Monday, June 25, 2012

On Value, Part 2: The Failure of Testers

This is the second post which resulted from a simple question my lady-wfe asked at a local tester meeting recently.

This blog post resulted in a fair number of visits, tweets, retweets and other measures that people often use to measure popularity or "quality" of a post.

The comments had some interesting observations.  I agree with some of them, can appreciate the ideas expressed in others.  Some, I'm not so sure about.

Observations on Value

For example, Jim wrote "Yes, it all comes down to how well we "sell" ourselves and our services. How well we "sell" testing to the people who matter, and get their buy-in."

Generally, I can agree with this.  We as testers have often failed to do just that - sell ourselves and what we do, and the value of that.

Aleksis wrote "I really don't think there are shortcuts in this. Our value comes through our work. In order to be recognized as a catalyst for the product, it requires countless hours of succeeding in different projects. So, the more we educate us (not school) and try to find better ways to practice our craft, the more people involved in projects will see our value."

Right.  There are no shortcuts.  I'm not so certain that our value comes through our work.  If there are people who can deliver the same results for less pay (i.e., lower cost) then what does this do to our value?  I wonder if the issue is what that work is?  More on that later, back to comments.

Aleksis also wrote "A lot of people come to computer industry from universities and lower level education. They just don't know well enough testing because it's not teach to them (I think there was 1 course in our university). This is probably one of the reasons why software testing is not that well known."

I think there's something to this as well.  Alas, many managers and directors and other boss-types testers deal with, work with and for, come from backgrounds other than software testing.  Most were developers, or programmers when I did the same job.  Reasonably few did more than minimal testing, or unit testing or some form of functional testing.  To them, when they were doing their testing, it was a side-activity to what their "real work" was.  Their goal was to show they had done their development work right and that was that.

Now, that is all well and good, except that no one is infallible in matters of software.  Everyone makes mistakes, and many deceive themselves about software behavior that does not quite match their expectations.

Jesper chimed in with "It's important that all testing people start considering how they add value for their salary. If they don't their job is on the line in the next offshoring or staff redux." 

That seems related to Jim's comment.  If people, meaning boss-types, don't see the point of your work, you will have "issues" to sort out - like finding your next gig.

The Problem: The View of Testing

Taken together, these views, and the ones expressed in the original blog post,can be summarized as this:  Convincing people (bosses) that there is value in what you do as a tester is hard.

The greater problem I see is not convincing one set of company bosses or another that you "add value."  The greater problem is what I see rampant in the world of software development:

Testers are not seen as knowledge workers by a significant portion of technical and corporate management.

I know - that is a huge sweeping statement.  It has been gnawing at me on how to express it.  There are many ideas bouncing around that eventually led me to this conclusion. For example, consider these statements (goals) I have heard and read in the last several weeks, as being highly desirable
  • Reduce time spent executing manual test cases by X%;
  • Reduce the number of manual test cases executed by Y%;
  • Automate everything (then reduce tester headcount);
There seems to be a pervasive belief that has not been shaken or broken, no matter the logic or arguments presented against it.  Anyone can do testing if the instructions (test steps) are detailed enough. 

The core tenet is that the skilled work is done by a "senior" tester writing the detailed test case instructions.  Then, the unskilled laborers (the testers) follow the scripts as written and report if their results match the documented, "expected" results.

The First Failure of Testers

The galling thing is that people working in these environments do not cry out against this.  Either debating the wisdom of such practices, or arguing that defects found in production could NOT have been found by following the documented steps they were required to follow.

Some folks may mumble and generally ask questions, but don't do more.  I know, the idea of questioning bosses when the economy is lousy is a freighting prospect.  You might be reprimanded.  You may get "written up."  You may get fired.

If you do not resist this position with every bit of your professional soul and spirit, you are contributing to the problem.

You can resist actively, as I do and as do others whom I respect.  In doing so, you confront people with alternatives.  You present logical arguments, politely, on how the model is flawed.  You engage in conversation, learning as you go how to communicate to each person you are dealing with.

Alternatively, you can resist passively, as some people I know advocate you do.  I find that to be more obstructionist than anything else.  Instead of presenting alternatives and putting yourself forward to steadfastly explain your beliefs, you simply say "No."  Or you don't say it, you just don't comply, obey, whatever.

One of the fairly common gripes that comes up every few months on various forums, including LinkedIn, are whinge-fests on how its not fair that developers are paid "so much more" than testers are.

If you...

If you are one of the people complaining about lack of  PAY or RESPECT or ANYTHING ELSE with your chosen line of work, and you do nothing to improve yourself, you have no one to blame but yourself.

If you work in an environment where bosses clearly have a commodity-view of testers, and you do nothing to convince them otherwise, you have no one to blame but yourself.

If you do something that a machine could do just as well, and you wonder why no one respects you, you have no one to blame but yourself.

If you are content to do Validation & Verification "testing" and never consider branching beyond that, you are contributing to the greater problem and have no one to blame but yourself.

I am not blaming the victims.  I am blaming people who are content to do whatever they are told as being a "best practice" and will accept everything at face value.

I am blaming people who have no interest in the greater community of software testers.  I am blaming people who have no vision beyond what they are told "good testers" do.

I am blaming the Lemmings that wrongfully call themselves Testers.

If you are in any of those descriptions above, the failure is yours.

The opportunity to correct it is likewise yours.


  1. Part 3 is here:

  2. You mentioned above (I' sure this is not your opinion!) this statement: "Anyone can do testing if the instructions (test steps) are detailed enough."

    Now, I feel I need to comment on that, because I think it's wrong (or invalid to be more precise) in more than one way. First of all, I think it's invalid because there's no way to falsify it: If someone can't test something, 'just' give more detailed instructions. If that doesn't help give even more instructions.
    In my opinion this is reason enough to not bother arguing with whoever might come up with a statement like this.
    Second of all, because of the 1st issue, it's also unfalsifiable, if you replace
    'testing' with 'programming', 'management' or 'science' (remove the part "(test steps)". I remember Michael Bolton talking about this at the Agile Testing Days 2010 or 2011, too.

  3. Stephan - Thanks for the comment.

    I agree - it IS wrong on multiple levels. The problem I have is the number of people who work in shops where this is clearly the level of expectation by managers? The failure I see on the part of testers in circumstances like this is their willingness to take comments like this and not respond.

    In not speaking out, they are harmed by the limiting behavior of management, and all of testers are harmed by the diminishing of the value of our craft.