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Sunday, July 01, 2012

Transferring the Skills of a Tester into new roles

So, I've been in the field of testing since 1997, when I joined GEC Marconi CIS as a graduate.  It's a field I have enjoyed, and one that has used many of my skills developed in my Physics degrees.  It has also been a driver to learn new skills - formally and informally of all types.  I have not, however, always been in pure testing roles.  There have been many opportunities for me as a consultant, and as a business person, to try my hand at different things and what has been particularly interesting for me has been how consistently I have found the core skills, and thinking processes, of a tester to be relevant in these new roles.

So, what sort of roles have I been involved with?  Quite a few really......
I've been a Graduate Test Analyst, Test Analyst, Team Leader, Test Manager, Programme Test Manager, Business Analyst, Business Project Manager, Project Manager, Adviser, Subject Matter Expert, Infrastructure Manager, Head of HR, Operations Manager, Managing Director, Chairman of the Board, Non Executive Director and quite a few more besides!

With different roles I've been asked to go to different countries, and so far I've had the privilege to have the opportunities to work in the following: England, Scotland, Wales, France, Poland, Belgium, USA, Spain, Romania, Egypt, Israel, Switzerland & India.

And in the midst of all this, I've found the following to be very helpful:

  • Test to Prove Requirements - Knowing what you are expecting to see, looking for it, examining differences and looking for what's behind those differences.  As relevant in the board room, looking at governance, as it is in test execution.
  • Root Cause Analysis - In fixing problems, you are most efficient and effective if you can find the root cause / first place of the issue and then correct from there.  This is a core component to governance, to business and systems analysis as much as it is to defect management on a software project
  • Planning - As they say in Diving - Plan your Dive and then Dive your plan!  Test Plans are bread and butter to a good tester - even if those plans are on the back of an envelope, or a set of exploratory charters.  The skills to plan testing well, to look at Risk Based Testing and Failure Mode Analysis are all transferable into wider planning and strategic planning related to businesses or projects.
So, these are just three of the transferable skills - but they are very useful ones, and they've been helpful to me across many of my roles.  I had formed some seeds of these skills in my education and degree courses, but it was through my structured test training, conferences and on the job experience where I gained most of my insights and practical experience.  From there, I used these skills when faced with new challenges, and found that they worked!

Many people see Testing as a dead end.  Many people who go into testing do so out of 'fate' or 'luck' or just 'fell into it' as I did.  But what many people, as yet, don't recognise - either inside our industry or outside of it - is that it can and does provide opportunities, skills and experience that are fitting and indeed very useful for wider business roles.  It is rare for someone in a testing career to be promoted through to senior management and board directorship roles, and if they do so then it will be within a testing capacity.   This need not be the limit of our horizons!  Test professionals are more than capable of other things - my career to date is a case example. 

I plan to explore this area a little more and to find other examples of how professionals in our field have moved on to other and different roles.  It will be interesting to see what skills they have found transferable and what gaps they had to fill.

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