Sisyphos as a tester


“Aye, and I saw Sisyphus in violent torment, seeking to raise a monstrous stone with both his hands.
Verily he would brace himself with hands and feet, and thrust the stone toward the crest of a hill, but as often as he was about to heave it over the top, the weight would turn it back, and then down again to the plain would come rolling the ruthless stone.
But he would strain again and thrust it back, and the sweat flowed down from his limbs, and dust rose up from his head.


Sounds familiar? Well, at least for me it rings some bells.

As a short summary and introduction:

Sisyphus is a figure in Greek mythology. He was a mortal, who tried to cheat the Gods and got punished for it. The punishment was to roll a heavy stone over a hill, which *always* would roll down in the last minute. And this till Eternity.

Lets forget about the background of Sisyphus as a mythical person and just focus on the task he became “famous” (more fitting: “infamous”) for.

The setting:

1. Sisyphus:

The archetype of a lonesome person. Just a person doing what needs (?) to be done.
Maybe not lonely in a sad meaning. We don’t read about his feelings or thoughts. But in my opinion he is still giving a good show by not letting the situation get to him.

2. Stone:

A placeholder for something worth pushing, but in the same time that cost’s a lot of effort and sweat.
It is *always* a stone. No forget that. Sometimes it is “just” a stone. More often it is a huge effing boulder. The shape and material may vary though.

3. Hill:

The hill is the symbol of passive opposition, as an obstacle for Sisyphus and his stone.
It needs pushing, sweat and effort to overcome the obstacle. The hill is not *actively * opposing Sisyphus, it is just the way it is.

How do I see this allegory?

Sometimes you find yourself in a job, where you see from the inside, how the structures and internal processes really are. And you might not like them or have the power to change it for the better. Plus I know quite some people, who are the sole testers in their company, me included.

So how do you handle such situation?

There are (at least) two ways: Be despaired and see it as a punishment.
Then it feels like “Eternity“ and dread and lethargy will follow soon.
People will get disconnected from their work and don’t feel good any longer. They will just do “9 till 5“ and no longer bother.

Or, and that is my view, see it in a different way:
It is a job which needs to be done and only you can do it. They depend (in a good meaning) on you and you have the will strength to do it.

Think about it… why is Sisyphus not just giving up?

Hey dude, just let the stone rest and take a break. Or read a blog. But not Sisyphus, no way.

Again and again he starts his journey. Why?

Is he convinced about the task and full of hope that one day it will work and the stone will reach over the top.

Is the process of rolling the stone and feeling his own sweat and effort a “good” feeling and justifiable in itself?

And last … what happens when he succeeds? *What if…*

What do the stone and the hill mean for us testers in this picture anyway?
Why is it so important to roll the stone in the first place?

Whatever it means for me (and you), it is a burden and a purpose in itself.
We want to put our sweat into it because we know, it is worth it.

The stone can mean the current software build or the distribution of (test) knowledge and wisdom. Maybe just the next test cycle or even a promotion.

Is the hill the “quality” against we try to push the stone (software)? Or is it the process of trying to transfer the “knowledge” or “understanding” of Testing to people? Maybe it is the internal processes and inertia.

Back to the question… what if…
What if the stone goes over the top?

Staying in the fictional boundaries, it has to go downhill.
It never says, what is on the other side.

A plain landscape, where the stone will come to rest and it is a smooth path furthermore?
A river, where the stone will drop to the ground, unreachable and unrecoverable?
Another hill? Higher or smaller?
Will the stone be an obstacle in the path?
Or an element to gap a cleft? What would be the meaning of the cleft sides?

If asking questions is a skill… I am sure, I am doing fine. It is the answers that are causing pain.

I think, I conclude with the universal “The longest journey begins with a single step (Lao-tzu (604-531 BC), founder of Taoism).

Even when knowing that my stone and hill will be there tomorrow, I believe that one day, I will push it over.
And get the improvements done or the change in process or a better understanding for Testing.

I am stubborn and confident enough to enjoy my own sweat and effort for the benefit of others.


There, too, the hard-task’d Sisyphus I saw,
Thrusting before him an enormous rock.
With hands and feet struggling, he shoved the stone
Up to a hill-top ; but the steep wellnigh
Vanquish’d, by some great force repulsed, the mass
Rush’d again, obstinate, down to the plain.
Again, stretch’d prone, he toil’d; sweat bathed his limbs,
– And thick the dust around his brows arose.

Via Google Books: WILLIAM COWPER, Esa.


„Und weiter sah ich den Sisyphos in gewaltigen Schmerzen: wie er mit beiden Armen einen Felsblock, einen ungeheuren, fortschaffen wollte. Ja, und mit Händen und Füßen stemmend, stieß er den Block hinauf auf einen Hügel. Doch wenn er ihn über die Kuppe werfen wollte, so drehte ihn das Übergewicht zurück: von neuem rollte dann der Block, der schamlose, ins Feld hinunter. Er aber stieß ihn immer wieder zurück, sich anspannend, und es rann der Schweiß ihm von den Gliedern, und der Staub erhob sich über sein Haupt hinaus.“

Homer: Odyssee 11. Gesang, 593–600. Übersetzung Wolfgang Schadewaldt

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