View from Across the Pond - Culture Difference in IT

(John) #1

Nothing too controversial here, but I’m from the U.S. and here are some observations that I believe. I’d be curious to here what Europeans, Latin Americans, South Americans and others have to say. Also what other U.S. folks have to say (I avoid using the term “Americans” to refer to U.S. people, since “America” covers many countries on 2 continents).

These are all my opinions based on my experience.

  1. Testing vs QA
    Everyone here probably knows the technical difference, but in the U.S. there is a marketing difference and the technical difference is ignored, “Testing” is considered unglamorous and low-pay while QA sounds much better. We have the same for “Sales” - it’s dirty and bad, so we call Sales Reps “Account Executives” or Marketing Reps even though sales !=marketing. I believe the roots of this is that when “testing” is mentioned, people envision some low-skilled person reading instructions off a clipboard and punching keys and marking it Pass or Fail. For some reason, it never occurred to them that the tests had to be designed, which could involve a great deal of thought. Early on in my career, I would list “Test Case Design” as one of my skills instead of “Testing.”

  2. Process and Standards
    I get the impression that Europeans and Latin Americans love to follow standards, especially internationally recognized standards like ISO 9001. In Costa Rica, the local cookie factory boasted that their cookies were 9001 compliant. My impression is that consensus is preferred over innovation. It’s better to conform to a wider community instead of experimenting with some new way of doing things. I think of how manufacturing standards tried to be applied to software development, which doesn’t work.

  3. Age Discrimination in IT
    In the U.S., age discrimination is the worst-kept secret. I believe age 40 was the first milestone where they saw this happening, but now I see they’re saying it’s 30 these days! This is getting as bad as figure skating where you’re over-the-hill at age 17. Are you experiencing this same thing?

That’s it for now.

(Robert) #2

1 - this is all a part of the work that Ministry of Testing and a whole lot of ad hoc tester meetups, groups and conferences are trying to do: raise testing to the status of a profession. It’s necessary because there’s still a lot to be done in that direction here in the UK, too. It’s not so much the difference between ‘testing’ and ‘QA’, but rather the question of seeing ‘testing’ as a discipline; whilst ‘QA’ is something that impacts on the bottom line and so needs to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible. Indeed, “testing” and “QA” are often seen as the same thing over here, and there is a lot of debate as to why they are different, or why one is a subset of the other (and which is the subset of which!). Again, in the UK it isn’t a marketing issue but one of business-level perceptions.

2 - In Europe, standards are seen as a way of maintaining a level playing field between products made in different countries. (Some of the debate over Brexit has started with Brexiteers loudly and happily announcing that they will be able to make a bonfire of EU regulations after we leave, only to be slapped down by people who actually make and sell products saying that to sell into a market, you have to meet the standards those markets require.) It isn’t about issues of consensus vs. innovation. And there are a lot of applications - some of which I’ve worked on - which have to meet standards because they deal with medical or financial situations.

3 - It happens here too, even though it’s illegal. Many employers don’t understand the law, don’t want to, or don’t realise that they are being discriminatory. Others completely know these things but find ingenious ways of hiding it, like putting weasel words in job adverts (“we have a vibrant, dynamic office”) or in job rejection letters (the best one I had said “you were a poor fit for the office culture” when it was the most mono-cultural office I’d set foot in for twenty years!). Most employers are not so stupid as to put age discrimination in plain words, which could result in their appearing before an Employment Tribunal (if you could afford to take the case, the ability of Brits to obtain legal redress now being so heavily dependant on ability to pay even in areas which are supposed to be simple to access and where the misdemeanour is clearly laid out in words of one syllable).

At the same time, we are being told that we have to work longer to access our pensions yet employers practice age discrimination. This is one of the factors that is resulting in increasing popular pushback against some of the more vociferous promoters of capitalism generally.

Other employers have set ideas as to the sort of candidate they expect to see and so design their jobs - pay level, location, degree of expertise expected, amount of training on offer, likely profile of candidate being looked for - accordingly. And candidates who do not fit that profile are unlikely to succeed. I’ve had discussions with recruitment agencies as to whether it’s worth my applying for certain jobs because although I have many years’ experience in real-world test roles, I have little in the way of formal qualifications; jobs that offer entry-level roles with a clearly defined path of professional development were attractive to me but my 20+ years’ experience was self-excluding. When I pointed out that this was a discriminatory attitude, most recruiters could not see this.

Fortunately, there are employers out there who value experience as contributing to the overall team skills mix. It took me nearly six months to find one last time I was out of work, but find them I did; and at the age of 60 I’m finding it exciting to learn new things almost every day as well as passing my experience on to colleagues; one of the benefits of the legislation!

(Adam) #3

On the age discrimination issue, there’s a piece just come up in the Register:

(John) #4

Here in the U.S., employers and others are also claiming that there is a lack of STEM workers. STEM=Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It has recently morphed into STEAM, with A=Arts. Many believe this is a false argument just used to increase H1-B Visa workers.

Is there talk of a lack of STEM workers in Europe and elsewhere?

From the article, Vinod Khosla said, “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.” I wonder if he would say that this also applies to him?

The other quote “colleagues or managers failed to take them seriously based on age,” makes it sound like young workers are complaining about age discrimination.

(Robert) #5



What’s left out? :thinking:

(John) #6

We are a lot alike. When I first saw STEAM used, I thought maybe the “A” meant AND so it gave it a cutsy “steam” name. It does seem like it was added for PC value or just saving the jobs of teachers in other disciplines. :grinning:

(Robert) #7

One of the most interesting comments I’ve ever seen on the broader subject of ageism came from the veteran UK radical politician Tony Benn. He was talking about the compact between the generations in terms of taxation and pensions, but I think his comments relate to any situation where younger and older people mix. He said,

“But if older people are to be interesting to the young they have to be interested in the young and treat them with respect.”

As I said in an earlier post, I’ve not long turned 60 and I’m working in an office where most of the other testers are perhaps half my age; but I share my experience and they share their knowledge. One year into this role and it’s working well for both sides (if you want to see it as a question of ‘sides’ - I don’t). Certainly that’s a principle that I try to apply every day, everywhere.

(Robert) #8

And yes, there has been concern over a lack of STEM workers in the UK, too. About ten or fifteen years ago, it was more about a lack of good STEM teachers in schools; and this has, to some extent, been addressed.

There’s been a lot of research into the relative success rates of boys and girls in school generally and in STEM subjects specifically, with an increasing effort being made to get girls engaged with STEM subjects.