Testing the Limits With James Bach – Part II

In part II of our latest Testing the Limits interview with James Bach, we discuss what it would take to get him back on the client side of testing; free testing tools that he’s currently using; required reading for new testers; his upcoming speaking/book tour, sniper rifling in Middle Earth and more. Enjoy!

If you missed part I, you can find it here.

uTest: Your brother recently made the leap to the client side at eBay….will we see James Bach cross back over as well?

JB: Well, maybe a super-villain out there buys out my company and hires me full time to be chief tester for their front corporation. I would wonder at first why I was being paid three million dollars a year to test a variation of Angry Birds, but the money would blunt my natural inquisitiveness (I have my wife’s medical bills to pay, after all).

Only after a British secret agent drops in (literally) at my office to confront me with the horrible truth (that the program I was testing was actually a doomsday device) would I and Cortana (an AI construct rendered as a perky young female that switched sides after spontaneously evolving a sense of ethics) manage to skillfully mis-report critical bugs prior to sign-off. This would lead to the destruction of the doomsday machine seconds after our daring escape through the test data exhaust port.

But I doubt that will happen.

Basically, it would take an unreasonable amount of money to make me give up my independence.

uTest: You wrote a great blog post recently on the subject of tool vendors – specifically, how they can avoid your wrath. We’ve also heard you recommend free tools in the past (“because they can be freely abandoned”). What tools (either paid or free) have you discovered recently and how have hey helped your testing efforts?

JB: I’ve been playing with “R”. It’s a free statistical analysis system.

There are several books on it. I love tools that help me work with complicated data.

The tool that has helped me most recently is my Canon solid state video recorder combined with my micro tripod. I think I will never do professional testing again without a camera rolling. It’s so helpful to be able to roll back the film and watch what I just did in order to reproduce a difficult problem.

uTest: You’ve been following the testing of medical devices rather closely, recently highlighting that the FDA had come to recognize the value of exploratory testing. Are there other particular industries that need to make this same realization? If so, which ones?

JB: Banking, insurance, and aerospace come to mind. I’m working with a major world bank as well as a major insurance company right now, so that feels good. They are both “standardizing” on Rapid Testing. Which means that thinking for one’s self is becoming their standard.

uTest: We know you’re not much of a proponent of testing textbooks, but we know you’re a big fan of books and literature in general. Do you have a “required reading” list for new testers? If so, what are some of titles we could expect to find on it?

JB: The main books are by Jerry Weinberg:

  • Perfect Software
  • Introduction to General Systems Thinking
  • Quality Software Management (Vols. 1 and 2 especially)
  • Secrets of Consulting
  • Exploring Requirements: Quality Before Design

And by other authors:

  • Tools For Critical Thinking
  • The Duck that Won the Lottery
  • The Black Swan

uTest: You recently held a pretty unique testing competition at CAST last month. We’ll let readers check out the specific details on your blog, but we wanted to ask if you planned to hold more in the future. If so, what are some of your ideas for new testing competitions? We promise not to steal them.

JB: I don’t run competitions very often. I’d like to, though. It’s an interesting laboratory for testing practices. I think our industry needs more of them. We need a few high stakes competitions– something with big prizes.

I’d like to see a competition that focuses on test reporting (including test strategy and logistics), rather than just bug reporting. Everything produced should be put into the public domain, so that we gain more and better examples of testing practices and artifacts. And there should be a specification analysis competition, too.

It would be fun to do head-to-head testing competitions with live play-by-play commentary.

uTest: What scares you most about the testing industry today?

JB: The fact that the fake testing industry seems bigger than the real testing industry; and the fact that incompetence in testers is not only tolerated but vigorously encouraged in many organizations; and the new ISO testing standard– which is a tool that will be used by incompetent people to justify fake testing.

Software products are more complicated than ever. People will die because testing as a field won’t grow up and put away childish chew toys such as T-Map.

uTest: The last time we spoke, you had just published Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar. Are there any other book projects in the works? If so, please give us a sneak preview, along with an estimated date of arrival.

JB: I’m working with Anne-Marie Charrett on a book about online test coaching. We don’t have a date, but I suspect late next year.

uTest: We were disappointed to learn that you wouldn’t be speaking at STPCon down in Dallas. Where and when is your next speaking appearance and what will you be discussing?

JB: I’ll be at the Star West conference, talking about critical thinking, exploratory testing, and formal testing.

Rapid Fire:

  • Medieval weapon of choice: Barrett M107 Sniper rifle. Did they have those? Okay..Longbow, then.
  • Secret Talent: Resigning.
  • Programming language of choice: Perl.
  • Star Wars or Lord of the Rings? Well, I served with the forces of Gondor in the battle before the gates of Mordor. Does that answer the question? I was the one with the sniper rifle.
  • You wouldn’t be caught dead where? Working for The Man.

¬†Editor’s note: We hope enjoyed our latest Q&A with James Bach. If you have suggestions for future guests, send them to marketing@utest.com. Until next time, happy testing!

Essential Guide to Mobile App Testing


  1. says

    Remember the dice, there is only one way to get a 2.

    Decide on a large online game which provides out numerous
    scaled-down prizes. Many people have tried to figure out
    the lottery system ever since it was invented.

  2. lalitha says

    Hi James,

    I have been through some of your interviews through Utest news letters.

    Your interviews inspire me a lot and I feel, one should have a boss like you to learn everyday.

  3. John says

    I hope James expounds on ‘fake testing’ and the ‘fake testing industry.’

    I was hoping to find this in his blogs or articles, but no such luck.

  4. says


    Another great uTest interview. Well done.

    Two links to blog posts you mentioned in this interview for people who are interested:

    “Avoiding My Curse on Tool Vendors” http://www.satisfice.com/blog/archives/596 (Though some might consider “not being cursed” a backhanded compliment of sorts, we actually think of it as some of the highest praise we’ve ever received, considering James’ views about most software testing tools out there. We’ll take it!)

    James’ blog post about the recent tester competition at CAST: http://www.satisfice.com/blog/archives/605 (As a participant in that event, I’d encourage anyone who gets the chance to join any testing competitions James organizes).

    - Justin
    Founder of Hexawise

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