Where Worlds Collide: Integrate New Perspectives into Your Testing
By: Rick Scott
Philosophy is one of the driving forces that make me tick, and I certainly think it's both a useful tool for everyone and a worthwhile pursuit in itself. I considered winding up this series of articles with a practical guide on how to bring more philosophy into your testing. However, I know that it doesn't resonate with everybody in quite the same way as it does with me. Some people instead find their joy in art, music, anthropology, or any of dozens of other disciplines.
Moreover, as I did my research for this series of articles, one of the things that struck me was the number of different non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields that people leverage for insight into testing. I think we need more of this. I would like to see more people apply their experiences in the arts and social sciences to software testing and development.
The fact that we've labeled software development as "computer science" and "software engineering" tends to limit how we think about it. When we consider approaches to take to a programming or testing problem, we mentally narrow the scope of the ideas we consider to ones that seem technical in nature. By no means do I mean to discount the pivotal roles that these disciplines play in our field. But software development is still a very young field of endeavor that we understand very imperfectly. By steering ourselves away from notions that don't fit our preconceptions of what the field is like, we are likely closing our minds to innovative and possibly even revolutionary ideas.
We often hear creating software likened to building a bridge or a house. I think these metaphors are popular not because they are accurate but because they are reassuring. By classifying programming under the mantle of science or engineering, we hope to make the process of software development perfectly predictable—to make the outcome of every project known at the outset with scientific precision. In doing so, we disregard the fact that progress in science is often non-linear and that cost overruns are a common feature of civil engineering projects as well.
If we dispense with this point of view, then, from what other fields of inquiry does this let us draw insight? In my opinion, the most interesting testing frontiers sit at the intersections of testing and other disciplines, especially those disciplines that engage with our being human, like the humanities and the social sciences. Since testing is a mental activity, psychology is an obvious candidate for insight into how we can test more effectively. Sociology provides tools with which to examine how users, communities, and software teams interact. Realizing that it's not possible to prevent attacks completely, organizations increasingly base their computer security around an economic model—i.e., forcing attackers to spend too much money and effort on a successful attack to make the payoff worth their while. Finally, many people have drawn a link between the creation of software and the tools and methods of older creative disciplines, like music, writing, and the visual arts.
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