Category Archives: politics

I’m Finding Bugs, But It’s Pissing People Off. What Am I Doing Wrong?

A rookie tester asked me this question. They are experienced in software development, and their grad school work was in a highly specialized area of mathematics. They have been hired to do a very particular type of testing that they are uniquely qualified for. After getting over the mindset shift required to be an effective tester, they were pleased that they were finding bugs that they’d been hired to find. Then a wrinkle appeared. The very people who hired them to find the bugs got angry when they found the bugs they were being paid to find. Sound strange? It might, but it’s actually a common response to effective testing.
Here are some of my clarifying questions:

  • Are the bugs you are finding important, or trivial? Stakeholders on teams can get irritated if you inundate them with only trivial bugs.
  • How are your bug reports? Are they thorough? Do you provide enough information for devs to accurately reproduce the bugs?Programmers get irritated with bug reports they can’t reproduce and track down.
  • How’s your attitude? Do you laugh with glee at the misfortune of the dev team? Are you empathetic, or a condescending jerk? Is your language accusatory. blaming or condescending in any way?No one wants to be around someone who enjoys the schadenfreude.

No, the devs like my bug reports, and I’ve been as low-key and empathetic as possible. These are serious bugs that have probably been in the application since it was released several years ago. I’m tempted to stop logging the kinds of bugs that cause them to get mad at me.

Ok, you’re probably not doing anything wrong. In fact, you are probably doing something right. Don’t stop! You aren’t failing in your work, you are succeeding.

Since they seem to be doing some of the right things and aren’t knowingly or obviously antagonizing stakeholders, I assume that they really are finding important bugs, and that reaction is one telltale sign that they are being effective as a tester. I also encouraged them not to give up, but to do as Peter Block would recommend: move towards the resistance. That is a heuristic that tells us we are doing our jobs, and highlighting the really important problems. The resistance to being confronted with difficult problems that aren’t trivial to solve is just human nature.

As testers, if we are finding good problems, and we’re working with the team to help them, moving away from the resistance is a sure-fire way to relieve the pressure in the short-term, but lose credibility in the long term. If stakeholders realize we can’t be trusted, we’ve lost out ability to effectively test, observe information, and provide information that is useful for them.

I have a personal rule: if I am being pressured not to talk about something, or I feel like I should avoid a contentious issue, that means I absolutely must deal with it and talk about it. I try to be empathetic, understanding, use the right kind of language and not be a jerk, but I bring it up. Every time I do, something important is brought to the attention of the people who need to hear it. They may not like it, and they may not like to see me coming, but they know that I will always tell them the truth.
Early in my career, I was told not to bring up issues that were met with resistance. I was told that was a “career-limiting move.” My career is a testament to the opposite. Whenever I have faced resistance, stuck to my integrity and ethics, and talked about the hard problems the team had been taught to ignore, it has been a career-catapulting move.

So testers, if your work is pissing people off, the problems you are observing and reporting are important, and you aren’t being a jerk, don’t give up. It may hurt to point them out in the short-term, but it pays off handsomely in the long-term.

*Note: This doesn’t just apply to testing work, but any type of work that requires pointing out and helping solve problems. Whatever it is you do, don’t be discouraged if you are working on real problems and people are behaving strangely. Use that resistance to tell you that you are doing something right. The worst thing to do is give up and become silent.