Thursday, 9 December 2010

Sorting the chaff from the wheat

One of the questions posed at Eurostar 2010 hot topics panel session (link) was:

What’s the most important skill for a tester?

Michael Bolton (Link) gave a witty reply of

Recognizing there is no most important skill.

Whilst I agree with Michael that testers need a wide variety of skills it got me thinking about skills that all testers need or should have. One of these is being able to deal with the vast amount of data that everyone has to deal with. How do we deal with?

I have recently been re-reading the classic HG Wells story “The Time Machine (Link) and started to think about the two communities with the story, the Eloi and the Morlocks and how society in general is getting so much information that it is starting to make us dumb, this IMO is a dangerous thing for testers.

Are we as a society becoming like the Eloi?

They have access to amazing technology that helps with all their needs however they come across in the book as dumb and lack curiosity. They see no need to be thinkers or philosophers. It appears technology is making things easier and easier for us.

When I was young (in the very old days) to find anything out I used to have to read a book. Since books were an expensive item I used to have a list of books I wanted for my birthday or Christmas and I used to visit the local library every week to sit and read and learn new fantastic things. I would get lost in a world of fantasy and knowledge; even then I had a thirst for learning which fortunately has never left me. It is such a shame that local libraries all over the world are shutting due to technology. (Do a Google search for News and Libraries and Closing)

Now information is available at the click of a button. We can find information on how an airplane works or the theory of relativity in an instance. Technology has made all this information easier to get, however IMO it has made us think less.

Do we still question all this information?

As testers we know we should be questioning everything, we learn to sort the chaff from the wheat as the title of this blog post implies. (Link). With such a wealth of information that is so easy to gather the skill is to be able to collate this information and remove the distractions. How easy as testers do we find this? I find it a natural thing I appear to do without thinking until I started to write this blog article. My concern is that with so much information do I end up throwing away something that is later proves to be vital or important.

Does anyone out there in the testing community have a method they use to help with this?

How do we not forget everything?

This then leads on to the topic of self learning – how do you select what to read and what not to read? How do you ensure you do not miss a really important article that has been blogged?

One approach I use for self learning is to use twitter and the software testing club (Link) within these communities’ people we talk about blogs they have read or recommend to read, the power of the crowd. This helps to reduce the amount of information I have to process. Another approach is to actually talk to people; humans are wired to be better at absorbing information via speech than from the written word, it is more likely to be remembered.

My other concern with all this information is our ability to remain focused, another important testing skill. With so much information to digest it is so easy to get into the habit of just scanning the information and not reading the whole article (I wonder how many people will get to this part of the article?). It is so easy to just start an article and get distracted by some other piece of information and not return to the original article. I sometimes think I should not add any hyperlinks to my articles and just add them to the end but I want to credit the people who inspire me or provide me with information as I write the article, it is one of those things which is important to me. A perfect example of this was the recently article Michael Bolton wrote about estimation (Link) which was a five part article, how many people read the whole of the article? It is so easy to skip or scan and miss an important point within an article and the same can be applied to testing. If we scan and miss something it could be that the thing we missed will cost us a lot of money.

My other concern is that we are becoming a society of 24x7 learners, we never switch off.

Are you one of these people?

My concern on this came from a conversation in which I stated I do hobby as a job, this scared me. I have a passion for testing and learning but am I not in danger of burning myself out or forgetting valuable knowledge unless I switch off?

How many others reading this blog switch off and pursue other interests outside of technology?

If you take nothing from this article please do switch off. I have hobbies that have nothing to do with computers. I enjoy being creative and take photographs, spending time outside at stupid o’clock catching sunsets and sunrises and landscapes. I enjoy growing things and spend time in my garden. I am fortunate to have a very large garden in which to grow and nurture things. I also have a family and I am a grand parent and spending time with my granddaughter is such a wonderful thing to do. We call her our little time waster – since time can go so quickly when you are engaged in playing. After all these hobbies it is surprising that I have time to do my job or to keep learning but I come back to my work more energized and ready to learn more.

Since starting to write this article I have found a couple of other blogs that mention the problems of attention span and remaining focused they can be found here:
I do recommend people reading them.

PS I will leave it to your imagination who I think the Morlocks are :o)


  1. Fantastic. I agree that the rate of new information is dangerous - far more than what one can absorb.

    According to me, the individual is the best judge for self and must filter for the relevant information. About being online learners 24x7, I feel I am online more than I should be. At the same time, I have my interests - cricket, teaching, talking that I do not sacrifice it for anything.

    To conclude, individuals are unique, are the best judge for themselves and need to know to manage a healthy balance between work & life.

    Ajay Balamurugadas

  2. Hi John,
    Good Post!
    I think the testing community is exciting at the moment and I do want to keep up with it all, (I did begin to scan posts and have found it very difficult to keep up with the amount of data, I think though it may be better for me to read and digest a few bits of information rather than none of lots) this is the stance I'm taking now. In fact I think too much information may have blocked stuff out for me. Stopped me thinking? Rather than trying to fill my brain with lots of information I'm trying to do more thinking about the information I do intake. Regurtitation I think helps me, formulate re-formulate ideas but just processing data and forgetting about it I'm not sure helps me. I'm well behind on discussions and posts, but I'm really not worried about it any more I am trying to switch off more. In fact when I was on holiday recently I had more test ideas than I have had for a long time, without the pressure of thinking about them. I also think having the time and freedom to think helps me a lot also. (which can get restricted when presented with a daunting amount of information)


  3. Hi John,
    Great Post! Something I have been struggling with for a while. There are just some great testers and thinkers out there. I think it is an exciting time for testing and the ever growing online community. I really do want to keep up with it all, keep up with what people are talking about there's some great stuff. However I think I have recently realized that the best thinking I do is when I feel my mind is 'clear' and 'free'. I went on holiday recently and I came up with some great ideas. Some things I wasn't trying to think about. How do I deal with the vast amount of information?, not very well. I think as you have mentioned twitter has focused my intake. Interestingly I was sat next to a man on the train who was reading a book called the 'The last American Man'. The only paragraph I was able to read over his shoulder..hehe..was about focusing and I think I need to do that more, focus more but leave lots more space for me to think about the things I have been focusing on.