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Left-Brain = Logic. Right-Brain = Instinct.

April 7, 2013
Brain Books 2010

Brain Books 2010 (Photo credit: brewbooks)

In the March 2013 edition of the online magazine ‘testing experience – The Magazine for Professional Testers’ I found quite an interesting article (several in fact) but one in particular which made me think about whether there are any real interview questions or aptitude tests which could be used to find the ideal tester – one that has the ‘testing mindset’ and uses both left- and right-hand sides of the brain.

Personally, I think the ‘testing mindset’ is quite difficult to to describe, but I believe that the majority of good testers (ones that I would recommend!) are naturally analytical and will make all effort to  understand a problem down it’s root cause (left-side). The very good testers I know (myself included) are the kinds of people that need to have all spreadsheets correctly aligned and get quite ‘OCD’ if they spot a typo or grammatical error on any form of communication (left-side), but who are also passionate about their work and providing the best results (right-side?).

So, how do we find these talented individuals and persuade them that they want to be Testers?

Now, please read the full article by Frank Titulaer – ‘Wanted: Right-Brain Software Tester’ – and tell me what you think…

Over the past decades, software testers have worked hard to get recognition for software testing. We have created standardized approaches for testing software and we have written many books on these approaches. We have created courses and certification programs and organized all of this internationally. As a result, the software testing profession has matured. It is standardized, internationalized and tool-supported. We have come as far as being able to have tests executed automatically or half way around the globe. Analytical left-brain skills have brought us and the testing profession to where we are today. Now, some may argue that software testing has become a commodity, so we have to find new ways in which we can add value. We have to focus on the areas and skills that cannot be automated or outsourced and specialize in them. This forces us to rethink our profession. We have reached the point at which our excellent analytical skills are no longer sufficient. New additional skills will be required – skills that are based in the right hemisphere of our brain. Now let us take a side step and have a look at the anatomy of our brain. As we all know, the brain is symmetrically divided into two parts, the cerebral hemispheres. Although both hemispheres are more or less equal in shape and size, they serve different functions. The left hemisphere is largely responsible for language, logic and speech, and operates sequentially and analytically. For a very long time, the left hemisphere was seen as the superior hemisphere because it represented everything that sets us apart from animals. The capacity of the left brain is what drove the industrial revolution and the information age. The right hemisphere is non-linear, holistic, and based on instinct. It is able to recognize patterns, interpret non-verbal expressions, put details together, and create the big picture. To put it in a simplistic way: the left side is the ‘hard’ analytical side, and the right side is the ‘soft’ arty-crafty side. Now take a look in your job descriptions. Ninety per cent of the required skills for a good software tester are left-brain skills. There was no room for ‘arty-crafty’ in IT and definitely not in software testing.

Here is an example to illustrate the difference between the left and the right brain: I was asked: “Honey, please go to the market and buy a bottle of milk. If they have eggs, bring six.” I came back with six bottles of milk and no eggs. The response: “Why did you bring six bottles of milk?” I answered: “Because they had eggs!” 

What you see here is a left-side only interpretation of the first line. Analytical, if-then-else. Luckily, with most of us, the right side comes to the aid, puts the details together, and creates the big picture of six eggs and one bottle of milk. For people to function, both sides have to work together like yin and yang. In an age where computers or colleagues in Asia are able to do left-brain work faster and better then we are, we will have to make a shift and specialize in skills that require more right-brain capacity and perform tasks that cannot by automated or carried out from another geographical location. We will have to become experts in the areas that surround the actual system that is being tested. We will focus on the tasks that are customer and user related more than system related. More related to the chain of systems that, in its totality, supports the business of our clients. Future testers will have to address their right brain and take all the little pieces of information, put them together, and paint the big picture. They will have to understand the client’s business, be able to judge risk and consequences in the chain of applications, and take appropriate actions to mitigate them. They will have to fully understand the daily work and problems of their users in order to determine the quality of the complete set of documentation. The general software tester will have to specialize and become an acceptance test specialist with great listing skills and empathy to understand user needs. Or become a review specialist, able to put the details of different documents together to determine omissions, discrepancies, and redundancy. Maybe become a business risk specialist who understands the nature of his client’s business and can oversee possible risks in the chain of systems that may very well stretch over several companies. Obviously we will not be able to do this without using our left-brain capacities. But, hopefully, you will see that the demand for right-brain capacity will increase in the future.

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