April 6, 2007

You're too negative

Posted by Ben Simo

I believe that some level of pessimism is required to be a good software tester. Some of the best testers I have met are pessimistic towards the systems they test. These black hat testers (of which I am one) consider what might go wrong and ask questions. Although I believe that applied pessimism is a necessary for good testing, this negativity can hurt relationships and the project if it is not constructive. Optimist developers and project managers often have trouble understand us pessimists. The result of our pessimism needs to be better preparedness, not shared depression by all involved in a project. This is the type of pessimism that is the subject of Dr. Julie Norem's book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. Dr. Norem defines "defensive pessimism" as

Defensive pessimism is a strategy used by anxious people to help them manage their anxiety so they can work productively. Defensive pessimists lower their expectations to help prepare themselves for the worst. Then, they mentally play through all the bad things that might happen. Though it sounds as if it might be depressing, defensive pessimism actually helps anxious people focus away from their emotions so that they can plan and act effectively.
I do not agree that defensive pessimists are necessarily "anxious people". I see the pessimism as a necessary part of good critical thinking.

Think you might be a defensive pessimist? Take the defensive pessimist quiz.

While the pessimist black hat is a necessary part of testing, Julian Harty argues that we need to try on Ed DeBono's other hats as well: both in analysis and applied methodology. Take a look at Julian's CAST presentation from last year.