Asking Questions

I love reading twitter after I give a talk, because I can review what I said and make sure I agree with it (I never know what will come out of my mouth when I’m on a stage in front of people – it’s part of my presentation style). At TestBash in Philadelphia, I (apparently) said:


I said the above at the end of a story where I also referenced Richard Feynman’s story about being afraid to ask a question, asking anyway, and finding a “bug” (in this case, a problem resulting from a stuck valve). If you’re a tester, and haven’t read Feynman, you are really missing out on the stories of a great systems thinker. In this story, Feynman asks a question he is almost too afraid to ask, and the answer is, “… ‘you’re absolutely right, sir.”

In my day job, I have a shallow view of a big and complex product. I review some code, I look at some of the specifications and designs, and I go to some architecture meetings. I know enough to know that I don’t know most things, so I ask questions when I’m confused.

Inevitably (and most recently, just a few weeks ago), I’ll ask a question that makes me look smart despite my lack of knowledge. In this case, I happened to look at a code review, and was curious how the feature and flow worked. I reviewed every line, but it still wasn’t clear how one part of the flow worked. I dug for a while, but all I did was feel dumb about not being able to figure it out. As a last resort, I added a comment to the code saying, “It’s not clear to me exactly how [this flow] works, do you mind swinging by my desk and walking me through it so I understand it better?”

The response in the code review? ‘’”you’re absolutely right – great catch!”

I wouldn’t bother telling the story if this was a one time thing, but it happens all the time. I try to learn, and ask questions when my learning is (or feels) blocked. Most of the time, I merely learn, but sometimes, I inadvertently find something interesting. Either way, if you’re passionate about learning (and every knowledge worker should be), then always ask questions if you need clarification or more understanding – you may just be right.


  1. Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    One of a tester’s most important jobs is asking questions. Much better to ask a question early in an iteration than to report a bug at the end. And if the code (or story, or whatever) isn’t easy to understand, then it clearly has a problem. My standard is that I shouldn’t have to read it twice to understand it.

  2. Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Alan,

    You’re absolutely right!

    Asking question is not easy at all and it’s even harder to ask good question. It requires a lot of courage to tell people that I dont know something. In the era of media, people all want to be looked good, thought good and asking question is so vulnerable.

    As a tester, I find asking good question is one of the most important skills a tester need to have.

    Thank you for your great post again.


  3. Posted December 16, 2016 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Hi Alan,

    Nice post, can you also suggest how to ask a question effectively?


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