The Conscientious Tester

There are times in our lives when we are challenged by our circumstances to closely consider what we observe around us.  As software testers, we are asked to test for or validate a truth that is unencumbered by idealism or preference. We endeavor to witness and measure an objective success or failure of things. In some cases we find ourselves being tested as well.

In my own work as a tester I have stumbled upon an implied test requirement or a false test result that indicated evidence of something fishy. Other times I have been invited to participate in optimization of the performance for a system that delivers unethical, immoral, or even illegal outcomes or impacts. In these cases, much like the countless times I have witnessed another person running a red light at an intersection in the middle of the night, I found myself as the person having to decide whether or not I would “run the red light” under the same circumstances.

I can tell you that every time I faced a decision not to proceed or engage or continue, I faced that decision alone. 

Alone and with very few alternatives to consider. It is with rare exception that I have found any support for my position when I expressed refusal to test or optimize a system that I knew was unethical, unfair, immoral, or illegal. Many times I found that in my departure from such situations, the team replaced me with a resource who would have less resistance or conscientious objection to the situation.

Even with the recent adoption of “standards of business conduct” policies at companies I have worked with, they  still leave considerable room for interpretation on internally managed situations. They prefer to focus on the governance of externally visible behaviors and risk mitigation.

Additionally, in our contemporary society -- particularly with the from-the-ground-up effective influence of the recent Occupy movements against large corporations and Wall Street institutions -- I’m curious about software testers who were on the job, validating the calculations, batch jobs, data transformation routines and application business logic that led to the foundation for the scrutiny these corporate entities are presently under. 

I’m curious if there was a tester like me inside these companies who was alone in their protest or refusal to comply.

I want to propose a change. 

I want to invite testers to request that their employers add a statement of ethical discernment to their contracts.  And here is why:

1) individuals should not be subject to explicit or implicit manipulation by a greater organization against their will

2) individuals who muster the guts to pursue the truth objectively deserve the respect and support of the greater community

3) individuals who suffer the chilling effect (like SLAPP litigation) as a result of their testing efforts should be fully empowered and informed about their rights

I’m proposing a type of protection that would be inherently granted to software testers simply due to the value of their disposition around the relentless pursuit of the objective truth.