Training is Controversial…Really?

I just returned from a business trip to Israel. I was a long time on the road (a week at EuroStar followed by a trip to Israel to teach at our 2 R&D centers there). So, I really lucked out because I got the opportunity to go sailing this past Saturday and unwind a bit. I checked the day before and all the boats were all reserved, but since the sky was a bit gray many people cancelled their reservations. Having lived in the PNW for the past 15 years or so I have become quite accustomed to gray skies, so it didn’t bother me in the least.

Wow…sailing in the Med, and sailing a Performance Club 420. It has been a long time since I was in a 14’ racing boat, and even longer since I was in one that we launched from the beach in 1 - 2’ waves. It was wet, it was wild, and it was fast. Saturday brought back a lot of memories from my childhood, and it also reminded me of all the various things I learned about sailing as a teenager. These days I mostly sail aboard my Cooper 416. She is a heavy cruiser at 42’ long and weighing in at 30 thousand pounds; she is very stable, turns like a dead elephant, she is generally is very forgiving, and most of all…she is comfortable. Small racing boats are light (@ 250 lbs), nimble, wet, and not so forgiving when you make a mistake. In brisk winds and breaking seas you must be very vigilant, act quickly, time your tacks, and utilize every bit of skill and knowledge to keep her upright and prevent pitch-poling or swamping when running downwind and returning to the beach.

In all honesty, sailing itself isn’t really all that hard. Any chowder-head can eventually learn how to work lines and get a sailboat moving in some odd direction. But, knowing how to sail well and how to sail in a variety of circumstances takes a lot of skill and knowledge. Sailors are at the mercy of mother nature, so they must understand such things as weather patterns, and geographical influences on the wind and tidal flows. Sailors must also have in-depth knowledge of navigation and navigational techniques, and boat handling in different contexts such as light air or heavy seas. Sailors (not sunny weather day sailors) must also understand math and physics, and theoretical concepts such as Bernoulli's principle. While some sailors may not fully understand Bernoulli’s principle, they understand the concept every time they trim the sails for maximum performance. Those who do understand it can easily explain to novices the physics of why a Marconi rigged sailboat can sail faster into the wind  compared to running the wind from dead astern or on a broad reach, or why and how adjusting the rake of the mast affects sailing angle.

As a child my father taught me that if I really wanted to be good at something it wasn’t enough to just do it. Practice is important, but if I wanted to really understand something I have to also understand how and why things work. He taught me the more I understood how something works from both a theoretical and practical perspective the better equipped I would be to apply critical thinking skills to various situations, to face new challenges, and also potentially come up with alternate ideas and approaches because I could think through the situation both logically and abstractly.

So, you can imagine that I was somewhat surprised when I came across a posting on a software testing distribution list in which someone suggested that teaching testers various techniques and methods commonly used in our profession is controversial. Considering studies indicate a significant number of testers have never received formal training in software testing, and anecdotal evidence suggests less than 10% have read more than 2 books on the specific subject it boggles my mind to try to understand how anyone who considers themselves to be a professional in this discipline could even contemplate the notion that training testers in the foundational knowledge of our profession and its ‘systems’ is controversial?

Of course, if your entire perspective of testing is simply bug finding, and you are easily amused by parlor tricks that expose inane issues, blindly accept wild hyperbole without empirical evidence or a logical explanation then perhaps actually studying about software testing practices or computer engineering, and learning about professional practices used in the discipline might be controversial.

Clarke’s third law - “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”