Over the last year I’ve been on a little bit of a journey of discovery, for 5 years I had been working as a tester but never really seeing it as a career I wanted to keep. In this 6th year of testing, I finally realised I loved it after discovering the friendly and passionate testing community. I’ve learned to appreciate my own work, justify it and learn how to become better and better at it. Suddenly what felt like a job that didn’t have any further growth exploded into a fascinating and immersive world where I could maximise my skills and help others to realise theirs too. I’m taking this moment to write down why I love it so much as a little preparation so that I’ve thought about what I want to say whenever I talk about this again in future.
Testing is endless learning
I’ve spent most of my life (up to this point) in education, I went to nursery at the age of 3 and graduated with my degree at the age of 21. On reflection I feel I’ve always liked having that next target, be it grades for next year, progressing to university or securing full time work. I’ve come to realise one of the things I relish about testing is always having something to learn. I now effectively describe my testing as learning, especially thanks to attending and studying Rapid Software Testing with Michael Bolton which really hit home this point. As an example, before I started my current job, I knew very little about performance, security, API and automation testing. I can now confidently talk about each of these subjects and know where I need to improve.
When someone presents me something to test, I’m trying to learn as much as possible as soon as possible and I love doing this, I love building on each bit of knowledge and using it to ask more and more questions. Let’s say for example I’m presented with an accounting service that integrates with other systems, I start reading the documentation or asking questions and learn that one of these integrations accesses through an externally-facing API. So then I’m asking questions about what is this integration? What does it do? Who is it for? Why have we built it? Can I test it? What does it expect as a response? Is the API secure? What happens when I try to access it without authentication? What happens when an error occurs? What is the desired performance end-to-end with this integration?
Testing is about facts, though opinions are valued too
It’s sometimes easy for people to perceive testers as picky or pedantic people, always criticising or bringing bad news. If we are not careful with our expression, we can over-state a personal opinion or fail to justify why something is a serious problem. I personally enjoy trying to constantly improve my communication, maintain a high standard and keep learning how to interact better with so many different kinds of people. All the while trying to keep in check my own emotions while at the same time knowing when to listen to them.
Testing is about being involved everywhere
As a tester I find myself working at every point from start to finish of a software project. From trying to learn as much about our customers and the business to learning all about the behaviour of a particular line of code. I get to work with so many other roles such as development, business analysis, project management, systems administration, technical support, sales and marketing and all the wonderful and horrible ways people might like to use the software. Testers have moved on to become business analysts or project managers and I think it’s a very natural career step for some.
Testing is about being persistent
Like the world’s best detective, as a tester I try to leave no stone un-turned and I try to look beyond the obvious explanations. I actually find this one of the harder parts of testing, it’s easy to accept an explanation that you don’t fully understand, because sometimes you think you do but don’t really. Sometimes it’s also difficult to keep persisting, especially when a problem resolves itself. Maybe you don’t always have time to keep searching. However, the satisfaction in finally discovering the root of a challenging problem is so high that it makes it worth it. I try to remind myself of the detective analogy because it helps re-energise me (it feels more exciting!) when dealing with tricky problems.
Testing is about directly and indirectly helping people
In providing quality information, I’m helping people all of the time. Helping developers learn more about what code actually does, helping product owners track the progress of a project or helping everyone become more careful with their language and aware of assumptions. I’m also indirectly helping end users of software, trying to understand their needs and understand how these match against the software. I feel caring about people is so very, very central to testing.
Testing is about balance
I like to think of myself as pragmatic and realistic, I care about being critical of my own views with respect to considering someone else’s point of view. So I relish the challenge of balance, I see so many things in life, even life itself being one of balance. There are always pros and cons, always another perspective, another time when things might make more or less sense. The most common challenge that crops up in testing is balancing the desire to learn as much as possible with being quick. Why is time important? Because to learn everything you need all of the time in the world, which you never really have. So you’re always prioritising and trying to identify where the most important pieces of information may be hiding so you can find them as soon as possible. Everything costs time and so we are always asking ourselves whether it’s worth spending the time or if we are spending it in the right places.
Testing is a field ripe for discovery
While many people have discussed, experimented and written about testing for decades, it still feels like many of us are only just beginning to really understand it better as a field. The spread of knowledge and encouragement to discuss how to become better at it seems to be getting closer to other fields like programming. To some extent, it feels like testing is still lagging behind those other fields, we are only just starting to see more conferences and meetups. As a relatively new tester, I can’t speak for what it was like before, but I went a whole 5 years without even knowing there was a community who talked about it, let alone had ideas to improve it. I like this because it feels like an exciting place to be, with so many topics to explore, so much to possibly contribute to. There feels like a lot of work still left to be done to reach out to more people, both new testers and those who may become a tester in future. Not to mention that as we educate ourselves about what testing really means, we also become better at encouraging those other fields to understand it better too and interact with them better.
Testing is great for drawing on diversity
I make use of several different skills and bits of knowledge all of the time in my testing. An obvious example would be making use of my programming background to build useful tools or understand and read code. But I’ve also made use of my education to help me write reports, produce presentations and I’d even credit my studies of history (such as understanding how to analyse sources) with how I approach analysis. I’ve heard of examples of testers using their background in journalism to ask better questions and gather better answers or testers with a keen ear for audio being able to more accurately describe an audio problem. I love that testing so visibly benefits from diversity.
Testing is very psychological
I love psychology, it’s fascinating to me and so much of my work is affected by my psychological state. Topics such as confirmation bias and social interaction come to mind as the most obvious examples. Understanding these areas helps to stay alert to some of the most easily missed issues. For example, if you consider Usability Testing and how you analyse the information you gather from it. You don’t just ask users a list of questions and take away their answers. You are looking out for so many psychological factors too - how are they interpreting the question? Why did they give that answer? What were they thinking when they performed that action? When they say that they want X do they really need Y?
Testing is creative
In our pursuit of learning, it helps to be creative, because it allows us to explore much more than if we stick to the path laid out for us. In testing, being creative is highly rewarding as you are better able to not only discover issues that no one had thought of but also workaround issues or make an innocent-looking problem worse.
Testing is about being a team player
Testing cannot be separated from the work done to produce software. I’m not a rock star, walking onto projects and “assuring quality” and telling people what they’ve done wrong. I’m here to support others in producing software, to work together and learn together. By working more closely with people and learning to become better at working with people, my testing becomes more effective, efficient and supportive. I personally hate working alone and love working in a team. I love “team spirit” and pushing each other to become better.