Is Testing as a profession underrated?

I came across an interesting article on LinkedIn the other day – not that this is unusual, but it made me stop and click through to a blog post by Claire Goss where she questions whether testers are underrated. I read it thoroughly as it’s a subject that I feel strongly about, and it highlights the issues testers face today.

Back in January I shared a post My hope for Testing in 2018… where I picked out some similar themes.

But here we are in September, and nothing much has changed as far as I can see. Yes there are a number of us who are calling out that testing is not just about writing automated tests and seeing if testers could be replaced by machines, but are we all doing this? Are we doing enough?

There are still so many job ads that place Automation above everything else, yet in a talk I gave at the National Software Testing Conference in London back in May, I shared the skills that testers feel are important – and automation came far behind the analytical and people skills that are required.

As Claire puts it so well, testers talk to people, run workshops, ask questions, put ourselves in the position of an end user and think about the product. Oh, and yes, testers plan the tests that need to be run, think about functional tests, performance and security tests, then actually test the software – whether manually or using a tool, raise defects, co-ordinate user testing sessions….the list goes on.

Claire also has some good ideas as to how to get past testers being underrated, but I think it probably goes beyond individual testers – it’s testing as a profession.

If we are to make any headway and really show the worth that testing brings in organisations, then anyone who is a tester, or works with testers, needs to showcase the tasks that are happening on a daily basis. As a Test Manager or Project Manager, I can do my bit to encourage testers to speak out, I can help give a platform to the work they are doing, but every tester needs to be willing to speak out as well, where they can.

This is not easy – some people hate speaking in front of others, but small groups might be an idea to spread the word in a more informal format to 2 or 3 people at a time. Testers may not have sympathetic managers who understand what testing is – and again, this is a tough situation, but it is worth looking for any opportunity to discuss and demonstrate the work that is being done, maybe in a 1-2-1 meeting. And this is just thinking about showcasing within the workplace. What about outside in the wider industry?

We have to own this problem and recognise that more time should be spent outside of testing groups. Testers are great at sharing with fellow testers and attending testing conferences, but it makes things very insular. It’s time to spread the knowledge elsewhere, by attending and speaking at other conferences, and I’m starting to see a move towards this, but there’s a long way to go.

 

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12 thoughts on “Is Testing as a profession underrated?

  1. Testing is both underrated and underappreciated. Has been for a very long time (I’m 30 years in the profession). The problem in the Software industry versus other industries is that testing isn’t seen as a critical part of the process. It is seen as a Cost Center and not a Profit Center. The key thing to communicate to people is that Testing is a type of insurance (not assurance, don’t call it QA to start). Testing ensures the software is providing some type of value to both the end-user and the company selling it. Testing helps with the “Soft” dollar impacts (customer satisfaction & reputation to start, reducing rework also) that are part of the “Hard” dollar impacts (sales and renewals).
    You are correct in it is how we “sell” testing. We need to know who we are talking to and speak in their “language” to make sure we effectively communicate. This is one of the key things I have learned and it has helped in my efforts.

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    • Thanks Jim. I have been in testing for as long as you, so we have both seen a lot of changes. I agree with your thoughts on the money aspect and I hadnt really gone into that, other than to reference the ‘cost savings by automating everything’ thought police.

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      • Steve,
        Yeah, it’s the “Automagic” mindset that thinks implementing automation will solve all their problems and help them cut costs. In fact the initial startup of automation can be quite costly (time and money), even with the “free” tools. And if not done properly it will become costly over the life of the implementation (maintenance costs). Testing, including automation, is a Cost Containment process and not a Cost Reduction one. By being proactive (Shift-Left) and baking in testing as part of the overall software construction process you can find things earlier on and reduce their cost impacts (time and money) before the software goes out to the real world.
        Being able to show this principle and sell it properly is what Testing professionals need to understand and practice.

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  2. Whilst I agree with all that, the testing profession hasn’t done itself any favours. Until the recent preoccupation with automation, most testers wasted vast amounts of time and money on the worthless activities that ISTQB promote. Most developers and managers have never seen good testing, so it’s no surprise they value it so little.
    Furthermore, most testers I have encountered don’t have a spine – they just put up with whatever they are given instead of demanding they get the facilities they need to do the job properly. And they accept impossible demands such as 100% test coverage or crazy timescales instead of telling management what can and cannot be done with the available resources.
    The top couple of percent of testers add a huge amount of value and are undoubtedly underrated, but they are light years ahead of the rest. By contrast, there would probably be no perceptible difference in software quality if the bottom 75% of testers were fired and not replaced. And based on all the interviews I have conducted over the last 15 years, the other 20% or so are pretty unimpressive.

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    • Yes, Steve, all very true – but don’t forget, testing is a discipline that is still in the throes of adolescence. I’ve been testing for something like twenty years, and it’s only been in the past two that I’ve had any contact with the test community and become conscious of this debate.

      And as for your comment about spines – well, these are the times we live in; and getting a spine under these circumstances is often down to how experience has hardened you. I’ve seen conversations and discussions online and in testing conferences and meetups that have made me think “We were talking about that in union conferences twenty years ago”, but of course, that makes me a special sort of dinosaur who (some people think) ought to have died out long ago. Personally, I’ve always been willing to embrace change whilst remaining in touch with my own inner dinosaur; so I see it as important that those of us with the hinterland in some of these issues occasionally rear up onto our hind legs and bellow defiance, pour encourager les autres as they say.

      And it’s funny, but once you exercise that backbone, it becomes far more likely to stand up on its own.

      I think there’s other evolutionary factors at play here, as well. If you reckon that as many as 95% of testers do not impress when you interview them, based on the sort of testers you are looking for, someone must be employing that 95%, which means that there are a lot of senior managers who find the compliant attitude of the 95% to be just what they are looking for. And then they wonder why their company gets embroiled in another high-profile “IT failure”, Perhaps Type A managers, practising command-and-control management, taking on the sort of “by the numbers” testers they’ve always had, and getting the sort of software they’ve always got as a consequence, are the next dinosaurs.

      But the OP is right: those of us who can and do evangelise for more modern testing need to look at doing that outside our own community. I made a start a few months ago when I saw the (UK) Home Office (= Interior Ministry in many other countries) advertising for speakers at a sponsored IT testing conference where there was no budget for speakers; in jumping to the defence of the person who issued the notice because the decision not to offer payment was taken way above their pay level, I ended up writing to my MP to seek some insight into the decision and to offer to explain more about this important function in the UK IT sector more generally.

      I wrote a blog post on the subject: https://probetesting700171536.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/no-minister/
      I got the response I was expecting – i.e. not a lot – but I’d like to think that I’ve tried to do my bit to extend the discussion of testing as a professional discipline out of the closed circle of the testing community. We all have to start somewhere. And if not me, then who? And if not now, then when?

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      • James Bach once said “I refuse to do bad testing”. I’m the same – at lunchtime on my first day as a tester I told my Technical Director I was not going to write or execute any of the test scripts he wanted because it was a totally useless way to find bugs and I had found a better way (which I later learned was called exploratory testing). He should have fired me but he didn’t because I found many times more bugs than anyone else.

        I don’t understand how so-called professional testers can have so little self-respect that they put up with all the crap that they do. Real professionals wouldn’t allow that.

        I take every opportunity to speak, but invitations are few and far between from outside the testing community. It’s as if no one thinks we’ve got anything interesting to say. And looking at our “profession” from the outside I can hardly blame them.

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  5. I have spoken to many college students on their take on software testing. I have never met a student who graduates and goes “Wow, I can’t wait to apply my learnings as a Software Tester”. Majority of the new grad’s find testing very mundane. I personally feel there should be more academic focus in the field of Software testing. Understanding the breadth and the depth of a system is no joke. Students should be made aware of the nuances of Testing – the asks, the importance & the skills needed.

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    • Nischchita, I suggest you read https://www.prismnet.com/~wazmo/papers/four_schools.pdf – this is one of the most important documents I ever read and it quite literally changed my life.

      Testers and developers everywhere talk about testing as if we all agree what it is and how it should be done, but Bret Pettichord identified four (now five) distinct schools of thought regarding what testing is and how it should be done. Insofar as colleges teach testing at all, they teach the approaches of the Analytic and Standard Schools. The former is of some academic interest but neither is of much value in the real world. It’s no wonder that students are not enthused by this.

      By contrast, the Context-driven School is fascinating and intellectually challenging. There is no “best” way to do anything – we arm ourselves with as many tools, techniques and skills as possible and use whichever are most appropriate in the circumstances. And we learn to embrace the infinite nature of testing, a concept that the other schools cannot cope with in their foolish and futile attempt to achieve “complete test coverage”.

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    • Hi Nishchita. I dont believe any of us who have been in testing knew it was something that we could aim to do, unlike development. So I agree that there is more to be done, and I think we are starting to see some progress. Modules in Computer Science degrees do cover testing (so I have been told), albeit at a more superfluous level than we would probably like to see.
      The issue is that any testing certifications are just within the testing field – who outside knows about ISTQB? How can someone aspire to be a tester and gain qualifications if they are unaware of what the role entails and what further study is available? Thats where testing as a profession needs to do a better marketing job.

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