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Bruce Lee, Kung Fu, and the Schools of Software Testing

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The latest debate, on Twitter and elsewhere, about the schools of software testing reminded me of a documentary I recently watched on Bruce Lee.

On top of being an action star, he was also quite the philosopher and had a lot to say about schools. In Martial Arts, schools are referred to as styles, with each style having its own leaders and certifications.

“Styles tend to only separate men – because they have their own doctrines and then the doctrine became the gospel truth that you cannot change. But if you do not have a style, if you just say: Well, here I am as a human being, how can I express myself totally and completely? Now, that way you won’t create a style, because a style is a crystallization. That way, it’s a process of continuing growth.” – Bruce Lee

He did, however, value techniques as a learning tool for early practitioners, but warned that techniques that were too mechanical would limit the thinking of these learners as they grew in their craft. They were, to him, “… a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back”

It is natural, human instinct even, to form organizations, set standards, and codify behavior. Labels, such as saying someone belongs to a certain school or belief, can help discussions somewhat by giving us a common language. They can even help evolve software testing through good ol’ survival of the fittest.

But we should be cautious that these labels and organizations do not limit or stunt the development of the craft of software testing. Or worse, the debate could become so polarizing that it could turn off talented individuals from joining the software testing community at all.

I’ll leave you with a final warning from Bruce about the consequences of over-conformity:

“To reach the growing number of students, some sort of pre-conformed set must be established as standards for the branch to follow. As a result all members will be conditioned according to the prescribed system. Many will probably end up as a prisoner of a systematized drill.”

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