Unexpected Creative Industries

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a school day with my brother’s girlfriend/significant other, an elementary school teacher here in Vienna. There’s so much talk about teachers and the education system and I’ve always been interested in this kind of stuff: at the university I tutored myself (with Sarah), my dad is teacher, I ran workshops for my old school and helped them with their public perception. So I thought I’d sit in, watch what they are doing, chat a bit with them.

I’ve always had a ton of respect for (good) teachers, but I really have to say what they’re doing and what they must be capable of doing is amazing. Educating 25 kids, influence their behavior, their emotional and social wellbeing and – still most important for parents it seems – get them to learn to write, to calculate, to abstract, to learn how to learn. I find it amazing.

On the day I was there, they had their free working hours, which means 25 kids could, in groups or alone, chose from a variety of tasks, topics and exercises. Sigi, the teacher, had prepared all kinds of things to get them to understand stuff, to feel valued and at the same time focused on the individuals and their strength and weaknesses. The room was filled with all kinds of different stimuli for all kinds of different topics – often the result of collaborative work of the kids over the three years they’ve now spent at school. This wasn’t the type of classroom I spent 4 years in, 20 years ago. It had drastically changed. Way more stimuli, more stuff, less linearity, more freedom and with that more of a challenge for the kids to chose themselves what to do. It’s constant back and forth between moments of quietness and focus and spans of hell breaking lose, playing, individual sparring and so on. And every single day, for 4 years you are supposed to build an environment that lets the kids learn stuff themselves, while they enjoy it. If this isn’t a creative industry, with highly challenging briefs every single morning, I don’t know what is.

Another friend of mine works for one of the Big Four audit firms. His task is basically to check books of large and smaller companies for risks, if everything is done correctly, so there are no Enron-like surprises when the year passes by. That, in itself, doesn’t sound like too much of a creative task. And from what he’s telling me, the processes there are so standardized and so trimmed down to testing reliably (checkboxes, lists, …) that testing for validity, really digging in and testing unconventionally or even just differently is harder. If he didn’t have to use that processes and the checklists, he tells me, what he’d be doing wouldn’t be not so much differently to solving tricky cases. And that takes an awful lot of creativity, imagination and simulation.

For software testing – by the way – that’s not so much different.

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