On James Bach and Swiss Testing Day March 18, 2012Posted by Peter Varhol in Education, Software development.
I was giving a talk at Swiss Testing Day this past week. Testing luminary James Bach gave the English keynote, on a variation of his buccaneer scholar theme, specifically as it applied to the craft of software testing.
I have a decidedly mixed opinion of Bach in general, but I was impressed by his thoughts on learning and career development. In short, Bach himself has no formal education, and has navigated his way to the top of his profession by having a voracious appetite for learning across a broad spectrum of topics. A buccaneer, he notes, was required to interact in a community of like-minded people, practice a variety of crafts, and demonstrate their skills when called upon.
Much of society has a bias in favor of formal education. I am certainly well and broadly educated formally, and bought into the message of the value of school at an early age. But that education offered me no panacea in career. It may have opened a few doors that might otherwise have remained closed, but ultimately I had to perform in order to retain a job and professional credibility.
So from that perspective, James Bach is absolutely correct. Formal education is overrated as a professional tool. But most of us (including me) aren’t as smart as Bach, and we sometimes use formal education to help demonstrate some of the characteristics that we can’t articulate or defend well in practice. Education a useful tool in that and other regards, because we can’t all have the force of intelligence and personality to be successful buccaneers.
Most of society prefers not to interact, learn, and work as a group of buccaneers. After all, three centuries ago they were largely feared outcasts, and few of us want to be constantly proving ourselves. In practice, formal education is a worthwhile first step, supplemented over a 30-or-so year career with self-learning and community. That’s where the buccaneer attitude that Bach describes can pay off for the rest of us.