Test(osterone)-infected Developers

This article has been removed. An edited version appears in the book, The People’s Scrum, published by Dymaxicon, May 2013.
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Men are from Development, women are from Testing.  Not intended as an aggravating, politically-incorrect statement, but an observation.  I have worked with many software companies over the years and inevitably in each company the proportion of women to men is far greater in testing (QA) than it is in development.  Why is that?  What is it about testing that attracts women techies, or an equally valid question, what is it about development that repels them?  Well, I have my theories.

In traditional software environments, development departments are frequently characterized by hero-behavior, by machismo, by one-upmanship, and are fueled by promotional desires which provide a level of self-importance, overlording and maybe even a window cube.  It is much about ego, bluster and winning: the energy is just very male.  It is rare to see a woman thrive in such an environment.  Often they take a back-seat in decision making, follow rather than lead, and relinquish responsibility; not always, but often.  Some women do rise to management positions in development departments.  They are usually tough managers!  There is almost a sense that they have to be tougher than their male counterparts to survive.  Women development managers are the exception that prove the rule.

And then there’s this.  The discipline of testing requires a lot more humility than the discipline of development.  Testers tend to be more humble than developers; it is the nature of the role.  Development is characterized by the energy of creation, testing by the energy of service.  Different energies.  Women traditionally gravitate towards the latter.

The way traditional software environments work, testing follows development.  Interesting how in traditional paternalistic societies women follow men.  What does that say about our corporate cultures?

The mission of Scrum is to change the way we work.  This is not process change, this is culture change.  People inside a Scrum/Agile process (we hope) behave differently.  We now have test-infected developers.  That’s great.  We have developers who see the value in testing, and do it, they don’t push it off to QA people at the end of the process.  So where does that leave the tester?  The Hacker Chick answers that question in [Where Do the Testers Go in Agile?] [http://www.thehackerchickblog.com/2009/06/where-do-testers-go-in-agile.html] a recent blog post about testing, and Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory have written [http://www.amazon.ca/dp/0321534468] on the topic (three women, interesting).

Wouldn’t it be nice to have both test-infected developers and their testing counterparts on an Agile team?  What would that be… developer-infected testers?  No.  Anyone can write code, that doesn’t reach where I want this to go.  I prefer the term “creation-infected testers”.  I want to see testers passionate about creating new software, not just validating someone else’s software.  I want to see testers weave themselves into the creative process, from requirements all the way through to release, weave and be woven.  We need to move away from this entrenched pattern of women supporting their men. We need to seek equality in our software relationships as we seek equality in our marriages.

Women need to claim their rightful place in the creation process.  Agile environments will create the space for that to occur, but it is up to the individuals to move into that space, either as test-infected developers, or creation-infected testers, or simply as artisans.  The time is now.

10 responses to “Test(osterone)-infected Developers

  1. I do think that agile is changing the role of the tester – it is one of the reasons I am such a proponent of agile. It allows … actually encourages, testers to be a real part of the team. Testing is no longer about following, it is about leading. :-)

  2. Gosh, this got long fast…but here goes:

    So much of what passes for software development looks an awful lot like foosball, pool tables and trolling in newsgroups (“for the laugh”)…but there is also the perception that women don’t like to code and they’re not any good at it.

    I don’t think that’s true. I used to break…er…test Flash games. It wasn’t about “supporting my man,” it was about breaking stuff. Pure and simple. I knew that strength came from stress-testing and I had some devilish ways of stress testing Flash. In other words, the joy of testing was always about finding the rules imposed by a protocol,–and then breaking them. Especially stupid rules. OK, so it also meant I had to reboot Windows alot, –but it was worth it.

    Now, there are all sorta of jokes about why women say to men “a penny for your thoughts,” but in my experience, women are biologically tuned and socially nurtured to solve problems iteratively. Maybe, by the time she asks a guy for his input, the solution only requires a penny’s worth. Put this in terms of stick valuation, and you see an entire conversation (IPO) in the future. Maybe that’s why the question makes men so very uneasy! :o))

    So, one thing that I think is true of 99% of women is that they are constantly thinking. Men may want to solve a problem once and move on, but women want to curl up on the couch with [cat|dog...eeek! a partner] and spend the next three days turning the problem this way and that. Maybe that’s just Sagittarians, I dunno. Let me think about it.

    If you’ve ever seen teenage girls plan a shopping trip (or debate what to wear), you know that they are program and project managers in the rough. They use every possible technique to solve the problem of what to do if Tiffany is there and wearing the same dress as Linda, but not the same shoes, so long as her belt is green and not purple with sparkles…You want 27 ways to get to 9 different nail salons? Ask a girl. In Western culture, why is this sort of “nonsense” not taken as incredibly valuable, when all it takes is a slight angle shift for application to software design and development? Dunno, I’ll give it some thought.

    However, having spent a lot of time with “ugly” UI, I think it’s entirely possible that something small, like a change in the look and feel of an IDE (99% of which are still based on the Microsoft model), could get more girls involved.

    Certainly, by tapping into the way a person processes information we can get to the bottom of creating “teams that work.” It’s important to know when and how to partner “force-of-will” people with strategic thinkers, because strategic thinkers can optimize force, but it’s not their only tool. [reference to your note about Jeff Sutherland's apparent advocacy of top-down scrum ]

    We now live in a flattened-but-curvy world, so we ought to start asking how to create agile teams of truly diverse people. How? By asking internal questions about outcome: what is it about the environment that results in a preponderance of the tan khaki male “phenotype”? What value is inherent in people who don’t wear khaki? Why is the distribution heavily weighted towards either the prepped out nerd or the mad scientist? Wouldn’t an effort benefit from folks rocking dashikis, kilts and riotgrrls with purple hair and tats? How much of the outer appearance reflects inner capacity? Take that through the 5 Whys and suddenly you have the chance to convert “diversity staff” into “complexity support teams.”

    One serious note: my gut tells me that it’s about conflict management. Men and women have trouble working in such intimate environments as a software team because they don’t argue well. A good argument requires mutual respect and a focused objective. That’s a human issue and a solvable problem. Because men are largely in control of the hiring and inclusion issues, teaching them conflict management might go a long way towards enabling them to see the value in difference.

  3. Well, thank you for the shout out. :-)

    I will say in my 15 years as a developer, I can count on 1 hand the number of female coders I’ve worked with, which to me is really sad because I think men and women have such different ways of thinking about things (as you point out) and solving problems (as R. Mullen points out). And, when we’re dealing with complex issues as we do in software, I really believe that bringing different perspectives and mindsets to the table will only make us better.

    So, yet another reason agile is such a Good Idea. It’s not just men and women that think differently, testers and developers also have drastically different ways of viewing the software we develop. And there differences are perhaps even more important. Developers are “programmed” to look for the answer and do whatever is in their power to implement that solution. Testers, on the other hand, are all about asking questions to really get at the heart of the matter, what is really going to make this a useful and usable solution? You can’t tell that combining these two very different viewpoints won’t result in better software. Okay, sure, I can see this is not going to be as easy this way, but if we can make it work, our software will be better for it.

  4. So, funny note (with apologies for the blatant self-promotion) – the workshop that Nate Oster and I are delivering on this topic at Agile 2009:

    Where does Developer Testing End and Tester Testing Begin?

    is being co-presented by a female programmer and a male tester. Just to flip this post on its head ;-)

    We actually came up with the idea by going, ya know, we work REALLY well together, what if we could could get other developers and testers working really well together… hmm. :)

  5. Hi!

    Yoga and tantric traditions insist that we have both a male and a female part, and a complete human being has both at the same level.

    So yes, it would be very nice that developers (“male”) develop testing (“female”) qualities and viceversa.

  6. @abby, nice flip :-)

    I like the sound of your Agile2009 session. I’ll be there (here, Monday afternoon, in case anyone else is interested).

  7. thank you! i so look forward to hearing your thoughts at the workshop. and gosh, i’m sorry i left such a novel of comments *laughs* i didn’t realize it was so long. darn these tiny comment boxes…

  8. I agree with your premise that Testing does need to be pulled into the beginning phases of the product life cycle (or software life cycle, SLC) which is broader in range than just a SDLC (software development life cycle). And in other non-agile methods/process models like RUP and MSF (Sprial/Iterative) that is the case. They are part of the overall process and are done in parallel with the other disciplines in the SLC. Agile is nothing new on this, it just does it with less constraints and shorter iterations/cycles.

    The issue has always been the overall management (and a large degree the development demigod) attitude that testing isn’t important. Which for a lot of companies they learn a hard lesson too late to fix that one. I’m not saying Testing is the savior of the project, but is a key and important player and cannot be ignored or made the scapegoat. Quality is everyone’s responsibility. Testing is a part of quality. You cannot test quality into a product.

    In as far as the male vs. female population of Testing I know you are way off base. I’ve been at this (Software Testing & Development) for over 22 years and have been in groups where the ratio of men to women in Testing has been more slanted to men than women, and in some cases 50/50 split at best.

    Admittedly the Development ranks are more heavily skewed to men. But this seems to be like any other engineering discipline, more men than women. But I’ve met some damn good programmers who are women.

    Testing is the other side of the coin from development. A developer creates the code, a Tester makes sure it is doing what it was intended for (and more). Both take a creative and technical mind to do the work. Both “create” for their work. In some respects testing is more creative than development because we have to take the system apart, and have to do that in multiple different ways, in order to see how it works and make sure it works the way intended.

    And both men and women are good at this type of work. Women are just better at not rushing in and thumping their chest like men do. But I guess that is the side effect of too much Testosterone.

  9. Hi,

    Great article. I’m a huge fan of agile because it does involve the testers early. But I don’t see any reason why this couldn’t be the case on waterfall projects either. Agile certainly lends itself to involving the tester earlier.

    As a male tester I like the fact the testing industry has a large number of women. It often brings about a balanced atmosphere in the office. One that I’ve seen lacking with all male testers.


  10. Pingback: Are Women Better Testers than Men? | Testing Excellence

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