Testing is Interdisciplinary

I have 2 undergraduate college degrees. One of them is a BS in Computer Science, the other is B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies. Here is the program where I matriculated. I had 2 minors as part of this degree, Theater and Art History.

The Interdisciplinary Department at my school was an extension of a residential Freshman/Sophmore program called Watauga College and now called Watauga Global Community. We all lived in the same dorm and had classes together on the ground floor. People outside of our program did not know what the hell we were doing. There were times when we didn’t know either.

We did not have classes like English, History or Art. We would register for 10 hours of an IDS course number. For that 10 hours, we would have lectures and experiences involving topics such as English, History, Art, Religion, Philosophy and Anthropology. For example, we would read about different religions, their histories and then participate in different services of the different religions. I have fasted for Ramadan and was nearly knocked out cold by incense in a tiny Episcopal chapel. After we were finished listening, reading and experiencing we would usually right a 10 to 20 page paper. (Maybe that’s why some of my blog posts are on the lengthier side ;o)

After I decided a career in Theater wasn’t for me, I ended up majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in German Studies. I went to Germany for a year as part of my studies. Deshalb, kann ich noch ein tropfhen Deutcsch verstehen. During my year in Germany, I became obsessed with modern Art History. I dragged my friends to the Stuttgart Modern art musuem several times despite the 3 hour train ride back and forth. When I returned from Germany, I weasled my way into an independent study with a Professor who was rather skeptical that I could write a decent, lengthy paper on Wassily Kandinsky. I made an A.

What is Interdisciplinary Studies?
Another term frequently used in place of “interdisciplinary” is “cross-disciplinary.” This means you are using ideas from different types of subjects, applying some critical thinking and making connections. There is a feedback loop involved. You have to go back and forth between topics refining your ideas and communicating with others to gain perspective on your own thoughts. IDS majors end up with great writing skills because writing is the most mainstream of several ways to work out the crazy thoughts and complicated connections that happen when you put together topics like math, animation, art, and feminist studies.

What does this have to do with testing?
At this point, I believe I have found success as a tester because of my ability to focus/defocus, consider different perspectives and communicate what I have found. The only certainty I have about software testing is that there is no one way to test software. Not only must we understand various aspects of technology, but we have to understand how that technology is applied in a certain subject area for different sets of users, all of whom have a different perspective. This requires technical skills, reasoning skills and communications skills. Because of the rapidly expanding global economy, a global focus on the customer is also required.

How is testing an interdisciplinary?
James Bach’s slide on focus/defocus sticks in my mind. It says that after you’ve been looking at software a certain way for any amount of time, you must pull your head up from what you’ve been doing and violate your own pattern. Focus on the last 4 words. How do you violate your own pattern? To violate your own pattern you must rely on other’s patterns.

Violating a pattern is at the heart of interdisciplinarity. This means we have to find a new perspective on the software we are testing. To do that, it is necessary to understand the perspective of other people different from you. After we’ve done that we must make connections between the different ways we’ve looked at the software. There is a feedback loop involved between the technology we are testing, how we understand that technology and our user’s perspective of how they will use that technology. After that we have to communicate what we’ve found.

There were quite a few IDS majors who self-identified themselves as the disciplinary problems of academia. Teachers either loved us or hated us because we would ask all of the crazy questions and we could spot the bullshit teachers who didn’t know what they were talking about from a mile away. Apathy was checked at the door. Our opinions were often quite different from that of the general college population at Appalachian State and we were constantly arguing amongst ourselves.

I found this quote on the Wikipedia page for “interdiscliplinary”:

Interdisciplinary programs sometimes arise from a shared conviction that the traditional disciplines are unable or unwilling to address an important problem.

Sounds like software testing to me.

This is from The Seven Basic Principles of the Context-Driven School of Testing:

Good software testing is a challenging intellectual process.

As an IDS major, I suggest a refinement for this statement. I think it should say, “Good software testing is a challenging, intellectual and interdisciplinary process.

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2 thoughts on “Testing is Interdisciplinary”

  1. If you have read “Lessons Learned in Software Testing”, which seems to have become the origin of the context-driven school, you will notice that the authors might share your claim.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. I have read some, not all, of “Lessons Learned in Software Testing,” and feel myself well matched with this perspective on testing.

    My evolution as a tester has crossed paths with the context-driven school in an almost organic way, and I look forward to their continued influence. Now that I have an awareness about “context,” I’m interested in how their methodology will co-mingle with my own.

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