After growing my own test career for forty years, I have been thinking about how to help other testers grow their careers. But this advice may not be what you expect.
Yes, getting training, practicing the skills of testing, moving into the right product line, and learning are all necessary for testers. However, when I asked myself what helped me grow as a thinking tester, I came up with these six tips you should consider. These qualities make me successful, happy, fulfilled, and financially viable as a tester.
1. Work on having fun
Many companies (and countless articles) praise the need to have fun at work. That doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows—no effort is without hard tasks, conflict, or stress that temporarily challenge us. But I have found that dealing with these challenges and conquering them leads to happiness.
It’s when the challenges outweigh the happiness that you need to make a change. Early in my career, I worked on some manual testing tasks that were tedious and unfulfilling. I would type from scripts all day long. So I got more education and skills on concepts such as test automation, then I quit the lousy job and moved on to programming simulation-based tests.
There are variations between these approaches, but I cannot undersell my number one key to being happy. In the long run, if something does not result in happiness, I change it.
I think it’s also important to point out that many people will associate having things or being rich with happiness. However, past a certain financial point where needs are taken care of, having more money and possessions does not equal happiness. What will truly make many of us happy is an exciting and fulfilling career.
Several times I could have moved to Silicon Valley to test for big-name companies, probably making more money but probably also having more stress. I didn’t choose this path because where I live in Colorado, I have mountains, hiking, sailing, and skiing within an hour of where I live. For me, the testing jobs that I have had in fun places yielded more happiness.
2. Take risks
Taking risks may not be for everyone, but I am, in part by my nature, a risk taker—in both my personal and my professional lives.
After ten years of generating automated tests driven by simulations, I was promoted to test manager. I needed to learn skills such as planning, budgeting, scheduling, and dealing with programmers and testers. These new skills required more education at conferences and in my free time. But not everyone should move into management, so I drifted back into being a techie tester and trainer of testers.
However, when I became a test trainer, it was even harder—for an introverted person, talking to a class of dozens or even hundreds of people was scary. But I took the risks of advancing my test career, and this allowed me more time for skiing (my happy place). I believe that most everyone needs to take some risk. For me, taking a risk and succeeding leads back to my first point.
3. Know how to find information
People fear risks to the point where they try doing the same thing over and over, then expecting some different outcome. These actions are one definition of insanity. I see test teams that continue running traditional manual tests, failing to learn new tools or different test techniques. They seem almost surprised when their manual test cases miss errors, take too long to run, or cost unexpected money.
To minimize the risk when I do something new, I have access to information and experts. These ideas can be partial mitigations to trying new things. I have hundreds of books in my library, thousands of links and websites I frequent, and techniques to search for new information. People think I know many things, but I actually just know how to research quickly and ask my test friends the right questions.
4. Think and act differently
The next item on the lists also relates to risk, and it can be just as uncomfortable. Thinking and acting differently involves creativity in using information while accepting some risk.
These actions may be easier for me because I also have a condition called dyslexia. My symbol-processing brain is wired differently, which caused me problems in traditional schooling and education but now allows me to “think” differently. At one point a teacher thought I should be in special education classes, but I kept working through the pain of processing symbols and leveraged my dyslexia into an advantage.
While this may not be your situation, I believe everyone can think differently by using concepts such as groupthink, alternative learning, taking risks, not giving in to bias, and being open-minded. When I was a test manager, I insisted that my tester support programmer meeting, learn to take test risk, and avoid tester bias.
5. Invest personal time in yourself
I have always spent hours thinking and learning, both while being paid to work and on my own time. I have solved fascinating technical test problems while sitting on a ski lift in freezing temperatures. Even though I am now semiretired and do not need to get a career paycheck anymore, I am still writing, learning, and teaching.
Some of you may be thinking you do not have the time to spend on your career or build skills other than when you’re at work. Well, you should make some time for yourself outside of work. Others may be wondering why you should work without pay. In my mind, to be a professional, you must do some work for yourself to pay yourself. I did this for forty years, and then people started calling me an expert. To have a good test career, you need to be a professional.
5. Be more than a techie
While I want you to be a professional tester, I also want you to have many facets of knowledge, skill, and thinking outside of software testing. These skills are more than a test techie or geek many have. Yes, I know the TV portrays geeks as one-sided, but you should not believe that stereotype.
I know a few things about other professions. I can do programming, civil engineering, building construction, skiing, and heavy equipment operations, and understanding these other fields makes me a better tester. For example, I once found a software bug in the microprocessor of my snowcat. Under certain conditions, the machine would not move even though the engine was running. How did I solve the software bug? If you guessed turn the machine off to reboot it, you are right.
Having knowledge and skills in other areas makes my primary career more robust and helps me solve problems more quickly.
6. Help others with compassion and empathy
Humans are social creatures, and to get to be happy, we need to be human. I always try to help people without expectations of reward or compliments. I’ve always strived to educate, mentor, and assist others, be they testers or people stuck on the side of a mountain in a blizzard. This leads to success in my professional and personal lives, which in turn leads to happiness for me.
Take These Skills into the Future
You may think this advice is all somewhat new-age or unprofessional. You may even be thinking that robotics, AI, and analytics will eventually be the end of traditional testers. But I think a happy tester who learns new skills as needed will be in demand in any case. There will always be a place for human insight and skills, including the ones listed here. Be a thinking tester and embrace learning opportunities, and your future will be bright indeed.