This is the second of a couple of “The core of X” -articles that give you -my- ideas on what I think of X. The attempt is to cut away all that surrounds the term and show its core for what it truly is. The essence of it all.
Take from it what you will, love it or leave it. In any case, I would invite you to share what goes around in your head and what you feel while reading. Feel free to correct me or engage in discussion. We’re here to learn.
There’s Always Testing
Independent Test Teams, Dogfooding, Bugbashes, agile Testers, Test Jumpers,… or testing by any other name. There’s always some testing going on in a software project. It might even not be called testing, but it’s there.
It’s in those moments of critical thinking just before someone says “hey now, wouldn’t that shortcut our registration process?” or “Woah, I never thought about it in that way.”
When one ‘thing’: a piece of code, a requirement, a document,… is changed and passed from one person to another: that’s an opportunity for doing testing.
This isn’t always done by a professional tester. Au contraire.
Whether it’s a formalized or accidental process, there’s people jumping in and out of “The Testing Role”. Adding value because of it.
“Everyone tests, but it’s a skill not many professionals care to practice.”
The Core of the Testing Role = Mindset + Skills + Attitude
Be you a tester, developer, analyst, schoolboy or astronaut, to take up the Testing Role effectively, you need to be aware of these three different aspects.
Most professionals are focused on Building. Adding, accelerating, stabilizing and all that improvement goodness. At one point or another, these professionals will need to test each other’s improvements. Having that builder’s mindset while doing so is a lousy way to go about it. It’s the equivalent of a mom cheering on her son on the football field:
You want to see them succeed. Confirmation bias and inattentional blindness play their part: Your feedback will be limited.
A tester’s mindset is often seen as a negative or destructive way of thinking. It’s focused on Risk. What can go wrong? How can this be abused? What haven’t we thought of?
It’s about thinking differently. It’s about being engaged with the product with the intent of finding problems.
Getting that mindset consistently right is probably the most important part of this role, yet also the easiest to discard. The path of least resistance doesn’t lead here. It goes everywhere but here, with a rather sharp turn.
It’s a Skill
There’s a lot of different skills involved in testing.
- Critical thinking
- Systems thinking
- Risk Analysis
- Quick learning
- One’s own expectations management
- Inter- and intrapersonal skills.
- Technical insight
Just like any other craft, it might look easy for the unwitting and unpracticed. To become a master though, it takes hours, days of mindful practice.
Attitude, to me, is the defining characteristic for a tester.
- It makes you speak up in planning meetings to go against popular opinion.
- It has you fighting for a bugfix you think is important.
- It gives you fresh ideas to go through the same high-risk functionality over and over.
- It helps you be different in a world where sameness is worshiped.
Just like Mindset, which is about thinking differently, Attitude is too easily dismissed as part of the Testing Role. Being adamant about quality can be perceived as difficult or not-a-team-player behaviour. I’ve worked with many people who don’t want to bother learning about testing for those exact reasons. It doesn’t make you popular.
Anyone can take up the Testing Role. Whatever else you do, it takes these three things to be successful at it:
Mindset – Thinking differently when looking at solutions and problems.
Skills – Have the tools to analyse, find, plan for and report risks and issues.
Attitude – The resolve to be consistently different and defend underrepresented notions.
Doing that context switch isn’t easy, isn’t evident and takes practice.
While many people do this role & mindset switch daily, most of the time it is lacking. Practice, investigate and learn how to do it well.