I spent last week at STARWEST, and enjoyed being amongst the fine testers who are interested in learning new things and delivering value. I learned a lot myself - great Ajax testing tutorial by Paco Hope, fun six hat idea from Julian Harty, and more.
I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to join in the interesting evening discussions at the Lost Bar (I had a lingering cough to tend) but we did have a brief discussion of how to raise the standard of the testing profession. I feel there are too many people calling themselves testers that are basically punching a clock, waiting for work to fly over the wall at them, and doing some manual scripted testing. It gives testers a bad name.
Someone suggested maybe we should invent a better title than "tester" to attract good people. Personally I am proud to be called a tester, but then I think back to my mom, a career secretary who had a business degree and good business knowledge, but insisted on being called a 'secretary'. She felt it was an honorable profession, and the title was not demeaning. Despite herself, she became an executive assistant.
Yesterday it occurred to me that maybe the way to approach this is to get employers interested in mining the hidden resources of their testing and QA teams. Testers have a lot to contribute. We're good at talking to customers and understanding requirements. We're good at raising a flag when we see a problem or a gap in communication. (I just raised one yesterday, because our accounting person is not getting the software support she needs, because we don' t understand her domain). We're good at collaborating with developers to help them understand the stories and help ourselves understand the architecture and design. We're good at writing test cases, and good at exploratory testing that helps the whole business learn more about how to improve the software.
But most companies leave testers' potential untapped. This is a waste. What if managers sent all their testers to at least one good conference a year, or if that's not in the budget, at least to local user group meetings? What if managers budgeted time for testers to learn and improve their skills? What if managers helped break down barriers between teams and enable collaboration? What if managers supported testers and gave them a chance to show how they can contribute?
Some of us (such as yours truly) are pushy and we step up and do these things for ourselves, but there's no reason businesses shouldn't help testers help themselves, and in turn, contribute more value to their teams. When I've managed QA teams, I helped each team member set goals for professional development, gave them time to learn, bought them the books they needed, got them the training they needed. I had amazing teams of self-motivated people who worked together well and collaborated with customers and developers well (and this was in my pre-agile days). I'm not saying I'm some genius of a manager, I'm saying that giving time, training and support pays off in spades.
How can we get the word out to those that don't understand the huge hidden resource which may lie in their testing and QA teams?