We asked Anuj Magazine a mixed bag of questions about testing, career and skills required for a tester. Here shared in this quest for endless testing knowledge is his deep understanding of this science and brief answers.
Q) As a tester without dev/coding skills, how to become a technical tester with programming skills?
A) Let me first get the question right before getting to the answer.
To me, the phrase ‘Technical tester’ is an oxymoron.
In today’s day and age, everyone associated with software business are supposed to be sufficiently technical.
In my own career, I have interacted with professionals from spectrum of roles and functions. As example, one may argue that salespeople can escape with minimal technical skills. But the best sales people I have seen are the ones who are technically very articulate (among other skills)) and can strike rich conversations with customers. This, for a tester it’s a given that she has to be technically deep in the chosen area of expertise and technically broad in other related areas.
2. Second thing that I would like to correct in the question is the association of word ‘technical’ with only programming skills. Before you get me wrong, programming skills are without doubt important but they just aren’t the “only” technical skills out there. Right from your product architecture, APIs, underlying operating system, interactions with external systems, security, performance- there are innumerable ways to slice and dice technical skills. So I would encourage testers to have a holistic view of skills rather than looking at it from a narrow lens.
With this context established, I really see the problem expressed in this question as being mindset challenge and learning or learnability challenge. Allow me to explain it a bit:
A cursory glance at the way our society operates will reveal that as a humans, we are experts at categorizing ourselves in as many granular ways as possible. An example, we subconsciously categorize people based on city they come from, the way they speak, based on religion and so many ways. This thinking is just the byproduct of society we live in and I am not trying to be judgemental about it. It is what it is.
But professionally the problem happens when we start applying such thinking at work. We use the society imposed template to look at the jobs and start categorizing them. We start thinking I am a manual tester and programming is developers responsibility or managers job is to encourage the team unless she does it, I won’t show initiative. This is the mindset aspect of question that I was talking about. If we apply this template to our jobs, we give away control of situations to the forces beyond us. So the first thing to do to become a better at anything you want to do (in this case, programming) is to instill belief in self that it is my responsibility to become a better at a desired skill, it is my job, I am not doing a favor on myself by learning- my future paycheck depends upon how I learn. Would strongly urge to shun categorization mindset.
Secondly, I talked about it being a learnability challenge. What I mean by that it most of us want to learn skills but we don’t see “learning how to learn’ as a skill. That ‘i want to learn programming language’ is a skill based learning mindset. If you twist this question to ‘How quickly can I become a world class programmer” it will invariably force you to think through the learning methods you should apply to get to the goal in minimal possible time.
Most people like to learn via books, via internet sites, joining classes and that is fine. But the problem becomes if you continue leveraging just these means but remain underinvested in evolving other learning methods that can give you better investment from time. 70:20:10 model of learning addresses this challenge well. It simply states that 10% of all learning happens via formal education like classes, books, online tutorials. 30% of learning happens via modes called as social learning, which includes mentoring, spending active time with people who are great at what you aspire to become and 70% of learning happens on the job, when we work on live projects, take on challenges head on while working under time pressures etc.
The irony is that more often we spend 80% of time learning via formal education means, which really impacts 10% of learning surface. So there is a need to look at learning from fresh lens and invert the way we think about it.
Let me summarize the answer in 5 actionable tweets:
1. As a tester, you are expected to be technical. There is no ambiguity about it.
2. Being technical, doesn’t just include programming but a wide variety of skills based on context of your project/area.
3. Shun the categorization mindset. It is solely your responsibility to get better at your chosen area of expertise. Choose to stay in control of your learning.
4. Don’t just narrowly focus on what you wish to learn. Invest your time in learning how to learn effectively.
5. Don’t just learn from books, online/face to face trainings. Get a mentor. Spend ample time learning from experts. Pick a live project that is much beyond your current skills and persevere to execute it till the end.
Q) If I join as a SDET today, where should I see myself after 10 years?
A) In the next 10 years, you should see yourself as a CEO of an organization making immense impact on the company, employees and society.
What distinguishes us humans from other living species in the power to dream. Why waste this power by choosing to dream small. One promise we should make to ourselves is that whenever we think of future, it is bigger, bolder and better, much better than today.
There is one more perspective I would like to offer on this subject. When we think of ten year career horizons, we generally tend to think growing vertically i.e. if I am an SDET now, I would be Senior SDET in 2 years, then Staff SDET and so on. There is nothing wrong in thinking vertically except for the fact that vertical plans for careers tend to be self-limiting. What I mean by self-limiting is that designations trap you into thinking that reaching next level is the only goal you should have even if you are capable and are performing at much higher levels.
If you consider any industry leader you admire and look at their career profiles, I bet they wouldn’t have reached where they have reached by just following organization’s laid down career frameworks. They may have followed that a bit but more than that they would traversed horizontally and chartered their own unique paths.
1. You are capable of reaching at unprecedented heights in your career in 10 years time provided you choose to aim higher at the first step.
2. Follow career paths laid down by organizations as a guidance at best but not the only way to grow. Successful people create their own paths however difficult it may be.
3. Like everything around you, within next 10 years the SDET role itself would have undergone transformation for good or bad. It’s best to have a pulse of what’s happening around you, have informed opinion about the future and change course as needed.
Q) For Women Testers, do you advice moving into technical role or management role as she moves forward in her career ?
A) Let me start by sharing 2 stories with you:
I recently ran Singapore full marathon. It was a gruelling course of 42.195 km with a very hot and humid conditions. In such a course, one seeks inspiration from fellow runners to keep at course and continue going. Many a times during the run, I looked up to female runners who were running better and strongly than I was.
A couple of years back a wrote this article: “What testers can learn from my wife” in Women testers website. In this story, I narrate how my wife inspires me professionally everyday. Being a woman in an extremely male dominated automobile industry, she managed to successfully carve a niche for herself, despite many odds facing her. She took-up and excelled in both management and technical path.
What I am trying to allude towards is that I don’t believe that gender should even be a factor in deciding or limiting yourself to choose any career path of your chose. Of course, there may be challenges in certain paths, but isn’t that true for anything worth doing in life.
One heuristic you can try choosing between technical and management role: If you like being with yourself more, try technical path. If you like being with people more, try management path. However, this heuristics is only valid for early stages in the career. As one grows towards more senior roles, even the technical roles need more and more social skills and management/leadership roles need more and more technical skills.
In summary, no career path is written in stone. Following 4 steps can help you reach your potential.
1.identify your strengths,
2.show appetite for experimentation,
3.if things don’t go as per your liking don’t hesitate to change course.
4.go to step#1.
I don’t see career paths from the lens of gender.
In my world view women can excel in any chosen path- technical or management and so can men.