Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In consideration of ISO 29119

I have been aware of this debate ever since attending CAST 2014, but I've not been quick to sign.  I wanted to investigate and see what other viewpoints there might be.  To quote Everett Hughes, a sociologist:
“In return for access to their extraordinary knowledge in matters of great human importance, society has granted them a mandate for social control in their fields of specialization, a high degree of autonomy in their practice, and a license to determine who shall assume the mantle of professional authority. But in the current climate of criticism, controversy, and dissatisfaction, the bargain is coming unstuck. When the professions’ claim to extraordinary knowledge is so much in question, why should we continue to grant them extraordinary rights and privileges?”
This is a serious question, one for which I appreciate that a standard might seem like a correct method for 'proof' of our professional authority.  However, even if the standard is in fact a professional guide, I don't think anyone but practitioners can judge its value.  As someone who has had a keen interest in trying to understand this standard, and not wanting to judge too quickly, I have tried to get a hold of a great deal of material about it.  I have engaged with some of those whom disagree with my point of view, such as professional tester.  In fact, they have published my response in there Oct. 2014 issue (albeit with some minor mistakes from my draft).  I looked into purchasing the standard.  I have looked for those who are pro-standard and what they've had to say about this movement as well as what they have said in the past.

That being said, I'm not convinced we actually do know what a standard should look like, much less if this is the standard we need.  Maybe it is what we need, but I strongly doubt it.  I think we are likely many years or decades away before we will even be able to claim we have true repeatable practices oriented towards different contexts, assuming it is possible.  I am unable to judge at present what the standard does say, as the standard and the standard body's work is less than transparent.  I've been forced to sign up with personal details in order to read documentation about the standard's creation, although that has been changed since (NOTE: The file name also changed, including a date, which makes it hard to know if anything has changed, as there was no change log as of 10/26/2014).  The standard requests I pay in a currency that I don't use.  I've signing the petition to withdraw the standard not because I know it is wrong, but because I can't tell, which makes it useless at best and dangerously wrong at worst.  What I can tell is that the standard's various author's other documents around the standard demonstrate what I consider to be confusing if not out right contradictory statements, making me doubt the actual standard.  That breaks the social bargain us professionals have that Everett Hughes so eloquently described.

Perhaps you could say that I should have been personally involved in the standard, and that is a valid complaint.  However, I'm not aware of anyone particularly reaching out to the AST, nor have I heard of it from any other group except for James Christie's talk in 2014.  I have attended both AST sponsored and non-AST sponsored conferences for years, so this isn't a case of willful ignorance.  This is my first chance to review the material and process, yet I have not found the process particularly open or transparent.  I see claims of no best practices and claims that the standard will create best practices.  I have found so many confusing statements by the standard's body that I must conclude that the standard should be withdrawn until it can be thoroughly reviewed and modified, if it can even be modified into something useful.

Even ignoring past statements, the recent defense of the standard creates questions.  One of the easiest and most obvious to consider is who wrote the standard.  Then there is the question of who pays for the creation of the standard?  Well clearly this was not just a labor of love, as Dr. Reid says the costs of development have to be passed on to the customer's of the standard.  I should note, my blog makes me no money and I am not a consultant so I have little incentive to make money speaking about this.  I made no money in writing my letter to the editor, and I certainly don't demand you pay to read my work.  I am not discounting the cost of writing the standard, just simply saying that if you plan on having expenses paid by publishing your work, you are not simply doing this out of the kindness of your heart.  There is lots of analysis that could be done just on the defense of the standards alone, but is outside the scope of this particular post.

One of the oddest and most compelling arguments for both sides is from Rex Black, in which he notes that about 98% of all testers won't care one way or another.  I think this is true, which makes the standards mostly not matter, but it also means that those 98% who are silent count on us to ensure these are the right standards, lest they become popular and that silent 98% ends up forced into using them.  I fear that this non-involvement is also further evidence that we testers as a group are not acting like a profession.  It isn't that we don't claim to have "extraordinary knowledge" and Dr. Reid at least seems to argue we mostly agree on this knowledge, but rather the majority of people don't feel any need to actively participate.  I realize this might be an argument for why we need a standard -- to show the disinterested the 'right' way to test, but to me it seems to indicate just how young our industry is and seems to me that shows why we aren't ready for a standard.

Even if the ISO body decided these documents ultimately should stand, the objections of the AST/Context Driven community need to be noted in such a standard.  Furthermore, making the document open will go a long way in allowing the community to discuss this document beyond the smaller standard's committee.  I recognize that ISO needs income to maintain itself and won't publish them for free for everyone, but certainly some sort of 'for individuals, not corporations' license could be used (and I don't mean the sort of non-sense Matt Heusser describes).  Finally, if this is an attempt to demonstrate our commitment to professional testing, then it needs to be accessible to our community.  The work needs to demonstrate it's value rather than being buried away inaccessible to those who would use it.

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