Throwing Kool-Aid on the Burning Books

Another day, and another discovery of an accusation of Kool-Aid drinking or book burning from an ISO 29119 proponent (or an opponent of the opposition to it; a creature in the same genus, but not always the same species).

Most of the increasingly vehement complaints come from folks who have not read [ISO 29119], perhaps because they don’t want to pay for the privilege but also (and I’d guess mainly) because they are among the now possibly majority of folks who don’t read anything except from their favorite few Kool Aid pushers and don’t want their opinions muddled by actual information, especially any which might challenge their views.

The charge that the opponents of 29119 don’t read anything other than their favourite Kool-Aid pushers is almost—but not quite—as ludicrous as the idea that a complex, investigative, intellectual, activity like testing can be standardized. Does this look like a book-burner to you? One opponent to 29119 is the author of two of the best-selling (in, in my view, best-written) books on software testing in its relatively short history—does this look a book burner? (In the unlikely event that it does, drop in to his web site and have a look at his publications and the references within.) Here’s a thoughtful opponent of 29119; book burner? How about this—book burner? And here’s a relatively recent snapshot of my own library.

For some contrast, have a look at the standard itself. As a matter of fact, other than the standards that it replaces, along with the ISTQB Foundation Syllabus, the standard’s bibliographies include references to no works at all; neither in testing nor in any of the other domains that relate to testing—programming, psychology, mathematics, history, measurement, anthropology, critical thinking, economics, philosophy, computer science, sociology, systems thinking, qualitative research, software development… The ISTQB syllabus includes a handful of books about testing, and only about testing. The most recent reference is to Lee Copeland’s A Practitioner’s Guide to Software Testing, which—although a quite worthy book for new testers—was published in 2004, a full seven years before the syllabus was published in 2011.

Update, November 4: Sharp-eyed reader Nathalie van Delft points out that Part One of the Standard contains references to two books that are not prior standards or ISTQB material: Crispin and Gregory’s Agile Testing (2009), and Koen’s Definition of the Engineering Method (1985). So, one book since 2004, and one book on engineering, in the Concepts and Definitions section of the standard.

Where are the references to other books, old or new, that would be genuinely helpful to new testers, like Petzold’s Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, or Weinberg’s Perfect Software and Other Illusions About Testing, or Marick’s Everyday Scripting in Ruby? Why is the syllabus not updated with important new books like Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, or Kaner and Fiedler’s Foundations of Software Testing, or Elisabeth Hendrickson’s Explore It!, even if the rest of the syllabus remains static? Worried that things might get too heady for foundation-level testers? Why not refer to The Cartoon Guide to Statistics or a first-year college book on critical thinking, like Levy’s Tools of Critical Thinking, or introductory books on systems thinking like Meadows’ Thinking in Systems: A Primer or Weinberg and Gause’s Are Your Lights On?

See the difference? Our community encourages testers to study the craft; to read; to import new ideas from outside the field; to argue and debate; to learn from history; to think independently. We also cop to errors, when someone points them out; thanks, Nathalie. Some of the books above are by intellectual or commercial competitors, or contain material on which there is substantial disagreement between individuals and clans in the wider community. Big deal; those books are useful and important, and they’re part of the big conversation about testing.

You could only believe that the thoughtful opponents to 29119 are book-burners or Kool-Aid drinkers… well, if you haven’t read what they’ve been writing.

So, to those who answer the opposition to 29119 with calumny… drink up. And know that no smoke detectors were activated in the preparation of this blog post.

4 replies to “Throwing Kool-Aid on the Burning Books”

  1. Natalie beat me to inform you about part I references, but since I had already written the comment, I’ll send it anyway:

    Actually, part 1, the Terminology pile, has one reference to a testing book: Agile Testing by Crispin/Gregory.
    It also references Definition of the Engineering Method (1985) by Koen.
    The second pile about Processes has no references outside prior standards and ISTQB.
    The third pile about Documentation no references has outside prior standards and ISTQB
    Weird, and cocky!


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