I’m a Software Tester Jim, Not that you’d know it

“Dear Jim,

A few years ago I became a Software Tester and being the diligent person that I am I searched for a formal qualification to cement my intentions. My manager at the time pointed me in the direction of ISTQB, citing “hundred’s of thousands of professional testers worldwide are certified by these guys”. I took this on board and attended a local Foundation-level course run by Disqover and a few weeks later I had this lovely certificate to show for my efforts. What has transpired since has me perplexed. I have been reading lately that my efforts to legitimise my professional standing have labelled me a factory tester and worse still un-thinking. Jim, what does this mean and how can I get myself back on the straight and narrow?”

Confused of Clayton

Dear Confused,

I feel your pain from the lofty heights of my ivory tower and I sympathise with your apparent plight. It can be a minefield out there. All that software to test. All those bugs to find and schedules to meet. And then there are those pesky morning stand-ups and retrospectives that get in the way of your real work. And then they tell you your certificate should be consigned to the toilet.

I think the best way for me to address your question is to tell you a short story about a friend of mine we’ll call Scotty (her real name is Brianna, but I’m using data masking software to hide her true identity).

When I first met Scotty she was a bright young thing, fresh out of one of those high-flying Consulting businesses with a three-letter acronym, a sexy logo and Nespresso coffee machines in every meeting room. Scotty was going places and she was in a hurry. She would come to my desk (if she could find me among the myriad of hot ones we inhabited at the time) with questions like “What’s the difference between a stack overflow and a memory lapse?” Boy, I still long for those doozies. I’d seen her type before. They came to our company, fresh as a daisy in spring and within 6 months they were drained of all colour by the constant 18-hour days with only pizza for company at a client site basement in the Western Suburbs.

Anyway, I digress. Scotty wanted answers and more than I could give her and so we talked about outside help. I’d heard rumours that there was a new movement afoot called a Meetup, where like-minded souls shared their experiences and provided guidance and hope. It also had a three-letter acronym, so she would feel right at home. Scotty was off like a pig in muck, googling this, googling that and coming back to me with stories of liberation, not consternation. She attended every Meetup she could find, joined online chat forums, watch countless TED videos and old Conference presentations until one day she came to me even greyer and more exhausted than ever.

“Someone just called me a factory tester in a tone that sounded like an insult. Is that a bad thing?”

Oh no, not that old chestnut I thought. So, I carefully explained to her that there were many people out there in the world of software who were sometimes a little over-zealous with their beliefs and that they didn’t mean any harm they just wanted the world to know that there is a better way. I went on to say that there will always be a better way, but that you have to find your own better way and not be swayed by zealots and evangelists. I then invoked the “when you’ve been around as long as I have” clause and explained that while they may dress up their ideas in clever language and silver bullets none of their ideas were new, they were just contextualised slightly differently. After all, I was using mind-maps and post-it notes over 25 years ago and didn’t think twice about commoditising them.

So my moral (if you’re still with me through all those mixed metaphors and blind alleys) is – be yourself, don’t follow the latest fads or trends and stick to the science. Oh, and one last thing… Don’t think because you don’t write code your value is any less.

Until next time.

Auntie Jim

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