Career development time for testers

It’s Mid Year Review time at Microsoft. We typically do a self assessment and get one from our manager. Then we make a plan to work on our weaknesses. I am one of the subversives that say “Don’t waste time on your weakness!” Figure out the shortest path to success. Then take that path.

Just a quick example; I am good at programming and bad at project planning. I could schedule weeks of time to work on project planning. Based on my skills, history and passion I know I will never be more than just “good enough” at project planning. On the other hand, I am highly leveraged when I write code or train testers.

So I don’t believe in spending too much time on weaknesses per se. My plan this year is to find someone who is a great project planner and collaborate with them. That way we are both doing what we are good at. Maybe something will rub off on me, but I won’t spend a lot of time I could be using 10 times more productively.

Testers exercise a lot of skills in the course of a project. Here are a few of the ones I look for. Take a look and see where your strengths and weaknesses are. Make a plan to compensate for your weakness in a way that is cost effective.

Passion

This is the number one thing a tester needs. It doesn’t matter what you are passionate about exactly. Customers, performance, testability, automation, cool technology and technical skills are all valid. If you don’t love your job it should at least drive you crazy. Frustration with the status quo is real sign of passion. Just be sure to make a plan to harness your frustration for positive change. If passion is your weakness, you should consider why and think about a new job or role.

Vision

Vision is the ability to see how things should be. For testers this comes in macro and micro versions. Big visions include how end-to-end testing should work across multiple releases. Smaller vision might just be a good idea how to test a component efficiently. To some extent vision comes with experience. Not having a strong vision isn’t the worst weakness you can have. You just need to make sure you have partners and managers who do have vision.

 

Will

Will is the ability to make your visions manifest in the world. The strongest vision in the world is useless without the will to make it happen. Visionaries would do well to develop will or partner with someone who has a strong track record of making things happen.

Planning

This is the stuff that happens between vision and will. We typically think of planning as a PM only skill. Some very strong testers I know are excellent at planning. Part of being good at planning is knowing when not to plan. I see people go off into the mountains and come back with elaborate plans that don’t survive contact with the real world. I also see people who charge blindly ahead without much of a plan. People who are strong planners are consistently in the middle. They are action oriented, but they have a method to their madness.

Reporting

Getting data to the right people at the right time is important. Strong testers usually have a method for reporting status and results that strikes the right balance. Remember your peers are deluged with information all the time. Distilling your knowledge for them is vital.

Execution

Once the vision, will and planning are out of the way it’s time to execute. There are many strong testers who lack in the first three categories but excel execution. This is getting the right work done, the right way and at the right time. If this is your strength make sure you are strong or have strong partners in vision, will and planning. If this isn’t your strength, work on it or find someone who is good at it to team up with.

Wrap up

Getting better at your job doesn’t mean you have to be all things to all people. No one would seriously say that all developers should have an MBA just to be “well rounded”. Specialization works. In test more than the other disciplines we live or die on teamwork. Be frank with yourself on your skills. Then be equally realistic about your development plans. Partnering with the right people is more effective than trying to sharpen rusty tools.