Chinese Idiom Stories for Software Professionals: #4 To win a war with words (纸上谈兵)

Be aware of Talkers!

Zhimin Zhan
4 min readJan 4, 2022


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This article is one of the “Chinese Idiom Stories for Software Professionals” series.

Story: To win a war with words

In the Warring States Period, the State of Zhao had a famous general named She (赵奢), whose son, Kuo (赵括), was very fond of reading military books discussing war strategy. Kuo could recite military books, and when discussing warfare he spoke clearly and logically that it seemed that even his father was not his match.

Later, the State of Qin attacked the State of Zhao, General She (赵奢) had already passed away. Zhao’s king appointed Kuo to lead 400,000 soldiers to defend. Due to Kuo’s lacking practical battle experience, he was defeated and lost his life. The majority of his soldiers were captured and then brutally buried alive.


This idiom describes those who are good only at theorizing but lack practical experience. I call those people ‘talkers’.

Examples in Software Development

There is no shortage of ‘talkers’ in software teams, particularly in test automation and continuous testing (or CI/CD), both of which are practical and can be objectively assessed instantly.

Test Automation

Once I joined a large financial company and worked out a test automation approach and implemented a few automated tests for its main product (non-web-app) within the first week. The team members were deeply impressed as they had never realized that test automation can actually help their current work. A manager of the ‘Agile Transformation’ team heard about it, he invited my team leader and me to have a meeting with them. I was shocked to hear that this team has been working on producing a roadmap of Test Automation and Continuous Testing for 9 months!

A few days later, Paul, one external consultant in the agile transformation team wanted to have a coffee with me. Before that, I have seen a few of his (actually his company’s) PowerPoint slides, full of jargon words, such as Testing Pyramid, Shift-Left Testing, CI/CD …, etc.



Zhimin Zhan

Test automation & CT coach, author, speaker and award-winning software developer. Help teams succeed with Agile/DevOps by implementing real Continuous Testing.