Who are you?

I’ve been thinking about how professional testers describe themselves. We have high level labels like Tester, SDET, or Quality Engineer, but beyond those (mostly meaningless) titles, many of us have our own personal missions or visions – the words we want people to associate with us.

For example, my twitter bio is, “Long time software tester and quality guy – author of hwtsam”, and my profile on an internal twitter-like site is “Tester, tweeter, blogger, author”. They’re short, but both descriptions give people an idea of who I am. More importantly, I can back up each of the points.

But those bios are sort of lame. They describe what I’ve done, but not much of what I do, or how I do it. Many of us describe not just what we do, but what we think we do; or how we want to be perceived. When someone asks what you do, do you say “I’m a tester”, or something like, “I’m a thought leader in testing who uses a combination of strategy and tactics to improve software and software teams”?

Both of these are perfectly valid answers. The difference in this case is that the first is immediately believable, while the second requires some proof. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if the description is what you strive to do and how you want to be perceived, it’s perfectly ok. But you probably have to show some signs that you can live up to the description.

For example, I could say, “I’m a thought leader in declarative testing approaches” – which would be cool, because I’m a fan of the concept, but I’m far from a thought leader in the subject. If I were to say something like that, I should have some talks, articles, blog posts, etc. to back up that claim (and you should expect that of me if I made that claim as well).

That one was easy – let’s explore something closer to a grey area and talk about how I do what I do. If I were to say “I use my view of the big picture to find patterns and connections to aid in my testing approach”, and you observed several examples of me failing to make connections within a system, do I lose credibility with you? I should – but then again, maybe you just don’t know me, caught me on bad days, or your observations were inaccurate. At the very least, you should question that claim.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this – perhaps it’s a midlife crisis of a sort, but I find myself trying to be more purposeful about what I do and how I achieve what I do…and how I remain credible. Every three or so years, I attempt to write a personal vision / mission and reassess my values. As you can probably tell, I value credibility – to be able to “walk the talk”, both in myself and others.

Here’s an example of one of these fru-fru self-activities from a few years ago.

I am a leader in software testing, software quality, who balances thought leadership with execution, ties vision to strategies, and nurtures communities of practice

It’s not great, but it works, and I’m due to write a new one in another year or two. This is different than a bio, because until now, I haven’t shared this directly with anyone, but I still find it important to try to live up to this. I can take each of the points and ask, what am I doing to display this? Do I think the people who matter perceive me this way? and what can I do in my current context to do more of these things? Am I credible? I also make notes about what else I’m doing to aid when I rewrite the statements in the future.

This approach works for me. I don’t know if it will work for anyone else, or how you manage your own career growth, personal bios or labels, but it’s probably good for all of us to ask ourselves if we are really who we say or think we are.


  1. Most of companies I worked till now had a model that worked for me: usually one-two testers per project that was relatively independent. Sure there was a “QA manager” but who rarely intervene, except of course task assignment, maybe conflicts(rarely the case). When you have a relative independence the motivation grows.
    Again I don’t have the perspective of managing large organization to see the point from that.

    1. Thanks for the response Eusebiu. What I’m getting at (I think) is testing as a career. Once you have some experience and you decide software testing is something you’re going to do for a long, long time, what do you do? How do you push yourself? How do you push the craft? How do make the job more and more challenging (and give yourself an opportunity to grow) over time?

  2. Alan,

    As I put in my bios for conferences “a veteran of the software testing trenches”. Basically, I live testing day by day and get my hands dirty in the work.

    I’m a Tester and I’m okay!

  3. Apart from the fact that Jim has been around in the testing world a lot longer than I have, I must say exactly the same thing: I live testing day by day, with my hands dirty, and that’s great.

    In addition, it’s inspiring (at least to me) and also humbling in a healthy way to read what other, more experienced people, write about the craft. The more I read, the more I realize I need to (and want to) read. The more I learn, the smaller I feel – and that is a good thing since I wouldn’t want something like my ego to come between me and my quest to become a better tester.

    And that’s not saying I wouldn’t be proud of who and what I am or what I have already achieved. Never be sorry or ashamed for something that is truly you. There’s just no need to overly emphasize those things either.

    Why do I continue the quest? It’s the butterfly effect – a tiny improvement now could mean a huge difference in the future. Who knows.

    Plus, it’s a fun journey!

  4. I think one of the risks in software test is getting stuck in a job where the pressure is so high that you don’t have time to learn or steer your career. I keep hearing a lot of stories like this. People want to be automation testers, but never are given the time to set up the tools or practice the skills needed to take their work to the next level – it’s always “next sprint, for sure”. “Right after we release”. Etc. This results in both testing technical debt (because everyone is constantly doing things the bad old way) and *career* technical debt – because you will always learn how to do that thing later.

    My advice would be to avoid this situation like the plague. If you find yourself in it, make sure that you and your manager have a plan to get you out of it. If your manager won’t help, start interviewing.

    The test career path is too ill-defined for a tester to just do a job and not actively manage their career. Testers need to be constantly trying new things to figure out what they enjoy and what they are good at, so they can figure out what might be a good direction to move in the long term. Until the field settles down, testers need to be able to tell a story about what they, personally, do, and how they are learning things on their current job that add to that story so they can market themselves (and their story) to new opportunities. Otherwise, it’s all to easy to end up with a mismatch between the story you wanted your career to be about, and the one your manager thought you were filling, because you were comparing titles and not job stories. What I mean is, some people think a QA Engineer is a black-box manual tester who executes manual tests that someone else wrote, while others think a QA Engineer is the same as an experienced SDET.

    1. Wish I could modify that post. . . I don’t really want to be saying things like, “My advice is” . . . what I mean is, I see too many people in this situation who get hurt in the end because their career stagnates. Then their employer realizes that they have a bunch of testers who are out-of-date, hires more up-to-date testers, and lays off the old ones. I guess this isn’t that unusual, but it was very hard to see testers with years more experience than me get laid off at this company right after I was hired because they were too busy doing their jobs to do their career. Hopefully that makes sense and doesn’t sound to arrogant or immature 🙂 I’m a little tired right now, and wish I simply hadn’t posted at all but had waited until the morning when I could self-edit a little better.

      1. Advice I often give testers is: “never let yourself get blocked” – stagnation is part of this. Add to this some other advice I give: “Always put yourself on the steepest learning curve”, and you have a pretty good recipe for career growth.

        I think I’ll do a webinar next month on career growth for testers – hope you can take part.

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