What’s in a word?

Posted on Posted in Everything, Software Testing

It’s funny how one word can have multiple meanings. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in relation to learning Japanese, and especially Japanese grammar where identical grammatical structures can have quite different meanings depending on context.

There’s also an English word that’s been bugging me a bit lately. The word ‘just’ can be an awesome word. It can mean ‘fair and honourable’, or ‘precise or exact’, but I’m not so much of a fan when it is used in the following sentence fragment – ‘You’re just a tester…’

It often is accompanied by phrases or questions like ‘you wouldn’t understand’, ‘you don’t need to worry about that’, ‘what are you asking about that for?’, ‘you don’t need access to that’ or ‘what do you mean you should be paid as much as a developer?’

As grating as the assumption that you’re not techie enough, or that anyone can do your job (or similar ignorance) may be, my advice is to not take it personally.

I could choose to feel insulted, but I don’t. It generally means to me that I have to help educate someone. I’ve heard it from developers, project managers, salespeople, executives, all sorts of people who think they have a handle on what it takes to be a tester. It may be that their previous experience has been a negative one with low-skilled testers. Maybe they have no experience with testers at all and are going on assumptions and second or even third-hand information. Whatever the reason, it is clear that their understanding of software testing is framed differently to mine.

Sometimes, a short conversation on what our differences in understanding are is all it takes, but if someone has the idea firmly in their head that testers are (just) monkeys that click on stuff toward the end of a project, you’re probably going to have to be a little more hands-on in demonstrating your value.

Find out what they think your limitations are, then find a way to add value that goes above and beyond what they’re expecting. At the start of a project, analyse the design and put together a risk analysis (along with what can be done – not just testing – to mitigate them). Are there unit tests or other automated tests you can review (and possibly improve)? Have developers put their money where their mouth is with Mike Kelly’s 5 bugs in 5 minutes challenge (PDF link – see page 5).

You might demonstrate the value of exploratory testing by conducting a paired testing session with them. What you do will of course depend on your own situation. Be proactive about it though. You can point them at blog posts and pdf links all you like, but until you actually demonstrate to them the value of a tester in a way that they’re going to notice or care about, you’re just going to have to deal with being thought of as ‘just a tester’. You might not have created the situation, but if there are people (who matter) whose point of view needs adjustment then the onus is on you.

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