Monday, December 17, 2007

The nurse who said, "You're going to die."

Elisabeth Hendrickson posted about a topic of conversation at this year's LEWT. It dealt with an item I'm very tempted by: problem diagnosis and debugging by the tester. My comment was appropriately passionate but may have been too lengthy for a polite comment. I've taken it and placed it here with only minor modifications.

One time, I went to the doctor. That is amazing in and of itself but is not the point of my comment.

I had gone to have a mole looked at. The nurse, who was busy running all the setup routines in anticipation of the doctor, quipped that it probably was cancerous. “Most people develop some kind of cellular anomaly in their lives”, she said with all the cold and callous concern a butcher might have for some hamburger meat.

Her “diagnosis” did not set well with me. Part of my proficiency for testing is my predilection for pessimism. It caused all sorts of undue stress and anxiety. My mind ruminated on all the tearful activities that awaited me; saying goodbye to friends and family, what music will they play at the service, etc. Mind you, the doctor hadn’t even SHOWN UP yet!!! When he did finally show up, he allayed my fears with a more educated diagnosis - “you’re just mole-y. Why are you crying?”

That nurse by virtue of her position/location brought to bear the air of authority. She certainly said all the educated words. But given the circumstances, all that my mind heard was, “you’re gonna die.” How was I to know?

I love to break things so I can see how they work. And when something breaks, I view it as an opportunity for me to observe the thing’s inner-workings. But I’ve been able to avoid freaking customers out by not doing such diagnosis in front of them. I save that conversation for the developers lest I come off as an authority. Or much worse - the nurse who said, “you’re gonna die”.

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