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Buckle Up: Let’s Talk Boredom

March 10, 2013

I’ve heard people say that software testing is boring. Testers complaining about their jobs, developers explaining why they wouldn’t want to test, friends and family questioning my career path. And as many times as I’ve heard this — possibly more — I’ve heard testers complain about people saying that testing is boring. So you won’t hear that from me. I know I have a great job; I don’t need to defend it.

I think that boredom is a natural part of any job. You’re a very lucky person if you’ve never, ever been bored at any job. In my experience, boredom at work is usually because you’ve gotten too good at your job, you weren’t a good fit for the job in the first place, or much of your job is repetitive training. (I’m thinking exciting fields like professional athletes and fighter pilots have got to have large stretches of boring time, right?) In the case of software testing — and probably many others, with which I am less familiar — boredom may well be because you aren’t doing a very good job.

I look at boredom as a tester smell. A “code smell” is a surface signal that something might be wrong deeper in your code. To me, boredom is a signal that something might be wrong with my testing at the moment. If I catch myself getting bored on the job, that’s my cue to step back and start asking questions:

  • Could I be looking at this from a different perspective? Whatever box I’m in, can I climb out and try something new?
  • Have I already run this test before? What am I gaining from running it again?
  • Should I move on from this area? If I’m no longer interested, perhaps there is no longer anything interesting here.
  • Am I doing something a machine could do for me? Automation could save me from boredom right now *and* in the future.
  • Is it time for a jump start from something like the Heuristic Test Strategy Model or the Test Heuristics Cheat Sheet?
  • Would it be more productive at this point to get another person involved?
  • Do I need to step away and come back later? Maybe the work hasn’t become boring, but my mind has just become tired.

And so on.

I am fond of telling myself that I have a strict no-boredom policy. That’s a motivating catchphrase, but when I stop to reflect (I will at this point acknowledge that I’ve neglected this blog — and the space for reflection it gives me — for too long), I realize that zero boredom is impossible, and that, in fact, boredom is an excellent tool for a tester. If I’m bored, I’m not interested; and if I’m not interested, I’m probably letting interesting things slip by. So I train myself to recognize boredom’s approach, and use it as a signal to re-evaluate what I’m doing at the moment.

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