Warning: The opinions expressed in this post are mine only, please do not use them against any other group of people, but only against me, that is Augusto Evangelisti a.k.a. Gus.
After writing my most recent blog post “The Agile Tester, a Curious and Empathetic Animal” I received quite a lot of feedback for which I am very grateful. Feedback in the form of a conversation is the true fuel for learning and improvement.
To all of you that have mailed me, tweeted about my post, responded using the comments in my blog and talked to me face to face about it, thank you so much for helping me learn!
When i looked at the feedback I received, I saw 2 quite different trends. Looking closer I saw that the different feedback types came from different schools of thought.
Let me give you 2 examples for some context
This one from twitter
This one from one comment to my blog post
Michael Bolton: Something about this post troubles me, Gus. In order to test what was troubling me, I took the content and replaced each instance of “tester” with “programmer”. The result made perfect sense, of course, but it left me wondering: if I can replace “tester” with “programmer”, what distinguishes the tester from anyone else on the project? What is the special role, the particular set of activities, that the tester performs? Is there a difference between the programmer’s mindset and the tester’s mindset? What is the mission, the distinctive reason for having a tester on the team—whether that person has the title “tester” or something else? What is it that distinguishes testing work from all the other work? What testing-specific skills do testers bring to the table? What is testing?
I have answers of my own, of course. But I’m wondering what your answers might be.
I am using Lisa’s and Michael’s as examples of the feedback received because the former is a recognisable exponent of the agile testing community and the latter is a recognisable exponent of the context driven testing community. The other feedback that i received from people close to each of the 2 communities is extremely similar to theirs.
If a group of people finds troubling what the other group finds great, I smell something interesting and an opportunity for learning.
I’ll try answering Michael questions and look forward to his very own answers to learn something:
Question#1: Something about this post troubles me, Gus. In order to test what was troubling me, I took the content and replaced each instance of “tester” with “programmer”. The result made perfect sense, of course, but it left me wondering: if I can replace “tester” with “programmer”, what distinguishes the tester from anyone else on the project? What is the special role, the particular set of activities, that the tester performs?
Michael, the distinction between different roles in agile teams is becoming more and more blurry. Agile teams value competencies more than roles. As an agile tester in my team I have core competencies that i use to support my team. These include but are not limited to the ability to evaluate a product by learning about it through experimentation. I also use such competencies to coach and lead other members of my team that are not that strong in that area and help them grow towards an ideal form of generalising specialist. Finally I also perform tasks outside my main competency to support the team. In some cases I will need guidance from another member of the team whose core competency includes the ability of performing such task. I believe that this blurring of the roles increases agile team members accountability, in fact nobody in an agile team (developer, tester, business analyst, operations specialist, UX expert, et cetera) should ever say, “I’m X, doing Y is not my job” but they should instead ask their colleagues “how can I help you?”. Shared activities are key to learning and gaining competencies.
The main goal for any agile team member, regardless of his role is delivering customer value.
Question#2: Is there a difference between the programmer’s mindset and the tester’s mindset?
Yes, there is a difference, I don’t think it constitutes an insurmountable obstacle. One of the teams I have worked with, knowing that I wouldn’t be available for a period of time, suggested they needed the tester’s mindset for certain activities and decided that to make sure they were focusing on the right things, they would wear a big red hat. This simple change helped them keep their focus and their mindset in the right place. It might not be prefect but it worked. It works also because I speak to them about the testers mindset when we work together, I give them examples of what I am thinking at specific times and why it is important to think about such things. Developers are very smart people, once they understand a practice has value and receive sufficient amount of coaching, they can learn to do almost anything.
Just to avoid misunderstandings, our developers wear the testers hat when performing testing activities with other developers, i.e. they don’t use the hat for their own code as maybe this could be asking too much.
Question#3: What is the mission, the distinctive reason for having a tester on the team—whether that person has the title “tester” or something else?
The mission is to provide the team with the testing competencies it needs so that customer value can be delivered. The secondary purpose is to train and coach the team so that they can gain some of the competencies to support test activities. Coaching and training can be also formal but it is mainly delivered by working in pairs.
Question#4: What is it that distinguishes testing work from all the other work?
Every activity the team engages in, is performed to deliver customer value, including test activities, but I am not sure I understood your question completely, could you please rephrase?
Question#5: What testing-specific skills do testers bring to the table?
See answer to question#1 re. competencies. My main competencies are exploration and learning.
Question#6: What is testing?
Testing to me is exploration and learning.
I test ideas to prevent defects, software to detect them and product owners assumptions to reduce waste.
I hope I have clarified some of your doubts and I am curious to hear your answers to your own questions.