Diverse Discussions

So, there’s another round of gender/race drama going down on teh intarwebs.

It seems that there was a conference, BritRuby, slated to run next year in Manchester, England. Only there was some criticism on Twitter of their all-white-guy lineup. Suddenly, without warning, the organizers canceled the conference. The organizers published an official statement on the conference website, but Sean Handley, one of the organizers, offered a much better and more detailed explanation.

I was unaware of BritRuby until it was canceled. Even if I’d known about it, I couldn’t have participated. So if you think this is a post about BritRuby itself, it’s not. I don’t have an opinion one way or another about BritRuby or their speaker lineup.

But here’s why I do care: because I think it’s deeply unfortunate that anyone is blaming a Twitter conversation about diversity for the cancellation of the conference. That’s absurd. The issue is not whether the Twitterverse has an opinion. The issue is that sponsors pulled out.

Hang on, let’s back up a step.

The official statement on the BritRuby website said, “Sadly, BritRuby was used as the arena to air these issues on Twitter and this has fundamentally destroyed any chance we had of addressing these issues.” And there’s a bunch of Twittering about how people were dogpiling on BritRuby.

Figuring things must have gotten really nasty, I went searching for the smoking gun on Twitter.

I couldn’t find it.

Where were the activist bullies? Where were the accusations of sexism or misogyny? I found none of that. Instead I found expressions of regret:

And offers of help:

Plus some defensiveness:

There were no flame fests, no diatribes. The more I dug, the more it seemed like a relatively mild discussion on Twitter got reflected back and turned around until people who expressed their opinion were being attacked viciously in tweets with words like “Shame on you” and “Disgusting” and “You ruined everything.”

It appeared that the mere question of diversity had a polarizing effect, dividing people into Us v. Them without anyone actually having thrown the first stone.

This is the underlying tragedy: we cannot have a discussion about the issue of diversity in technology without teh intarwebs hitting resonant frequency until something falls apart.

Ultimately, that’s why I care and why I am wading into the fray myself. If we cannot talk about diversity issues openly, we cannot address them. So attempting to shut down discussion of the issue, to shame people into silence, is the same as actively opposing diversity.

If you personally choose not to address diversity issues, that’s fine. Don’t address them. Keep your own silence. But don’t expect that others will ignore the issue just because you want to ignore it. Don’t ask them to be silent.

If you become fed up enough to wade into the general mayhem and express your opinions, do a little research first. Don’t fly off the handle at accusations that someone said something. Find the original quotes. Respond to actual statements, not to incendiary reactions to over-reactions to original statements.

What is at risk here isn’t just a conference. It’s something much bigger: the ability to discuss very real, very personal issues in an open forum.

Update thanks to Laurent Bossavit:

The full list:

Still seems pretty mild to me; not nearly enough to bring down a whole conference all by itself.

But wait, it gets better. Laurent then searched to find the reactions to the original comments. It’s those reactions where folks reframed the original comments using trigger words like “sexism” and “racism.” See Laurent’s link for details.

Testing Has No Value

Update Nov 20: minor edits to increase clarity.

Yesterday, Rob Lambert tweeted:

Turns out that’s a statement from the ISTQB Expert Level Syllabus on Test Management. Robert was tweeting it to see what others’ reactions were to the statement.

Now, I hold no love of the ISTQB. I don’t see any correlation between ISTQB certification and tester competence. I think an awful lot of what the ISTQB promotes as “best practice” is at best context-dependent and at worst actively damaging. But that’s a topic for another post, one I probably will never write. It’s just not worth the energy. I don’t feed that which I don’t want to see grow.

But my point is that I don’t put any stock in anything the ISTQB says, so I was absolutely stunned to find that I agreed with a statement in an ISTQB syllabus.

So I replied, “Whodathunk I’d agree w/ istqb. Unless org sells test svcs, its is a means to an end, a way to get info.”

That touched off a small storm of responses, some agreeing, but many more disagreeing. I’ve been replying to the objections on Twitter, but I think this topic needs more than 140 characters.

First, a few clarifications:

1) I am talking specifically about software development.

2) I am talking about business value.

3) Business value is inextricably linked with increased revenue or decreased costs. That’s not decreased costs of software development. It’s overall decreased costs that can be attributed to the use of the final delivered software.

So the value in software development rests in the final result—the delivered product or service—not the process or activities that went into making the result.

Testing does not have value on its own. Neither does programming. I have seen more than one team crank out lots of code and yet be unable to ship a product anyone would buy. For that matter, designing doesn’t have intrinsic value either.

“But wait!” you say. “Testing does have value. Customers pay more for better quality software, so testing has value.”

Well no. First, it’s not clear that customers pay more for better quality software. Customers are less likely to abandon better quality software in a fit of rage. But they don’t necessarily pay more for the kind of quality that comes from having testers do more testing. Further, testing does not automatically lead to better software. In fact, better testing can actually lead to worse software. Finally, as Ron Jeffries pointed out, testing only adds value to the extent that the team uses the information that testing produced in order to improve the software.

But that’s not even the main point here. The main point is that testing and programming and designing and all the other activities that go into making software are all just a means to an end. As UCLA coach John Wooden said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

The bottom line is that if you want your work to have value, make sure that the software you’re working on ships and satisfies customers. The final result is a whole team effort. The team succeeds or fails together. And the value of the work you’re doing is stuck at 0 until the software you’re working on is in the hands of paying customers.