Will the Real Professional Testers Please Step Forward?

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Summary:

In this week's column, James Whittaker's message to testers is loud and clear: Respect your discipline and you will gain the respect that your discipline deserves. Read on for some ways that testers can earn respect, and for some common elements present in organizations that recognize the importance of testing.

What is it that makes some companies havens for testing talent while other companies incite anger from their testing ranks? At every testing conference I attend, I hear the same laments:

  • "Developers think they are better than us."
  • "Development is always late in delivering the code and it's Test that gets blamed when the schedule slips. Everything is always our fault."
  • "Upper management treats us like second-class employees."
  • "How do we get the respect we deserve?"
     

And so on and so forth.

I've listened in on the conversations these folks have with the testing consultants in attendance. In general, the consultants are full of empathy, as well as suggestions about how to improve the situation. Most of the solutions I have overheard fall into two categories:

  1. You need to improve communication between test, development, and upper management. This will allow a dialog that will lead to a better understanding and appreciation of testers.
  2. The problem is that testers are not certified. Certification will legitimize testing as a field and help ensure adequate treatment.

Frankly, and with due respect to the test consulting community, the first solution sounds a lot like Dr. Phil giving marital advice and the second sounds a lot like a labor union.

In my opinion, neither psychotherapy nor unionization will solve this problem. Respect is doled out in the technology sector only when it is deserved. That's a good thing. Too many times we hear people in other industries complain that it doesn't matter how talented you are, that merit has nothing to do with respect or advancement. Our goal is to get so good at what we do, that colleagues and management have no alternative but to respect us.

So I have been taking notes during the last year on a mission to understand this problem. I accomplished my mission by studying the organizations in which this problem does not occur, organizations where testers are respected by developers and management and are afforded pay and career paths equal to development.

The common denominators I found are (in no particular order):

Insistence among testers for individual excellence

The companies I studied have a large number of testers who take pride in their testing prowess. They are good, they know they are good, and they take great pride in demonstrating their excellence. I hear them speak about their bugs with as much pride as the developers talk about their code . They name their bugs and, if questioned, will recount their hunt, their technique, their insight, and every bit of minutiae that relates to isolating and reporting the problem they found. Personal pride in a job well done is not the exclusive domain of developers. To these testers I say, "Long live your stories and may your tests never lack targets!"

Primary concern focused on the quality of the product.

Lest you read item number one above and thought those testers arrogant and self absorbed, my subjects in this study had one singular focus: maximum contribution to product success. Whereas the developers can look with understandable pride at what they put in a product, testers can feel equal pride for what they keep out of the product. For this, testers deserve our respect. They deserve our thanks. And forward-looking companies are generally ready to give it. To those companies who refuse to generously dole out this respect, perhaps they would be willing to re-insert those bugs and do without the services performed by their best and brightest testers.

A corporate focus on continuing education for testers

I often get invited to teach one-day testing seminars onsite. These

About the author

James Whittaker's picture James Whittaker

James A. Whittaker is is a technology executive with a career that spans academia, start-ups, and industry. He was an early thought leader in model-based testing where his Ph.D. dissertation became a standard reference on the subject. While a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, James founded the world's largest academic software testing research center and helped make testing a degree track for undergraduates. He wrote How to Break Software, How to Break Software Security (with Hugh Thompson), and How to Break Web Software (with Mike Andrews). While at Microsoft, James transformed many of his testing ideas into tools and techniques for developers and testers, and wrote the book Exploratory Software Testing. For the past three years he worked for Google as an engineering director where he co-wrote How Google Tests Software (with Jason Arbon and Jeff Carollo). He's currently a development manager at Microsoft where he is busy re-inventing the web.

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