Do Testers Really Need Coding Skills?

This week’s Blog comes with a Rant Warning. So if you have no interest in someone (passionate about his profession) going off, then look away now; otherwise, don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Why are so many people in our profession writing and talking about the importance of Testers having coding/programming skills?

It’s as if you’re only a real Tester if you can write code. Give me a break. This is a myth perpetrated by the (self-styled) clever people, who would like to create an elite class of Testers. It’s tough enough teaching and coaching young people in the art and science of software testing, without confusing them with this sort of rubbish. If you don’t understand fundamentals like Boundary Value Analysis, Equivalence Partitioning, Risk-Based or Triage techniques, Root Cause Analysis and are able to communicate clearly and succinctly, then you aren’t worth jack-s**t to me, as a Tester.

I put the (Testers must also be Coders) myth into the same bucket as folk only wanting to test in an Agile environment or with (Mobile) Apps. Why does everyone get hooked up on doing something that the marketing drones tag as cool? Being cool has nothing to do with the job you do or the techniques you use. Being cool is a state of mind and most of us don’t have it. Clooney and Pitt are cool. Muhammad Ali in his heyday was cool. Lance Armstrong was cool once upon a time!! Louis and Neil Armstrong were cool…

If someone thinks that some of the stuff I do is cool (unlikely I know) that’s fine, but don’t then label my physical form with the same badge. At best, I’m an average hard-working guy who has toiled for years to be considered for the toughest assignments around and then tackles them head-on with relish on the side. I take my job seriously, but not myself. I endeavour to be better than 99% of the population, at what I do, but I don’t do that to be cool or to satisfy my ego. I do it to give my family a better lifestyle and greater opportunities. I also do it for my Test teams, to give them the same skills and initiative to achieve what I’ve achieved.

As most of you will know by now, I am entering the last phase of my career and therefore I am working on giving back as much as possible to those following in the same profession. It’s a great profession and has provided me with some fantastic opportunities with some amazingly intelligent people, who I have been fortunate enough to learn from. I have been blessed, but I’m definitely NOT cool.

Why are you cool if you test on Agile projects? Why are you cool if you have experience testing Mobile Apps? This year’s Mobile Apps were yesterdays WEB sites. Those of us who wrote the “WEB Testing Book” didn’t think we were cool. Breaking software is breaking software and I can break any software I care to interact with, not because I’m special, but because I have a series of processes and techniques that find and exploit weaknesses. It’s my innate mindset and years of hard slog that have allowed me to do this – NOT being cool. Sure, I can write code, but does it make me a better (black box) Tester? NO, NO and NO. It gives me a slightly different perspective on the software world, but it hasn’t made me a better Tester.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have been working with more and more folk who think that building a resume is more important than learning the craft. Not too long ago I spent two years working with IBM; mainly because they were an organisation that I had always admired and therefore wanted to work for. However, I didn’t chase that opportunity – they came to me (on the back of some work I’d been doing alongside them on one of the largest and most complex technology-driven Programs of Work ever undertaken in Australia). I had a ball (at IBM) and worked on one of the best projects of my career during that time (I’m not going to name it now, as in a later Blog I’m going to describe my “Top 3 Projects” and why they are at the top of the list).

IBM do some really cool stuff, but they also make mistakes and their takeover of Rational Software was (and still is, in my humble opinion) a missed opportunity. During the period when the (Rational) takeover was taking place, Mercury Interactive (now HP) stole the pre-eminent position in commercial software testing tools – a position they have been protecting ever since. A position that I have never believed they deserve. They have great (although misguided) sales staff, but generally sub-standard products. Why else would the open source and freeware tools be killing them over the past couple of years?

To end on a slightly different subject, I want to talk about my Dad and the impact he has made to my life. My Dad is very working class and very “old school”, although he wouldn’t recognise that term. He has influenced my life immeasurably and has given me so much in terms of values and ethics. He taught me the importance of family and loyalty. He taught me that hard work and endeavour will win out over natural ability and intellect – invaluable lessons in the professional and sporting worlds that I have frequented. He taught me to love and cherish those around me. He taught me not to be afraid to try new ideas and that failure is ok – as long as you learn something from it. He showed me love every day of his life – a life that may be coming to an end very soon.

I’m currently in the final hours of a flight from Melbourne to London (my second in the past three months) to support my Dad in what appears to be his final battle with a terminal heart condition. I’m hoping to get there before he leaves for a higher calling. I’m hoping that the pain he has been experiencing for the past few months is being dulled by the drugs they have recently started to give him. I’m hoping that I get at least one more chance to say goodbye to him face to face, rather than through the surrogate that I have been using these past few days. I’m hoping that the rest of my family are not suffering as much as he is.

I hope that my Dad would be proud of my Blog (even if he didn’t understand the technical aspects of it). You see, my Dad, was big on doing “the right thing”. He was big on being true to yourself – ahead of pleasing others. He would have encouraged me to “rant” – if he thought it was for the “greater good”. He would also have discouraged me, if it was not in the best interests of my career. Fortunately, I don’t care too much about my career prospects these days and can write pretty much whatever I care to. So, to those of you still with me at the end of this latest Post, thank you for sticking with it. It’s been quite a journey this week, in more ways than one and I hope you’ve gained something from it – I know I have. I’m going to be in Europe for at least the next few weeks supporting my family through this latest sadness but I’ll also continue blogging as I need the occasional distraction to ease my own pain.

Dateline: “Somewhere over mainland Europe”, Friday January 18, 2013

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Do Testers Really Need Coding Skills?

  1. I agree that testers don’t need to be coders, but the argument is partial. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that /some/ testers need to be coders (e.g. someone testing REST apis for a web service, or someone testing a memory manager)?

    On the other hand, If I’m working in an IT shop, and I need to ensure an new application integrates with others, that it solves the problem it was intended to, etc. I probably don’t need to code, and that’s ok. It would be silly of an employer to demand coding skills for that position.

    I think it would be fair to say that coding knowledge of someone in a test role is entirely dependent on the demands of that role

  2. Very sorry to hear your sad news, but thank you for sharing.

    I couldn’t agree more when it comes to testers having to code. It blows me away every time I hear it. It’s almost as if there is only one type of testing and it has to be done while coding. WTF? Anyway, I want to avoid a rant myself…

    All the best for the next few weeks.

    • Yep it also drives me mad how much importance is put on coding skills. I think this is the fault of employers, recruitment agencies and the use of open source frameworks? I’ve seen testing jobs advertised with the the following statements:

      1: You don’t have to have come from a development background but must have a in depth knowledge of Ruby or Java!!!
      2: Must have an in-depth knowledge of OOP!!!

      I could list more but in general you need to be a developer to get a testing role these days. Not so, I do understand that you need a basic understanding of coding to use the framework but you don’t need to be a coding guru to use these frameworks.

    • Yep it also drives me mad how much importance is put on coding skills. I think this is the fault of employers, recruitment agencies and the use of open source frameworks? I’ve seen testing jobs advertised with the the following statements:

      1: You don’t have to have come from a development background but must have a in depth knowledge of Ruby or Java
      2: Must have an in-depth knowledge of OOP

      I could list more but in general you need to be a developer to get a testing role these days. Not so, I do understand that you need a basic understanding of coding to use the framework but you don’t need to be a coding guru to use these frameworks. Furthermore you don’t need to be a coder to find bugs..

We're here to help

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s