Respecting the house rules

I just watched Angie Jones’s keynote from this year’s Selenium Conference using elements of game design to talk about test automation. I really like what she said about the rules of the game. Broadly, there are the rules that are part of the game—the best practices and patterns that are well established parts of the trade—but there’s also the house rules.

These are the rules that you make up with your team members… In the automation game, we’re not really accepting of the house rules. People judge you. They think that you’re clueless if you tell them you’re playing by the house rules. I don’t like this. Can we stop doing this? Let’s stop judging people and assuming that everyone is playing with all of the game pieces and that they can do everything by these outside-the-box rules that technically we made up ourselves. Can we allow people to implement some cultural variances to their game to get ahead? People out here are doing the best that they can.

— Angie Jones at SeConf 2018

She goes on to tell an example about a team that knows they aren’t doing things by the book, but not for lack of trying. People have to work with what they’ve got. And yes, they can do their best to change it, but even if change is possible it doesn’t happen over night and you can’t build perfect (if you even know what perfect would be) over night.

This is good to remember not just for talking about how other people approach test automation, but within our own teams as well, and any time you’re looking at the work of another person. Many times I’ve heard someone complain about how insane or ugly or ridiculous some piece of code is, without considering why it might have made sense to write it like that in the first place. Why it might still make sense to write it like that. No design is sacred, but Angie also makes the point later in her talk that we shouldn’t just be pointing out how not to do things, we should talk about how we can do better. Simply declaring how awful something is showcases the ignorance of the person complaining at least as often as the original author’s.

Worth repeating: “People are out here doing the best they can.”

The full video is below. The house rules part is at about 24:20.