Monday, December 24, 2012

Mr Tester, you are a Professional first!

One of my articles recently got published in the Testing circus emagazine. Including it in my blog as well for your comments and feedback. Please read on-

I was in a Panel discussion in one of the Software Testing conferences and one of the question that came from the audience was- "I am new to Software testing. What do i need to become a Good tester ?"
I had thoughts of mixed flavors running inside me when i first heard this question. A part of me was proud on this question being asked, Proud because i have seen our esteemed occupation grow from the times when it was not as fashionable to be a tester as it is now. That was the time when testing was more considered as a group of failed developers, testers a mere second class citizens in the organization and the testing group was more regarded as an unnecessary evil.  I was obviously happy that this question atleast gave me a momentary happiness to me that our profession has come of age, somewhat. (not that i need any such assurances now).
The other part of me was rather intrigued thinking if at all this was a right question to be asked from a person new to testing or may be even otherwise. Now, Why did i feel intrigued ? Let me try and put a perspective here-
For all that Software testing has achieved as an occupation over the years, i still believe it is somewhat at a nascent stages. To put the records straight, ours is not yet a 100+ year profession. Not that i am treating 100+ year as a some sort of benchmark to achieve greatness status but longevity is a factor or rather a crucial factor in deciding the relevance of a field (mostly in the eyes of people who do not belong to the said field) and also as a proof that a profession has stood its ground and survived and thrived ups and downs that come with time. On a lighter note, i was reading an article recently that appeared in Times on India titled- "Whats the shelf life of a techie (read Software professional) ?" and answer too appeared in the title- 15 years. :-). [If this were true (for which i have my own doubts) then we are entering an era where professions will be long lived but professional's work life span wont last a whole career span.]
Anyways, just to elaborate myself for the sake of clarity- Software testing has a multi decade history and it has evolved in many unique ways with the advancement of technologies- from mainframe to mobile platforms and also with people's creativity exhibited over the years. At the same time, it is fair to say that most of the organizations have started realizing the importance of Software testing as a separate field not so long ago- may be a decade or two back.

Who is a professional ?
I did make an interchangeable use of three words in my narration so far and these are- "Occupation", "Profession" and "field". They all, in essence, means the same thing. But what do they mean ?
Oxford dictionary defines the word- "Profession" as "a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification". 
Though this definition gives some light into what a Profession is but this definition in itself is quite narrow. It somehow gives a sense that people engage in a profession to get paid. Of course, getting paid is important but the true professionals do not engage in a profession for the lure of earning money alone. Subroto Bagchi in his book "The Professional" goes as far and says that "A professional who sees his work primarily as a means of earning money, runs out of meaning very soon.Being a true professional is nothing short of a religion and the capacity to serve is indeed a blessing in life."

Isn't being a tester and a professional one and the same thing ?
Now why did i feel intrigued on that question being asked ? Skills, without doubt, forms a very important part of any job in this world. Without mastering the technical skills required for a position, one wont even be qualified for an interview for a particular position. So my attempt here is not to undermine the importance of the technical skills that a tester would need. So, i am sure when a person asked- "What do i need to do to become a Good tester ?", the focus of the question was more towards the technical skills and honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. Any person new to any profession would always want to master the technical skills quickly to be eligible to apply for the position.

My main reason for intrigue was the fact that, more often in our quest to become experts at what we do we tend to forget some of the most basic facts. And that fact is-  When we embrace a particular field as our chosen career, our responsibilities does not start and end at mastering the skills need to execute or exceed the job expectation but it in reality goes much beyond. 
To make a point further, I have listed a handful of situations that we might face in our professional lives and followed up these situations with a question-
- A person finds a High severity, rarely reproducible defect in the Software component he was handling on a day before release. Should he go and inform the Management (despite fearing his lack of performance impressions) or he remain quiet and not report the bug (as anyway it is rarely reproducible and will be rarely noticed) ?
- A person was expecting to get promoted but for some reasons didn't get it. Should he go around criticizing the management behind their backs or show demeanor to initiate a discussion keeping calm ?
- A person is knee deep in a technical problem, whose solution is likely to be available with other team mate. He does not quite reach the other guy for help. Is it ok to let professional ego slow the pace of a project ?
- A person meets another colleague on a pathway, they have a discussion and as a follow-up, this person promises to send some information to the colleague in 2 days time. A week goes by and the colleague doesnt get the required information. Is it ok to be casual about the commitments made to people who are not your bosses or Managers ?
- A person installs a Software tool and learns it's very basic functions. Next thing he includes the very mention of the tool in his resume as one the "skills" he has. Is he right in claiming expertise on this tool (which may even turn out to be the basis of him getting an interview call) ?

Just ponder over the answers to these questions. My intention here is not to mention what are the right answers. I would rather answer these questions with another question- "Would you choose what is right in each of these situations or what is more convenient ?" The most favorable answer probably depend upon a lot of factors including the personal and organizational value system. The point i was trying to make here was that our response to many of these professional situations actually determines how we eventually get perceived in the organization and the perception that an individual creates matters a lot in deciding the elevation one reaches in one's career. If skills decide and define your entry into the profession, it may not be an exaggeration to say that a true professional conduct (along with other factors) define your ascent.

To me, being a successful tester and being a successful professional are not mutually exclusive but if one works hard to achieve this combination right, then we really have a powerful, world beating person at hand.

Concluding words...
Many people go through the whole career being committed to one profession and some get to choose and work on multiple professions in one lifetime. A true professional remains a true professional even if he or she changes the field altogether. In other words, the factors that makes one a professional, for most part, does not change with the change in profession.
Quite a sizable chunk of problems faced in Software Testing industry can be attributed to the lack of true professionalism as a root cause. In our almost mad focus on attaining skills, we do tend to lose the relevance of being a true professional. What it takes to become a true professional is a lot more than just learning the skills needed to master your chosen field of endeavor.

We always hear the terms like "Expert tester" ? Why dont we often hear terms like "Expert testing professional" ?

Would you like to become one ?
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Parimala Hariprasad said...

Hi Anuj,

Times of India is lying big time. 15 years is way too much to hit shelf life. And, it's not just for software profession.

For any profession, the shelf life will be a lot lesser because most of them end up doing the same old work for a long time. They don't change with changing times.

I am reminded of Charles Darwin's quote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" That is the truth. If you don't adapt, you die.

People who are not willing to change will have a shorter shelf life. People with a big dreams and broad vision will have a longer shelf life. So long that they'll stop keeping track of it.

As I type this gyaan, I am stuck with too many major changes in my life myself and finding it hard to adapt. I can either choose to be rigid with ego or adapt to changing times. I have chosen the latter.


Anuj Magazine said...

Hi Parimala,
I agree with you on the mention that most people like the Status quo than things changing. It's quite akin to one of the quotes that I heard- People live same year 80 times and call it life.
This quote is quite relevant in professional circles where people tend to work the same way for 30 years and call it a career. If things aren't changing one ought to take driving seat and drive oneself.