Archive for June, 2011

DO YOU HEAR THAT GROUP OF PEOPLE SNICKERING IN THE CORNER?

They just found out that the third-party consulting firm you hired tested their code in production and sent 14,000 form letters out to your customers with a return address of “Bertha Big Butt.” While the CEO and executive management team are sweating bullets and preparing mitigation strategies, your testing team is trying (without success) to stifle their guffaws.

Testers think differently than the rest of the IT team.

It’s not that they don’t appreciate the seriousness of the situation. They do.

It’s just that it’s…well…it’s FUNNY.

If you’re going to manage or work with testers, it stands to reason you have to understand testers. They march to the beat of a different drummer when compared to the rest of the IT staff.

Testers are trained to find and report problems. They view their contribution as helping the company, the development organization, and the customer or end user by exposing risks. They do that by finding and reporting software anomalies, often contributing information about the consequences of those errors.

Software testers know they’re the “dark side of the force.” They often joke about it (“Come to the Dark Side—We Have Cookies”). They view themselves as rebels, as the Bad Guys in the Black Hats, as Indiana Jones, Captain Jack Sparrow, and Sherlock Holmes all rolled into one.

You never knew testing groups view themselves as the original Bad Asses, did you? Well, they’re about to kick down your pretty house of cards. And they’re going to enjoy it. Good testers almost always have an “attitude” of sorts. It can make them kind of irritating at times. After all, they never would have tested in production. They would have tried scenario X before shipping. They told you something was wrong and you didn’t listen, did you? Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to hit them with a stick. Especially when they’re right.

So what is a tester, exactly? If you were to pick just a few key qualities, one of the first would be that a tester is curious. They want to know how things work. They are experimental. They want to see what happens when they try different scenarios or experiments against what has been presented to them. A good tester is also relatively fearless. They aren’t afraid they’ll break something. They aren’t afraid to tell you the truth about what they’ve found, regardless of your position. And they aren’t afraid to stand their ground and fight to get it fixed if they believe it negatively impacts the potential success of the product. A tester is intelligent, analytical, and learns fast. They are, in fact, always learning. Their jobs require it. Technology changes on a constant basis, and every project they receive is different in some way from the last. Sometimes they have great specifications. Sometimes not. Sometimes they have no written documentation at all. They need the ability to ask the right questions, investigate the right issues, put together the pieces of the puzzle, and draw the right conclusions.

Testers are also generally apolitical. If you find a tester who is particularly good at politics, chances are pretty good they aren’t especially great at their jobs. It is very difficult to play political games successfully when your job involves discovering and reporting issues. Testers are often accused of being blunt, rude, not team players, and the like. That’s rarely true. Chances are good that anyone making such accusations does not understand or appreciate the role of the tester on a project team. Their jobs do not allow them to sweep any information that is “inconvenient” under the carpet.

Those are the good qualities of testers. There are other qualities that are less desirable, but still part and parcel of the overall persona of most testers, particularly those with a lot of experience.

A tester tends to be distrustful. This is a learned behavior. They’ve been told over and over again that X doesn’t need to be tested or Y code “hasn’t been touched.” That information has been wrong more times than they can count. So you can tell a tester the grass is green and they’re still going to go check for themselves. A tester is critical, and it bleeds into other areas of their lives. They’ve been trained to find and report problems. That means if you send them an email with a misspelling, the entire team is going to helpfully point that out, or any other mistakes you (or anyone else) makes. Testers question everything, and that includes authority. It’s generally a bad idea to try to lie to or finesse a test team with whatever politically correct propaganda that would be successful with some other group of people. You’ll get far better results telling them the bitter truth. It’s the only way to earn their respect and trust.

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