I wonder who has done the Father test

DoctorMo has blogged about “The Mother Test”.

It is a rather poorly named test if you ask me, especially since I would have to do this on my Father  instead.

You see, my mother passed “The Mother Test” by installing Linux before Ubuntu even existed, and introducing me to it.

Yes, that’s right. Mum introduced me to Linux.

Mum is works on a casual/temporary basis, but in most places she works, she becomes known as a go-to person for computer advice. She first installed Linux back when it wasn’t even able to match Win95 on the desktop. This was part of her studies for the technical support course she was doing for career expansion (the syllabus module was “install an operating system”, but someone forgot to specify which) and her teacher was a very open-minded ex-sysadmin.

Now days, Mum runs Ubuntu on her primary computer. She even reports the occasional bug.

Dad on the other hand, demands assistance if the icons mum has to set up for him on his Windows desktop change order, or if new ones appear

So, can we please find a better name for this test.

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25 Responses to I wonder who has done the Father test

  1. ethana2 says:

    The Mennonite Test

  2. f.p. says:

    Hi! I think most people in the Ubuntu community are open to suggestions on this, but in the meantime the existing phrase gets across an experience that is familiar to most of us, and probably much more typical. Speaking of things that are typical, I think the “typica” Linux/FOSS answer to requests for new solutions can be applied here: create the solution yourself–or at least suggest one that others will want to implement :)

  3. Jono Bacon says:

    Hi Melissa,

    I think you might be taking the name literally: I think the general implication is that it refers to a parent, and while it could be called ‘The Parent Test’, some may want to apply it to their grandparents, brothers, sisters or others. As such, I wouldn’t read too much into the name.


  4. melissa says:

    @f.p. I often call it “The Unwashed Test”, but “The Newbie Test” is better.

    @jono, No, I am not.

    The name re-enforces a stereotype and further alienates a group of people.

    It is exhaustingly hard breaking through the barriers of expectations, and dismissing them only makes it harder.

  5. gmb says:

    I agree with Melissa here. My first thought when I saw Martin’s entry on “The Mother Test” is “well, I can’t do that, because she’s dead.” Whilst I admit this isn’t Melissa’s point, per se, in that it’s got nothing to do with a stereotype, my first thought on reading the title wasn’t “Mother stands here for $generic_linux_newbie_figure” it was “well, I don’t have one of those, so I can’t.”

    The words we choose matter. And Melissa’s right, using the word Mother here is reinforcing a stereotype that we really need to get rid of.

  6. Andrew says:

    Jono: it’s easy to claim that, and yet somehow in 90% (and probably much more) of cases it’s always the mother, grandmother, aunt, girlfriend or wife in these examples.

    It’s not just, or even mainly, about this specific instance, it’s about the self-reinforcing pattern that this is another instance of. See , linked in the comments of doctormo’s post, for another 190 instances…

    If you dismiss any given individual instance of sexism as “oh you’re reading too much into it” then you’re dismissing the real general problem too.

    That said, I’m not sure what a good, effective response to the persistent “even $female_in_my_life can do it” theme in the FLOSS world is. I’m just sure that denying it is even a problem is part of the problem.

  7. Bugsbane says:

    The generation-1 test? (G-1 test?)
    Technical illiterate test? (hmm… thinking of the acronym, maybe not…)
    The grandparent test?
    Oooooo… how about the ungeek / nongeek test? (ugt / ngt)
    Luddite test?
    Random non-technical person test?

  8. Ciarán says:


    Same with my parents! My Mum could re-install and OS, my Dad thinks a computer, email, and ebay are one and same thing.

  9. @Jono, “reading into the name” is precisely the point. Ask why the prototypical “technical illiterate”, “unwashed”, “newbie”, “luddite”, “ungeek” etc. is female.

    It could have been called something else, but it wasn’t, and it virtually never is. Yes, people sometimes post a story about a male relative they’ve “converted”, but when reaching for a generic, it always comes up female.

    Isn’t that evidence enough to justify investigating ourselves a bit, rather than denying responsibility?

  10. Andrew says:

    Ah drat, I see the spam filtering ate the link in my post. For the curious, I was trying to link to the ~my-mom-runs-ubuntu team in Launchpad.

  11. Erigami says:

    Keep in mind that your dad’s case is different from a simple newbie test. My significant other is open to using a computer, but it has to work exactly as she expects it to, otherwise she gets frustrated and stops. I’d argue that we have:

    1. A Newbie test (as you suggested), and
    2. A Handholder test (which would encompass your dad’s behaviour, and my SO’s behaviour)


  12. James says:

    “It is a rather poorly named test if you ask me”

    The phrase “Mother Test” is also ageist. It carries the implication that older people don’t know how to use computers. I am surprised I am the first commenter to mention it. No, I am not being sarcastic. I want to point out that there is more then one assumption made by this phrase.

  13. Jono Bacon says:

    @mdz “It could have been called something else, but it wasn’t, and it virtually never is. Yes, people sometimes post a story about a male relative they’ve “converted”, but when reaching for a generic, it always comes up female”.

    That’s not what I have seen: I have seen enough instances of men being refered to in the general, “technical illiterate”, “unwashed”, “newbie”, “luddite”, and “ungeek” to suggest that this isn’t heavily biased towards women.

    While I am not denying that ‘The Mother Test’ is inaccurate and the heart of the test is testing Ubuntu on new users, I just wouldn’t go as far as Melissa’s suggestion that it “re-enforces a stereotype and further alienates a group of people”.

  14. perro says:

    actually all my test have been ‘dad tests’. and when I’ve read about some ‘mom test’ is because it was the mother of the person writing about the experience who was introduced to ubuntu (likewise with ‘girlfried test’). what are you supposed to call it?
    and I’ve seen a lot of descriptions of mother and girlfriend tests. no one about a dad test, hence the generalization.
    the fact that you complain about people calling it ‘mom test’ tells me more about you than it says about a supposed gender bias in the people describing the experiences.

  15. Mackenzie says:

    Surprised no one has linked to The New Hackers’ Dictionary / The Jargon File:
    Aunt Tillie:
    The archetypal non-technical user, one’s elderly and scatterbrained maiden aunt. Invoked in discussions of usability for people who are not hackers and geeks; one sees references to the “Aunt Tillie test”.

    ESR cites LKML for that definition.

  16. Mary says:

    @Mackenzie I am not absolutely certain about this, but I believe that, like a lot of recent additions to the Jargon File, “Aunt Tillie” is a term ESR coined himself. It has been used on LKML, but largely by ESR.

  17. Mackenzie says:

    Oh, lovely…

  18. einalex says:

    You could put it the other way round and ask why a geek or nerd is usually expected to be male. From the point of the general public, being a geek or nerd is usually not a good thing. It comes with the expectation of bad clothing, bad smell and no social life. Not so nice, isn’t it?

    People generalize the world. It is our way to cope with a system that is much to complicated to understand as a whole and that it takes more time to explain in detail. So we all tend to generalize in every aspect of our view and expression of the world. It’s how our brains are built. There’s usually less rain in summer, cars tend to go faster on highways, men seem to be more interested in technology. Now go ahead and call people that see a general trend and treat it as a truth sexists.

    Sure, generalization although necessary creates a much too simple view of the world when one doesn’t know there is more to it. We all belong to some minority in some aspect and other’s simplified views of the world doesn’t include our being different in this or that way. But be aware that you yourself do the same thing every day. You can’t change that.
    The one thing we can change is the number of women interested in and involved with technology. Once that number becomes more equal to that of the men, this view will automatically change. It will take time, but it will happen.

  19. Mackenzie says:

    So we need to show that 1) Linux isn’t only for geeks 2) being a geek isn’t a bad thing

  20. einalex says:

    @Mackenzie: so very true.

  21. Mackenzie says:

    “You could put it the other way round and ask why a geek or nerd is usually expected to be male.”

    I have a professor who used to ask her computer science students, first day of class, to draw their idea of a computer scientist. Every one of them drew a guy, even the girls.

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  24. binford2k says:

    I do Mother Tests and not Father Tests. Why? Because as inept as my mother is, my father is worse; to the point where he rarely even uses his computer. I’d get no useful data from him!

    In any case, I agree that the name is inaccurate. I’d call it the Parent Test if I were to put a name to the process.

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