Monday, March 30, 2015

Job titles: It matters what we’re called

At TestBash 2015, Martin Hynie delivered a talk that stick with me. While he said he has not written it as an article as he wished to tell the story in person with all the possibilities of misconception, I will paraphrase the bit that I got from it.

Testers to Business Analyst to Testers

He run an experiment to find out what would change if the name we’re called “testers”, would change. Investigating a few options that might describe the testers work to non-testers, they ended up renaming testers to business analysts.

What happened with that has left me thinking already for two days. Their services were perceived more valuable and with a little time, managers started thinking that instead of renaming, things got better for hiring new people with new skills.

As they renamed themselves back to testers, there was resistance on taking away the great skilled contributors. They had been there before; they would be there after.

The Manager’s Dilemma

The bit that scares me most about Martin’s story is the managers who forgot that these people had been employed in the company for years just with a title change.  Think of it this way: the amount of daily insight for these managers on how development (and testing) work must be ridiculously low. If the managers are engaged in the actual work, they see what contributions happen. They would know their employees as people, not as labels. Daily insight is important.  We need better managers, not just for testers, but software professionals of all sorts.

So what?

For some people – like myself – the identity that comes with the title “tester” is very relevant. I’ve written many times before about how uncomfortable I’m being called a developer, let alone a programmer. Because I’m a tester, I found other testers and a community of people I learn from. I learn from non-testers too, but the emotional bond with people who love the same things I love is incredible. Because I’m a tester, I’m allowed and encouraged to start my thinking from another angle in relation to my programmer colleagues. Because I’m a tester, I’ve become what I am professionally and I love my work.

I too could call myself a business analyst: I am a business-facing tester. But instead, I’ve chosen to go into the discussions about “I’m more valuable than you” and argue for my value, invite my teams to experiment with what I can deliver when being invited to where they think I don’t belong and I feel I’ve won many of my battles. As a tester, my salary is just as high as my developers. 

I’ve spent years learning with the community, sharing and listening, working things out together to be where I am today. Being the type of individual that derives her energy from people around her, I could not be happier of the route I’ve ended up with. And I still see a path ahead that allows me to grow and learn more without becoming anything other than a tester.

I talked to a few people at TestBash who felt they were not as lucky as I have been. I heard stories of testers not being allowed to be away from previous project’s end game even when a new one is starting, without testers. I heard stories about continuous belittling, having to hear you are not to be invited because everyone else already know enough without you. Stories of being “just a tester” and people projecting a lot of negative images to that, regardless of how wonderfully skilled you are. Martin’s story was one of those, in a form of experiment to find out if just a name would make things different.