A question I get asked a lot is “What is a Principal Tester?” This is all the more common since I became one back in early 2019. I think the reason behind the questions is because it is unlike other roles where the definition of them is in the title itself. For example Test Manager, Test Lead, Senior Tester or Junior Tester all hint at what they are likely to do and tend to fit into a hierarchical structure in your head. But a Principal Tester doesn't invoke such an image. Are they a Senior Tester but more so like a Super Senior Tester? Do they have more responsibility than a Test Lead but less than a Test Manager?
In this talk I’d like to address what a Principal Tester is, why we need them in our organisations and why you might want to consider it as a career path.
What is a Principal Tester? I’ll detail two models; The Expert and The Quality Engineer I’ll go into what both are; the types of situations they are best suited to tackle; benefits they bring and how organisations can and should have both. As well as the positives, I’ll also highlight some of the potential downsides you need to be aware of.
The Expert is a Principal Tester you can throw at any situation and knows just what to do through their breadth and depth of experience while The Quality Engineer is all about creating a quality culture within your departments and teams.
Why do we need Principal Testers? As teams and organisations grow the needs of your testers and teams can be neglected. Needs such as their foundational agile knowledge, problems solving skills and developing their ability to continuously learn. Not only do these skills need to be developed but in a way that allows for them to assert their autonomy while still being in alignment with others but also being accountable for their actions.
This is where the Principal Tester model can provide the right support for the right problems. The Expert for issues that need addressing immediately and The Quality Engineer for supporting Tester and Test Lead roles. They can do this through coaching their Test leads to build the autonomy and accountability they and their testers need to do their best work. All while collaborating with their counterparts throughout the organisation to develop company wide alignment and knowledge sharing.
Why become a Principal Tester? The Principal Tester role opens up another avenue for testers to explore if the typical management path for career development isn’t your calling. It brings you into a leadership role where you can hone your test craftsmanship skills as well as developing new skills to compliment the work of the Test Leads and Managers. The added benefit of this role is that you can shape it to best meet yours and your teams’ requirements.
What You'll Learn
- Understand The Expert and The Quality Engineer Model of what a Principal Tester is
- Identify why a Principal Tester is different to other Senior Test positions
- Discover what Principal Testers bring to your department that an embedded tester doesn’t
- Recognise why you might want to consider becoming a Principal Tester as a career path
Over the course of the last 15 years as a Test professional I've strived to help the teams I've worked with be the best they can. I've seen first hand what does and doesn't work in improving quality of our products across the software industry. I now want to take these experiences and help others make their teams be the best they can by improving quality through testability.