When did we start using thinking as an attribute by which testers are, or might be, classified? It’s a question that I’ve pondered a few times. A recent visit to a website that classified group members as “thinking testers” brought this question back into my focus. I’ve heard more than once “everyone here is a thinking tester” or “only a thinking tester would do that” or “I am a thinking tester”. If we believe that “thinking tester” is a valid descriptor then surely the opposite attribute must also be true, a “non thinking tester”.  A computer executing regression tests is a possible example of a non thinking tester (although I prefer the term checking rather than testing in this space and I don’t agree with the idea that a computer can test).  I’ve yet to hear anyone call themselves a thinking tester in comparison to a computer. The assertion has always, to me, seemed to be “at the human level”.

Is it possible for a human tester (tester from here on in means human tester) to not think?  According to Scientific American the answer is No. Humans, from the dawn of time, have been hardwired to think.

“Optimal moment-to-moment readiness requires a brain that is working constantly…….Constant thinking is what propelled us from being a favourite food on the savanna—and a species that nearly went extinct—to becoming the most accomplished life-form on this planet. Even in the modern world, our mind always churns to find hazards and opportunities in the data we derive from our surroundings, somewhat like a search engine server. Our brain goes one step further, however, by also thinking proactively”

So, from a scientific approach, there are no non thinking humans, ergo, no non thinking testers.

Let’s move away from the scientific domain and consider the word itself. The Online Etymology Dictionary provides the following

Old English þencan “imagine, conceive in the mind; consider, meditate, remember; intend, wish, desire” (past tense þohte, past participle geþoht), probably originally “cause to appear to oneself,” from Proto-Germanic *thankjan (source also of Old Frisian thinka, Old Saxon thenkian, Old High German denchen, German denken, Old Norse þekkja, Gothic þagkjan).

Let’s dive into a dictionary and have a look at meaning of this word.From the Oxford Dictionary:

  • the process of considering or reasoning about something
  • a person’s ideas or opinions

and from the Cambridge Dictionary:

  • the activity of using your mind to consider something

There’s a lot of consistency in those sources. So the meaning of thinking can be considered reasonably stable across a long period of time. It’s not a word that has recently attracted new meaning. Whether we think of testing in ISTQB terminology and approach:

Software testing is a process of executing a program or application with the intent of finding the software bugs. It can also be stated as the process of validating and verifying that a software program or application or product: Meets the business and technical requirements that guided it’s design and development.

or we favour the definition from the Rapid Software Testing namespace:

Testing is the process of evaluating a product by learning about it through exploration and experimentation, which includes to some degree: questioning, study, modelling, observation, inference, etc.

I struggle to conceive of a way of doing either that does not involve consideration, reasoning, opinions and ideas. Even deeply detailed, low level, stepped out test cases require thought when they are being executed. In fact those really detailed test cases, if out of date, can require a considerable dose of thinking to get through them. Working out if a variance, an unexpected outcome, is a software issue or user input mistake and what triggered, or may have triggered, the variance takes thinking. Some issues are really elusive, reproducing them requires thinking. Testing, regardless of whether we view it as good testing or bad testing, requires thinking.

When we refer to a “thinking tester” it is far too general to be useful. We are all “thinking testers”. Much in the same way the we are all “breathing humans” (have you ever felt the need to point this out in conversation?). Thinking is useful and it has many dimensions. Perhaps we need to consider various types of thinking. Thinking can be critical, deep, reflective, lateral, quick, slow, analytical, concrete, abstract, divergent, convergent, the list goes on. In understanding types of thinking, how we apply them and how they apply to us we add depth to our toolkit. We start to get a good view of our thinking strengths and weaknesses, we get knowledge on where we could improve. Perhaps we can focus on improving our thinking skills and let others within the community, our peers and those we serve,  recognise our thinking skills through actions rather than words. When the proof is on display it might just be our need to use the label “thinking tester” disappears and we settle for being a Tester.