My friend Steve is an exceptional classical guitarist. Watching him perform is inspiring – he has a rare mastery over the instrument and has spent years developing his craft. Steve can also explain the techniques he is using while he is playing, to teach and demonstrate how a student can learn and improve their own skills. Steve can make a guitar sing, and says that music is about tension and resolution. If music is all tension, you get uncomfortable as a listener. If it only resolves, it is boring, tedious repetition. Steve extends this concept to the actual physical actions that a guitarist employs to create certain sounds. For example, if you play with a lot of tension, you will limit your ability to do certain tasks. To make music, you need to find a balance between tension and resolution, and to find this balance, you need a mix of knowledge, skill and creativity.
Like Steve, my friend James Bach is also exceptionally skilled. James isn’t a guitarist, he is a software tester. James is also inspiring to watch while he practices his craft. He is a master of skilled exploratory testing: simultaneous test design, execution and learning . James can also explain the testing techniques he uses while he is testing, to instruct testing students. The first time I saw him test software, I was reminded of my friend Steve. This time the tension and resolution wasn’t related to music composition or the execution of techniques on a musical instrument. Instead, the tension and resolution revolved around ideas. James would simultaneously design and execute tests based on his curiosity about the application. He would get feedback on a test, learn from it and design a new test. The tension was generated by the questioning nature of his tests, and the resolution emerged from the results of those tests. There was something almost musical in this interplay between the mind of the tester and the application being tested. This shouldn’t be surprising; as a software tester, James has a well-developed mix of knowledge, skill and creativity.