Schedule and Events

March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
July, 14-15, 2012 - Test Coach Camp, San Jose, California
July, 16-18, 2012 - Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST 2012), San Jose, California
August 2012+ - At Liberty; available. Contact me by email:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Two Schools of Macro Economics

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the Schools Concept for Software Testing, generally based on Brett Pettichord's 2003 presentation at the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference. Cem Kaner has a good blog post on the subject, and Brett has continually revised and re-presented his talk.

One of the things I hear often is that the schools concept is divisive. My typical response is that those divisions already exist; the schools concept just abstracts those differences down to labels. Now labels can be helpful or insulting; it's all in how you handle it.

Consider, for example, the austrian school of economics vs. the Keynesian Schools. Oh, I'm not going to bore you or put you to sleep, I promise. To try to summarize: The Keynesians see the economy as the result of a series of dials. By controlling interest rates, creating stimulus, government spending, and so on, the Keynesians believe they can manipulate the markets. Keynesians tend to have formulas, equations, and metrics, just like physics, to make arguments and draw conclusions about economics.

The austrians think differently. They see the economy as organic -- as people doing things. They also see that bailouts reward the wrong thing and that dial-twisting distorts markets. An austrian economist my argue that those statistics don't mean anything. In other words, you can't add the money spent to dig ditches along with money spent do to things that genuinely benefit society, like farming or manufacturing, and reduce the total to one number. Likewise, that ideas like 'stimulus', printing money and spending it, have unintended consequences like inflation.

Whew. See how it's easier to label those instead of the full description?

Seriously, the way we see the world will influence the solutions we turn to. This, debate, and dialogue on how we see the world is important. It turns out the Macro-Economists are having the debate, and doing it well:

It starts a little slow, with a few in-jokes, but by two minutes in, you'll see the basic arguments of the two schools described well in a rap-video style. (No, really, it's a rap video. It can actually hold your attention, which is kind of hard for this subject.)

If you enjoy the video, you might want to check out the Reason behind the scenes interview. Notice towards 4:14 in the discussion turns to a discussion of emergent order to solve problems vs. central planning, about the use of mathematical models, trying to make the discipline more like physics, verses the idea that the mathematical models are naive and overly simplistic, that we need a more humanistic, systems-thinking approach. The author even uses terms like "scientism not science."

These folks are having the same debates as we are!

I'm not opposed to the school concept. I think it can be done in an insulting, crude way, or it can be used to advance the debate.

I'm for the latter.

I'll be at CAST 2011 August 8-10, where we have an emerging topics track, and also at STPCon in October.

The emerging topics track is not full yet, and because the theme of the conference is context-driven testing, I'm personally interested in proposals, panels, discussions, and debates on the schools concept, aspects of it, and it's impact on context-driven testing. (Did I mention I am co-organizing the track? *hint*)

Let's take this to the next level ... together.

I hope to see you in Seattle in August.


Pete Walen said...

Heh - I heard the two guys who made this interviewed on NPR. Brilliant minds. I think the comparison between the "schools" of economic theory and the "schools" of software testing in interesting. I think there could be an interesting discussion around that.

James Marcus Bach said...

I think I use the schools concept in an insulting, crude way, sometimes. I think that's a good thing. The people I'm insulting deserve it. They earn it.

The schools idea isn't about styles, but paradigms. Therefore, discussing schools does not advance any debate among the schools. It's outside of debate. The schools can't debate, in any civilized sense: they contend.

Just as I don't look for a constructive debate between astrophysicists and astrologers, I also don't seek it among the schools of testing.

For me, the schools concept is a way to explain why I don't bother to debate with some people. No good can come of debating across a paradigmatic boundary.

However, the tools of ridicule work well for that. As do other para-rational means.

-- James Bach