From One Expert to Another: James Bach


In this installment of From One Expert to Another, Jon Bach uses a 20 Questions approach to interview his brother, James Bach, about his reputation, his work as a tester and consultant, his thoughts on the global testing community, and more.

My brother James and I are aficionados of exploratory testing. Call it “ad hoc testing” or “playing around,” but it’s the opposite of scripted testing the same way agile development is the opposite of waterfall development.

When we teach, James and I use the game Twenty Questions as an exploration example. When you play Twenty Questions, you have to discern what object one person is thinking by asking questions. You can’t know the questions in advance, so you ask each question as you go. That’s what exploration is—critical thinking and adaption to emerging context to discover something. 

For this interview, I gave James a script—twenty questions to answer with no feedback or follow-up from me. Notice that I purposefully left one of those scripted questions confusing by making up words, wondering how he’d react. After he sent his answers, we had a Skype conversation (another paradigm of exploration). 

1. Jon Bach: You're known for being contentious. You've also been known to publicly "flip the bit" on someone, writing them off as a waste of time. How do you decide which position to take when someone says something that provokes or annoys you? 

James Bach: Yes, I am contentious. It's a side-effect of caring about my work and about the testing field. I can be patient with fools, but not so much with the fools who pretend to be experts. 

Mostly, I "flip the bit" when I feel unable to control my temper except through total disengagement. I need to protect people from my temper, and I've learned to do that partly by not associating with raving idiots. 

2. Jon: When you introduce us when we do paired talks, you often say "I'm the one with hair, and Jon is the one with the capacity to love." Do you think everyone sees you this way—not only with hair, but as being incapable of love? 

James: Well, I'm told I have a reputation for being contentious, so I tease myself in public about that. 

You, however, are mister Teddy Tester Fuzzums, the most huggable test manager. Everyone loves you, or that's my impression. 

3. Jon: Why don't you go to conferences for programmers? Can you tell us something interesting about the last time you attended one? 

James: I go to conferences where I'm invited to speak. I'm rarely invited to speak at programmer conferences, but it does happen. I would like to go to such conferences, but I'm away from home so much that it's really painful to go to any event not absolutely required for my business. 

4. Jon: If soldy testing was not parafized, would you slow your dumbrage or increase it? 

James: I can answer this in several ways: 

  • Spellchecking: "If moldy testing was not purified, would you slow your umbrage or increase it?" In general, my umbrage is increased by moldy, unpurified testing, I would say.
  • Context-free Reply: "Whoa, slow down. First things first. Tell me about your project."
  • Ask Questions: "I'm sorry, I don't know of anything called 'soldy testing.' Do you mean solder testing? And, does 'parafized' mean 'covered in wax'?"
  • Deflection: "The real question is: What is your goal? What is your mission?" 

5. Jon: What was your last job interview like? 

James: My last interview for a regular job was being driven around Virginia while being fed nonsense and lies by the guy who hired me. I quit six months later and went independent. 

My last interview for a short-term gig was a conference call where I was asked questions about rapid testing and I ranted for an hour about it, doing my best to stop talking once in a while so that a new question could be asked. 

User Comments

1 comment
Robert Rose-Coutré's picture
Robert Rose-Coutré

This was a very entertaining interview. I agree that what one does on one's last day on earth depends on the context.

November 21, 2011 - 2:03pm

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