The Core of the Testing Role

Software Testing, The Core of Things

This is the second of a couple of “The core of X” -articles that give you -my- ideas on what I think of X. The attempt is to cut away all that surrounds the term and show its core for what it truly is. The essence of it all.
Take from it what you will, love it or leave it. In any case, I would invite you to share what goes around in your head and what you feel while reading. Feel free to correct me or engage in discussion. We’re here to learn.


There’s Always Testing

Independent Test Teams, Dogfooding, Bugbashes, agile Testers, Test Jumpers,… or testing by any other name. There’s always some testing going on in a software project. It might even not be called testing, but it’s there.
It’s in those moments of critical thinking just before someone says “hey now, wouldn’t that shortcut our registration process?” or “Woah, I never thought about it in that way.”

When one ‘thing’: a piece of code, a requirement, a document,… is changed and passed from one person to another: that’s an opportunity for doing testing.
This isn’t always done by a professional tester. Au contraire.
Whether it’s a formalized or accidental process, there’s people jumping in and out of “The Testing Role”. Adding value because of it.

“Everyone tests, but it’s a skill not many professionals care to practice.”

The Core of the Testing Role = Mindset + Skills + Attitude

Be you a tester, developer, analyst, schoolboy or astronaut, to take up the Testing Role effectively, you need to be aware of these three different aspects.

Mindset

Most professionals are focused on Building. Adding, accelerating, stabilizing and all that improvement goodness. At one point or another, these professionals will need to test each other’s improvements. Having that builder’s mindset while doing so is a lousy way to go about it. It’s the equivalent of a mom cheering on her son on the football field:

You want to see them succeed. Confirmation bias and inattentional blindness play their part: Your feedback will be limited.

A tester’s mindset is often seen as a negative or destructive way of thinking. It’s focused on Risk. What can go wrong? How can this be abused? What haven’t we thought of?

It’s about thinking differently. It’s about being engaged with the product with the intent of finding problems.

Getting that mindset consistently right is probably the most important part of this role, yet also the easiest to discard. The path of least resistance doesn’t lead here. It goes everywhere but here, with a rather sharp turn.

It’s a Skill

There’s a lot of different skills involved in testing.

  • Critical thinking
  • Systems thinking
  • Modeling
  • Risk Analysis
  • Quick learning
  • One’s own expectations management
  • Inter- and intrapersonal skills.
  • Technical insight

Just like any other craft, it might look easy for the unwitting and unpracticed. To become a master though, it takes hours, days of mindful practice.

Attitude

Don’t care to practice”. That did sound quite harsh, right? It was intended to be. Attitude, to me, is the defining characteristic for a tester.

  • It makes you speak up in planning meetings to go against popular opinion.
  • It has you fighting for a bugfix you think is important.
  • It gives you fresh ideas to go through the same high-risk functionality over and over.
  • It helps you be different in a world where sameness is worshiped.

Just like Mindset, which is about thinking differently, Attitude is too easily dismissed as part of the Testing Role. Being adamant about quality can be perceived as difficult or not-a-team-player behaviour. I’ve worked with many people who don’t want to bother learning about testing for those exact reasons. It doesn’t make you popular.


Recap

Anyone can take up the Testing Role. Whatever else you do, it takes these three things to be successful at it:

Mindset – Thinking differently when looking at solutions and problems.
Skills – Have the tools to analyse, find, plan for and report risks and issues.
Attitude – The resolve to be consistently different and defend underrepresented notions.

Doing that context switch isn’t easy, isn’t evident and takes practice.
While many people do this role & mindset switch daily, most of the time it is lacking. Practice, investigate and learn how to do it well.

7 thoughts on “The Core of the Testing Role

  1. I’ve thought about this subject quite a lot. I don’t consider anyone to be testing unless they’re actively engaged in a process where they are looking to find problems. So I suppose I’d add “intent” to the core set, somewhere.

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  2. Mindset is the biggest part of to me, what makes a tester, a tester.

    As you mention, it is very easy to think about how something should be. To create something, be positive. It takes something else to challenge how something is done and ask “What if…?” and make them realize that they are leaving the door open for something very bad to happen.

    A good read Beren 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Lee!
      I agree Mindset is a big part, but without skills to apply (don’t underestimate all the little things you do that make a huge difference!) and the attitude to willingly, sometimes defiantly take a stand against conformity you’ll not go far with mindset alone.
      I personally think we need to think more about these things and go into deeper detail. But it helps to have some ideas cleared out in a concise way.

      That’s what these “the core of” articles are about. Offering clear and concise answers that are ‘true’. Tangible things for the non-tester and the new tester.

      I’m worried about saying “it depends” to often.

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      1. Oh I’m not disputing that you need only that one, just if you have the skills and the confidence, you may end up supporting the building of something, rather than question it.

        Although, without the skills, it may lead to questions where you need something explained “Can the system handle 2000 calls a second?” and when they answer and explain, by making them talk it out it identifies something they hadn’t consciously thought about.

        With attitude, if we see something isn’t right and don’t say anything, then if it does go wrong, we will only get challenged as to why we didn’t say anything in the first place. If we do and are ignored, at least we know we did the best we could, and can always tell them told you say after 😉

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