We asked our participants, leading experts in software testing and quality engineering community. Read their responses below.
The event was extremely well organized, and I enjoyed every session. In addition to great speakers, the attendees at this event were engaging and thoughtful. Definitely one of the best conferences I’ve attended.
Alan Page, Director at Unity Technologies Bellevue, Washington
Thank you for the perfectly organized conference! It was terrific and a great opportunity to connect with some sharp minds in the industry sharing their experiences and knowledge. I found both attendees and speakers were energetic to learn what similar problems we are facing in software development and how others have solved them. The sessions were interactive with the top-notch content. Overall a great conference to attend!
Arpit Jain, Software QA Lead at Validus Research Inc. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
I attended the Test Masters Academy in June 2018 both as a speaker and attendee. What a great time! The ability to connect with other speakers and attendees at sessions, group activities and networking opportunities during the conference provided a well-rounded experience. I would recommend this conference to anyone who is looking to enhance their career and take it to the next level – especially if you enjoy learning in real-world settings. I look forward to participating again!
Melissa Tondi, Strategist at Rainforest QA Englewood, Colorado
There are today many conferences around the US and around the world. Each of them has its own characteristics, and for the Test Masters Conferences, this is a group of testers that comes together to share and learn from their experience and knowledge. The size and organization of sessions allowed for everyone to take an active role and participate in the conversations, making the experience more personal and focused on each of our own needs.
Anna manages to get great speakers to share and facilitate and this in itself helps to place the Test Masters Conferences among those events that you want to mark on your calendar and try to participate at least once in a while.
Joel Montvelisky, Product & Solution Architect at PractiTest Israel
The Test Masters Academy Conference is the best conference offered in the nation. I have been to other Test Conference but come back to this one. It offers more real world, today’s testing world learning. I have found those who give presentations and collaboration workshop are the best in the tech industry. The conference is small which give you opportunities to get more one-on-one interactions. I appreciate being able to meet so many testers who come from all over the world to attend. Combine the strength of the presentations, meeting new people and a great atmosphere for learning makes them outmatched for any other conference. I would definitely recommend to anybody who wants to learn in a smaller setting.
Paul Hansen, Principle Tester at Hughes Network Systems Orem, Utah
Test Masters Academy brings in experts from around the world to an amazing location on Times Square. As attendees, we have ample opportunity to meet the speakers and dive deeper into testing topics. The group activities are engaging, encouraging participants to rethink the paradigms of testing.
Thomas Haver, Senior Application Architect at Huntington National Bank Columbus, Ohio
Presenting at Test Leadership Congress has been an honor and great pleasure. I did a workshop around whole team testing and the interaction I had with the audience was very engaging. I feel that the theme of the conference itself is very unique and something that our industry needs to take seriously i.e. test leadership. I would like to participate again should there be something more I can come up with to suit the idea. Great job Anna and thanks for doing what you are doing!
Lalit Bhamare, Co-founder & chief editor at Tea time with Testers
Read more about Test Leadership Congress (June 26th-28th)
We asked several of the testers new and experienced to share their questions with us and matched a mentor to answer them. Featured here is Anuj Magazine who was/is quintessential in his approach to these questions and answered it for you. Hope you enjoy reading the answers as much as we did.
Q) I am from a different background, I did my engineering in Electronics and Communications and I am working as an Exploratory tester, do you think me staying in testing field is productive? Will my career be adventurously continuing as a tester or will I face any difficulties in the future? Nevertheless, I currently love the job I am doing but little confused so help me out with this.
Mark Twain once said that “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”.
Depending upon the way you look at it, educational qualifications can be your best ally or the worst enemy. More often, I have come across the people who just let go of wonderful opportunities because they weren’t formally trained in the subject of the opportunity or the subject didn’t comply with their formal education. Both these views eventually prove disastrous in the context of career planning and severely limits what one can achieve.
I do hold firm the belief that ‘Educational qualifications aren’t the end, but the means to a greater end’. The role that educational qualification play in the eventual success of human beings is nowhere closer to the role that traits like ‘loving what you do’, ‘passion’, ‘does your job allow you to live in the moment’, ‘having a point of view’, ‘negotiating your own success’, ‘managing upwards’, ‘embracing non-linearity in thinking about careers’, ‘creating positive differentiation’ and a lot more takes.
A lot of times I observe the LinkedIn profiles that tend to put the name of a recent certification they achieved next to their names. I have nothing against people doing certifications but by putting the name of certifications next to your name, you are sending signal to the entire world that your own brand is weak and you have to rely on a mere certification to give you visibility and differentiation. Don’t make educational qualifications your identity, you identity is defined by the factors bigger than educational qualifications such as the nature of problems you choose to solve, how well you execute and how well you communicate the impact you have created.
In summary, don’t let your electronics and communications degree self-limit you and come in the way of your success. Rather use it as a means to achieve something more meaningful in life.
Regarding the other part of your question ‘Will my career be adventurously continuing as a tester or will I face any difficulties in the future?’
I don’t really have a crystal ball to see your future but I do have a perspective to offer here. I learned from one of my mentors that:
‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have a lifelong career at any moment’.
What he meant by this was that, with all the changes happening around us careers can further be broken down into multiple micro-careers. A micro-career may last 2-3 years or even more depending on the shelf-life the skill under question. In testing or any other profession, one should be clever enough to figure out when to reinvent self. Reinvention in a career context is an act of unlearning what you know and fill yourself with newer skills and capabilities that can serve you for may be 2-3 more years and continue this cycle. A career span of 30-35 years will bring with it own sort of difficulties at times. Our goal shouldn’t be to avoid difficulties when faced but to be tenacious enough to try and find the way out of them.
Q) How having a mentor / coach helps a tester be lead in a better path?
Let’s see what role a good mentor plays. As I have seen, a good mentor:
1. helps you become as good as you can be.
2. observes, judges and guides (in that order).
3. asks the right questions at the right time. A mentor uses questions as a tool to bring you closer to solution.
4. will not give you all the answers but still teach you how to think.
5. helps you see the mirror through which you can judge your performance.
6. know how to break down performance into its critical individual components and suggest a plan for ailing components.
7. focus less on themselves and more on the mentees.
8. Helps mentees find blind spots in the performance.
A few years back, I enrolled myself in toastmasters club. The toastmasters club is focused on improving the public speaking skills. One of the effective mechanisms used in toastmasters club to improve public speaking skills is to break-down the frequent problems ailing communication in different buckets and then you receive an quantifiable feedback from judges on what went right and what went wrong.
The mere act of a few dedicated people dissecting your speech and providing you feedback enables you to improve communication skills that otherwise would need painfully longer to achieve.
Atul Gawande a renowned surgeon brought about remarkable improvement in his surgery skills by onboarding a coach who could give him feedback by observing live during an operation. Before Atul came up with this idea, he had been doing operations for around a decade, had done 2000 plus operations. He could have comforted himself feeling that he is an expert but he chose to extend the boundaries and seek feedback.
“Knowledge of disease and the science of treatment are always evolving. We have to keep developing our capabilities and avoid falling behind. So the training inculcates an ethic of perfectionism. Expertise is thought to be not a static condition but one that doctors must build and sustain for themselves.”
Isn’t the situation explained in this quote very similar to information technology (and by virtue of it, software testing) profession?
To stay relevant, we are having to build capabilities faster than the rate at which technology is changing. And we cannot achieve the career velocity by just reading the books or taking training courses. A good mentor helps fill the performance gaps that we feel does not even exist.
A couple of more perspectives to consider:
1. As much as good mentoring can help us scale new heights, it bears repeating that bad mentoring can make professionals worse. Choose your mentors wisely.
2. Good mentors can make you uncomfortable. It can be intimidating to think that someone is observing you, judging you and more often will give feedback that may make you look incompetent. For a mentoring relationship to work, it is the job of a mentee to give confidence to the mentor that he/she will be a good recipient of the feedback.
Q) According to you what are the top 5 skills a context driven agile tester needs to have by 2019?
To be honest, i think i may not be the best person to answer about agile testing skills as i don’t practice it daily. But i do find this question important and would like to share a different perspective around it.
I prefer to look at this question from the point of view of ‘First Principles thinking’ which i fundamentally believe in.
In layman’s terms, first principles thinking is basically the practice of actively questioning every assumption you think you ‘know’ about a given problem or scenario — and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch. Almost like a newborn baby.
Elon Musk, as an example, is a huge proponent of first principles thinking and that’s probably why he has been able to invent many distinctive companies in a time-frame most people are struggling to get one career right.
As Elon indicates, first principles thinking essentially focuses on bringing things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.
Reasoning by analogy, on the contrary, is building knowledge and solving problems based on prior assumptions, beliefs and widely held ‘best practices’ approved by majority of people.
Applying first principles thinking to this discussion around skills, i firmly believe that most skills are built on a strong foundation of elementary skills. Here’s a list of those elementary skills:
2. Speaking and communicating
3. Reading and comprehension
5. Hunger to create a lasting impact
Interestingly the skills from #1 to #4 i.e. listening, speaking, reading, writing are the first 4 skills we learn in our lives. They are very fundamental to our being yet they play a significant part in dictating eventual success. As much elementary as these sound, i am pretty confident in my hypotheses that a career built on a strong foundation of these skills will certainly outlast and outperform the career that gives less importance to these.
Irony of our times is that employees are disproportionately focused on improving functional skills (e.g. subject of this question agile testing skills) and spend almost no time practicing these foundation skills. Let me share a few perspectives about these skills before coming to practice bit.
Listening: Adam Grant’s book ‘Give and Take’ beautifully drives home the point that givers are the most effective employees than the takers and the matchers. Beyond these, there is one more category of employees that I prefer to call ‘expert receivers’. Receivers are the people who are awesome at receiving anything concrete. I have been a big fan of Subroto Bagchi’s books and way of thinking and in one of the conversations, he beautifully sums up: “it is a power to receive which is the bigger determinant of success, not the power to give.”
A good leader may tune herself to give equal mentoring, advise and opportunity to her team of 5 people. But we still see that only one of five may eventually exceeds expectations. Why? The reason can be attributed to person’s power to receive and assimilate information, everything else being equal. How do you inculcate ‘power to receive‘ ? Simply by improving the way you listen.
One message: Practice active listening.
Public speaking skills: Indra Nooyi once said: “You cannot over-invest in communication skills”. You may have all the knowledge in the world but if you haven’t equipped yourself to communicate it impactfully, you cannot mobilize people, you cannot achieve momentum in the projects, your career cannot attain the trajectory it deserves.
Reading and comprehension: At the year-end time, one of the things that I am fascinated with is looking at the year-end reading summary of people I admire. One thing that’s constant with most effective people all-around is that they are all well read. They have their white-spaces filled with undistracted reading time. So reading skills are a given if you are looking to build a successful career. However, one of the most under-rated skills is comprehension. I know many people measure themselves by the number of books they read. It’s a good measure of your stickiness to reading habit but it doesn’t measure effectiveness. Comprehension abilities fill that effectiveness gap. As a skill, one should evolve reading habits with time. One should work consciously on improving comprehension abilities. Would highly recommend going through this blog and honestly assess and improve the flaws in the way you read: https://fs.blog/reading/
Writing: I am a professionally qualified handwriting analyst. A handwriting analyst can decipher personality traits from one’s handwriting. During the course of getting trained in handwriting analysis, I learned quite a few ‘parallel’ skills such as NLP, graphotherapy. Graphotherapy, for example, deals with a changing one’s personality by changing one’s handwriting. Like with anything, there are believers and non-believers in this. But, the larger point that I am driving towards is that writing on paper helps to connect with your inner-self. I heard the entrepreneur Alok Kejriwal mention that one should write at least one page a day. In addition to improving your writing skills, it is also a sort of self-purification process. A process that helps you clear the traffic jam of thoughts in your mind. One way I have found helpful in improving writing skills is to read and observe the email communication from the leaders you admire. Inculcate good points in your writing.
5. Hunger to create a lasting impact: One of the business leaders that I admire, Prakash Iyer when asked what he would suggest for people to play to their full potential, said: PHD, which is:
Passion: which gives us direction
Discipline: shows the way forward
In the various global innovation programs that I have run from my organization, most teams struggle to find time to do justice to their innovation projects (which is often in addition to their regular work). All things being equal, the teams that eventually do well are not the ones that have more skills or potential but really are the teams that have more fire in the belly, more hunger to succeed. To me, that feeling of hunger (how badly you want the outcome you desire) is the single biggest factor leading to success.
Given the elementary nature of these skills, we often take these for granted i.e. since we have been doing these for many years, we may consider ourselves being good at it. That may be true but more often it is not.
How can one improve on these skills ?
The answer lies in a process known as ‘deliberate practice’. Andrew Ng, the world-renowned AI expert, in this profound experience sharing describes how he turned-around the flaws in his public speaking by embracing the deliberate practice. To quote him:
We all know that to get better at a musical instrument or a sport, you have to practice. Practice does not simply mean “doing the activity over and over.” Instead, you learn fastest when you engage in a focused process called deliberate practice, in which you repeatedly attempt an especially challenging part of the task.
When the best musicians are working to improve, they don’t just play their favorite tunes for hours. Instead, they pick a short but challenging passage in a larger musical piece, and repeatedly play that passage until they get it right. Athletes use a similar process to hone their skills. This is hard work—you focus in every attempt, try to figure out what you’re doing wrong, and tweak your performance to make it better. If you do it right, you might be mentally drained after 30 minutes.
Q) What education should the testers, test leads equip themselves with prior to getting into management roles?
I am not a huge fan of educational qualifications as a criterion for entry into management roles, so I won’t answer this question citing any degrees or certification. More often I have seen degrees and certifications to be self-limiting than really empowering.
You may be the best individual contributor but that’s no guarantee that you would make a good manager. Most organizations make the mistake of promoting best individual contributors to managers. This doesn’t always work because a job of manager requires more skills than the mastery over functional skills. So what skills should testers, test leads should look to educate themselves on before picking management roles:
1. Empathy (Can I anticipate/feel the pain of my employees ?)
2. Conflict management (Can I turn around dysfunctional team/members?)
3. How to be a role model (Do my team look up to me?)
4. Bigger picture thinking (Can I translate organization’s vision into the goals that my team get excited about?)
5. How to effectively represent your team to upward management (Do upper management see my team as being effective and making impactful contributions?)
6. Executive maturity (Do I know informal channels within the organization to get the work done?)
7. Having a presence in the organization (Do the people in the organization know me and what I do?)
8. Performance management (Do employees perceive me as being fair in my approach?)
9. Being a sponge (Do I absorb pressure or excessively put the pressure on the team?)
Q) What are some of the ways in which we can build the team towards being better at communication?
a) between testers and
b) between testers and the others in the team?
You can do all sorts of team outings and team games to improve teamwork and communication among the team members but most of the times such events just give a momentary feeling of accomplishment and not make a long term impact.Why?
Because most such events fail to touch the foundational elements that impact team communication. What are these elements? How do these help better communicate?
1. Focus on building trust:
Trust is at the very foundation of the way human beings operate. Lesser the trust, lesser the communication. More the trust, more the meaningful communication. There are no two ways about it.
Being well-intentioned, being an unconditional giver, helps build trust.
2. Understand the personality differences.
Introverts draw energy from within. Extroverts draw energy from other people. Both communicate differently, both respond differently to different situations. Like these two personality types, there can be many different ways of classifying personality. Most of the personality assessment tools won’t be accurate but do give an idea.
Being empathetic towards personality differences does help improve communication.
3. Inculcate Intellectual humility.
Intellectual humility is having courage to recognize that you might be wrong about what you believe. People are naturally drawn towards someone who is willing to admit her mistakes openly.
Being intellectually humble makes one authentic. Authenticity in conduct does make it easy for others to approach you.
Q) What are the new trends,topics and tools that the testers need to equip themselves with before stepping into 2019?
In large part of my career, I meticulously followed trends only to find out that:
1. Following trends is an easy thing.
2. Technology trends are often short-lived.
3. Despite 1 and 2, technology trends matter.
Since technology trends matter, we got to do something about them.
Learning about them is the least we can do and we must learn. But the real challenge is to find trends at the right time and assess their impact on our careers before they become threatening.
I follow these three step principles to deal with trends.
1. Have a beginners mindset.
2. Anticipating change and adapting to it is a skill. We often fail to give it the stature of a skill.
3. As much as we try, it’s not possible to anticipate change everytime. If that happens, do the best possible thing: follow fast.
Let me close this by sharing this story:
Years ago, the original product of Intel was D-RAM which is basically memory for computers and they had just started to invent the micro-processor. They had a real business problem, the Japanese were killing them in the D-RAM market, just destroying their market share.
So Andy Grove and Robert Noyce were at the office late one night and they were talking to each other.
· Andy says to Robert: Wow we got a problem!
· Robert says we sure do.
· Andy asks- If Board says we would get the new guys to solve this problem, what would the new guys do.
· Robert says Oh that’s easy, they will get us out of the D-RAM business.
So Andy Grove says, Yes why don’t we do that before these other guys get in.
To me, Andy’s question about “what would new guys do” is quite profound because it reflects that Andy was more than willing to be a beginner again. And to me, that is what is needed most when we drive the change efforts.
Most of the organizations fail to cannibalize the stuff at the right time.
I would leave you with this question to ponder: Would you be willing to cannibalize your career of trends suggest that your current career is going to be disrupted?
Q) What can new non-testers learn initially in their career that will help solidify their future?
a) soft skills
b) technical skills
Q) What skills can the testers learn from the programmers around them?
You can learn programming and other humane traits like attention to details, analytical thinking, troubleshooting, thinking on the feet, learnability and many others from programmers.
But you can learn a lot more if you don’t slot people as programmers and non-programmers.
When it comes to learning from others, do not bucket people into categories. Be willing to learn from everyone- irrespective of profession, seniority, gender, caste or any other innovative category you can think of.
Thank you, Anuj for answering several of the questions as part of this Q and A with Women Testers e-magazine. We appreciate the effort, time and the gems of wisdom we have received via this learning. Link to Part 1 of this Q & A: https://www.womentesters.com/q-and-a-with-anuj-part-1/
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. In summary: 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.
This article is based on Eeva Pursula’s talk at the Agile Testing Days (Potsdam, Nov. 13. 2018). It sums up her realizations on how feminist mindset supports the testers mindset, and how feminist concepts and feminist thinking can help us identify problems in the work environment and fix them to make our teams work better. At the end she will also share about what feminism can teach us about defining a testers role.
Target audience: Anyone
Why a tester would relate to a feminist?
Testers and feminists have surprisingly much in common. We cherish a questioning mindset. We notice things that others don’t pay attention to. And sometimes we feel a need to do things that some people find disturbing. We may seem angry as we see a lot of structural problems and feel that we do not have power to change the things that need to be changed. And we meet resistance by people who don’t want to dig deeper into things.
Many things (like women’s right to vote) that were considered radical when the first feminists started to speak about them, are taken for granted today in many parts of the world. Some people have it difficult to understand that this does not mean that all relevant goals of feminism would already be achieved. Or they feel that since things are worse somewhere else, we shouldn’t point out problems at home.
Similarly, a tester may face pleas to stop finding new problems, as so much has already been done. But having fixed the worst bugs that were found on the first test rounds does not guarantee that we had a decent product in our hands.
The mindset of curiosity and suspicion
Feminism is about noticing what things are taken for granted and what is assumed, and questioning those things, the conventions and priorities and the frameworks of our thinking, to find out, which ones of them hurt us more than help us.
For example, I used to work in a smallish company where project managers were supposed to substitute the assistant when she wasn’t available. About 90% of the time it was a woman filling in for her even though about 90% of the project managers were men. Nobody meant it to be that way, but since we didn’t do anything to change this, we actually created a company culture where women’s work was less important than men’s work.
Similar situations are seen in many places, as women tend to do tasks for the common good just because these tasks need to be done, while men seem to be better at taking only tasks that benefit their personal careers . If we want more women on leading positions, we have to notice these patterns and start valuing this work, or divide it more evenly, or hire someone for it.
Questioning is also the basis of a testers mindset. We get the best results if we are able to notice the hidden assumptions and forgotten points of view before any code is written, and communicate in a way that has a positive impact. But often times it would not (yet) pop into our minds at the whiteboard, or we fail to notice that our discussions leave people with different interpretations. So we bump into problems when we start testing.
I’ve seen many carelessly formulated requests that have lead into fixing wrong things. For example, when we want to get rid of some error messages, there can be confusion about whether the fix is about hiding the error message or about finding what caused it and fixing that. And sometimes the first suggestion for solving a problem only solves that one step, leaving the workflow unusable. Or the side effects of the fix make the product worse than what it was before.
There can be problems even if the functionality is able to do what it’s supposed to do. I’ve reopened features that could not be found by a user, or gave them false expectations. And I’ve seen a system freeze when the second user logged in.
Even if we try to think about an issue from all possible perspectives, some blind spots easily remain, so we should always be skeptical about whether all real workflows have really been thought through, and whether everything is done that needs to be done. If something seems trivial or avoided it’s probably good to look at it more thoroughly. And when we see risks or are confused over what has been done, we have to have courage to say it out-loud, even if we are not sure whether there really is a problem or not.
Making pain visible
Feminism is about making pain visible and sharing it so that it can be turned into a force that changes things. That’s what #MeToo campaign is about, as well as many human rights campaigns, sharing painful stories. It is not nice, but it seems to be necessary, because the ways we protect our minds from the threats around us, produce victim blaming. We easily close our eyes from the suffering of the others, whether they be refugees or transgenders or what ever group we alienate ourselves from, making up excuses why we should not care, and why they are to blame for their own despair. Nothing changes if we don’t see how much pain there really is, and how little power the victims have for avoiding it. Fixing things starts by seeing and understanding the problem.
As testers we also need to point out things that are sort of hidden below the surface. In a software project, there are many questions that need to be solved, and we need to find the ones that have been forgotten or given up with.
Once I was asked to test a product that had proven to be difficult to develop further without breaking old features. I read through the requirements, and in addition to simple user workflows, there were a bunch of small but important features with tricky time dependencies and other stuff that made them impossible to be tested by just using the software. So we had a meeting with the people responsible for the product and I asked how are these things tested. To one of my questions the answer from the developer was: “We don’t have an environment where that could be tested, and it worries me.” Apparently nobody had ever before asked him about that, and he had never found time to raise this issue by himself. But once he got it out, he continued the discussion telling some other rather worrying things that I would not have known to point out. So sometimes the best testing is about finding the ways to make developers speak.
Breaking illusions to enable deliberate choices
Feminism is about breaking illusions. For example, in the University of Kansas, they created an exhibition named “What were you wearing?” to break the illusion of too sexy clothes causing women to be raped .
Testers also break illusions, mostly illusions related to the quality of the system under test, but it’s not just about finding bugs.
I used to test a rather old and big software that had three development teams that were responsible for different modules in it. But there were things that were common for all the modules, like some of the user roles. In that product, there was a tiny checkbox that gave superuser rights for a user. As I worked with different people in different projects, I found out that the meaning of this checkbox was seen quite differently in different teams and by different developers. Some seemed to think that no customer should ever be a superuser, while others coded customer requested features behind it. So I raised a question about this to allow us to make deliberate choices. That lead into some quite interesting discussions as well.
Making corner cases visible
Inter-sectional feminism raises awareness of corner cases that affect many lives of true, living people. The point is that our work for giving oppressed groups decent possibilities in life does not always help people who are at the intersections of these groups, marginalized in more than one way. We tend to see people from minority groups as solely representations of that particular minority group, so for example in Europe it’s easy to think that depressed muslims or black trans women would not exist. When we talk about European values, we often think about thinks like justice, equality and human rights. These can only be achieved if we give a voice also for the people who are normally neglected.
Similarly a tester sometimes needs to find stories to justify that a bug needs to be fixed even though the developer thinks that no real user would ever really encounter that problem. I’ve found it helpful to be able to name a particular customer, who would most probably see the situation from my perspective. Sometimes it’s of course difficult, and we may have to settle for waiting for user feedback. In those cases it would be good to make sure that we have a way to get some user feedback, because minor problems in software can become costly as they affect which services our customers choose to use.
Check your privilege
But if we talk about feminism, it’s not really enough to question things out loud.
What makes feminism unique as a philosophy, is that it also wants to make privilege and power structures behind the conventions visible. Privilege means things you don’t have to deal with, things you basically do not need to see nor understand . It’s quite easy to see things where we are less privileged than others. If you are left handed or from a poor family, or you have any other disadvantage in your life, you probably see how most people around you are more privileged than you are. The challenge is to see, how I am privileged myself, and how my struggles are less than someone else’s. And we tend to make assumptions about the privileges of others, even though many of them we cannot see. We should be more aware of these assumptions and be able to question them. That can only happen if we learn about lives of different people.
From a testers point of view the concept of privilege is quite self evidently useful when we talk about accessibility. One reason why computers and robots are so great is because thanks to them physically disabled people can have normal jobs, but only if the digital tools that we build for our customers are accessible.
User roles are another point related to privilege. Many testers have heard a developer say “works on my machine” as they use administrator access rights when testing the feature, and the problems are only encountered with more limited access rights.
Tools are also a privilege. Many of us work with huge fancy screens our customers can only dream of. After the workday we may use just a phone or laptop for our personal needs. When my first child started school, for the first year we didn’t get any notifications from the schools electronic communication system. That was because I had filled our contact information to their web form using my laptop, and the check-boxes for giving permission for sending notifications did not fit onto my screen, so I didn’t know that they existed.
So there are quite many things where we have to remember that our users do not have all the information and tools and options that we have.
Leadership is about making people want to follow you
In addition to understanding our privileges compared to our customers, it’s also good to be aware of the power structures at work.
As testers, we are the ones who bring the bad news and spoil the joy of others by reminding them about inconvenient realities. Someone else has to worry about how difficult it is to fix the things we find. From a developers point of view that might feel like we use our power to be mean. So even as we need to be rather merciless in shedding light on problems, we also need to show some empathy and ability to evaluate the significance of our findings. Pick up your fights, and you will more likely be taken seriously when it’s time to fight.
And fighting generally is not the way I want my job to look like. I want to build collaboration, an environment where all roles support each other. It is important because there are many things where I really do not have a power. A tester does not get to decide what improvements are done and how the code is written, and this kind of things can cause frustration for us.
So we need to see, what are the things that we can change, who do we need to convince in things that are not ours to decide, what is the information we need to give them to make them see the significance of the things that we see, and how to tell about our findings in a constructive way. Testing does not add quality to the product, quality is added by giving developers better possibilities to do their work well, and testing is one crucial tool for that. The way we communicate about problems, and how we are seen as humans, has a huge impact on how the problems are issued, and whether our work is seen as something that takes us towards the teams goals or not.
 Harward Business Review: Why Women Volunteer for Tasks That Don’t Lead to Promotions (Linda Babcock, Maria P. Recalde, Lise Vesterlund, July 16 2018) https://hbr.org/2018/07/why-women-volunteer-for-tasks-that-dont-lead-to-promotions
 Huffington Post: Art Exhibit Powerfully Answers The Question ‘What Were You Wearing?’ – The installation proves that clothing has nothing to do with sexual assault. (Alanna Vagianos, Sep. 14 2017) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/powerful-art-exhibitpowerfully-answers-the-question-what-were-you-wearing_us_59baddd2e4b02da0e1405d2a
 Everyday Feminism: What Privilege Really Means (And Doesn’t Mean) – To Clear Up Your Doubts Once and For All (Maisha Z. Johnson, Jul 21 2015) https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-privilege-really-means/
Eeva Pursula has been in the software industry for 8 years, mostly doing exploratory testing. She has worked with many development teams practicing different blends of waterfall and agile, testing many kinds of browser-based solutions.
Eeva has a wide range of interests that have taken her to study topics from physics to philosophy to arts and social psychology. For her testing at its best is about questioning and opening eyes to avoided subjects. She is a storyteller who likes building collaboration instead of confrontation.
So this is not a true story; that’s what they want me to say. But I will not say it. I will not say it’s not a true story either. What I can say that it could be a futuristic story; it might end up becoming “YOUR STORY” !!!
What happened to me?
I am an engineer; my bosses did not like me. But, I want to be doing hands-on coding for the next 30 years. They don’t let me do that. They want me to learn automation. They want me to learn to code. They want me to learn managerial stuff. They call it growth; I call it a corruption of the mind. I want to stay a tester. They don’t pay me; they don’t give me promotions; they don’t give me newer projects; they say they want me to grow; eventually, I give in. I learn automation; I became a test lead. I did not learn managing people; with time, I was promoted to “manager”.
What did I do as a manager?
I was told to manage resources, but I was given human beings to manage. I was told to manage their time; I wanted to manage their emotions. I was told to show them the carrot and the stick; I never realized that was actually someone showing “me” the carrot. I wanted to care about people; they wanted me to care about their clients. Over time, clients won; people lost. I stopped caring for people and was invested in our business. During hiring events, I was told to hire women; but not the pregnant or married woman. The hiring class that I was a part of trained me how to look at women to see if they are pregnant or married (without seemingly staring at them). I learned how to throw a colleague under the bus; I knew how to stab them in the back and became an expert in back-biting. I became an expert at the blame game. Over time, I became a “senior manager”.
What did I do as a senior manager?
On the 1st day at work as a senior manager, I told myself that I should soon become a director; I had to learn to do office politics to survive; I stole credit from my subordinates. I stole ideas from other people and called them my own. I learned to break up friendships for power; I learned to assert myself by calling back my team members when they were leaving for home and asked them to stay late and attend client calls. I learned to showcase my position by shouting at my subordinates in front of their peers and felt good about it. I created fear in the mind of my team members. I loved it. I wanted more and soon got a promotion to director.
What did I do as a director?
I transformed into someone I hated; I became someone who I did not want to be. I loved the power of this position and wanted more. I loved it when they stayed longer to bill the clients extra money. I strayed away from personal relationships; I realized I preferred to stay out with friends rather than go home to my son. I realized I wanted to visit our foreign headquarters monthly instead of the weekend matinee with my family. I had become someone who I hated; I loved it.
I was the vice-president of the department; I felt that I was on top of the world. I became a hypocrite. When I found a mistake, I fired an entire department. I loved the power. I wanted more. That’s when karma caught up; I got fired. It was a lay-off. They fired the longest employees. It’s been 6 months. I have not been able to find a job ever since. My son was studying in college; I realized that I barely know him now. My husband had become a globetrotter; he no longer needed me since he found peace traveling the world by himself. I did not know what to do with myself. I was alone. I headed to my room. I took my revolver. I placed the revolver in my temple. My fingers were on the trigger…. And then …..
Like I said at the beginning, this is not a true story; that’s what they wanted me to say. I will not say it. I will not say it’s not a true story either; however, I am still afraid it will be a futuristic story. I am afraid, it just might become Your Story !!!
What has this author achieved in testing? This author has tested more than a million lines of code and has logged more than a billion defects; He has had a trillion number of arguments with developers on more than a quadrillion bugs; he has been in quintillion triage meetings and has participated in sextillion conferences; every day, he has septillion thoughts and has chosen not to attend Octillion testing conferences. He has selected nonillion candidates from decillion testing interviews. He has Decillion followers on twitter and Undillion followers on testing communities. And by the way, the above contains Duodecillion amounts of exaggeration on what I have done so far.
Are you a permanent employee – a “permie” – wondering whether you’d be able to succeed as a contractor? Here are seven signs that you should switch to contracting.
There’s high demand for contractors with your skills
As a start, check your local job websites. They will give an indication of the demand for contractors in your city. Bear in mind that demand can be seasonal – there are less roles advertised during holiday seasons and towards the end of financial accounting periods. Speak with recruiters to gain a better understanding of current market trends. Alternatively, are you willing to move to another city where there is more demand?
When I first started contracting, I realised there are tech companies who only hire permies. Being a contractor excluded me from working at some innovative companies with exciting technologies. If there are specific companies you’d like to work with, find out whether they hire contractors. On rare occasions, those same companies may make an exception.
If there is a downturn in the market for contractors you can always go back to being a permanent employee. After all, being a permie does have benefits… literally.
You’re great at what you do
A lot of us think we’re great testers. What’s more important for contractors though is what other people think about the quality of your work. Are you usually successful at job interviews? Do co-workers seek your advice regularly? Do you keep your skills up to date with new technologies and trends?
When searching for a contract, your skills and reputation will have a large impact on how the process plays out. It’s the difference between receiving calls about upcoming opportunities from recruiters, versus sending out job applications and not receiving any responses.
Seek referrals from former colleagues, and always continue learning either broadly or deeply about testing areas.It’s also important to be a fast learner – contractors are expected to hit the ground running. Taking one month to learn the system under test is not good value for money for your client, especially on a 3-month or 6-month contract. Similarly you should be able to learn a new issue management tool in less than a day (preferably in your own time), and taking a week would be unacceptable.
You have a wide professional network
It’s not only what you know… it’s who you know. Networking – meeting new people and keeping in touch with those you already know – is a useful skill for contractors. Try attending meetups in your area to share knowledge, to learn, and to network with local professionals.
Network internally as well, with colleagues in other teams or departments. To help build professional relationships you should have a strong work ethic, deliver on your promises, and always add value with the work that you do.
You will change jobs more often as a contractor, so it’s important to be able to work effectively with all kinds of people. Don’t burn any bridges when resigning or ending a contract. After all, there’s a fair chance that you’ll work with these people again. It’s funny how often contractors end up working together again at different companies over the years.
You value your time
How does your pay rate compare to market rates? Are you earning what you should be earning? Are you often working 10 hour days as a permanent employee, while being paid for 8 hour days? Imagine getting paid well, for every hour that you work…
For contract work an hourly rate is preferred, particularly for short contracts which may be under pressure to work long hours and meet a tight deadline. Your negotiation skills will be important when deciding on contract terms, after successfully passing the interview process.
For longer contracts of 12 months or more you may compromise and be paid a daily rate. Be wary though… a 12 month contract suggests the comfort of job security, which is an illusion. If there’s a downturn in profits, a change in management or a shift in company priorities then contractors will be the first to go, with only 1 or 2 weeks notice required.
When negotiating rates consider your experience, how unique or relevant your skills are, and the current supply versus demand for candidates. As Gerald (Jerry) Weinberg says in The Secrets of Consulting, “Set the price so you won’t regret it either way”. Will you miss out on an interesting project by asking for too much money? Will you get the contract and then resent not being paid a higher rate?
You understand that job security is a myth
Multiple times in my career as a permanent test manager, I’ve had to make positions on my team redundant. This means that good people have lost their jobs, usually through no fault of their own. As permies, some of these team members had just bought a new car or taken out a mortgage with the expectation of job security allowing them to afford loan repayments.
Unfortunately I’ve also seen whole departments closed down or relocated to other countries, multiple times. When that happens it no longer matters that you’ve worked long hours, gained domain experience, been a team player or have strong technical knowledge of the company’s systems and products. You will still be looking for a new role alongside your former colleagues.
In reality, job security (or income security) translates to how quickly you can find a new job. This could mean gaining experience with a wide variety of industries, technologies and tools. It could mean specialising in an area which is in demand, such as security penetration testing. It’s important to keep your skills current, and relevant to the local job market.
You’re able to budget for expenses
You will not get paid for sick leave, national holidays, vacations or time in between contracts.
If you have an ongoing credit card debt, or have usually spent your salary by payday, you need to consider how well you’ll be able to save for a rainy day. If you receive a bonus payment, do you usually spend it or save it?
To remain at the top of your field, you will need ongoing education in your own time. All conferences, training courses and education will need to be self-funded. Contractors are not entitled to “free stuff” from their clients. Having said that, local meetup groups usually don’t charge an entry fee; there’s a lot to be learned online for free; and being selected as a conference speaker is one way to attend conferences free of charge.
Contractors can minimise time spent looking for their next role by going through an agency. Naive contractors resent agencies for charging clients a percentage on top of their contract rate. I’ve been on all three sides of this situation at different times – contractor, agency and client. What I’ve noticed is that agencies have stronger negotiating skills and bargaining power – they’re able to charge clients more than you’ll be able to charge on your own, and you’ll have the same rate as you would by contracting directly to the client. You can also find work much faster through an agency because this is what they do, build relationships and contact IT companies regularly about upcoming opportunities. Sometimes they will have exclusive access to fill certain roles, and you would not be able to apply for the role directly. Using an agency will save you thousands of dollars in lost income when searching for a new role, so it’s not worth being bothered by what they charge for their services.
You’re ready to step out of your comfort zone
Companies usually want contractors to start immediately, within 1-2 weeks time at the most. Which makes it difficult to find your first contract if you have a one month notice period as a permie. Resigning without a contract lined up can be daunting. Leaving a permanent job for my first contract position felt like jumping out of an aeroplane, despite the support and encouragement from my mentor at the time. With each new contract though, the process feels more familiar and slightly less nerve-wracking.
Contracting is not for everyone, you’ll need to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Regularly searching for a new role, joining a new team, learning fast, working hard, and then leaving new friends for your next role… that’s contracting in a nutshell, and many people thrive in this context.
For more practical tips from Kim Engel and Jody Goodwin on working as a contractor, listen to this podcast:
There’s more to the story of contract versus permie than just an enticingly high hourly rate. I’m keen to hear from other contractors who started their careers as permanent employees. What convinced you to make the switch?
Kim Engel has worked in software testing for the past 20 years, with a pragmatic attitude and hands-on approach. She has been instrumental in expanding the awareness and practice of context-driven testing in New Zealand and Australia.
Seeing every teaching experience as a learning opportunity, Kim enjoys sharing her experience with others in articles, presentations, workshops, coaching sessions and via her blogwww.isitgoodenoughyet.com