Over A Cup Of Tea With Jerry Weinberg
“Your ideal form of influence is first to help people see their world more clearly, and then to let them decide what to do next”, is what I have learned from him and that’s how he has been helping many others like myself.
“I don’t think he really needs to be introduced but just in case you have been living in a cave and have never heard of him, I think that the best way to start his introduction is to say that he is a special kind of person, a “people changing person”. He has the incredible gift of, in his own words, “making you aware of the things you were not aware of” and thus changing the way you look at things and the way you approach tasks”. That’s how Joel Montvelisky describes him.
I firmly believe that books, blogs and articles he has written are invaluable assets for our industry and they are going to guide us for many years to come.
He has been guiding us right from our early days and we feel humbled for having him as part of our family. Interviewing him was my dream and I am glad that it has finally come true. I must say, this anniversary issue has become even more special with this special interview.
Yes, you guessed it right. Interviewing Jerry Weinberg has been a great experience and I am sure, you too will enjoy it.
– Lalitkumar Bhamare
Does Jerry Weinberg need any new introduction? We all have known him for years in various roles like a prolific writer, author of over 80 books, consultant, coach, mentor, philosopher, computer scientist, novelist…and the list continues. If we are allowed to ask, how would you like to introduce yourself? We are eager to know about Jerry Weinberg from Jerry Weinberg himself.
I’ve always been interested in helping smart people be happy and productive. To that end, I’ve published books on human behaviour, on leadership, and stories about smart people—how they produce quality work and learn to be happy. My books may be found linked from my website: geraldmweinberg.com. I’ve won many awards for my writing but the “award” I’m most proud of is the book, The Gift of Time (Fiona Charles, ed.) written by my student and readers for my 75th birthday. Their stories make me feel that I’ve been at least partially successful at helping smart people be happy.
Are there any special memories from your childhood that you’d like to share especially some moments that made you fall in love with the field of computers?
At age 11, in 1944, I read a store in Time magazine about “giant brains,” as computers were sometimes called back then. I fell in love with the idea that these “brains” would help me understand my own brain, which was the source of great happiness for me at the same time it was the source of much mean criticism and punishment. I knew then that I would spend my life with computers. I was right, at least for the next 70 years so far.
And how did Gerald become Jerry?
I always wondered about that, myself. I was never called “Gerald” in my entire life, so at age 50, I gathered enough nerve to ask my parents: “If you were going to call me Jerry, why did you name me Gerald?” Their answer, from each of them independently: “I don’t know.”
You have written hundreds of articles and over 80 books. We are curious to know about your love for writing. What was the start point and what was your inspiration?
I cannot remember any time I didn’t write or love writing. I used to write little stories for my father before I was old enough for school. This is like asking, “When did you start breathing, and what was your inspiration for wanting air?”
How do you find such ideation, inspiration and energy to bring in more and more for your ever thirsty readers?
As I live in this world and look about me, I see unhappy people everywhere, and I think, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” I perceive that much of this unhappiness arises from ignorance, so when I think I can clear up some of this ignorance, I write.
In one of your earlier interview, you said, “Testing has barely been born yet. As IT matures, so will testing. Without testing, IT will never mature.” According to you, what are the characteristics of mature testing and how do we benchmark it?
When testing is finally mature, many of today’s common questions will disappear. For instance, “When do you start testing?” That will no longer be a question because professional developers will understand that testing does start the instant you first think it might be possible to build something. Testing will not be something stuck on at the end of a development project, and professional testers will be part of the development team the entire way, from that first thought to the ultimate retirement of the product. My book, *Perfect Software and Other Illusions about Testing*, details many of these questions that will no longer be asked.
You have been involved with the field of computers for over 50 years. As compared to its state in past, how much do you think has software testing evolved? Do you suppose that we are headed in the right direction and have reached any significant point that you thought should have been achieved by now?
In many ways, testing has moved backwards in 50+ years. We have better tools now, but they are not used by the majority of projects, so what good are better tools? In general, the standards for quality have deteriorated. For instance, in the past year, I have tried perhaps 50 different apps, and every single one of them has displayed serious and obvious bugs that would never have survived even minimal testing. That said, there are some exemplary testing organizations, but they form a small percentage of all the people who claim to be software builders.
What do you think and believe is still left to discover/unearth in the field of testing?
Discovering new things about testing is the wrong goal. Right now, we know enough things, but we don’t use them widely enough. If we want to improve, we should be concentrating on actually doing those things we know are good testing practices. I believe Tea-time with Testers is one organization that’s trying to encourage this.
You have co-founded and hosted AYE (Amplify Your Effectiveness) conference. What differentiates AYE from other conferences?
All our conferences and workshops are based on experiential learning rather than lecturing. To understand this approach, I recommend my *Experiential Learning* sequence of three books.
Would you like to share some memories from past AYE conferences?
No, that would be lecturing/listening rather than experiencing. You’ll have to experience one of our offerings to understand the difference, and the experience is different for each participant. Perhaps you would get some understanding by asking your readers what memories they have from AYE or Problem Solving Leadership (PSL) or some other experience with us.
What is your opinion about the standardization of processes and practices, considering it for software testing field in particular?
My greatest problem with standardization, in general, is that those who set standards do not start and end with the question, “What will this standard do for us?” Without answering that question, we wind up with standards that are not tested–and even worse, are not testable. That’s hardly what we want in our testing standards. Fortunately, most “standards” for software processes are not followed, so they don’t do as much harm as they could. Perhaps we should be working on guidelines, rather than standards that someone hopes will enable us to test without using our brains.
According to you, how important is domain knowledge for a tester to become an expert tester?
What a tester need is not domain knowledge, but the ability to pick up meaningful domain knowledge quickly and correctly.
You have also been a consultant in your career, what according to you is the top secret of consulting?
That there is no such thing as a “top” secret in consulting. Good consulting is so complex, so nuanced, that no one “top” secret applies everywhere. (I guess this is a meta-secret–a secret about secrets–but I don’t think there’s a “top” meta-secret, either. Perhaps that’s the top meta-meta-secret, or else it’s meta-secrets all the way down.)
What are those non-computer related skills that helped you become a successful consultant?
It wasn’t so many skills, but my intense drive to learn anything that might help me become better at helping others. I’m not an especially skilled learner, but that has helped me because I tend to understand why people have trouble learning something. I can then use that understanding to help them learn. Some consultants are just too smart to be good at helping others, because they, themselves, never had difficulty learning something, so they are impatient with slow learners. Being a slow learner myself, I don’t have that problem. Perhaps one of my best skills is knowing how to be patient–something I was slow to learn.
Humans created computers and programmed them. Is there anything that human should learn from computers? (or something that you learned?)
Just to pick one thing, I’d say that the most important thing I learned from computers was that I wasn’t nearly as smart or perfect as I used to think. When I program a computer, it does exactly what I said to do—and that shows me how dumb and imperfect I am.
What are the key ingredients to make one a successful test manager?
Oh, my, that’s a whole book. Or two. I’m working on that now, but I have no idea when I’ll be ready to publish. For the moment, the first thing that comes to mind is “humility.” After that, I guess the manager must take on the role for the right reasons—or at least not for the wrong reasons such as money, power, or status.
According to you, how important are test metrics in project release management?
In actual practice, not every important. But if you wish to do release management well, the right test metrics are supremely important. What else should be more important for deciding when and how to release a product? Schedule? Promotion for the test manager? I don’t think so.
Do you think testing can be measured in a meaningful way with standard metrics that are being followed in industry today?
NO. First of all, there are no “standard metrics” in the industry today, though there are lots of metrics that their vendors would like you to believe are meaningful and should be standard.
When not reading and writing, what can Jerry Weinberg be found doing?
Sleeping. Spending quality time with my wife and my children and my grandchildren and my dogs. Hiking. Helping smart people be happy and productive.
Your message to the testing community would be…
When you’re finished learning, you’re finished as a tester.
The last question, you have given an invaluable contribution to the development of Tea-time with Testers magazine and have been deeply involved in its content. Team TTwT is ever grateful to you for that. What made you join this family and how do you feel being part of it?
I feel proud to have some small part in what you’re attempting to do. I joined the family because I thought you were doing the right things, which is a very rare but essential part of building the testing profession.
Disclaimer: This interview has been originally published in past editions of Tea-time with Testers. The author’s opinions on the topic(s) may or may not have changed.