03 March, 2011

The return of the context-driven physicist

I signed up for CAST 2011 as soon as registration opened since Henrik Andersson had told me it was The Conference To Attend. I didn't think too much about the topic - Context-Driven Testing - until I realised "everyone" was discussing whether they were context-driven testers or not. It's even the current poll on the AST homepage! It was time to do some fact finding followed be serious thinking - am I a context-driven tester?

The physicist in me (still going strong three years down the road) is nonplussed. It has never really occurred to me that it is possible to not be context-driven. Physicists are trained to be context-driven. In physics there is no such thing as one theory or formula that applies under all circumstances - on the contrary everything is highly context dependent. Like speed - when objects move fast enough relativistic effects have to be taken into account.

The (somewhat more quiet) statistician that also lurks at my inner core agrees. In order to interpret your data you have to know the context. Without context you can't know whether the data is best described by the standard distribution, or maybe the chi-square distribution.

As a scientist my approach is to first evaluate the context and then try to find the most suitable technique for solving the problem.  You won't get far if you have a favourite formula that you insist on always using. Nature has no intention to adapt to you.

I did not give TBTM a try because I thought it was cool (it is) and it would make a good blog post (it did), but because I thought it would suit my context. My focus is always on solving the task at hand, not on the methodology or technique. I do try to learn as many techniques and methodologies as possible, but not to have a nice CV but rather to really be able to be context-driven. If my tool-box only contains one tool it’s darn difficult to adapt to circumstances. 

I am a context-driven tester and proud of it.


  1. Physics rocks! I love this post and couldn't agree more! Well written. Thanks.

  2. Reply to Paul: Thanks! I'm just glad those 11 years at university paid off...I do think that the scientific approach should be used more often also outside of science.

  3. Hi Christian -

    Happy note that you are physicist and tester.

    How do you know if you are a context driven tester or not ! Try defining your testing philosophy, your core beliefs, your view of world of testing - then you can figure out where does that map to values/scheme of CDT.

    I would say physicists are paradigm driven. Classical Physics, Einstein's physics, Quantum theorists, String theorists, Physics that believe in unity of sciences and those that do not.

    I have been of late studying Physics, Philosophy. Richard Feynman is my hero. What about you? Kuhn, Popper, Fritjof Capra are fav writers.

    Welcome to CDT school ...

    Shrini Kulkarni

  4. Reply to Shrini: Interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing. I realise that I should have mentioned that I am an experimentalist. Maybe theorists are paradigm driven, but I would still argue that experimentalists are context driven.

    If I do have any heroes they would be found among my contemporaries. One worth mentioning is Sven Lidström. Not a scientist, but one of the guys that make everything work...