Talking at PNSQC about being a testing asshole

Portland by diebmx

A theme has been running through my blog on the topic of being a testing asshole.  It began with the post “The Tester’s Paradox” and continued with the posts, “Is it necessary for testers to care?,  “Are you a testing asshole?”  and  “Let’s destroy the World.”


In these posts I worked through my own experiences with my behavior on a software team.  These posts also came from my processing on some of the books I was reading at the time.  My bookshelf for these posts includes:

  • The No Asshole Rule, by Bob Sutton
  • The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout
  • Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
  • Good Boss, Bad Boss also by Bob Sutton
  • Artful Making by Rob Austin and Lee Devin


After all of the reading, all of the testing, lots of asshole screw-ups of my own and dealing with some people in my life who are pretty big assholes in general,  I’ve drawn some conclusions:  Testers are automatically placed in the most socially awkward position on any software team which means we need more social skills and awareness than anyone else.  We need more emotional fluency.  We are not assholes and because of the work we do, we must learn how to minimize our asshole behavior as much as possible.  As I’ve been reading and learning about this, I’ve found enough compelling information that I decided to put it into the hands of testers by giving a talk at this year’s Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference (PNSQC).


The talk is meant as a means of self-reflection just as the examination of this topic has been an exercise in self-reflection for me.  I’m hoping that people who come to my talk walk away with more questions than answers.  I hope it gets people thinking about how they act with others on their team.  There is so much in testing that we have absolutely no control over.  My hope for this talk is that it gives people enough information to work on controlling the things we can control.


Since I’m not a psychologist, I teamed up with my friend, Gordon Shippey, who is a licensed counselor, to write the paper.  We didn’t feel comfortable calling the talk, “Are you a testing asshole?” so we settled on, “Hard Lessons about Soft Skills — Understanding the Psyche of the Software Tester.”


I’ll be talking about:

  • Asshole behavior in the context of testing
  • Crucial Conversations
  • Recovery and Repair
  • Testing in a Safe Environment

The paper Gordon and I wrote in conjunction with the talk is intended as a resource for times of testing distress when testers feel they’ve backed themselves into a corner or find themselves handling situations in ways that don’t make them proud.


Another conclusion that I’ve drawn in all of this is that anyone can be an asshole when put in the right situation.  Personally, I now have enough confidence to know that 95% of the time, I’m not one of them.  This realization has made all of the effort and hard work I’ve put into this paper and talk worth the time spent.  I hope others find it useful as well.


2 thoughts on “Talking at PNSQC about being a testing asshole”

  1. When I filled out the application for PNSQC, I checked the box for videotaping, so hopefully it will be posted at the end. If not, I might do an broadcast.

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