What Do You Do?

This blog post has been inspired by the recent Test Leadership Congress. I would highly recommend the conference!

I.

What do you do?

It’s a question we’re asked all the time, at networking events, at parties, on dates (good or bad), the list goes on. Often, we’ll answer by giving our job title: “I’m a tester”; “I’m a senior developer”; “I’m a product owner”, and so on.

Now, I’m not saying job titles are a bad thing. They’re labels that give useful information about activities that we may or may not do at work. If your job title is “junior developer”, you probably spend some time writing code, and you probably don’t attend quarterly board meetings where you attempt to justify the company’s overall strategy for the next 12 months. If your job title is “tester”, you probably spend some time looking for bugs, and you probably don’t spend time trying to define the overall architecture for the new product your team is building. If your job title is “<something> manager”, you probably spend most of your time doing “management things”. Labels do give a sense of what you do.

However, labels take away, reduce, and diminish the complete picture of what you do and who you are.

One of the talks I heard at the conference (titled “More Than That”) was given by someone who called himself a tester (amongst other things). He told an anecdote about how he applied for a job that was basically being a business consultant for a real estate company. At the interview, the hiring manager asked him the following: “So, I’ve taken a look at your CV, and there’s something I’m concerned about. I see that you’re… just a tester. What makes you think you’ll be able to do this job?”

II.

Just a tester. Do you ever think of yourself as “just a tester”?

I’ve certainly had that feeling before. Occasionally, I’ll meet people in social situations that work in tech. When they ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m a tester, I’ll often get looks of surprise or confusion. They’ll often say things like:

  • “But isn’t being a developer more interesting?”
  • “So, do you actually enjoy spending your time writing test cases?”
  • “If you want to progress your career, you need to get out of testing”

I’ve gotten pretty good now at explaining to people why testing is a complex, valuable thing and why being a testing specialist is a useful, challenging profession. However, it does make self-doubt creep in sometimes.

However, I’ve definitely seen examples where viewing myself as a tester has stopped me from doing things that would have been valuable and useful:

  • Believing that I can’t write good code because I’m just a tester, and therefore:
    • Being reluctant to do code reviews of our test automation code
    • Being reluctant to refactor our test automation code
    • Being reluctant to suggest new tools or try to write tools to help testing
  • Believing that I can’t contribute usefully to architecture or design meetings because I’m just a tester, and therefore:
    • Being reluctant to get involved in design meetings
    • Being reluctant to speak up or provide input in design meetings
  • Believing that I can’t really change processes because I’m just a tester, and therefore:
    • Accepting processes as they are, even if they’re not working for me
    • Only suggesting minor tweaks to processes, rather than wholesale changes
  • Believing that I can’t really change the project parameters because I’m just a tester, and therefore:
    • Accepting time or resource constraints, even if I think they’re unreasonable
    • Accepting the output of other teams, even if I think it’s not to the required quality bar for the given project

In all cases, it was this label of being “just a tester” that was stopping me. So, how to solve this problem?

III.

The answer came from a talk called “Finding Power in Authenticity”. What do I mean by authenticity? To quote the speaker:

Authenticity is acknowledging who you are: Finding power by embracing your strengths and working on improving your weaknesses.

In her inspiring talk, she told the story of how she moved country and found herself in an unfamiliar role as a quality analyst. It was a solo role, where she was expected to work as a modern QA as part of a high-performing team. After going through a period of struggling initially, she asked herself: “what differentiates me that others value?” By listening to her authentic voice, she found plenty of ways to provide value:

  • Using her curious nature as a “question asker” to drive quality conversations to help align the team
  • Using her natural attention to detail and product focus to provide value when pairing with developers on infrastructure
  • Using her passion for monitoring and logging to allow the team to monitor previously hidden issues in the quality of the product

IV.

Inspired by these talks, I’ve started to listen to my authentic self to shape what I do. If somebody were to ask me “what do I do”, I’d respond by saying I’m a quality inspirer – the thing I love doing most is leading and coaching teams to a more mature quality culture. This has started to manifest in the work I do:

  • I love coaching people: I’ve started mentoring new testers and coaching developers on writing end-to-end automated testing scripts
  • I love optimising processes: I’ve started to make large tweaks in the ways we do testing (e.g. embracing a Session-based test management approach and doing more time-boxed exploratory test sessions)
  • I am a dreamer who thinks things can be different: I’ve done some work to restructure our test automation framework to make it easier to write and maintain tests

Ultimately, by doing this, I’m even happier at work! If you want to make your work fun, I’d encourage you to embrace your authenticity. How?

  • Embrace your talents and interests
  • Open yourself to the possibility of change
  • Learn by experimenting, and find out what works for you

I’ll leave you with three questions:

  • What do you do?
  • Does what you do harness your talents and interests?
  • How could you change what you do to harness your inner strengths?

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