From Hero to Zero in 140 seconds – Colloquially Speaking

In my most recent Blog, entitled How to Manage a Happier Test Team – 25 Tips from an Experienced Test Manager, one of my tips was “Ensure everyone in the team is working for the team – heroes are dangerous”.

What I didn’t know at the time was that there were a few social media discussions going on regarding the concept of a Hero within the context of Testing. The most notable contributor to this discussion was Michael Bolton. Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I entered the fray by Tweeting Michael and asking his opinion of my quote. We then began a short discussion that I felt was not easy to continue on Twitter and I asked Michael if he’d mind me explaining myself in an environment where 140 characters was no longer a constraint – hence this Blog post…

As a long-time supporter of the context-driven approach, my context also includes the language used within the environment that I am operating. To provide an example of this I will refer to the situation of my moving from England to Australia over 20 years ago. On the face of it, English is spoken in both countries. However, many words and phrases are used in quite contrasting situations and circumstances. This becomes even more challenging when we also introduce colloquial terms. No one outside of Australia, for example, would have any idea what “cactus” means in the context of software – to give you a clue, I’ve used many cactus images on my bug reports over the years….

In one of my very first business meetings in Australia, I was sitting in a room full of men and women discussing the progress of our project. It wasn’t a very exciting meeting (no surprise there!!) and there were no heated discussions. Just as I was daydreaming about the beach I thought I heard someone refer to another person in the room as a wanker!! Now this is not a term I had ever heard before in mixed company, let alone in a business meeting. So, after the meeting, I asked my boss why someone had been referred to as a wanker. My boss was aware of my Englishness and explained that Aussies use this word as a term of endearment or quite playfully when someone is being a bit “up themselves”. It did not mean what the Oxford Dictionary states. While this may seem an extreme example to some, it is a very clear indication that we can’t always take what we hear (or read) literally. I have since heard this term used many times on Australian TV (during News bulletins), by politicians in open forums and even by old ladies (in their 70’s and 80’s) at the football.

Back to my Hero quote. When I was younger (so much younger than today), I had many heroes. Mostly they were sportsmen/women or rock stars. However, they weren’t really heroes. In reality, they were exceptional people that I looked up to – and in some cases almost worshipped (like a hero). These days I have less need for this type of hero, although I still admire these same people – but from a far more realistic perspective.

Now to zero in on my use of the word Hero in my original Blog. For more years that I care to remember, I have used this term to describe people who see themselves as a bit special or a cut above the rest of us (mere mortals). These people are usually very protective of their knowledge (no matter how sparse), over-confident in their ability and prone to make pronouncements rather than provide considered and constructive input. They can also appear distant and aloof while regularly telling anyone prepared to listen that their ideas are often misunderstood and they could certainly solve all the current problems on the project.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one using this interpretation (to refer to a hero) in the business and/or software testing world – especially as we (in Australia) use it regularly to describe people we are working with – but would prefer not to….

In summary, I can understand how my terminology was misunderstood and hopefully I have answered any questions people may have had. Please feel free to comment/disagree/challenge any of the above.

Dateline: Sunday March 24, 2013; Melbourne, Australia


8 thoughts on “From Hero to Zero in 140 seconds – Colloquially Speaking

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 26 March 2013 | 5blogs

  2. A world created by humans is in no way an objective world. We live in a world created and shaped by humans. That’s the world we live in. We DO get to make choices.

    As I said the other day on Twitter, some villains in the quality management world stole the meaning of “hero” —quite possibly because there were no heroes in their midst. I think we should steal it back. That’s all.

    • I’ll sign up for that. Not so sure I can influence this as much as you though. Maybe I’ll start a “Heroes” category on my Blog to promote the positive notion of heroism.

  3. We have a term in NZ & I’m sure its used elsewhere in the world, that might be more suitable than “hero”: prima donna. Prima donnas are grandstanders and generally not team players. I usually endeavour to neutralise a prima donna by assigning him/her tasks around team building eg. organising next team lunch or similar. Usually has the desired effect even if it needs 2-3 goes before success starts to show through.

  4. Thank you for the clarification.

    I’m aware that some people use the word “hero” in the same sense that you’re using it here. The trouble, for me, is twofold. One is that it inverts to the meaning of the word “hero” as it has existed for literally hundreds of years. The other, related problem is that using “hero” in this way eliminates a useful word for a concept that we need: a person who behaves admirably, nobly, selflessly. We do need people like that in software.

    When someone says “we have to get rid of heroes in software development–and we have to get rid of the need for heroes”, that is the exact equivalent of saying “we need more villains in software development–and we have to create environments where villainy is necessary,” or of saying “I need traitors on my team, and I want to promote an environment in which treachery is valued.” It’s like schoolkids who say that something is “sick” when they mean “great”.

    I think what you really want to say is that we need fewer wankers (in the English sense) in software development. I could agree with that.

    • While I can agree with the concept I think hero is a bad choice. I think hero, along with legend, has been hijacked and distorted, by the general media. I’m not sure the meaning of hero is now closely aligned with the descriptors that Michael Bolton ties to the word. It is also a gender specific term, a hero is male, what of women in testing? I would much prefer we look for champions in testing. Champions excel because they have a passion and care about what they do and the people they interact with along the journey. I think the commonly understood meaning of champion is closer to what testing is looking for. Perhaps it is all just terminology but then again isn’t terminology and meaning a cornerstone of good testing?

      • Thanks for your thoughts Paul.

        One of the reasons I wrote this article was to highlight that colloquialisms within communities can hijack words and phrases. My original quote in last week’s Blog was just replaying a series of commonly used phrases – none of which are unique to me. If we had a single version of English (across all English speaking countries) it would be a good start.

        We often seek perfection within our industry, but this is generally in a context that is constantly moving. I think we are our own worst enemies – we expect clarity where there can’t be any (realistically), but this doesn’t stop our search.

        We are what we are – imperfect human beings with unrealistic expectations of what we can achieve. Sometimes we need to take a chill pill and not sweat the small stuff…. A Hero is a subjective term in an objective world.

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