This weekend, I pottered down to the Kirkaldy Testing Museum. Kirkaldy was an engineer who back in 1874 opened a “Testing and Experimenting Works” in Southwark, London for materials testing.
It’s a really interesting place to see. It was a global centre for testing materials for over 100 years (every link in the Hammersmith Bridge was tested to proof load there, the Enquiry into the Tay Bridge Disaster asked the Works to test recovered girders, etc. etc.) and the main testing machine is kept in working order. In addition to the machines and history, a couple of interesting points came out of the tour which chime with software testing Today.
Trust and Integrity
Over the 100 years it was in operation, the Kirkaldy family never made the works incorporated, so they were personally liable for any consequences of their output. This was part of their developed reputation for integrity. The issue of people wanting to or being pressured into giving the bill-payer the “right” answer has been an important problem since long before software test teams were invented! The works motto “Facts not Opinions” chimes exactly with the need for testers to hold true to their integrity Today.
At the point that Kirkaldy originally set up his works, most/all engineering works had their own testing sites (they had to!) However, from the start, Kirkaldy’s Works were inundated with work orders from other major engineering works, whose owners knew the problem of vested interests above and were therefore keen to get independent testing. These weren’t just UK firms – Krupps steel used Kirkaldy’s as independent testers from 1874 through until 1914.
If you’re around London, although it’s only open occasionally (there’s a volunteer force who run it) it’s definitely worth a look!
My company have recently started calling out some of the different roles that we have to graduate starters. (Historically we recruited people and helped them develop where they wanted – now we’re large enough to call out various starting places – “Dev”, “Test”, “Support”, etc.) I’ve been asked by students at recruitment events, “How do I decide where I want to start?”
So I’ve been thinking about this and come up with a few ideas. I’ll add more ideas/posts as they become clearer in my mind. As a background here, most of this is based on the belief that people do best when they’re learning and developing, and people develop fastest and enjoy work the most when it’s aligned with their fundamental motivations. Given that, a good way to pick a starting point (or indeed a moving point!) is to think about what you enjoy.
Development roles are ultimately about creating a thing. People who are fundamentally driven by building things and get their enjoyment from that created thing (Engineers) tend to do better in a Development role. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to enjoy investigating and understanding things – in fact being able to absorb and understand things is pretty much required to be a good developer, but that’s not where the biggest buzz comes from. If what really drives you is building stuff, try out Dev.
Testing roles are ultimately about understanding a thing. People who are fundamentally driven by understanding things and get their enjoyment from really picking apart and knowing a system (Scientists) tend to do better in a Testing role. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to enjoy making things – in fact being able to build things is pretty much required to be a good tester, but that’s not where the biggest buzz comes from. If what really drives you is understanding stuff, try out Test.
Great idea, or way-off-beam? Please let me know what you think!
 Engineer picture from TF2 (wiki.teamfortress.net)