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.