I believe that testers offer much more value to a business than just being able to run tests and identify bugs in a piece of software or an application. Yes, there is value in doing this, but if a business simply wants a tester to run tests and identify bugs, then they can easily outsource this to a third party.
To me there is more value to be gained from the domain and system knowledge that is built up over time in a large number of testing professionals who work on the system. I’m going to go through how I have come to be a specialist in a certain area of a product that I have performed a lot of work on. I want to take you through an example of how and when this specialised domain knowledge has been of use to myself and correspondingly to the business.
It started off 3 years ago; we were replacing existing search functionality and integrating it with a third party service. This meant we had to export our existing product data to the third party for them to index and, as their sales rep said at the time “do their magic.” Seeing as we were setting this up from scratch, I got to know the ins and outs of the search provider and how it was set up, how our integration with them was managed with regards to the exports and how products were deemed to be suitable for export to them.
Now we have a new search solution, I somehow managed to be placed on another project involving the same third party where I would (hopefully) be able to put my expertise to the test (no pun intended!) This was in the form of an API that would expose product data to third parties. Again this involved setting up the service from scratch, integrating it with our new data, creating new rules for exporting data and having overall business knowledge of how the service is set up to power the API.
During that project and now there were a few small projects which touched upon my knowledge, and I’d get asked certain questions about the setup, but these are fine, I enjoy answering questions and having knowledge of such an integral part of the system.
However, the downside has come up recently where teams want to make changes to the API and knowledge is thin on the ground, not just of the third party service but of the development and the testing that went into it. Hopefully, with the lessons learned I can help the teams deliver value quickly and effectively.
So, what is the point in all of this? What have I learned? What can you learn? How can you share your knowledge?
The main point in this is that value to the business doesn’t, or rather shouldn’t, have to be just around running tests and coming up with test cases etc. It is much more than that; it’s about offering your services as subject matter expert, and making yourself available to other teams to share that knowledge. How you share it is up to you, and varies from team to team, as the level of technicality will vary depending on who wants to know. A business analyst for example may not be interested in how you run your tests to investigate an API, but they will more likely be interested in what tests have been run for instance.
Knowledge is power, but it’s important not to keep the knowledge to yourself. Share your knowledge, but don’t just do it in presentations; do it through helping others work through problems and come up with solutions together. In my experience people learn far better through doing than through reading or watching presentations. Which leads me onto my next point, in order to share your knowledge you have to be open to helping others. If you are a closed book and don’t offer that help, then you aren’t really offering much value to your business outside of the run tests and report bugs model that I mentioned briefly above.
One disadvantage of becoming an expert in a specific domain is that it is easy to be pigeon holed, and if there is a problem with the area in which you are particularly knowledgeable, or if there is work to be done on that particular area, you will often be the first point of call. However if you share the knowledge appropriately this shouldn’t be a problem.
So, this experience has taught me that as testers we can do far more than just running tests. We can be a fountain of knowledge, often with unique insights since we have to understand business as well as technical requirements. This gives us a vantage point that I don’t think anybody else in the business has.