The Changing Landscape of the Role of Testers: An Interview with Melissa Tondi

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Melissa Tondi, the founder of Denver Mobile and Quality, talks about the tester's responsibility to balance technical acumen with user advocacy. She discusses the changing landscape of the role of testers, as well as what testers are—and what they are not.

Jennifer Bonine: All right, we are back with another interview. Melissa, thanks for joining me.

Melissa Tondi: Absolutely. Thank you. I'm very excited.

Jennifer Bonine: I know, I am, too. This is the first time I've had you in my little studio here.

Melissa Tondi: Yes, yes.

Jennifer Bonine: I'm excited you're here.

Melissa Tondi: I'm excited.

Jennifer Bonine: You had a lightning keynote yesterday.

Melissa Tondi: I did, yes.

Jennifer Bonine: If you didn't watch those, those are so fun. Go back and watch it. They're five minutes of a bunch of different folks getting up and talking about topics. Which would seem daunting and disjointing potentially, but super fun because you get a bunch of different variety and different people getting up. Can you tell us a little bit more on what yours was on, because I think it's so fun?

Melissa Tondi: Yeah. I talked about ... The title of it was just The You Are Nots. I kind of started out by saying in the last few months I've been asked personally, and I've had group discussions around what is the role of the software tester? What's the future of software testing? Clearly there are so many sessions, great sessions here where I just encouraged everyone to, if they hadn't already talked about the future and present state of software testing. Plenty of my colleagues here would get them on there.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Melissa Tondi: I decided to kind of turn the tables and say, here are what software testers are not. That kind of just kind of burgeoned into this whole thing of the "you are nots" of software testing. It's really fun.

Jennifer Bonine: I love it.

Melissa Tondi: Yeah. I kind of hit what I thought were five key areas that we as software testers had either evolved into, or sometimes devolved into around that. Kind of talked about that for five minutes.

Jennifer Bonine: For those that didn't get to see it, give us a little flavor of some of the five, or even all five would be fun.

Melissa Tondi: Yeah. The first one I talked about was you are not an enabler. I think so many software testers, especially those who've had maybe five plus years in their career, have really kind of taken on this martyr and almost had synonymously equated that to being the hero. Many times we were one of the last people, or the last teams in a very aggressive project schedule. We looked around the office, or on the weekend and all the sudden we were the only ones there. We were kind of taking on that martyr mentality again, kind of maybe equating that to hero. Whereas it really kind of put this enabling type of attitude in there.

As I would mention in my lightning session yesterday, enabling just by the very definition of that is encouraging behavior, negative behavior that's impactful by not doing anything. Where we really kind of thought we were the heroes and saved the day, what we really did was encouraging that behavior that really, especially those of us who are embracers of the agile approach, it really just caused negative impacts. By not saying anything, and by kind of taking that on continuously, we really encouraged that bad behavior.

That was probably the biggest one. The other one was just the second-class citizen. I've been very fortunate that in my career I've see a ton of innovation, and just seeing the value of software testers and what they bring to the table. I've had conversations even at this conference where there are testers that still feel that their role, and them personally, are second-class citizens.

Jennifer Bonine: That's unfortunate.

Melissa Tondi: It is, right? I've been in my career for twenty-plus years. Again, I've seen so many strides and improvements in that, but the fact that testers are still in some cases considered second-class citizens, I really felt like we need to pump them up—give them some very actionable pieces of information and activities that they can take that on so that they not only show the value of software testing, but that they prove it every day.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. It's interesting to hear that, because you have all the information around where things are going in terms of span. The World Quality Report comes out every year, and they talk about what are the trends in software testing, and what are we seeing? The overall consensus is people have gotten such an awareness of the importance, even people that didn't used to have that. Right? Healthcare.gov started it, we kept spiraling from there with all the things that happened about raising that awareness of software testing, and the importance of it.

Then the trend being we spend more money year over year on it now, because people get they need to do it, and they're placing more importance on it. Yeah, we definitely need to encourage. I'm hoping by people being involved in the conferences, getting that network built up that they get that encouragement that you're very much a valued team member. You belong on that team, you have good insights to provide, you need to feel comfortable doing that.

Melissa Tondi: Absolutely. I think with that said, if we're still in companies or on project teams where the tester does not have an equal seat at the table, we should really be challenging that at this point. It's very encouraging to see and read the World Quality Report, because I'm seeing exactly the same trends. When I started my career, and when it really became what I kind of consider mainstream companies were investing, was that small event called Y2K. That was sixteen years ago. Right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. They were all like, that's important.

Melissa Tondi: Yes. We're going to dump money, money, money. Right?

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, do something with that.

Melissa Tondi: I had started testing before that, but that was really where my role, when I would say I'm quality assurance or a software tester, people started getting it. It's very encouraging to see that companies are investing in it. Now I think it's the time for the tester to not only accept and embrace those roles, but to also continue, take the torch that has been passed to us from those who have been in this development, in this industry for decades, and take that on, bring that now to the level of the project team and their individual company.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. You have a lot of responsibility, right?

Melissa Tondi: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: If you don't feel comfortable doing it, to use your resources to find people who can help you, get comfortable with that.

Melissa Tondi: Absolutely, yes.

Jennifer Bonine: To maintain that. You also had a session here at the conference, besides the lightning keynote. Do you want to tell us, because obviously we don't record those, so no one gets to see that.

Melissa Tondi: Right, yes.

Jennifer Bonine: What was that session about?

Melissa Tondi: It's actually at 3:00 p.m. today. Yeah. The title of it is The Tester's Role: Balancing User Advocacy with Technical Acumen. It really kind of goes through just a very, what I would say, kind of a combination of my career. I talk about, again, when I started my career about twenty-ish years ago, where software testing was not a team, or even anything that companies were investing in until that kind of Y2K thing started. I was lucky that I kind of started a few years before that.

Really kind of go through the timeline of when I started my career, and many people kind of that started their career within that same timeline. Most of us were users of the software. We wanted to advance our career, and took the jump into going into IT.

Jennifer Bonine: Technology, exactly.

Melissa Tondi: We were like, great ...

Jennifer Bonine: That's a good place to be.

Melissa Tondi: Exactly. We were great testers, because we were users of the product and we tested it as a user. Then you kind of shift and ten, twelve years, kind of shifting to where we are currently. We had seen a lot of influx of, and then of course the heated debate of whether or not testers need to have a programming, deep programming experience—technical development experience in order to be a great tester.

We kind of saw that shift between very much close to the user on this side, and then as we fast forward to present day we see a lot of influx of job descriptions for software development and test. Just saying, as a computer science major we will pluck you out once you graduate, and we'll teach you to test. That was really maybe ... I think it brought more credibility and technical acumen into our industry, but we assumed that anyone that had a program experience was a good tester. Kind of shifted that pendulum.

What this talk really kind of talks about is striking the balance between both. I think as testers we have a wonderful ability to be that user advocate, in addition to both adopting, being early adopters of technology. Which is what I mentioned in the lightening session yesterday. Not only early adopting it, but embracing it for us to do that. There's that balance between the technical acumen and the user advocacy. I'm excited to talk about that in just a little while actually.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Having both of those, which is interesting. It's interesting to see that once, like you said, the trend was a lot of folks coming from the business and organizations, moving into IT, moving into testing, and the Y2K and years that followed. Then all of a sudden, do you maybe become a product of your environment too. Right?

Melissa Tondi: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer Bonine: When you're on the business side you have that business acumen, you're use to seeing it from that side. You shift over to the other side, and now you're like I see all the challenges over here, and all the challenges with the technologies and trying to understand those. Maybe lose a little bit of that business side and mentality, because you've shifted over. Then now having to balance the two, because I am hearing a lot also about even quality assurance organizations being renamed as the customer advocacy group, or the customer experience group. Having people inside the organization that really understand deeply that customer experience and what that needs to look like.

Melissa Tondi: Yeah, I agree. I think that there is, and again kind of going back to that balance, there are many companies and organizations where one can advance their career by simply being a product or a domain expert, and that is great. If you're looking to make a move outside of that company I think it's more and more that those technical skills are required, but again shifting the balance you don't have to have, or you shouldn't really have all the requirements around being such a deep technical expert by comprising the user advocacy and actually testing for the user, and on behalf of the user.

Jennifer Bonine: Now, ... Oh gosh. We're almost out of time. It goes so fast.

Melissa Tondi: It does go fast.

Jennifer Bonine: If people have questions or things that we didn't cover that they want to get in touch with you and say, hey Melissa if there are people on this year like, I'm struggling with this, or how are you seeing this be handled. What's the best way for them to get in touch?

Melissa Tondi: I am on Twitter @MelissaTondi. I'm also on LinkedIn, basically anything that says Melissa Tondi I think is probably appropriate to get in touch with me.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, go find you.

Melissa Tondi: Yes, absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Perfect. Thank you so much for being here.

Melissa Tondi: Thank you.

Jennifer Bonine: I appreciate it.

Melissa Tondi: Thank you very much, and thank you, everybody.

Melissa TMelissa Tondi has spent most of her career working within testing teams, concentrating on functional, performance, security, and mobile testing techniques. She is the founder of Denver Mobile and Quality, board member for Software Quality Association of Denver, and now head of SQE at ShopatHome.com, where she assists teams to continuously improve the process of quality software—from design to delivery. In her software test and quality engineering careers, Melissa has focused on organizing testing teams around three major tenets—efficiency, innovation, and culture. Previously Melissa held positions with a mobile-focused startup, a world-leading education company, and in the health care, finance, and software-as-a-service industries.

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