The Twisted Personality of the Software Tester
  May 16, 2013

A bunch of us at SmartBear recently returned from StarEast, the biggest software testing conference this side of the Mississippi. I loved it! Mainly because it was so heartening to see all the people committed to high-quality software, unselfconscious in their geekiness, proud of their craft, knowing they play a crucial if small role in the stability of our world and its future.

Software testing truly is an altruistic endeavor. Being willing to stand up for quality in the face of a development, business or marketing team’s desire to move forward, reach deadlines, and get on to the next project, can be a difficult position to hold. The bearer of bad news is rarely thanked for their delivery, even if it serves the overall good—and not just the company’s reputation, but the user of that software as well. For the heart of the true tester is ultimately customer focused and committed to bringing the best user experience possible. That is what drives and inspires the career tester.

But, because there isn’t a formal college education route to becoming a professional tester, those who eventually find themselves in a testing chair often end up there by following a curvy path, falling into testing by chance, and suddenly discovering a love for it.

Some say this is a good thing. A background in liberal arts, for instance, could bring a kind of creative persistence needed to be a good tester. But there is a down side as well. Testers are usually paid far less than developers and are generally considered to be less technically Agile, even though their tech expertise needs to be on par with developers – and increasingly so as cloud, mobile, and API movements are changing the face of software… all at the same time. The result is that testers tend to be largely underappreciated.

Here’s where the darker underbelly of the software tester comes in.

After spending three solid days immersed in the culture of testing at StarEast, I’ve come to see this more edgy side of the tester personality to be a necessary thing – kind of like the front line warrior’s bullet proof vest. It serves two functions: One,

  1. To keep the tester going at times when that shiny “I’m a Quality Service Engineer” button just doesn’t do the trick, like when your developer cussed you out again because the bug you caught must be a problem with your testing environment.
  2. It makes for damn good testing.

For deep down in the heart of every tester is that kid who derives pleasure from poking at small living things with a sharp stick just to see what it’ll do. Yeah, there is a somewhat sadistic clever wink hiding behind the eyes of even the most heroic quality assurance servant. And it makes sense to me that this lesser motive of the tester may also serve their craft.

QA Dual Personality IllustrationAfter all, you have to want to find bugs, you need to secretly desire that your colleague screwed up… at least in that moment when you first sit down, open up that fresh new Web application, and grab your sharp stick.

Don’t shrink away saying “not me” like it’s a bad thing. It’s not bad. Well, not in the context of software quality.

In fact, I’m going to follow this insight as far as I can and take it to a much broader level—one that may be a bit of a reach but makes sense to me. In this paradigm, an instance where we see a sadistic impulse working in the favor of an needed skill set, we can perhaps see a saving light for humanity as a whole. Just go with it for a moment... Maybe this is an example of a new stage of evolution for us, where our lower motives can be co-opted for a higher cause! Cool!

Yes, perhaps you, you twisted tester, are the heralding of a new era where humanity can take all those “hind brain” impulses in us – we all know they are there – and harness them for the greater good. Wouldn’t that be something?!

So, embrace your inner tester. But don’t let it get to your head. After all, you are still a servant to the masses.

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