Testing as a career

I am going to join a long list of people I consider thought leaders in our industry in a lament of how many people continue to see testing as a simple job, not a career, not a craft, not really requiring any skill at all.

But, like Lalitkumar Bhamare I felt I needed to talk about this, because …

I recently interviewed a candidate that had had two co-op experiences as a QA, he had been given requirements and design specs and asked to think of tests (purely black box) for these. He believed he was doing well and that the team was working efficiently when he could think of one or two cases in addition to the one obvious one to confirm the requirement was met.

He found bugs, 2 or 3 a day, he said with some pride.

It was obvious he did not think this was hard, required any skill, or was a career that he wanted, but he felt trapped and compelled to apply for a QA role as that was what he had experience in. He really wanted to be a developer.

I explained he could be in a very different environment where instead of being part of a waterfall like cycle like this;

  • customer proxy passes requirements to the tester and developer,
  • the developer develops code to meet the requirements,
  • the tester thinks up a few test cases per requirement (he told us he came up with about 2.5 on average).
  • The developer then hands code to the tester who then takes the code (product) and tests it by following the heavily prescribed test cases he just wrote. (Presumably without thinking much). Finds a bug or two, records that in the bug tracking system and moves onto the next test case.
  • Then the game of ping pong begins as the tester throws the code (product) back to the developer to fix the bugs. The developer fixes the bugs and throws it back …

That instead, he could use his skill, (yes I did say the word skill), to help the customer proxy and the developer understand what he was thinking of testing before the coding started. That this might actually prevent the developer from missing the requirement to meet the other use case the tester had thought of. That the customer proxy may have an opinion on this and say, “no we don’t want that”, or perhaps, “yes we want to meet that need too, and now you have made me think of another one that we need to meet too!” (Catching a completely missing requirement)

He didn’t see it, couldn’t see himself doing that, couldn’t see a way that could work, at least not during the interview. To his credit he was thinking about it and it clearly confused him but he was not able to take this any further.

(I did also suggest that there was no reason for him not to apply for software development roles)

Many, many, others I have interviewed, some who have been ‘testing’, (I would say checking), for years, still have no thought that they could be better, that they could improve and develop their skills, that they could really help their team to avoid making so many costly mistakes and save their companies thousands if not millions in wasted efforts, time lost due to bug interrupts and context switches, re-builds, re-tests, whack-a-mole etc. In other words deliver real value and not just fill a role, warm a seat, expend some effort, etc.

A co-op student I worked with, (believe me I am not picking on co-ops at all, they have very little experience to draw on, but are also often not taught anything good about testing), visibly turned his nose up at doing some testing, saying, “I don’t want to just press buttons all day long”. This was his understanding and belief of what testing was. Not entirely sure what his experience was or where he got that, but I tried to disabuse him of that incorrect understanding of the role, but once again felt myself working against an entrenched idea.

So, I call out to the learning establishments to do a better job of preparing these young minds for the real work of professional software engineering. That good software developers do a lot of thinking and a lot of testing as part of everything they do, and that doing this well takes a lot of skill, experience and learning. And that good software engineering teams and leaders recognize the need for people on their team that think differently and are skilled in the art of helping the team expose issues as early and as quickly as possible, to help them deliver the right solution first time more of the time. Without the need for drama, missed deadlines, long hours, late nights, re-design, context switching to fix bugs found in code developed weeks ago, etc. That this, (software testing), is a career, a valuable role, and an essential part of any high performance team. That it also takes a lot of skill, experience and learning to do it well.

I also call out to all the companies out there that insist on continuing to think of testing as simply, ‘using the product the way a customer will’, and hoping that will catch enough issues. Believing that in doing this they are ‘testing the quality into the product’! They are both wasting and losing a lot of money, as they have to pay the cost of finding defects late in their cycle. They also need large customer support teams, and in some cases teams of developers focused on maintaining, (fixing), their colleagues code.

These companies are responsible for perpetuating the myth that testing is basic, unskilled and a simple role. That it is easy to automate what these testers do or that we can simply outsource this work to countries where peoples’ time is cheaper.
They are also often responsible for poor quality products, that will often miss deadlines, and require expensive maintenance programs or extensive and expensive re-writes every few years.

And finally I call out to all the people in testing or quality related roles out there to learn to do better, be better and thus change the perceptions of everyone around them to see that testing is a skilled role, it is a craft and thus requires craftsmanship, and that it needs to be part of every team and will improve the quality of everything we do.

But it’s not all bad …

I have employed and had the pleasure of working with some fantastically skilled testers, both talented exploratory testers, and test automators. Sometimes a few rare gems that are able to combine great skill in both testing and the development of tools and automation to help check software.

I have also had the great pleasure of working with lots of great software engineers and leaders who really understand and seek the value of testing. Insisting that they have great testers to work with them, that they and their software developer colleagues need to think about and execute testing at all levels and that they encourage all to learn more about and be better at ensuring the quality of everything we do.

I have been inspired, guided and encouraged in my career by many people, but most of this has come from what I think are some of the thought leaders in this area. Here are some links to articles, books and people that can help you too;

I would also highly recommend Rapid Software Testing training, this course will be one of the best investments you can make in your testing career.

2 thoughts on “Testing as a career

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 1 November 2017 – 5blogs

  2. Thanh

    Hi Stuart,

    Well written. It’s a good read.

    I do agree and understand (hopefully) the points you’re trying to make.However, going beyond regular route or expectation from testers requires a supporting system. It means that the organization/company needs to have a different view on testers and they really support that. How many testers are willing to change the current way of the company they are working for? Of course, you can change but we all know it’s not the easy to change the way a system is working.

    Now, this is not an excuse for a tester to stop going extra mile and add values to their work, but again this really boils down to the question: what’s in it for me?
    -Thanh

    Reply

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