The Tools of the Trade

Story Time

My Grandpa used to have a ton of tools in his workshop. In his heyday, he used to do auto body work. Later he switched over to carpentry, which was great when Mom and Grandma had an arts-and-crafts-reverse-engineering kick. He’d also been known to do some minor blacksmithing and I think he used to paint and lay carpet too somewhere in there.

A few years back, I was given the go ahead by Grandma to clean out the workshop of everything I wanted, because she was moving out and didn’t want to take a bunch of stuff with her.

Of course I got the tools.

He passed away by the way, which is why Grandma asked me to clean out the workshop. I didn’t, like, defeat him in unarmed combat or anything.

Most of the tools came in a big, red, wheeled Craftsman toolbox. The kind they used to make back in the day, constructed from solid 12 gauge American Awesome.

Once I took inventory of what all he had, I was amazed at not just the variety but the seeming redundancy of his toolset.

There was a drawer full of hammers.

There was another drawer full of nothing but screwdrivers. 

There was yet another drawer with an assortment of wrenches.

Three sets of sockets. Three!


Part of me wondered if Grandpa was a packrat, or just wanted to always make sure he had the right tool, so he bought four of everything.

But the more I use the tools, the more I realize that each one of a kind has slight differences that make one tool better than another for certain situations.

That drawer full of hammers had a claw hammer, a blacksmith hammer, a ball peen hammer, another one that had a thin, flat face on one side and a chisel on the other, whatever you call those.

Most importantly though, each one had a particular thing it was good at.

You can bang a nail in with a ball peen hammer, but that’s not the right type of that tool for the job. Good luck pulling one out with one too.

The screwdrivers: Do you know how annoying it is to have a screwdriver that does nothing but round out the screw when you turn it? It’s a pain in the tube.

But if you have a variety of drivers to choose from, you’re in good shape. Surely one of those will fit better.

As a real example: last weekend I changed the brake pads on the car, and had a terrible time getting the bolts off so I could get at the pads. Even the longest socket wrench I had didn’t work, and I almost wore myself out using it.

So I ended up having to get a combination wrench (the kind that’s just one particular size, and has a wrench head on one end, and a socket head on the other), and used that to get the bolts off. I had to literally stand on the wrench to get it to turn but it worked.

Turns out whoever did the brakes last put Loc-Tite on the threads.

Point is though, a different kind of wrench–one that applies ALL of the force directly on turning the bolt–was superior to a longer socket wrench–whose power comes in not having to remove and reapply the wrench with every turn.

Even though the combo wrench was shorter in length, it was a better kind of tool for that situation.


I find that testing is a lot like that. There are… just piles of tools out there, and there are many similar ones.

But, each tool of the same type can have strengths and weaknesses the others don’t have.

It’s very easy to get in a rut, when you feel like you know about a particular tool within a kind, and using that same tool across the board, for all problems in that area.

Sometimes, the tool you’re most comfortable with, or the most knowledgeable of, isn’t the right tool for that particular problem. I’ve seen myself get worn out trying to use the wrong wrench.

(Actually, you know what… it wasn’t so much the wrong wrench. I guess if I didn’t care about gouging my knuckles on the driveway if my hand or the wrench slipped (and as a tester I think of corner cases like that A LOT), I could’ve gotten the thing off. But it wasn’t the right wrench for that situation.)

I’ve also seen people, myself included, glom onto a tool or language, and get worn out trying to use a tool they know well to solve a problem that could be solved easier and cheaper with just another tool.

“The carpenter who builds with his tools, is preferable to the samurai that builds with his swords.” -Sun Tzu, probably

Case in point: I have a colleague on contract at a company, on a team that is spinning up load testing. He asked my advice on tools, and I suggested taking a look at NeoLoad. He’s getting familiar with it, but other team members want to try other tools.

My suggestion then, was to go ahead and get enough knowledge with that tool to be able to pick it back up again, but also explore learning whatever other tools the team suggests.

As an added bonus, he’ll know about more than just one tool of that type, and he’d be able to compare and contrast the more of those he learns about. He’ll also become more of an expert in that area than someone who knows about just one tool.

Am I saying you need to become a Dragon Master Samurai at every tool you lay hands on? Nope.

Instead, I’m saying that, as much as is reasonable, become familiar enough with the tools you come across, to be able to tell what the strengths and weaknesses are. Learn how to use them, sure, but also learn how to tell what tool would be best for a given problem.

I think also, the more you get in and tear up technology to figure out how it works, the faster you’ll get at it. It’s a learnable thing.

This is a skill that will help you. If we’re honest here, the IT industry is always in flux, and a lot of people don’t stay in one place terribly long. It’s in your interest to learn about a wide variety of tools, and bring that to the table at your next interview, and really stand out from other candidates.

So keep learning, stay uncomfortable, and most of all have fun!

– Fritz


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