Uncharted Waters

Apr 25 2016   11:32AM GMT

Are Testers Second-Class Citizens?

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

QA resource
QA testing

I consistently hear from testers, almost regardless of where they work, that they feel like second-class citizens at work. Testers get paid much less than developers, when they do a good job it adds friction to the delivery process and makes things slower, and then there is the snark. Developers certainly have plenty of snark to go around, but they get a pass because they are building something.

In the late 60s to the early 70s the consulting company, McKinsey, were on a consulting assignment to the government of Tanzania. Then President, Julius Neyerere, noted that the lowest paid McKinsey associate was earning more than the highest paid Tanzanian government Minister. He then noted that “if you offer peanuts, you get monkeys“. McKinsey won that deal.

I think there is something there, and also a system of forces that make software testers a lower class of employee at most companies. Here is my story.

I had been working for a finance company for a few years and was quickly rising through the organizational chart. At some point I started getting invites to meetings with people that were either directors or had a VP at the beginning of their title. I was on good behavior for a while, but young me (and current me, to be honest) isn’t very fond of authority related to titles.

second class citizens

We were running late on a major release and were having a planning meeting around what to do. Two people in that room that later went on to become CEO of the company and VP of development over the whole company, stated a plan that didn’t make sense and I refuted them both. Regardless of whether what I said was right (I was) or not, they had no appreciation for it. That wasn’t the strategy table, the decisions were already made, and I wasn’t invited again for about a year. Boom, I got social class demotion on the spot that paired nicely with the virtual guarantee that no one was going to be doing me any favors when annual review and raise time came around. There was an invisible velvet curtain that someone has to hold back for me to get to the place decisions are made, and not knowing that cost me entrance.

In my experience, most testers are second-class citizens – not just treated like them but really are – because they don’t know what a business wants and if they do they don’t know how to tell that story. Day after day, I tried to do the best work I could and deliver accurate information, but did so at the cost of making anyone with power angry. Here is a secret, the business doesn’t need us to drop smart bombs during meetings.

Having years to reflect on that incident and many others like it have helped me develop a different strategy. Instead of waiting to share what I know till The Big Meeting, I find time to talk with people in a casual way before hand. This has an interesting affect of shifting the power dynamic to a partnership because at that point I’m offering something valuable. Instead of plainly stating that building an in memory data store on top of Redis is stupid, will be too expensive, and will take too long, I’d offer alternatives. And more importantly, I’d try to speak the language of business – money. People making road map decisions want to know that a problem would potentially be exposed during a sales demo next week, or will be exposed to 100 users at an already sensitive client that is thinking about not renewing. Do you want to get a raise? Do you want the development team to take you seriously? That is the target to take aim at.

Some of my colleagues in the testing community might say that taking that step isn’t testing, and they might be right. Testing is a specific service designed to find information so that other people can make decisions. Anything else is design, or product management, or just plain management. Personally, I’d rather hop through those different roles and make myself more useful. Never being or feeling like a second class citizen in the development group is a nice perk, too.

2  Comments on this Post

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  • charliewilliams

    Great Article Justin. I love the little Fire Starter.

    I think that times have changed for the tester. Every Business wants "Faster, Cheaper, Better" delivery. Agile has addressed the faster, Offshoring has addressed the cheaper, and Moving the tester upstream, closer to the developers (TDD & BDD) has addressed the better (How's that for the political language of the business?).

    I feel that the testing community has to earn respect by demonstrating their value to the developers and the business.

    This can be accomplished by the Manual Testers evolving technically (like test automation, Performance, Security, or Test Architect) or evolving into the business (like a Business Analyst or Product Owner).

    Either way, the testers are not second-class citizens. We are just transforming into Butterflies.

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  • heyhey1
    Lots of good point @charliewilliams though TDD & BDD you mentioned, beside the "need" for manual TAs becoming more technical, isn't making us butterflies. I feel it's the wrong turn the IT society is making, and it can only result in a poorer quality. Manual TAs are gems that should be preserved. My 2 cents.
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