On rediscovering testing
27 April 2016 was the day I, along with 33 of my colleagues, heard that the the role of test engineer was at risk of redundancy at the company I worked for and that a proposal had been tabled to remove the discipline of test engineering entirely from the organisation. I cannot deny that I was shocked, but, at the same time, I had been feeling rather restless for a while. In retrospect, this news provided the kickstart I needed to understand the underlying reasons for that restlessness and where I ultimately wanted my career to go.
I do not want to go into too much detail on the rationale for their decision in this particular post, or my objections to it, but suffice it to say that it was sold to those of us affected as relating largely to a wholesale move toward DevOps. I must admit that a part of me feared for the future of not only my career in testing, but the career of testing altogether. Was there a place for us in this brave new world of DevOps?
What I did know was that I did not particularly want to stop working in agile environments in favour of the job security I might gain by seeking out positions in organisations working with older waterfall or V-model methodologies. However, the more I thought about it, the more it became abundantly clear to me that the parts of testing I enjoyed the most (i.e. the actual testing bits) were the things that would be even more essential in increasingly Agile and DevOps environments, not less so!
The assumption that developers can simply ‘automate all the testing’ or become responsible for testing their own code is, simply put, naïve. There is no doubt that testing is the responsibility of everyone in the team and, yes, developers should be writing automated checks and testing their code, but to expect them to suddenly develop an additional skill set in designing tests, advocating for users, assessing risk, inferring expectations, building oracles, etc, and ultimately thinking like a tester is overly optimistic. They have plenty to be getting on with already and time is a scarce resource. Simon Knight summarised at least some of what I was thinking in his blog post Do We Still Need Dedicated Testers? on Gurock’s blog.
So yes, admittedly I did seriously consider a career change to software developer and even successfully applied for an internal software engineer vacancy. For all intents and purposes, I had effectively been acting in this role for several months, causing confusion for at least one member of my team who could not understand why I was facing redundancy when I was, as far as he was concerned, another developer on the team. But it was this, I realised, that was causing me to feel restless. While I enjoy development and the unique challenges it presents, I had essentially been neglecting all the things I enjoyed about testing. This became clearer and clearer to me as I represented my colleagues in the redundancy consultation and came to fully appreciate the highly honed skill set and frame of mind we all shared. It seemed strange to me that an organisation would choose to let go of such valuable people with such relevant experience.
So, while my organisation, like a few others I’ve read about, had given up on testing as a dedicated discipline for one reason or another, I resolved not to. Instead, I made a decision to explore what it was that made testing so interesting to me and to understand the skills, experience and mindset that made good testers. I also explored opportunities in the market and gratefully realised that there were still many interesting roles available to those of us with these competencies and interests.
One of the opportunities offered to me was a ‘Senior Test Engineer’ role at FreeAgent Central — a company creating cloud accounting software and resources made specifically for freelancers, small business owners and their accountants — who were looking to make their first hire in a test role to join their compliance team. The initial job advert included the line, “As our first Test Engineer, we’re looking for someone who can help us discover what Test Engineering looks like at FreeAgent”. The opportunity sounded both daunting and exciting, but I am very pleased to say that the excitement won over in the end and I have now been at FreeAgent since June 2016.
It has been a truly wonderful experience for me to become excited about testing again and the opportunities it affords me in applying my critical, creative, technical and practical thinking skills. I am thoroughly enjoying the chance to experiment and explore new ways of helping my team to work better and smarter together, allowing us to deliver changes that provide real value and reliability for our customers.
I am hoping to share some of what we have achieved and what I have learned over the past several months on this blog, and also my thoughts and ideas going forward . My only hope is that they provide at least some value to others who may be reading them. Your thoughts, comments and suggestions will always be most welcome.