Career paths for testing specialists

I believe it is possible to have challenging opportunities and career advancement within the broad field of testing – for all kinds of people and backgrounds.

I’m probably both spoiled and privileged, so see down below for context of the following model. It is a model for career paths that is in active use as of writing. Some might consider it old fashioned or limited, but I do hope that you can learn a bit from it with regards to defining career paths for testing specialists.

Let’s look at the following titles:

  • Tester,
    • prepares test cases in a test case management tool
    • performs the testing activity
  • Technical Test Analyst,
    • prepares and initiate engineered tests
  • Test Manager,
    • prepares test plans, test strategies
    • lead the testing activity

You might have other titles at your place – the point is to identify the titles and not take the work areas too literally. On smaller delivery teams the testing specialist is both the analyst, test manager and the one performing the tests. On larger projects there may be more testing professionals with more defined roles/titles. On other projects the test managers job is more around leading SMEs in testing (and less the testers).

Notice that the test manager manages the testing, she is not a people/line manager of the testing specialists. All the testing professionals may have the same manager or be distributed into the delivery teams. That usually depends on if the company’s focus is on consultancy/projects or on products/deliveries.

There are strong trends that much test engineering is a developers discipline and that management of testing is more about coaching. Still some development organisations strive with having exploratory testers on all teams, where they dig into the specific domain and application. But the field is not all dead yet, and many organisations will have the above titles represented for years.

Based on the titles above you can identify the work usually being done, but not the skill level or span of control. This is where we usually add (promotion) levels like:

  • Junior
  • Advanced/Associate
  • Senior
  • Principal

Do use the promotions that your company uses for developers (and similar titles) and other roles! If you have ninja developers as a formal promotion level over lead developers, the by all means add that to your testing titles as well. Do insist and argue! If you fail, move away and let that company deal with not wanting to improve their people. (having the option to turn away can be a privilege too).

The levels of formal training could follow the levels of promotion. ISTQB training is one approach that is similarly scaled. That can be helpful if your organisation has a quest for certificates (for some business reason). Certificates are though just a race to the bottom.

The advancement from one level to the next could be on the basis of independence of the person. A junior level is an entry level and will usually require that the person tries it out and have a skills mentor. Advance and associate levels apply the know-how consistently on one project/delivery team.

The higher up the level, the more teams the person can apply the knowledge to at the same time (span of control, see also the law of raspberry jam). Alternatively it could also be to be able to generalize practices learned in one project and apply it to a project/delivery team that works in a different way. Senior and principal roles is more into the strategic work or work as a adviser. They could be the advisers on bids & tenders for new projects or be more of an test architect working with implementing principles for the testing activities.

Context: I work in the Danish IT outsourcing sector in a global IT company of 3000+ people. The software testing team working across projects is 30+ people (globally). The title “promotions” are used consistently in the company for various job titles: Developers, project managers etc. I have applied a similar model for 20+ testing people at other outsourcing companies and the job titles are consistent with similar software development companies in Denmark.

Denmark is a country where trust in others is very high, where there is a high wealth equality level (Gini) and where women have equal privileges to men. In the company 30% is female, with many female “middle managers” and also high in the technical hierarchy.

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Writing myself a new car

I honor of the World Autism Awareness Day 2017: I have reward systems for myself and my two sons with autism. The principles are as follows:

  • Reward the behavior we want more of. Don’t reward required activities, but reward when we choose to do help with chores. Ignore when we choose not to, do not remove credits.
  • Rewards are things you would not get otherwise. Verbal praise and encouragement are given even so. You have to earn it – and get it when you finalize (a deal is a deal).
  • We use token economy and postponed gratification. Training for the mash mellow test improves forward thinking.
  • Rewards are usually LEGO. Specific piece request from Bricklink.  Every token/mark is a ten’er (DKR 10).

The boys (13+11) have been rewarded for doing the dishes, preparing food, taking out the garbage etc. Initially 15 tokens gave a trip to McDonalds, but as mastering progressed the rewards became bigger. One time 50 tokens/marks was needed for a reward. The options to help (“The Mark Menu”) was at one point over 20 chores. Over time they lost interest in saving but did the chores anyway, so some of the chores where made required. One day the oldest added “Do not fight” to the list of required (non-rewarding) activities 😉 Next up is to save for a game on Steam..

I’m being rewarded every time I run (5K, outside. Half a mark for treadmill), for my morning exercises and a few other thing I struggle with. I have just finished a sheet of 140 marks that I worked on since September 2016). The new target is to buy myself first a Bugatti and then a McLaren. Not a new minivan..

I am going to write myself a new car

I hope this drives the right behavior

Similar posts on leadership and praise at work: In a star team – the team gets the starsI know it is your job – but thank you anyway

Similar posts on autism: Pragmatic choices of what is important and possibleStakeholders,

Similar posts on drive and motivation: More than carrots and sticks, 16 points that may rock the boat

The Shift-Coach Testing Trend

Shift-Coach is when testers and test managers trends towards being coaches and facilitators of the testing activities. Shift-Coach is more about leading the testing than leading the testers to paraphrase from @DevToTest Joe DeMeyers blog post.

The ground breaker for this trend, is to me, the talk “How I Lost My Job As a Test Manager” presented at Test Bash 2015 by Stephen Janaway. Stephen explains how reorganization of the test manager role forced him to be more a facilitator than embedded in the teams. Similarly many other great test managers talk more and more about people skills and coaching, especially in agile projects. I want to define shift-coach around the facilitation testing activities, and place testers that doubles as scrum masters in the Shift-Deliver trend.

In traditional (v-model) projects testing has often included people that were not professional testers; – in user acceptance tests this has often been business subject matter experts. The testing was done by someone with the best knowledge of the topic, and that may not have been the professional tester. That more and more projects do this – more and more, is a big challenge for many testing folks. But it is a significant trend in testing world of 2016.

Shift-Coach trend is visible when Alan Page  talks at Test Bash Philly 2016:

You’ve heard the rumors, and you’ve seen it happen. An organization or development team decides they don’t need testers, and you have big questions and massive concerns. Is quality not important anymore? Are they irresponsible or idiotic? Are their hats on too tight? Do testers still have jobs?

Alan Page is a career tester who has not only gone through the “no-tester” transition, he’s taking it head on and embracing it. Alan will share experiences, stories, strategies, and tactics (and failures) on how he’s taken everything he’s learned in over twenty years of software testing, and used those skills to have an impact on software engineering teams at Microsoft. Whether you’re going through this transition yourself, think it may be coming, or just want to tell someone what an absurd idea this is, this is the talk for you.

This trend goes along with Shift-Right, Shift-Left and Shift-Deliver discussed separately. I discussed these trend labels at Nordic Testing Days 2016 during the talk “How to Test in IT operations“ and coined the labels on the EuroStar Test Huddle forum.

legocoach
Drive the Testing – Coach!

It all starts with an odd piece

One of my coworkers had gotten himself a LEGO 10242 MINI Cooper, and by the help of the other consultants it had been build (to spec?). We look over the remaining pieces and discuss how come. All the 1×1 plates are quite expected, there are extras of these because the weights aren’t that precise and the pieces are cheap. Also customers easily loose them, so it’s cheaper to send some extra than to handle through customer service. On BrickLink inventory there is even a fan made list of the usual extra items….

But an extra black 2×4 plate – naa. That’s odd.. And surely it missed on the bottom of the car. I had prior knowledge .. but have not built this exact set.

Now I have another hunch that the two gray 1×3 tiles and 1×1 dark green bricks in to the rear are missing somewhere. A good thing those consultants have a test department, one could say…  Still the pieces seem not to be 1-CRITICALLY missing, so the model is DONE and accepted. So even if the LEGO tester gets to ask “what if” – we have to remember to hear the answer to “does it matter” – even if it is our favorite hobbyhorse

2015-12-18 13.49.28

I wonder if

I wonder if… the Norwegian and Swedish texts are correct on this picture:

2015-10-29 21.38.35

I wonder if is surely among the things that I as a tester say  or think a lot. You will also hear me cheer when we find a critical bug. Every defect / bug / observation  / issue / problem / incident we find is our chance to learn about the product. It’s a natural part of the game to find things and then to handle them. Defer them if so inclined, mitigate the risks, fix the bugs, update the  processes – but always take a decision based on the new knowledge you have.

awesome

Here are some other things I often say:

revert_thatsodd  strange

Originally at the Ministry of Testing Facebook page,  but the twists above are mine.

Lego Role Models for Girls

Who had the family’s largest LEGO set his Christmas – not the boys (age 8-10), neither the “boys” (age 40 and up) – it wasn’t me* – but the 11-year-old girl and her 8 wheel 42008 Service Truck – 1276 pieces, power functions, pneumatic, gears and 44 cm forcefulness. There was no boy band merchandize, no glitter or similar gender framing. Quite a project – as is the story about the “Research Institute” mini-figure set.

42008-121110 Continue reading

Use case 115: It was a dark and stormy night

Discussing relevance of testcases, user stories and requirements is an age-old challenge in IT development. Sometimes we think we know the usage of our software so much better, than the users – that we laugh and say: That would never be the case. But it may very well be.

The reason for undertaking the largest national construction project is so that the capital region can get fresh milk.” That’s what the minister of transportation said [1] – and boy we laughed. Why would we invest billions, 7 years and 18 km bridge so that one part of the country could supply fresh milk for the other (that had it’s own dairies).

A commercial[2] for a dairy snack (oh the irony) later alleged that this decision was made on an empty stomach[3]. But it wasn’t – with regular ferry service since 1883, the people wanted to cut the time from 90 minutes to 15 minutes, with all the added benefits of increased trade, travel and traffic.

The link opened in 1998 and a stormy night in 2006 the bridge closed for traffic. No big deal – it happens. It so happened that it closed for 22 hours. And hence the ecological milk dairy on the ”countryside” couldn’t deliver milk for the ”capital” side [4]. And the scenario from the minister of transportation had become no laughing matter.

Your user is not you http://www.developsense.com/blog/2013/12/your-user-is-not-you/

The baristas wept as there was no ecological skimmed milk

1: DK video: http://larslars.net/blog/2009/04/derfor-fik-vi-storeb%C3%A6ltsbroen/
2: Similar to this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2UrushQ86I
3: Why being hungry is bad for decision-making http://blog.bufferapp.com/8-things-you-dont-know-are-affecting-your-decisions-every-day
4: DK text: http://www.landbrugsavisen.dk/Landbrugsavisen/2006/5/26/Ingen+frisk+maelk+over+Storebaelt.htm