The name of the thing is not the thing

I often ponder the question 'should we care about what we call things in the software development world?' One could argue that as long as everyone has a common understanding, then it shouldn't matter right? I rarely see a common understanding (which is good and bad in context), suggesting that we do care enough to name things but sometimes not enough to care about the amount of precision those names have.

Gerald Weinberg quotes in the excellent 'Secrets of Consulting' that 'the name of the thing is not the thing.' As a tester (and critical thinker) this represents a useful message to us. The name given to a thing is not the thing in itself, its a name and we shouldn't be fooled by it. This is a useful device, as I believe the name is an important gateway, to both understanding and misunderstanding, and names take root and spread.....

Testing is not Quality Assurance

There are probably a great many blogs about this, but I hear/see this every day, so it needs to be said again (and again, and again).

The rise of the phrase 'QA' when someone means 'testing' is continuing without prejudice. Those of us who have the vocabulary to express the difference are in a constant correction loop, considered pedants at best, obstructive at worst.

What is at the root of this? The use of interchangeable terms carelessly (where there is no paradigm for either side of the equation and/or a belief there is no distinction), then wonderment at how expectations have not been met. 

So how do I respond to this misnomer?

(Counts to ten, gathers composure) 

Superficially - 'Testing cannot assure quality, but it can give you information about quality.'

If someone digs deeper?

Non superficially - 'When I tested this piece of functionality, I discovered its behaviours. Some are called 'bugs' which may or may not have been fixed. These behaviours were communicated to someone who matters. They then deemed that the information given was enough to make a decision about its quality.'

This feels like a long journey, but one worth making. I will continue to correct, cajole, inform and vehemently argue when I need to. If the expectations of your contribution are consistently misunderstood, then will your contribution as a tester be truly valued?

Test Management Tools Don't Manage Testing

On a testing message board the other day (and on other occasions) I spotted a thread containing the question; 'Which 'Test Management Tool' is best (free) for my situation?' There are many different flavours, with varying levels of cost (monetary and otherwise) accompanying their implementation.

I thought about this statement. I came to the conclusion that I dislike the phrase 'Test Management Tool' intensely. In fact, it misleads on a great many levels. On a grand scale, as its name does not describe it very well at all. It offers no assistance on which tests in what form suit the situation, when testing should start, end, who should do it, with what priority, with which persona. Not sure such a tool manages anything at all. 

So what name describes it accurately? For me, at best it is a 'Test Storage Tool.' A place to put tests, data and other trappings to be interacted with asynchronously. Like many other electronic tools it is at worst it is a 'Important Information Hiding Place.' To gauge this, put yourself in another's shoes. If you knew little about testing and you were confronted with this term, what would you believe? Perhaps that there is a tool that manages testing? Rather than a human.

So what.....?

So, whats the impact here? I can think of a few, but one springs to mind.

If we unwittingly mislead (or perpetuate myths) by remaining quiet when faced with examples like the above. How do you shape a culture which values and celebrates testing? By not saying anything when what testing is and the value it adds are diluted, misrepresented and denigrated certainly helps to shape that culture. Into something you might not like.


  1. No matter if it's QA > Testing > Checking or maybe Performance > Load > Stress or even Security > Pen Testing > Vulnerability Assessment, heck even Plan > Schedule - I'm of the opinion we need to use the correct terminology. In doing so we ascribe a precise meaning and so end up clearer and more precise in what we do and what we understand as professional testers.

    The cry of "it's just semantics!" is meant to have me 'back down' and respond with "Yes, you're right" and accepting any old term being used. Stuff that, my response is "Yes, you're right it's semantics and it needs to be logical and lexical correctness!".


    1. Mark, thanks for your comment and I agree with all my being.

      Confusion is a signal, often statements like 'it's just semantics' are at it's root.

  2. I've written about disambiguating "load test" over at my blog:

    -- Endurance test.
    -- Recovery test

    1. Testing in a load context suffers greatly from this, the various flavours tell you very different things about the behaviours of your application. Yet are put in the non-functional lump.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. the name is an important gateway, to both understanding and misunderstanding, and names take root and spread.....

    Yep, and I'm sure lots of us have blogged about the relationship between labels and the thing they label too. This is my recent note to self on the subject.

  4. Thanks, I especially like:

    The label is not the thing. The label is not the thing. The. Label. Is. Not. The. Thing.

    Label is a further disambiguation. As humans, we desperately try and label things, creating neural pathways we can fire off on sight. Separate the two and you get an angle on a situation/application/etc you wouldn't see otherwise.

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