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Do testers dream of Wrestlemania?

testing, wrestling, and storytelling
Wrestlemania 22, 2006

TL;DR + Disclaimer: If you still believe Santa-Claus or wrestling are real, I suggest not reading this post. In it, I’ll write a bit about wrestling and storytelling, and a bit about how we can take learnings from it into software testing.

The time was April 2006. Europeans were still expecting to see the PS3 launched in Europe in November (it didn’t). We invested our precious time in front of TV screens: going on epic adventures through Middle Earth or becoming the most wanted racer in Rockport city. And there was one thing on every kid’s mind: Wrestling.

During this one month, in particular, there was one event that captured our imagination, made us completely forget about studies or anything else: Wrestlemania 22. The panel of performers was unforgettable, with names like John Cena, Triple H, The Undertaker, Randy Orton, Rey Misterio, Kurt Angle, and many others. The match I was most excited about was Shawn Michaels against Mr. McMahon. There was this feud going on between them for weeks, and to my young mind, the story was so captivating I couldn’t help but wonder with the same anxiety as people who devour soap operas: what will happen next? To this day, though I don’t remember the entire match, I still remember it was awesome.

Fast forward a couple of years, and it’s just memories in the wind. We’re all grown-ups. Who cares about some old-fashioned-Wrestling? What I didn’t expect was somehow I’d still end up watching (and enjoying) Wrestling again later with my wife (a shy but avid Wrestling fan).

There is one main difference now: there is no illusion that it’s all a “performance” or an “act”. We’re adults, we have reasonable logic faculties, and for us it’s clear it’s all a play: the fights, the feuds, the gimmicks, every moment of it, we know it’s fake, and yet somehow, we still end giving in a few of our critical faculties and “believing” something which we know is not real, for enjoyment and entertainment purposes (aka. “Suspension of disbelief”). There’s even a specific word for it in the Wrestling industry, kayfabe, it’s worth reading it up.

You’re talking about wrestling. What about testers?

You might not know anything about wrestling and “sports entertainment”, but for a moment, think about all the effort, the planning, the work, and all the elements that must be put into place to such a degree that you’ll have the ability to transport an audience’s reality into one that is a folly, but is entertaining and enjoyable. You’ll find similar amounts of effort put into theatre plays, fantastic books, awesome video games, or some other entertainment forms.

In Wrestling, you know they’re faking the whole time. You know it’s an act. When two performers are “fighting” each other and you notice they’re not really committed to putting on the “fight” or they keep breaking their personas, a lot of things may happen: the match ends up being not entertaining or lame; the performers might not evolve a lot in their careers; no matter who wins or loses the match, you end up having a feeling that the match wasn’t any good.

Now, what if we compared all this effort that this whole industry of Wrestling has into the portraying of these stories and staged events with the different but equally demanding effort and work you can find in various aspects of the software testing industry? Sounds silly right?

It is silly. It’s worlds apart. BUT, somehow, I still wish every tester, new and old in the industry, put in the same amount of effort and expertise that these performers of past and present put on the ring/stage, to the very least in this one theme: storytelling.

Storytelling?

I see this happening a lot on some rookie testers and in a similar also on some rookie wrestling performers: through their actions they fail to give the right amount of respect to storytelling, sometimes focusing on other parts of the job, but not on the one that is the most visible, impactful and important for a software project (or wrestling event).

Maybe you have awesome automation skills. Or maybe you understand the architecture of your software project from cover to cover from a testing standpoint. Maybe you think of yourself as the flawless-cheerleader of quality-assurance (or assistance?) of the team: without you, how could they possibly succeed at having their quality assured (whatever that is) or even surviving?

The thing is, none of that really matters. What I believe matters, a bit above all else, especially for a rookie, is: how many important bugs are you able to report in a meaningful way in the nimblest of ways, under time pressure?

Think about it. Throughout history, you’ll see a roster of wrestling performers: big, small, fast, slow, “good”, “evil”, long hair, bald, etc. The ones that thrive and remain throughout time, becoming fan-favorites or infamous, aren’t perfect in every single aspect or part of the job one might consider important for “fighting”/wrestling, but to survive in the industry they can’t be beaten in one: their storytelling skills.

Bug reporting is storytelling. It’s the right amount of information conveyed in the best format possible, in a way that people who you’re directing the story towards actually care about it and will pay attention to it.

Ask yourself:

There are more questions we can ourselves. But I think it’s been a trend for decades where we seldom worry about the one half of our career as testers that makes up for the most valuable contributions to any project: storytelling in the form of bug reporting. (FYI: the other half being: Learning)

If you follow wrestling, think about all the performers that are forgotten in time, and think about the ones that are active or remembered to this day: they might not be the strongest or more likable, but hands-down, the importance they give to storytelling is the essential ingredient that differentiates them from one-another and survive in people’s memory and imagination.

Now I know I sound preachy here. I’m galaxies away from being perfect, still, there’s one thing I try to exercise and I openly invite any tester to try and do the same: give as much importance to the way you build and tell your “stories” as you would to learning and exploring and being a detective, and don’t be afraid to invest less in buzz-words that are not as meaningful or important to your craft.

One more thing.

One thing that I should have mentioned in the beginning is that not all wrestlers can participate in Wrestlemania (one of the yearly-highest-attended wrestling events ever, and one of the best ones to be in if you’re a performer): only the best performers get a chance at being it. When you watch an event like Wrestlemania, you watch the best of the best performers, at the top of their game, whose storytelling skills and “wrestling” craft makes them stand out in the industry.

I think that throughout one’s career, we might not think much about it, but we’ll find ourselves dreaming of “Wrestlemania”, and that’s it, we don’t go much further. Still, we often fail to observe, study, and translate into actions the steps which allow us to pursue a bit further “the dream”, hence my motivation for putting into writing this post and taking a look at the effort placed in storytelling in two different career branches.

As a software tester, you don’t need to be famous or be a superstar like a famous Wrestling performer, but if you’re willing, I invite you to think about trying to be an expert tester: think at least about giving yourself the chance to nurture your craft and your “storytelling” skills, to the same level and demand of the best projects: the “Wrestlemania”-kind of software projects. Why not?