I was thinking the other day about celebrity crushes. When I was a kid, all the adults around had pinup photos of celebrities, people that they admired for some reason. One dad had a picture of Pamela Anderson in his garage, my Civics teacher had a picture of Queensrÿche, that kind of thing.
We don’t do that anymore. For one thing, those pictures all came out of magazines; the internet isn’t quite as easy to tear out and tape onto a wall. And I think our ideas about celebrity have shifted quite a bit since I was a kid. But I was thinking – who are the celebrities that I admire? Who are my celebrity crushes?
They’re all journalists. If, as a 35-year old man, I had a locker, that locker would be wallpapered with pictures of Jad Abumrad and Chana Joffe-Walt. Robert Siegel, Alyona Minkovski, Jason Linkins.
Maybe I’m just an NPR dork. ANYWAYS: that led me to thinking, if I’m such an admirer of journalists, it’s interesting that I never considered for even a second the idea of becoming a journalist myself. But then, didn’t I?
What is a software tester if not a software journalist? I’m a reporter, and my beat is my product. My job is to make sure that the people know the facts that affect them. What’s the difference between me and a print/radio/internet journalist?
Software testing is a young discipline: without having seen a lot of successful software testers in the field, we lack models to pattern ourselves against. But we’ve all seen successful journalism take place, hundreds or even thousands of times.
So what kinds of lessons can we take from our brothers and sisters in the world of journalism? Let’s look at the example of a nightly news broadcast, and try to draw some parallels/learn some lessons.
A good news broadcast…
- …presents the facts in a digestible way: Journalists make technical topics understandable to their audience. What do your bug reports communicate to your audience? Do they engage them in a way that shows the human impact of a technical problem?
- …prioritizes stories by importance: Journalists are conscious of people’s time. They understand that some stories are above the fold and some stories are below the fold. How can we, as testers, prioritize our stories? What’s a front page story? What’s a page 4 story? OH DANG I just switched to a print analogy. Ok, what’s your bug equivalent of a breaking news report? What’s your equivalent of a high school football game? Are they presented differently?
- …automates where appropriate: Journalists don’t drive to people’s houses to ask them what the temperature is. They have automated tools for that, and tools specialists that understand how to interpret the tools’ results.
- …sends reporters to the scene to investigate: Doppler radar isn’t going to tell anyone why it’s important to get flood insurance. A stock news ticker isn’t going to tell anyone how sequestration impacts the economy. A real person has to do real investigation, make the results of that investigation digestible, and bring it back to the people that need to know it. As testers, we love automation because it’s fun and it does part of our job for us. Still, automation can never understand or communicate the importance of a story.
- …spends a lot of time on stories that have a high human impact: Some stories only merit a little bit of attention, because the human impact of the story is not all that big. Some stories require months of investigation and it’s worth it because of the monumental importance of getting the story out. As testers, do we spend more time than we should on the high school football games? Do we put enough time into corruption at city hall?
- …tells feel-good stories, too. This is maybe the most important lesson that we can take from journalists. Testers (and journalists) are professional cynics. Finding fault is in our job description. But our audience is like Anne Murray: they could use a little good news, too. When software breaks, that’s a story and we must report it. If the software works, that’s a story too! We must report that too! Is a software failure that barely affects anyone more important than a successful new feature that affects all of your users? No? When was the last time you told a developer that an awesome feature was awesome? When was the last time that you told them that some image was off by a pixel? When we work in software development, people are doing amazing things with their brains and computers. Recognize it. Your news reports will go over a lot better if you include the happy stories, too.
What does a software tester do? A tester finds bugs? That’s lame. A good tester is a good journalist, and a good journalist reports the facts.
So, are you a news anchor that brings testers together to tell a compelling story? Are you a weather reporter that uses an automation suite to tell the audience stuff that they need to know every single day? Are you a human interest reporter that goes to the people and reports back about how people are feeling in your community? Or are you a financial analyst that looks at very technical data and tells people how they must react to it? There’s room for all of those and more in a good news organization.
What kind of journalist are you?