The only way to do great work is to love what you do. – Steve Jobs
Two articles by Lou Adler published in May 2013,“There are only four jobs in the whole world – are you in the right one?” and “Rethinking work: Define the Actual job using the four work types”, created a watershed moment in my career. They made me sit up and realise that what I wanted to do, and what I was doing, were not the same thing, even though I had previously believed them to be so.
It took me months of introspection to understand what it was that floated my boat, and what I wanted out of my career.
Adler argues that there are only four types of job in the world: Thinkers, Builders, Improvers and Producers. He describes Thinkers as the strategists, the creators of new products and those that come up with big ideas and new ways of doing things, while the Builders take these and convert them into something tangible. Improvers, in turn, are those who make whatever has been built better. Lastly, the Producers deliver high-quality products and services to the customer.
What role are you?
In these articles he explains that each person’s role within a company is a blend of each of these four job types, and how to articulate that role when recruiting. One thing that also became evident through additional reading and introspection was that every person’s career can be said to evolve through these four job types, a concept that Adler recently explored in a recent article, “Thinker. Builder. Improver. Producer. Which one is the right hire?”. Let me explain.
When I started off my career in testing, I initially had no idea what I had to do. A more experienced colleague taught me the rules of the game, and I followed them religiously. I was the Producer. As I gained more experience and confidence, I realised that I was able to slightly tweak the rules to get better and faster results, hence my ability as the Improver emerged. Later on (in fact much later on), with even more experience and the opportunity to continuously develop deeper insights (or more tacit knowledge), I was able to implement ideas from testing visionaries, and even build on them. I am still very much at this stage. I realise that, with a lot more experience and practice, I may perhaps one day be able to reach the Thinker space.
Adler’s ideas tie in very nicely with the levels described by the Dreyfus and Conscious Competence models. The movement from novice to expert follows this evolution in one’s career nicely, and the four steps in acquiring new skills also complement this on many levels.
Where does your passion lie?
So, why this article and how is it relevant to software testing? There are two reasons.
Firstly, I have noticed that a lot of testers are in testing simply because they match a job specification in terms of skills and experience. But they are in the job because it seems to be the only one they can get, even though it’s not what they really want to do. For them, the challenge is to find out where their strength and passion really lie; that is, are they predominantly Producers, Improvers, Builders or Thinkers? Once they understand this, they can begin directing their career in the direction of that passion and strength.
Tying in closely with this, Adler wrote another article recently (“How to evaluate new job opportunities!”) in which he discusses the factors that motivate people in the workplace. It’s worth considering what types of motivation exist in both your current and ideal jobs while you are thinking about where your passion lies. It may turn out that that your true passion lies outside of testing, while for others it may very well lie inside testing, just on a different level or in a different context.
Thinker, Builder, Improver, Producer.
Secondly, for the general testing population out there, every testing assignment is usually a mix of these four job types. You get to be creative in thinking out test cases (Thinker), then you get to create them (Builder), then you get to tweak them (Improver) and lastly you get to execute them (Producer)—sometimes hundreds of times. Understanding what these four job types are, and where your passion lies will, I believe, help in achieving the right blend in the work you do every day—and in evaluating future assignments.
Perhaps, as a novice in some practice or methodology of testing, you find it very frustrating having to do a lot of repetitive Producer type work, and in future assignments want instead to experiment by varying the blend with more Improver/ Builder tasks, thus moving towards the creative side of testing. This sort of progression is hinted at in Adler’s article, “Thinker. Builder. Improver. Producer. Which one is the right hire?” referenced above.
Based on your new insights, it may very well be necessary to re-evaluate or re-negotiate your employment terms or job specification to obtain what Adler recommends, a performance-based job specification. Such job specification focuses on what needs to be accomplished; it’s also very much in line with Daniel Pink’s definition of moving to Motivation 2.0 (see his book called Drive) for personal development and increased productivity.
Do the work you love.
In other words, you as the employee need to accomplish X, and are given the freedom to choose how you do it. It’s an outcomes-based performance measurement—compare it to the typical backward-looking specification that requires you to have X number of years’ experience of this and Y of that.
I started this article with a quote from the late Steve Jobs about the link between loving your job and the ability to create great things. I strongly believe that all testers have the right—and maybe even the obligation—to love what they do, and so to do great work. The Adler model provides a valuable perspective to help testers assess their careers, and understand how to create a career in testing that suits their predisposition and goals. Work that they could love, in other words!
After all, as principle six of the context-driven school tells us, testing should be a creative, “challenging and intellectual process”. As testers, we can be proud of, and motivated by, that possibility; ultimately we need to know that we deliver and contribute value.
About the Author
Aldo Rall is a Principle Consultant at IndigoCube. He had his first software testing experience as a junior programmer in 1998 at the start of the Y2K bubble and, realising that testing offered wider contexts and perspectives for him professionally, has never looked back.
Fortunate to gain exposure to a wide range of interesting opportunities in South Africa and the UK, Rall has mastered the practical elements of testing and best practices across a range of disciplines, assignments, projects, organisations and industries. What keeps him fascinated with testing is the constant change, which ensures there is always something new for everyone to learn, regardless of experience levels or qualifications.
Rall’s greatest passion for testing lies in the ‘people’ dimension of the ‘people-process-technology’ mix, and how that translates into successful IT strategy, teams, projects and testers. As a result, he has completed a master’s degree in social sciences and management, and has obtained several certifications in coaching.
He always looks for new ways to combine these perspectives into the daily testing lifecycle. He relishes any opportunity to develop and grow testing, testers and testing teams, and to help them reach maturity at both strategic and operational levels.