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. 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. 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.


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