The Art of Icky and Good Words in Software Testing

We recently published this infographic on words that make testers feel icky or good (

It's generated a bit of discussion on Twitter which I thought I would try to bring over here. 

For me, as the person at the centre of creating this infographic it's worth highlighting the reasons behind it:

  • I put out a random social update asking people what testing words they disliked.  I got a ton of responses, so I took it further by surveying the community about the words they like or dislike.
  • I got several hundred responses and did my best to fine tune it and highlight the most relevant and common words.
  • The purpose? To create a list to help define a better visual world of what testing is according to how testers feel.
  • If we debated on every single word, then there'd never be a list.
  • Obviously, not everyone feels the same about every word.  We all live in our own worlds and use different words in different situations.
  • My purpose was to identify how testers feel.  And how we feel as testers is pretty darn important.
  • It is not a fact sheet.
  • I like to view it like it's a work of art - people will view it, use it and understand it in different ways.  And that's ok.
  • Hopefully it will lead people to question the list. Research some of the names and words. And inspire them to learn a bit more.
  • Maybe there will be words that people have never come across. Maybe there will be a bit of a light bulb moment for some people that will lead them down a path of enlightenment.
  • And maybe people will end up creating their own!  Wouldn't that be great! :)  Create your own, relevant to your context and team!

People who work in an offshore team hopefully won't feel icky about offshore testing.

GateKeeper is listed as an icky word.  I'm pretty sure Michael Wansley feels the opposite.

Checking is also listed as an icky word.  Michael Bolton feels that is wrong. Others not so much.

I can personally see how checking is icky or not.  (For example, I'm sure most testers have heard this: "can you please just check it?") Perhaps icky could have been put in the good words section too.  But my purpose was to represent what the community submitted and were feeling.  No one put it in the good section. So I didn't oblige to put it in for them.

Anyhows, feel free to discuss anything here!  Maybe you can create your own version and share it with us?

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A big problem with lists like this is that we can't tell what people mean.  For instance, with respect to "checking" as icky, do they mean they feel icky about

  • the process of making evaluations by applying algorithmic decision rules to specific observations of a product (which is what "checking" means in the Rapid Software Testing namespace), as performed by machinery?  (to me, that is not at all icky)
  • the process of preparation and programming to get a machine to do checking (as in the RST namespace)? (not icky, to me)
  • requiring people to make evaluations by applying algorithmic decision rules to specific observations of a product? (that is, heavily scripted, and probably overstructured and oversimplified approach to testing, and therefore icky to me)
  • being required to do checking (RST)? (I would dislike that)
  • disapproval of the distinction between testing and checking (RST)? (that distinction is not in the least icky to me; it's very helpful)
  • controversy over testing and checking? (controversy may be difficult, but necessary; hard, sometimes but not icky to me)
  • weariness about controversy? (not usually icky, to me)
  • some kind of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the RST notion of checking (knowing that there is a misinterpretation would be icky, perhaps, but being aware of it might be a good thing so I could address it)
  • some other interpretation of checking that I'm not aware of (since I'm not aware of what it would be, I can't tell whether it's icky to me too or not)

To me, this is like saying that people feel icky about "the Middle East".  Do they mean the weather?  The geography?  The culture?  The Middle East has a lot of cultures—which culture? The political struggles?  A particular faction in those struggles?  The suffering of people involved in the struggles?

It's just as hard, by the way, to be sure about the "good" stuff. It's very gratifying to be on the "good" list (and thank you, if that's what you meant). But as the other guy on the list said, "maybe testers feel good about J.S. Bach and that singer". When people feel good about "slack", are they referring to sustainable pace or are they referring to the chat system?  When they feel good about "fantastic", what does that even mean?

"If we debated on every single word, then there'd never be a list."  Possibly.  But is it a good idea to have a list when we don't understand what the things on it mean?  That surely sounds like the road to a town full of shallow agreements and shallow disagreements; the opposite of insight.

What we've got here, I believe, is like a list of one- or two- or three-word bug reports.  It would be misleading to come to any conclusions about a problem without a lot more information.  Imagine being a developer (which, with respect to the RST idea of checking, I am) and hearing that some people don't like something about the product... or it is something about something about the product?

---Michael B.

From the feedback I've had, I think the list is a good idea.

We can pull it apart, sure, isn't that what testers are best at?

But what about looking at the positives and purpose of it?  It's not meant to be something to discuss and define definitions. Or claim what is right or wrong.

Infact, I think testers are horrible sometimes. They focus so much on the negativity that they forget the power of looking at the positive side of things. (Kim Knup happens to be doing a talk on Positivity in Manchester.  Something I believe is very important to our community).  Sometimes there are people with feelings behind these things who are just trying to do a few good things in the world.

Everyone will take their own interpretation from their own context away, and that's ok, for me.

I look at the list and I think it is interesting how people have put words into different categories.

Rather than saying 'checking' is in the wrong category - I look at it and wonder 'why is checking in the icky category'.  Again, it's a point of thinking or discussion. Not a right/wrong. Pass or fail.

From what I've heard, people have been sharing it around their (whole tech) teams and using it as a point of discussion. A point of curiosity.  A point of starting to learn and enquire more about testing.

People will see the list and start searching answers for themselves. There will be words that people have never come across. They'll search on 'testing and Bach' and make discoveries.  They will search on the 'TestBash' and discover an awesome software testing conference. They'll search on 'testing and checking' and discover people talking about it in many different ways.

The other option is we do nothing. And things stay the same. I've done something. I think that is a good thing.

This is not focusing on negativity, Rosie.  It's focusing on the fact that we don't know even what we're disagreeing about (and not knowing what we agree about is potentially just as risky). That is enormously frustrating to me.

I, too, have feelings and I am just trying to do a few good things in the world. Specifically, I see pain caused by confusion and disagreement about our craft, and that pain makes me feel bad. Yet effectively, you're telling me here that I shouldn't feel bad about it.  You're saying, in the context of my objection, that testers are horrible sometimes. By "testers", "sometimes", I presume you mean me, here. How should I feel about that?

Once again:  if we can't figure out what we're talking about—and we commit to trying to understand it—we'll simply end up talking past each other, which to me practically guarantees that things will stay the same—or get worse. I'm not denying anyone's feelings. But if they're feeling bad, I'd like to know what they're feeling bad about, so that maybe we can, together, figure out a way to make things better.  But we're in the dark.

We could ignore that problem, and do nothing, but I've done something.  I think that is a good thing.

---Michael B.



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