keeping testers in test

I did a webinar for today and got some great questions. One question seemed to really resonate: how do you keep good testers from moving to development.

I hear this question a lot. Many engineers see test as a training ground for development. A testing job is just a foot in the door for a quick move to development. Sigh.

Let’s be honest, this is not a bad thing. I think that the more developers we have trained as testers is categorically good. They’ll write fewer bugs, communicate with test better and generally appreciate the work their test teams do on their behalf. I think the real sadness comes from the fact that Test as a discipline loses so many talented people.

I am not convinced that the folks who leave are really doing so because of the developers’ greener pastures. After all, there is a lot of code to write as a tester and it’s often a freer coding atmosphere. I think people leave because too many test managers are stuck in the past and living just to ship. Everywhere I see testers move to development I see teams that lack a real innovative spirit and the converse is most certainly true. The happiest, most content testers are in groups that covet innovators and provide opportunity to invent, investigate and discover.

Want your testers to stay? Give them the opportunity to innovate. If all you see is test cases and ship schedules, all your testers will see is the door. Can’t say I blame them either.

Comments (5)

  1. calkelpdiver says:

    Speaking for myself, I’ve had moments when I wanted to say chuck it all and get back into development (or move to another function, or just get out completely).  But realize I’m pretty good at what I do with testing, I’ve been doing this for 20+ years.  I started as a programmer and found my niche in testing, and way back then it was a real niche and I looked at it as a career because not many other people were really doing it.  And I especially like the automation work and tool implementation (Test Management, Functional Automation, and Load/Performance) because it keeps my hands in programming/development. So it keeps me here (in this discipline) doing it.  

    But I have experienced some things that would make any tester want to change (lack of credibility & respect, lack of pay, lack of support, insane work schedules, finger pointing, etc… you know the list).  I think at times you just get so rundown that you need to do something different.  It is a question of burnout at times.  And getting the opportunity to do new and innovate things in this line of work doesn’t come often for the average tester in the average company (Microsoft, and other large shops may be different).

    Another thing now is the ‘commoditization’ of our line of work.  This I can see causing people wanting to change.  Why stay in a job that is being cheapend in regards to pay and prestige (what little we get at times).  Why just be another cog in the machine.  I think Testers, just as much as Developers, want to feel they are an important part of the process.  And this isn’t all about ego, it is pride in ones work.  

    Again though, there is a sea change coming in the Testing world and your Webinar the other day (I attended) pointed this out.  It gave me some real mixed feelings.  But in the end it made me think that in order to move forward in this line of work I’m going to need to adapt again, like I’ve done a couple of times before (technology and business changes).  I see the wave building and will be ready to dive through it so I don’t get wiped out.

  2. says:

    Testing is one of those jobs where you have to be overqualified for job to be reasonably good at it.  Like technical support.  Or teaching math.

    As mentioned, working in testing and technical support makes developers better.

    Solution seems obvious enough to me: rotations.

    My dad ran Internal Affairs at the Houston PD for a few years.  Whenever somebody on the force got too vocal about how IAD was "against" the rank-and-file he’d have them transferred to IAD.  They quickly found out what was really up and became better officers for it.

    Assign testers to development teams, assign developers to test rotations.

    At my first software job, we didn’t have any tech support people at first.  So all the developers took half-day rotations on the "hot seat" answering the tech support line.  Once you’d resolved the issues you took you got to go back to whatever you were working on.  Developers became very conscious of the need for documentable designs, meaningful messages, and such. And customers were shocked to have the phone answered by someone who understood and could actually fix their problem.  Good for everyone.

  3. ru_altom says:

    The rotations solution might work in terms of making developers and testers understand the importance of each other’s jobs, but on the other hand it assumes that any developer is a good tester and vice versa – which I personally don’t agree with.

    There’s a certain mindset you need to have to be a good tester or a good developer. A tester will write code to break someone else’s code, while a developer will aim to write unbreakable code.

    I agree with JW – innovation is the best way to keep your testers (and developers as well) content and at their best. Give them a chance to invent, to find new ways, to try their ideas – and they won’t leave, not for another department and not for another company.

  4. malcolm.b.anderson says:

    When I asked the question

    [How do we break the cycle of "Test is where young developers gain experience until they get good enough to "really" be developers"]

    I was really asking about how to change what calkelpdiver referred to as an environment of "lack of credibility & respect, lack of pay, lack of support, insane work schedules, finger pointing, etc…"

    I have spent the majority of my 17 years in software development as a solo developer, so I had to learn testing as a survival skill, but I spent a great deal of effort to never be seen as "a tester" because of the lack of respect, pay and career path.

    My biggest intent with that question was to ask, "how do we alter the environment that testers typically swim in, such that they are appreciated for the work that they do?"

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