Testers: Stop moaning and prove your worth

Throughout my 17 years in testing the common theme has always been that testers are not seen in the same light as the rest of development. I’ve worked in areas that have had clearly defined and rigid processes with mature testing teams to organisations that had little to nothing, and testing was only done because someone thought it would be a good idea.

Testers: Ship It

Yet, even though I’ve worked within a varied spectrum of organisations the overall respect and thoughts about testers has been very similar, such as:

  • Anyone can do testing
  • Testing is boring
  • Testing is repetitive
  • Testers just moan all the time about crappy code
  • Testers slow down releases
  • Testers want everything to be perfect
  • Testers find stupid bugs that customers will never find
  • Testers waste developers time

So why it that in my personal experiences within seven organisations over 17 years this has always been the common theme? Why is it that other testers also see it this way? Who has created these opinions? Is it just me or is there something else here?

So let’s go through these opinions that I heard often about what testing is and try and discover why I these views have been particularly prevalent, alongside tactics I’ve used to combat these opinions.

Anyone can do testing.

At Test Bash 2.0 I can recall Stephen Janeway mentioning in his talk that a previous manager said “Just get some house wives in to test” and that in my opinion is what many people think about testing. In essence testing is only using something to make sure it does what it’s supposed to do before customers get to use it. This clearly shows to me that in general, people have no idea what testing is and the main understanding of what they think it is, just using a product and nothing else.

The reason for this I think is obvious, virtually without exception anyone I have met who hasn’t worked within development when I tell them I’m a tester their response is “what?” Testing is not a recognised career, a recognised role or anything that people have much of an idea about.

Of course they know things are created by skilful people and they know about new products, upgrades and fancy website refreshes, but nowhere is it even implied to most that if it’s new or being changed then someone needs to make sure it actually works and that, that someone is called a tester.

One thing that has always been apparent to me is that no one I have met who is a tester actually decided or chose to be a tester. People have similar stories of how they got involved with testing and usually its’ “I just fell into it” or “I was asked to do some testing”. Not one single person I’ve met and asked how you got into testing actually discusses any kind of career choice, as in when they were at school did anyone actually say “I want to be a testers?”

Apart from this inspired child of Iain’s.

Mummy I want to be a tester

Therefore I conclude that this is one of the main reasons the testing profession isn’t seen as a profession, it’s not a career option that anyone really knows anything about, so no one actually chooses to become a tester.

There are no specific learning programmes in schools, or in colleges and universities, even specific computer related courses such as Computer Science barely mention testing, oh yeah it’ll be mentioned they may say testing needs to be done, but not really anything more than that.

Challenge for anyone who’s done a Computer Science Degree, please prove me wrong.

Testing is boring: Testing is repetitive.

Each and every time I try and explain to someone what testing is about my answer has evolved over time from the simply version of making sure a website works, a phone works, a betting app works, that whatever it is, it works. That it’s the tester’s role to ensure that.

This explanation fails for the reason that it really doesn’t explain anything specific about what a tester actually does, but how do you explain a complex process to a layman. But wait, how do I even explain it to a development like person, as even they have this opinion that testing is boring and repetitive?

Now, when I try to explain what a tester actually does, I try to make it sound exciting and interesting, because I think it is exciting and interesting, and I think this explanation even works with people who are testers especially when trying to get them more excited about their role.

Testing isn’t just about making sure something works the way it’s designed or desired to work; testing is about discovery and exploration. Testing is about ensuring things don’t just work, but work and perform better and make people go “Wow, have you seen this”. Testing is about using your brain and always questioning what is this supposed to do, I wonder what will happen if I do this or that. Testing is like a science, and just like any science testers often don’t have all the information and have to use their imagination, intuition and experience of the world to find problems so that you don’t.

Well something like that, but I always say testing is like a science and like the sciences, it’s rewarding hard work and when the results of all this hard work come to fruition you always get a sense of achievement, especially if no major problems are found once the product is in the hands of the users. In fact that’s the ultimate goal, releasing a product that is met with positive responses and none of those really bad bugs suddenly start showing up out of nowhere.

Testers just moan all the time about crappy code: Testers slow down releases.

Why is this often a comment grumbled about quietly, especially to those who are managing testing teams? Unfortunately as I’ve mentioned earlier most of the places I’ve worked, test has typically been at the end of a long broken chain. With test being in this position it’s inevitable that problems will occur, especially with the minimal understanding of changes, and new requirements and designs.

Therefore can we stop moaning and be constructive about how we approach testing with the information we have. I’m not saying just accept it, absolutely not, never, but being negative and moaning about the situation isn’t going to have the right impression to help instigate improvements in the future. Stay positive and make slow improvements going forward with how you design your tests and how you gather the information required to test.

Testers want everything to be perfect.

Testers stop moaning

Yes we do and why not? But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be pragmatic about it and for this you as a tester need to understand the businesses priorities, you can’t just sit there in isolation moaning about this and that issue when the product has to be out the door yesterday, you need to focus on what is important.

By being business aware and showing you understand the deadlines and the need for your organisation to get that release out you’llbe shown more understanding and respect and hey, you never know those annoying bugs may get fixed in a later release.

Testers find stupid bugs that customers will never find: Testers waste developer’s time.

No bug to me is a stupid bug, but some bugs are obscure, very minor or just not worth the effort fixing. However all bugs are worth reporting, just make sure they are not given too much prime time when there really isn’t a need.  Yes you might want to show off about those bugs that make you go “wow, look at this”

One I remember from working at Gremlin was with the heads of football players in Actua Soccer. After creating a saved game using none alphanumeric characters the heads of the football players suddenly ballooned up. This was quite a funny bug and guess what? The bug was left in and kept as an Easter egg.

Again it’s all about priority, but this can be a double edged sword as some bugs may appear minor on the surface but can cause serious repercussions later down the line, so don’t just assume a minor bug isn’t worth investigating, mostly they will remain minor or trivial bugs but never assume that.

The main point here is pick your battles, if you think a bug that has been deprioritised or reduced in severity, shouldn’t have been don’t just moan about it, get some evidence, do some investigation, understand why you have that feeling and you may come out with the information that supports your argument and get the bug fixed, or you may even understand why you thought it was more severe than it should have been.

We are all a team and it isn’t about us and them, we are working together to produce quality, so work together and stop your moaning and be proactive, communicate and provide facts not just gut feelings. However don’t ignore your gut feelings investigate why you had them in the first place as that may lead to a really juice bug that is worth talking about.

8 Responses to Testers: Stop moaning and prove your worth

  1. Michael says:

    I guess I was one of the rare few that actually had a computer science class that not only taught testing, but emphasized testing. The class was a junior level class at the University of Tennessee called Fundamentals of Software Engineering. The class, taught by Dr. Jesse Poore, focused on Cleanroom Software Engineering, with a large portion of the semester dedicated to statistical software testing based on a software usage model. Unfortunately, this class was one of three classes where the students had to select two, and enrollment was minimal because it wasn’t as seen as being “cool” when compared to systems programming.

    • I know that universities offer testing modules, but they are not consistent and as you have said they are optional so are not often chosen, which is a shame. Although I have recently heard of a university course that has recently been set up in Sydney, Australia that is specifically geared towards testing started by Catherine Karena and now run by Anne-Marie Charrett, which is a great start, but I’d like to see a lot more done elsewhere in the future.

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  3. Debbie Brannon says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog and in particular I thought it was well written and addressed pertinent issues within the testing environment. However one aspect of your blog concerned me. Under the heading ANYONE CAN DO TESTING you included a quote “[J]ust get some house wives (sic) in to test”. You made no comment highlighting the sexist tone of this quote so I can only assume that you did not feel that it was indeed sexist? Did you use the quote to imply that housewives are a group of people in our society who do not fulfil any position of worth or who are lacking in skills? As a former housewife myself and on behalf of all women who carry out what I believe to be a very worthwhile, demanding and challenging role that requires skills that may at times easily exceed those of a tester (an unpaid one at that, unlike the role of tester), particularly given that housewives are made up of women who come from all backgrounds with different levels of intelligence, educational attainment and who possess a wide range of skills – where the role of tester may be one that is well within their capabilities – I am disappointed that you so flippantly and insensitevely undermine this role and in so doing alienate members of your audience including myself.

    • The comment you mention is indeed sexists, I fully agree, as you know it was taken from the talk quoted above. I’m not going to now pass the buck and say it was his comments not mine, so I’ll try and explain the context in more detail.

      Firstly when the comment was made, which is in the video for you to view, Stephen said (paraphrasing here) “Just get some housewives in to do testing, was wrong in so many ways.” The audience responded with a loud groan, meaning to me, that the majority there were in full disagreement that anyone could or would have said something as sexists and belittling as that.

      It’s a disparaging comment and in no way did I intend in to come across as sexist. I grant you that I should have made this clear in the posting and put more context around that comment. Without the context it has made it appear -to you – that I didn’t feel or think it was sexist, and that I was more concerned with testers being compared with housewives.

      That was purely unintentional and I hope this explanation with the context makes it clear that in no way was I being sexists, either intentionally or unintentionally.

      • Debbie Brannon says:

        It would have been more prudent in this case where the citation was incomplete to have used suspension markers …. which may have minimised the possibility of your readers’ misunderstanding your meaning. Further, Stephen Janeway made it explicit what his view of the comment that his previous manager made was, and it would have been good if you had made it clear that you too found this comment offensive and why.

        • Ian Wild says:

          Hang on – That doesn’t have to be sexist at all.

          Housewives are a recognised demographic of people who are choosing to stay at home, probably looking after the kids and being generally housey. There are plenty of males who fulfil this role and fit the demographic. I don’t assume a housewife is a female just like I don’t assume a Fireman or a Handyman is necessarily a man. Why would anyone even care! We’re not going to change words like Fireman in our vocabulary and to even try misses a serious point / opportunity. If we’re going to tackle genuine discrimination, especially around Women in IT, we’ve all just got to man up and focus on the real issues – why are there so few quality women candidates for jobs in IT?

          As it happens, I’d love to be able to hire part time flexible workers who could work from home as and when I needed them and at times that suited that group. Housewives (of any sex) could be an awesome group of employees in so many fields if employers we’re open minded enough to adopt modern technology and work practices to make it effective.

          On the wider point Stephen I do think you’re close to hitting a nail on the head here. Testing gets a bad rep and I think you’re right that it’s because people don’t see it as a career, or at least as a step on a career in high tech. My conclusion after hiring many many developers at all levels is that people think development is the target job and don’t understand or care about testing. I now believe that *all* grad developers starting in the industry should work in QA / Test roles for at least the first year of their career. A good developer is someone who is always thinking about testing (and customers, but that’s another story). A bad developer is often the one who doesn’t care about such things.

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