Elitism in testing

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Since the first half of 2018, I’ve been really bad at blog updates and I want to change this and start blogging much more regularly. So I’m going to write some shorter blogs to get me back in to it and here is the first! I’m still going to write the longer articles, but I’ll be looking to save them for publishing elsewhere.

As always let me know any thoughts in the comments and contact me using the buttons if you wish via the various channels.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is elitism within software development and I have personally experienced elitism from a coding point of view many times in my career. Recently I’ve also started to see a trend of elitism within testing as well.

What is elitism?
Well the Oxford dictionary defines it as:

The superior attitude or behaviour associated with an elite

To narrow it down to testing, this would mean an individual or group of individuals who believe they are better at testing or always right when it comes to ways of doing things.

How does this manifest itself?

Non constructive criticism
Whenever you meet someone who questions the methods you are using, it’s important that the criticism is useful and constructive. Someone with an elitist attitude will simply tell you what is wrong with your testing without any suggestions or help for improvements.

No appreciation of learning time
An elitist individual will tend to not appreciate that someone may not know a particular tool or technology already. No matter how experienced you are, there are always new things to discover within testing and new things to learn. This is inevitable and it’s a good thing! However to do this means being a beginner again with that tool or technology.

No appreciation of circumstances
A great tester (and indeed anyone in software development) will have a sense of pragmatism and an ability to compromise. There are many times in your career when you can’t always do things the way you feel they should be done. This might be to do with the company/client you are working for, resource limitations, skills shortages or many other reasons. In those circumstances good testers will do the best they can and always try to improve a situation in every way possible.
An elitist person will make no effort to appreciate that there are always reasons for decisions that happen. They will look at the situation, without appreciating any of the context and tell you what is wrong.

Rather than helping you with getting started an elitist will offer no practical help at all or they will ask you things they are fully aware you don’t know.

Consequences of elitism
An elitist attitude is a frustrating and annoying thing to come across. But more than that there are consequences for people encountering this kind of attitude. The confidence of the individual is often knocked and damaged by elitism. They can increase their feeling of Imposter Syndrome and potentially set their progression in their career back.

How do I ensure I am not elitist?
With the vast majority of companies, compromises have to be made when it comes to software development. There may be a multitude of economic, business or environmental reasons why this is the case. But those compromises are rarely taken likely and without understanding the risks involved.

As an experienced tester looking at any situation and any test strategy you have to recognise this. If someone seems to be an issue or a strange way of operating there is likely a reason that this decision was taken in the first place. You have to be mindful of this when critiquing any ways of working.

So I can’t offer advice?
You can absolutely offer advice and most people would welcome it. However the key is in how you offer that advice.
Always use empathy and understanding for the position the subject is in as there may be very good reasons why it’s the case.

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2 thoughts on “Elitism in testing

    1. Thanks! Hmm…there are possibly lots of causes, I guess one for me might be the need to validate their own thoughts and feel more like an authority on the subject. I guess Imposter Syndrome is very powerful and anything someone can do to make them feel more like an expert and further along their journey than others might be one possible cause. What do you think Dorothy?

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