The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called "99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester". Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.
My goal for the next few weeks is to take the "99 Things" book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions.
Suggestion #86: See the bigger picture. How does your testing add value to your team, project, organization?
Wow, now that's a suggestion. It's also not a simple, cut and dried thing that we can talk about in a "do these three things and you will add value".
I can't give you a simple "go forth and prosper" kind of answer, but I can share some thoughts and realizations that have helped me decide what to do with this idea over the years.
Workshop #86: Run a regular inventory of your organizations values. What do they do? Who are their customers? Who pays the bills? How do you justify your cost to the team? Then work towards aligning your actions to the answers your get.
Whoa, dude! Isn't that a little out there? Maybe, maybe not. It's a set of questions everyone, in any role, should be asking.
Contrary to popular belief, corporations and company's do not exist to hire people and pay them. We do not exist to be hired by corporations and companies to get paid. Yes, both happen, but it's a relationship based on a simple reality… companies exist to make money.
If you are creating something that can be directly sold, and a profit is earned, then you are a producer, and you are what is referred to as a "revenue center". You directly help the organization make money. Unless you work for, or own, a company that directly sells software testing services, you are not a revenue earner for a company as a software tester. You are a cost. You may be a very necessary, very important, and very valuable cost, but make no mistake, YOU ARE A COST! Just accept that.
This is why it is critically important for software testers to really and clearly understand what they represent to a company or to a team. We are a hedge. We are insurance. We are information and analysis. Each of those things are vital, but they do not directly, unambiguously add to the company's bottom line. On the other hand, there is decades worth of evidence that shows our being there can protect revenue, and that company's with bad quality products can certainly lose revenue. Testers being there and doing good work can enhance product reputation (when we do our job and do it well). It helps us garner influence because our product is better than other options.
A helpful, and sobering, comment was said to me about twenty years ago. It was when I was first at Cisco Systems; one of their senior engineers put it very succinctly:
"We are not where we are today because we are better than everyone else. We are where we are today because we suck less than everyone else!"
The point he was making with that comment was to illustrate that, yes, we had bugs, some of them quite bad, but we were doing a better job testing and finding ugly issues than anyone else out there at the time.
If we want to make clear how and where we can add value, we have to consider a number of important areas. For me, this can be summed up as follows:
- spend time with your customer support team (or at least their support system application) and get to understand the most sensitive and delicate parts of your organization.
- read actual support requests and tickets, so that you can see where customers feel genuine pain
- make a test charter around those areas, and dig to see if what they are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg.
- develop domain knowledge of the industry you work in, and of the customers of your product. When I worked with Tracker Corp, that meant "learn as much about Immigration Law statutes as you can".
- make a point to be consistent, and provide clear and concise bug reports. Take the time to understand them and recognize which issues really rise to the level of "Oh, we have GOT to fix THIS!!!"
- pay attention to the conversations that executives have. Read through the press releases, shareholder meeting updates, anything that points to what the company wants to do both now and in the future. Get to really and fundamentally understand what they perceive as the roadmap.
- work directly with your team to cross-pollinate and share knowledge. Learn from each other and help others learn new tools, techniques and approaches.
- be willing to work yourself out of a job. Show integrity, purpose, and dedication. If there are better ways to do things, champion them, even if they might be seen as "but wait, this might lessen my own influence." It may, but chances are, you will have other opportunities to do other things.
- be honest with others, and most importantly with yourself. Know your limitations, as well as your strengths. Don't be coy about them. If you are struggling, ask for help. If you see someone struggling, help them.
Every company culture is different, every manager you ever have, and every direct report that ever reports to you, will be different and unique. At the root, though, they all want the same things, which is to do well enough to not have to worry, to have others treat them like human beings, to afford them the respect and dignity that goes with it, and to do work that actually matters. Ultimately, recognizing that, and working accordingly, will do wonders for your career outlook and engagement. In short, if you want to be valuable to your company, BE VALUABLE TO YOUR COMPANY! Know who you are, where you stand, and what you can do.
From there, act on it.