“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman or an architect are examples of popular answers to this well-known question, since all of these jobs have been traditionally conceived as contributors to social challenges. Nowadays, testing is also a profession that impacts society, although this fact is not so evident at first sight. Over the last decades, software has become an intrinsic part of business and society. In the United States, for example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology reported in 2002 that software errors cost the U.S. economy an estimated $59.5 billion annually.
During the last years, testing methods and techniques have evolved testing from simply an art to a specific engineering profession. Systems become more complex day by day. Consequently, the complete range of possible scenarios cannot be fully tested because we usually have limited resources. In this context, experienced testing skills and methodologies are required to enhance testing productivity. Furthermore, testing activities need to be integrated in complex software lifecycles, and defects need to be communicated and managed in alignment with requirements, development and maintenance activities. Therefore, several questions arise: “Are testers simply users?”, “Are testers technicians?”, “Are testers domain experts?” During the last year, I’ve been asking several colleagues around me why they call themselves “testers”. The conclusion is that tester profiles are a peculiar (and not easy to find) combination of skills that they need to play together. In summary, testers fit into so called T-shaped professionals.
T-Shaped profiles were initially described by Leonard-Barton in 1995, but the same idea applies nowadays for testers. The T represents vertical and horizontal skills. Vertical skills correspond to abilities that go in deep in software and testing techniques and methods, in conjunction with expertise in one or more specific domains and technologies. Horizontal skills are cross-wise abilities that allow performing testing in many different contexts (diverse frameworks, configurations, technologies, tools, organizations, etc.) with rigor and efficiency (project management, organizational and communication skills, etc.). Extending the T in both vertical and horizontal directions determines the progress of testing professionals.
As proposed in the White Paper “Succeeding through service innovation. A service perspective for education, research, business and government education” published in 2007 by the University of Cambridge, software quality education and business training should focus on T-shaped professionals. If we are able to move forward in this direction, maybe in the near future we will be able to hear young children saying “Yes, I would like to be a testing professional!”