I wrote about specialists a few weeks back and have been giving some more thought to the different paths our careers take. I reflected on how I have sometimes been pigeon-holed because I have carried out a particular role for a period of time. This brought to mind the way in which actors are sometimes typecast.
As is often the case, my excitement at the prospect of an original thought was tempered by a brief search of the internet. Testing and typecasting has been blogged before, by Henrik Emilsson. I enjoyed reading Henrik’s article and thought that he made some excellent points, (although I did both these things whilst muttering and grumbling because I couldn’t now write about it).
It then occurred to me that perhaps the acting analogy could be taken a little further. If all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players, then here are six players that I recognise from the world of testing.
Those who perform the same role repeatedly whilst operating in slightly different environments each time. The skills required do not significantly change; it is possible for people in this category to fulfill the role effectively without necessarily challenging themselves. There may be a period of familiarisation with the environment and expectations, but it is likely that this will soon be followed by a ‘business as usual’ approach. Work is plentiful for ‘Anistons’. Their output may be seen as unremarkable but there is regular demand for their abilities as they are seen as a safe pair of hands within the narrow confines of their role.
This group could be seen as a subgroup of the ‘Anistons’. The demands of the role and the skills required do not significantly change, even over long periods of time. The main difference between ‘Anistons’ and ‘Shatners’ is that the latter will stay with a single employer, possibly for the duration of their career.
Some testers become typecast. In some organisations there is steady demand for testers who will go about things in a well-established and unremarkable way. This isn’t to say these testers can’t be effective, but they are unlikely to consider or challenge the approach to testing and unlikely to innovate. They are also less likely to consider context and more likely to follow rules.
Moving between organisations or teams does not necessarily result in a change of approach to testing. I have seen many testers who apply a consistent approach in different environments.
Typecast testers may be comfortable carrying out the same tasks repeatedly, or they might decide that they want to break out. This leads to the next category.
The ‘Carreys’ may start out by performing a number of similar roles for an extended period of time, but they then break out and diversify. They apply a different set of skills in quite different roles. This can surprise people. ‘Carreys’ may find work less abundant once they diversify, but over time, their ability to operate in a wider range of situations is likely to be rewarding.
The Bonham-Carters are the opposite of the ‘Carreys’. Initially they work in diverse roles and develop a broad range of skills before moving into more specialist roles later in their career. Whilst they narrow their field, they retain the ability to bring the benefit of their earlier diversity to the later roles through the skills and techniques they acquired.
Breaking with being typecast is not easy. Opportunities to move from a narrow field to a wider field are not common.
Typically, projects and organisations hire or appoint testers to provide a specific skill. They need ‘a performance tester’ or ‘someone to look after automation’.
Often the decision on who to hire or appoint is based on experience, and this is often measured in time. The project now needs a ‘performance tester with over five years’ experience’ or ‘someone with at least three years’ experience with Selenium’.
Despite this, I have seen some testers become adept at a range of testing activities. They are generalists rather than specialists, although they may well have very strong skills in one or more area.
The move the other way is perhaps rarer. The chance to start out in a diverse role is not common. Organisations which are prepared to invest in developing multi-skilled people should be applauded. The benefits to the individual are enormous and include the opportunity to choose a field to specialise in, having experienced a number of options.
This group are highly regarded by their peers. ‘Brandos’ possess great versatility and exceptional talent. They are selective and will take on challenges which are beyond many others. They immerse themselves in their work and are serious about delivering to the very highest standards. Highly sought after but will only accept roles on their own terms.
The ‘De Niros’ are held in the very highest regard; they are the top guns in the profession. They are versatile, accomplished, but more prolific than ‘Brandos’. They can adapt to almost any circumstances and apply their considerable skills appropriately. Because they are more prolific they may occasionally work on projects which are not entirely successful, although this is likely to be due to circumstances and decisions beyond their control.
We can all identify the superstars in our teams and organisations; the people who can be dropped into almost any situation and make a huge contribution. They are likely to have extensive knowledge, along with real world experience which they can draw on to make astute observations and good decisions.
These are people with awareness and understanding of different techniques and how to apply them in a range of circumstances. They know where a particular approach to testing will maximise coverage and minimise risk. They understand where a tool is likely to help achieve a goal. They can spot where a pattern of behaviour suggests an underlying problem, without worrying about which ‘type’ of testing is expected to locate that problem.
There isn’t a great deal to choose between these two categories. I only differentiate because some of the very smart people I have worked with are more selective than others. They will wait for the ‘right’ opportunity to work on something which they will find challenging and interesting.
Do you recognise any of these players from your own teams or experiences? Are there any others you would add? Let me know in the comments below.