10 Years In


For 10 years (one whole decade) I’ve been employed in software testing, in a few different positions with a few different titles. It’s been a fun and challenging road. I’ve navigated large companies filled with good people and backward practices to small companies where modern practices are encouraged and my work has to stand on it’s own merit. It’s been a road of struggling to self-educate others and myself on the topic while also moving towards a more empirical model of testing.

Today

I consider myself a reasonably experienced software tester with an interest in the human/machine balance of software development. Ever since Malcolm Gladwell popularized 1 the concept of “10,000-hours of deliberate practice for mastery of a subject”, that mark has become a subject of online discussion and a metric to peg skill levels at, even if it’s usefulness isn’t proven2. Out of curiosity, where does that leave me?

Back of the envelope calculations might go like:

  • I’ve been employed in testing for 10 years. With workdays being 8 hours and 6 of those considered productive, that’s 30 hours a week for 52 weeks a year for 10 years or 15,600 hours. Except, depending on the company, maybe only three to four hours per day was spent on testing, practicing, reporting and hopefully getting better.
    • As for hours of deliberate practice during work, I might be around the 8,000 hour mark.
  • Can’t forget to subtract out sick and vacation days.
  • Need to add in the hours outside of work where I’ve consulted, studied, taken and taught classes on testing, attended conferences and workshops and generally been active in the community
    • That should more than balance out those vacation and sick days.

I might be right at or below the 10,000-hour level of deliberate practice. Without records of my time, days and projects, it’s too difficult to get a realistic number. It’s even harder to see what the advantage or usefulness of compiling such numbers could be, except for fun (which is why I just did it).

Looking Back

When I started this journey I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. University had come and gone without providing (or without me taking advantage of) many opportunities to learn what I liked or didn’t like. One thing I didn’t like at the time was programming. It wasn’t necessarily hard, but the value was too abstract and the examples didn’t appeal to me. After I graduated, I got a testing job by emphasizing my ability and like of documenting things (writing). Emphasizing documentation in any interview, besides technical writing, suggests I had no idea what I was doing. Looking back on those days, it seems like many of the people I was working with probably had no idea what testing was either (or if they did they decided not share or provide any feedback).

I can’t recall how many interviews I went to over the past decade where there was no testing exercise. As in no demonstration of skills necessary – just come in and try to learn about the system. We hope you do well. Maybe that’s why it took me some time to figure out if I wanted to stay in the field?

At one point I thought project management would be something I’d enjoy more than testing. It seemed more salient. After all I’d been a project leader in college on several projects and although it was stressful, it was rewarding. Eventually I got a project management certificate (nano-degree) in my spare time and came very close to taking the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. At least until I realized the PMP, although recognizable, really didn’t mean much. In fact during the PMP training, the experienced project managers constantly reiterated there was a difference between what the PMP said to do and what you would do in real life. Many people seemed to be at that training because their employers were convinced the PMP was useful.

Happy that I had first-hand knowledge of the uselessness of the PMP (to me), I went in another direction and started learning more about software testing. I started reading books and attending conferences. The more I learned, the deeper and wider the rabbit whole became. Looking back I’m glad things turned out the way they did.

Looking Forward

It’s a little hard to think of the next decade because it’s so far away and the world is constantly changing. Here’s what I know as of this posting. I’ve been writing (blogging) about software development and testing since 2009, and writing in general since 2008 (although not consistently). That’s slowly changing and I foresee writing on a regular basis. I’ve been co-instructing BBST classes for more than a year now and I’m thinking about stepping up my role in AST and BBST.

In the near future I see more mentoring, collaborating with peers, starting a meetup and/or a workshop and hopefully producing a wider variety of public work. I’m working harder at applying programmatic solutions to problems and constantly on the look-out for examples. There’s still a lot to do.

I haven’t yet:

  • Given any talks,
  • Published any conference papers,
  • Attended any meet ups,

At 10 years in, I’m working harder than ever, on a better path and more determined. Here’s to the next decade wherever that may take me!

References:

  1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. 10000 Hour Rule Not Real