Sat, 01 May 2004
The continuity of practice subcultures
Testing and programming are two independent technical
subcultures. I think they need to talk to each other more. Within
agile projects, I favor moving toward a single
blended technical culture.
To that end,
I'm reading Peter Galison's
and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics, a modest pamphlet
(955 pages) on two subcultures in experimental particle physics. He
talks about how those subcultures evolved, how they interacted, how
they competed for attention, and how they blended in the end.
He tags one subculture with "Image". It's comprised of, roughly,
those people who take
cool pictures of elementary particle
tracks. Their goal is "the production of images of such clarity that
a single picture can serve as evidence for a new entity..." (p. 19)
The second subculture is "Logic" (after electronic logic). In it are
the people who build things like Geiger counters: "These counting (rather than picturing) machines
aggregate masses of data to make statistical arguments for the
existence of a particle..." (p. 19)
So. Here's a gleaning. Subcultures have continuity. They change in
response to the outside world (changes in physical theory, for
example), but they also persist and evolve according to their own
What sources of continuity does Galison find? And are there similar
sources in the two subcultures I care about?
Pedagogical continuity: When it came to cloud chambers,
Wilson taught Millikan taught Anderson taught
Glaser... Moreover, there's
relatively little overlap between the Image and Logic "teaching
many worthwhile professions, much of testing and programming is
taught through apprenticeship. That's especially
true for testing, whose practice hasn't (until recently) had
much of a toehold in academia.
Technical continuity: Image people needed to know about
track analysis, photography, and micrometry. Logic people needed
to know about high voltages, logic circuit design, and gas
discharge physics. Skills did not translate easily across the
I'd like to think the divide between testing and programming is
more bridgeable, but it nevertheless exists. It's a problem that
the technical skills one side pridefully brings to bear seem not
that important to the other.
Demonstrative or epistemic continuity: This is the
kicker. Roughly, the Image people believed strong arguments
rested on pictures, whereas the Logic people believed they
rested on statistics. Each found the other's evidence (and
arguments about evidence) somewhat unpersuasive.
I say it's the kicker because it seems to me the big divide
between testing and programming is what counts as a valid and
programmers - again, roughly - it's a product that does
progressively more stuff. It's new business value. To testers,
it's a product that's progressively more capable of surviving
attack. It's lack of negative business value.
Since blending subcultures is my goal - rightly or wrongly - I
should be attentive to each of these three kinds of
continuity. The blend needs each of them.
## Posted at 16:42 in category /agile