TestBash: The Evil Tester’s Guide to Eeevil

At the TestBash in Cambridge, Alan Richardson gave an introduction to Eeevil (with capital E) testing.

Alan started from beliefs. He started with attitudes. Testers have to think and act differently in projects. We also have a mandate for humor in our work. We need to take responsibility for the product and our work, and how we communicate, since words impact the thinking of the people around us. We should not start from dogma, but rather from our knowledge.

Alan introduced the Evil Tester avatar that he spreads his work on. The Evil Tester mocks Alan during his work. He explained that he studied evil in all it’s forms, so he was the right one to tell us about it:

I’ve studied evil in all its forms, I’ve read a lot of comics.

When he was little, he learned about the left hand path that leads to the forbidden path towards knowledge. The path to the forbidden rather than the certainty helps us to reach for knowledge. Most testers take the certain route to the product. This is based on dogma, following a clear path. You don’t have to think too hard to reach your goal, you don’t have to justify your doing since it’s all laid out for you. The harder route is to go for the forbidden.

When alan was a baby tester, testing was a necessary evil. In the early years within a Waterfall project there were a bunch of good things to do. He discovered that these good things didn’t work for him. These things blocked a lot of people on the project.

Alan referred to the psycholinguistics of good and evil. “Are you a good little tester?” could have been a question asked also in my earlier years. When you become Eeevil you can start fighting those words, or use these words for your advantage. Eeevil provides Alan a great power to his testing approach.

Citing Stan Lee, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Alan explained that Eeevil does not know limits. Instead we impose our own limits when we start taking responsibility of our own lives. Alan explained that no one is born Eeevil. It takes hard work to become Eeevil. Do you take testing serious enough to mock it? If you do, you can find all the things that are wrong with it. If you can turn out the ridiculousness of your work, you can take completely new approaches to testing.

Reminding myself on Cockburn’s self-imposed rules, Alan continued with beliefs are made to be broken. Six Sigma’s Five Why’s for example is aiming at the beliefs that underlie our thinking. Start asking yourself why you are doing certain things. If you do, you will drive out much of the ridicule of your work.

Eeevil is seductive, Richardson explained. Taking a bite from the apple in the Garden Eden was seductive. Richardson explained that Eeevil is simple. Sin is the easy path, while doing the right things takes a lot of discipline. Alan explained that he is not Eeevil enough to go into a project and drop a bunch of templates on the testing team, saying “Here is what you need to do”.

Alan referred to a children experiment. They were locked into a room with some sweets. The teacher went out stating that they are good if he re-enters the room and the sweets are still there, otherwise you’re bad. The teacher would hand some sweets to the kid if it didn’t touch them upon re-entering the room. The clever kid would figure out that people sometimes lie, and take the sweets anyways, taking into account to be a bad kid, but still getting the sweets.

Alan quoted the last assassin: Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Referring to religion, there is one dogmatic road to heaven, but there are a thousand roads to hell. For testers this means that we should take path to hell before anyone else does. By then we can only help others avoid these paths, but also see how bad a place hell really is. Exploring the paths to hell helps to gather information about the product.

Eeevil is wrong. Alan explained that we are paid to be Eeevil and be wrong. 1 + 1 might equal “two” instead of 2. Be prepared to be told that you are doing the wrong things in the wrong. If you are not on a dogma path, you have to find your own path.

At times, others might look to you for certainty. Alan proposed to foster doubt in such cases. This will help others to leave the dogmatic path. Testers need to have a bad attitude. We are still team players, but we are not seeing and saying the things that other people do. We help others – foremost managers – see the information they need to realize in order to fix the situation.

Eeevil is a means to an end for Alan. The safety net of dogma can be defeated by your own knowledge. You still have the safety net of dogma, but you shouldn’t use it while balancing over it.

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