Arguments to Moderation

In the last couple of months, other people outside of the Context-Driven Community have spoken up about the disagreements we’ve long had with certification and standards. One of the articles is here. Go ahead and read, it’s short and I’ll wait.

On first reading, the implication seemed to be that the Context-Driven Community’s approach to testing is from a single perspective – even though the editorial’s pronouncement is essentially CDT:

Limiting oneself to a single perspective is misguided and inefficient…It’s not either this or that. It’s all of the above. Testers must come at complex problems from a variety of ways, combining strategies that make sense in a given situation—whatever it takes to mitigate risks and ensure code and software quality.

Does the editorial writer know what CDT is about? This is something that could be said by any number of people in my community. My concern is that people who are not familiar will get the impression that CDT simply has different process or method prescriptions – a common fallacy amongst people who don’t (or won’t) understand what Context-Driven means. This is really frustrating, since this is the opposite of one of the most important things to us. We keep saying that our prescription is to examine the context, and select tools, methods, and reporting that are appropriate for the context. We have a bias against doing things that we see as wasteful, but we also acknowledge that these things may need to be done to satisfy some piece of the context.

Despite essentially agreeing with us, the mischaracterization of our point of view was necessary to serve the structure of the article as an Argument to Moderation. This is both a trope of modern “journalism” and a logical fallacy: selecting/characterizing two points of view as opposites, and then searching for some middle, compromise position, usually with pointed criticism directed at “both sides” to demonstrate how much more reasonable and wise the observer is.


This is a flawed model, though. Sometimes one position is simply correct. Often the two positions are not talking about the same reality, and the framing is important. There are typically more than two positions available on an issue, but as with politics, two seems to be the intellectual limit, with every point of view placed somewhere on a spectrum between slippery-slope extremes.

The debate – such as it is – about ISO 29119 is suffering from a lack of voices willing to take up for the standard’s content and mission. Even the authors of the standard are responding to criticism by defining down what “standard” means and what it’s for. No one seems to be speaking up against the things CDT says, but there are people who seem to be enjoying contradiction for its own sake, or taking on a bystander role, clucking about personal agendas without naming anyone or anything as an example.

Debate is appropriate for describing conversations about subjects where there is professional disagreement. That’s what’s here – and that’s all that’s here. We can disagree, as professionals, and it’s fine. “Can’t we all just get along” was first uttered as a call for peace during riots where people were being injured and killed. A professional debate is not a riot. I don’t hate people I disagree with. I consider them colleagues, and if we didn’t disagree, what would we talk about? If we didn’t feel passionately, why would we bother debating?

I’m not a fan of yelling at people on Twitter. It makes many people uncomfortable, nuance is lost, and often, the person doing the yelling just looks mean. These are all valid criticisms of communication style, but not of substance – both in the sense that it ignores the issues at hand, and in that complaining about the PR instead of the content is a transparent mechanism to claim the higher ground.

obamaseewhatyoudidIf you want to talk about how our community supports and nurtures young thinkers, discussion of this particular subject is valid and important. If you want to talk about twitter manners in order to not-so-subtly discredit a point of view without actually engaging with it, it’s not hard to see that.

People working within and profiting from a system are almost always going to think the system works well, despite whatever flaws they might acknowledge. Any criticism of the system is a challenge to the status quo, and will be opposed by the people working within a system. Particularly when you profit from a system, you should not expect to be exempted from criticism of that system, or your role in it. It was ever thus, and there is no reason why this field, or this subject should be any different.

I speak at conferences about the things I do and think that pertain to my field of study. I expect to encounter other experts, and be asked questions. If I didn’t get any questions, I probably didn’t say anything new, important, or relevant.

If you sell certification training or work on standards bodies, you nominate yourself as a spokesperson for the ideas you clearly support – or that support you, more like. If you claim expertise on a subject, or purport to accumulate anecdotes and then pass off your opaque classifications and conclusions from them as statistical evidence, you should expect to be asked questions and asked to provide more detail. If you are not willing to speak for and defend your ideas, maybe you shouldn’t be willing to profit from them, either?

If you’re an observer, you could add something to the discussion by debating the issues at hand. If your contribution is just to tone police, maybe sit this one out?


  1. says:

    November 3, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Greetings Earthling,

    I am the person that you are referring to when you say: ” but there are people who seem to be enjoying contradiction for its own sake”.

    Would you care to explain how it is that you know what I am enjoying or not enjoying? I find that statement a little funny which is why I ask.


  2. Eric says:

    November 3, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Hi Freddy,

    Yes, you are one of the people I was referencing. I used the word “seem” deliberately, because of course I don’t know what you are enjoying or not. I don’t know your motives or goals.

    I have read your words ( rejecting CDT as a school because “if we truly believe that testing is based on context, then obviously one must keep an open mind to _ALL_ approaches, processes and methods”. Essentially, you are making the same argument and the same error as the SD Times article by implying that CDT prescribes specific methods. In fact, the source of CDT’s disagreement with standards and certifications is our desire to be able to select the methods appropriate to the context, and not have them selected for us.

    Simply by existing, an ISO standard proposes a “correct” way to do things. If a document describing a certain testing process were to be published by a party that was NOT an international standards body, CDT’s position would be to examine what it proposed and to think about where it might be helpful, using the pieces that make sense in a given context. It’s only because this particular test process is proposed as a standard that we are opposing the act of standardization, more than the specific content of it, though there are issues with that, too. We oppose any standard, because standards ignore context. Seems like we agree?

    I did not debate the rest of your article, as I came across it after the fact, but I would point out that stating “since the creators of the petition feel that there is a link between the ISTQB and ISO29119 they must oppose it” goes farther than commenting on how something seems, and directly (and incorrectly) assigns a specific motivation.

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m happy to discuss any of these issues in more detail, any time.


  3. says:

    November 3, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Hello Eric,

    Thanks for the reply. I feel I must clarify a few points which perhaps I didn’t make too clear in my open letter to the testing community.

    First, I am not rejecting the CDT school nor context driven testing; not by a long shot. In fact isn’t all testing is context-driven? The purpose of the “if we truly believe that testing is based on context, then obviously one must keep an open mind to _ALL_ approaches, processes and methods” is to call attention to the fact that, as testers, this is what most of us do already. The statement was included in a paragraph that was titled “what about the rest of us free-thinking testers…”. It was not meant to reject any school at all.

    Regarding “We oppose any standard, because standards ignore context. Seems like we agree?” – yes we do agree.

    My disagreement is with the tactics used by the ISST in managing the petition and the process to get signatories. Those tactics (mostly scare tactics) are what turned me (and others) off and made (at least me) question the motives of the petition originators. This is the reason why, in my open letter, I urge folks to stay calm, do their own research and come to their own conclusion. But not to base their decision solely on a group of folks that are, IMO, using scare tactics to get people to fall into the “We must do something” fallacy.

    Regarding ““since the creators of the petition feel that there is a link between the ISTQB and ISO29119 they must oppose it” goes farther than commenting on how something seems, and directly (and incorrectly) assigns a specific motivation.” — I believe I called it correctly. My statement was based on numerous comments made by both the ISST and other supporters on LinkedIn’s @STANDQA group of exactly the fact I stated. That is the allegation of there being a direct link between the ISO and the ISTQB. I’ll get links later as I have them saved on my device at home and share if you’d like. But that comment was definitely based on stuff that I read.

    Thanks again.


  4. Eric says:

    November 3, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Hello Freddy,

    Easy enough that we agree on preserving a full selection of approaches, methods, and tools, allowing the context to inform our selection of these things. So if we’re only talking about the petition and the marketing of that petition, the problem space is definitely smaller.

    Yes, many people, including me, have mentioned Certification and Standards together, but that is because they are are deeply entwined issues. I add regulation as a third strand to the braid when I talk about them. The linkage between certification and standardization has to do with the way they both frame and prescribe the activity of testing, attempting to make testing a task of process compliance instead of one of exploration and learning. Both certification and standardization threaten to make our craft worth less, and make it harder to grow it as a creative, evolving, and intellectually satisfying career field. For these and other reasons, certification and standardization have been criticized separately and together for years.

    The linkage to certification is still not a primary reason for most who have chosen to oppose ISO 29119. For example, one of the more important reasons for me is the risk the possibility of 29119 becoming a legal instrument that hurts both testing and testers. I don’t think that’s a scare tactic; elsewhere in my blog, I’ve written about this more. You might see the possible negative consequences suggested here, or by James Christie, the ISST, Michael Bolton, or any of a number of other people as unrealistic or unlikely to occur, and that’s a reasonable position to take, but that’s not what you said.

    In terms of the ISST, I know and trust the board members, and would give them my proxy in a debate on standards and certifications. Because of my knowledge of and confidence in the board of the ISST and their judgment, I feel comfortable saying that the line they drew from ISO 29119 to ISTQB is a meaningful one relevant to the issues at hand, and is not based on personal animus or the need to attack something just because of the people behind it.

    My point in this blog post still stands. If you are only complaining about tone and PR tactics, you are not adding to the understanding of the issues at hand. It seemed to me that you were claiming to be open-minded and unburdened, and therefore fit to judge the root cause of why CDT – a school of testing that stresses context by using it as the FIRST WORD OF ITS NAME – objects to a standard published by the largest international standards group. CDT is trying to tell anyone who will listen how they feel about these issues and why, so it may be a better choice to let them explain their point of view than to assign them motives.

    CDT, ISO, and ISTQB are not equivalent amongst each other in any real dimension, and it is not responsible or possible to reconcile them as bracketing influences as if they were political positions (not that the tactic of mean-finding is useful there, either).


  5. says:

    November 4, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Regarding ” If you are only complaining about tone and PR tactics, you are not adding to the understanding of the issues at hand”.

    I disagree. I think that you need to be aware of the context before you can be driven by it to act (or react). Tactics used and tone and motivation behind the thought that triggered the action are all a part of this issue just as much as the standard itself. Besides remember that the understanding of the issue at hand will vary depending on context. And, while obviously in yours (as per you) there is a link in the present between the ISO and ISTQB, I don’t see it that way. I do acknowledge that you have that understanding though. Its just not mine.

    Re: “CDT, ISO, and ISTQB are not equivalent amongst each other in any real dimension” — I concur!


  6. James Christie says:

    November 6, 2014 at 4:11 am

    Thank you for this Eric. You’ve articulated nicely one of my concerns about the debate. There isn’t a reasonable, compromise solution where one faction is arguing for freedom and variety and the other is trying impose conformity. The debate has failed to acknowledge this, and that is partly due to the silence of ISO, who are trying to evade the controversy and dodge the implications of their previous utterances.

    There has been a single response from ISO that did not address the arguments that have been made by opponents of ISO 29119. They have never presented any serious arguments in favour of the principle of testing standards. They invariably rely on spurious references to cases where standards are beneficial, then conclude that testing standards must therefore be beneficial.

    The debate, such as it is, has been overwhelmingly one-sided. Stop 29119 has presented a well argued, evidence based case. The supporters have largely kept quiet, relying on the ISO brand to give them credibility by association.

    Independent observers have given no impression that they have taken the time to understand the debate. The article by SD Times is a case in point. It is a product of lack of research and confused thinking. The opponents of ISO 29119 are not trying to impose their narrow vision on everyone else. That is what ISO are doing, and they are relying on institutional muscle to do it, without even trying to win the intellectual argument.

Comments are closed.