbacks occur, but these are lessons to store away in your library of experiences. Take a look at those experiences periodically (some call this a retrospective) and think if there are things to change or lessons to be learned.

“Patience and tenacity of purpose are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness.” Thomas Henry Huxley (Biologist)

5. Be ambitious

Keep reminding yourself what your goal is (or goals are). Whether this is something for your current project or as part of a stepping stone in your career. If you want to be a good tester you need to think about the things that need improvement and work on them, as well as the areas to continue doing well.

“I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” Madonna

6. Take research seriously! Make research and investigation a lifestyle

This is life-long learning. It’s not enough to learn something once and think that you ‘know’ it – if you haven’t experienced failure with your new learning then you’ve missed a learning opportunity! Reflect on your learnings and be open to new avenues for research.

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Albert Einstein

“Research is creating new knowledge. ” Neil Armstrong

7. Have a structured approach

Have a story for what you do and why. This is not just about connecting your project needs (requirements) to your analysis, execution and reporting, but also creating a meaningful and convincing bug report.

Some (managers?) interpret structure as excluding exploratory approaches and, usually, adopt a Taylorist approach to testing, ref [2]. Usually when people don’t see structure it’s because something doesn’t fit their ‘template’ of structure. If you have structure in your work make sure you communicate/display this.

“Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.” Albert Einstein

8. Find an interesting area and a good mentor

Testing has many facets to get involved with – the topic area is wide, never mind the different domains involved. Whether you want to be a specialist or a generalist, look for people to learn from, to bounce ideas off, to help you grow as a tester. Whichever area you touch search out mentors that either specialise or have relevant insights or that can point you in the right direction of somebody else that can help.

Surround yourself with bright, smart and knowledgeable testers. You can do this via local groups at your place of work, local groups in your vicinity or by online communities.

“Mentor: Someone whose hindsight can become your foresight” Unknown


[1] This list was inspired by an article in a Swedish technical paper (NyTeknik, 5 Oct 2011)

[2] Taylorist approaches in testing:


Simon has worked with professional software testing since 1992, as tester, team leader and coordinator, thinks of himself as an emergent learner and divergent thinker.

He actively expands his variety of sources to improve the way he and others think about testing and test leadership, which he considers an activity at the crossroads of the social sciences, prize-winning investigative journalism and humility.

He believes in good testing – grounded in the idea that we search for questions appropriate to the problem.

Occasional speaker, occasional blogger, constant learner.

Blogs at

Tweets at @YorkyAbroad

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