Saturday, July 23, 2016

Origin stories

I listened to the latest of the Let’s talk about Tests -podcast which was on the topic of origin stories. How did you end up as tester, was there a moment that defined your path and can you pinpoint it? Listening to the podcaster’s story, I felt compelled thinking about mine in writing.

I think there’s three defining key moments for me. The first is about getting started and the second is about finding freedom and third about making a commitment. 

Getting Started

It seems a lot of us kind of fall into testing. For me this happened through direct recruitment. Someone knew two details about me: I had been accepted to study computer science in Helsinki University of Technology (must mean some interest in computers and software) and I had studied the basics of the Greek language before university (must mean can recognize some Greek words). There was a localization project in 6 languages starting up in Helsinki back then, and Greek was one of the languages given to this location. 

I just went with the flow. I scheduled a test of my natural testing abilities and observation skills with the company (seeded bugs, testing localized version against an English reference) and got sucked in to part time work. 

The localization stuff was pretty routine, with Microsoft supporting many sites and projects. We had test cases and we had QA - the contractual idea of someone testing after us with same test cases and telling if we’re missing stuff that could be found around those cases. The feedback was great, although contractually quite intimidating at that point of career. 

Finding Freedom

I changed jobs, and did more localization testing with a Finnish product company with the experience I had. Then it became time to extend from localization to functional testing. I remember the moment when instead of test cases I was handed a (bad) specification with the responsibility to test a mail server on Solaris. Getting out of the box of someone else’s test cases that I would carefully tread through doing enough but not too much, I was now set free. I learned to love what I was doing. I did not know the name of it then, but exploratory testing made me an active learner back then. The difference was really just on how I perceived my responsibility area. 

Making a commitment

A while into the testing work, I came to the conclusion that everyone just hates testers and that I would be wasting my life sticking to it whether I like it or not. I had the youthful bloated ego thinking I could be so much more, and more meant being a developer. Developers command respect, right? I had already experienced that (junior) testers don’t get their voices heard and it frustrated me. 

I moved into a developer job and learned within that job that I could take a step forward and come up with five steps while testing my own stuff that would take me backwards. I learned that average developers don’t automatically command any more respect, and that there’s such an idea as programming as assembly line, where you’re just handed pieces to blindly implement. I did not last long, I came to the conclusion there was no reason for me to be unhappy in one job when I could be happy in another. And that some (many) developers commands just as little respect from the “important people” as testers do and that we could unite to make the world a better place.

I committed to being a great tester. I took a job that enabled me to read and think about testing, and teach testing, I started my journey on the road of learning every day, for the purposes of recognizing and filling relevant gaps in software (product) development. 

Eventful career

There’s been many moments of joy and frustration and life-changing insight for me. I think particularly fondly the moments that make me completely change my mind like realizing that I was teaching test cases while doing exploratory testing; like realizing continuous integration was actually a better idea than controlling change so that I could test “full builds”; like understanding that while smart manual testing can cover more ground that test automators give it credit for, I like automation too; like realizing that over planning and thinking things through, experimentation is giving a chance for “bad” things to turn out good in collaboration. 

I’ve changed jobs often, every 2-3 years. I’ve been a tester, test manager, project manager, developer, teacher and trainer, and a consultant. I’ve been given a great platform to learn, and I feel privileged having been allowed to share stuff throughout my career. I’ve had some amazing managers, and worked with mostly wonderful developers. The local Finnish testing community has been my lifeline, and I’ve learned a lot through published authors and more recently, blogs. 

I love being a tester and helping developers being more productive. But most of all, I love how we are allowed to learn and change, and have many forms.