I spent a very pleasant day today at the Agile Testing and BDD Exchange at SkillsMatter in London today. In general the day was a good one, slightly more focus on tools this year, I have to admit to preferring the more structure and approach based talks that were involved last year.
One of the subjects that caused some twitter discussion after the event came about through one of the presenters questioning whether testers were 'technical' enough to be comfortable with working with the programming syntaxes being presented.
To highlight the issue I'll rewind to an earlier talk in the day when Dave Evans of SQS and Erik Stenman presented an experience report on agile testing at Klarna. Erik discussed the fact that Klarna's online retail transaction processing software was written in Erlang. Erik and asked the audience how many were programmers, and how many of those were familiar with Erlang. There was no sense of condescension, it was simply a show of hands of those familiar with that language.
Compare this to the later talk in which a similar question was asked of testers, yet it was framed not in the context of familiarity with the programming language in question, but in more general terms of how 'technical' the testing contingent were (i'm not sure if this was the exact term used but it was the implication, and was the term carried into the subsequent twitter discussions)
As Mike Scott of SQS put it:-
Why do people assume testers are not technical. Lets stop this now. Please don't patronise us.
Mike makes a valid point, but still (probably for brevity in a tweet) uses the 'technical' categorisation. Lanette Creamer provided an excellent response:-
I agree. Also, what is "technical"? It means different things to different people.
This couldn't be more true. The chap sat next to me was Jim, a tester from my team at RainStor. He did not put his hand up. Now I've seen this guy read and understand SQL queries longer than some novels and find faults with them through visual static analysis. Of course he is a technical tester. In fact the 'developers' in our team, all competent C/C++ programmers, treat Jim's SQL knowledge with something approaching reverence. He is an invaluable member of our team as his "technical" database skills are fundamental to the database domain in which we operate. His lack of familiarity with object oriented programming language syntaxes, however, was sufficient for him to not show his hand to be counted as one of the 'technical' testers in the room.
Given the accepted wisdom of having a multi-skilled team, isn't it about time we also accepted the value of multi-skilled testers, and that 'technical' is a categorisation that falls significantly short in that context. When discussing the skills of developers we do not try to impose such broad labels, we talk in a positive sense about the specific skills that individual developers possess. When discussing the various programming, scripting, analysis, database, operating system and other skills that testers may possess, it would be nice if the same courtesy was extended.
Copyright (c) Adam Knight 2009-2010