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Test is a Ghetto

If you read software testing news aimed at the general public, you might be of the opinion that software testing is done by, and *properly* done by:

The key of course is "minimal training". There is a class of software testers who have minimal programming skills, or system administration skills, or database skills, or any technical computer skills at all. These testers do honorable work and can be valuable members of a software development team. They have been my colleagues; I have helped hire them; and I have trained them in test automation. And I still do that sort of work myself sometimes, although others are better at it than I am.

However, their lack of technical skills mean that they tend to have lower status, lower income, and are often considered fungible, easily swapped out as economy dictates, or replaceable by automation. At least at the start of their careers, these testers can be caught in a vicious circle of not having the technical skills or critical abilities to advance their careers, while also lacking enough understanding of modern software development to see a way to improve their skills. Many stay in this circle indefinitely, where a whole mythology of the value of codified ignorance evolves. This is the software testing ghetto.

Ghettos exclude their occupants from the general discourse, but it is also true that ghettos are exploited by agents of the greater culture. Software testers, particularly junior-level software testers, especially such testers that are because of their circumstances ignorant of modern software development discourse, are especially prone to exploitation. If they are represented by an agent, then someone is paid to recruit them and train them. Someone is paid to negotiate their contracts. Someone sells their employers the tools they have been trained to use.

I have not found out anything about the training that autistic people, Aboriginals, or Malaysians receive; the original draft of this essay was to have provided a detailed analysis of the training provided by Doran Jones, Per Scholas , and Keith Klain in New York City. There is a wealth of material available, and I urge you to search online yourself.

However, in the course of doing that research, I discovered that Doran Jones has sued Keith Klain and Per Scholas for fraud over that software testing training program. The entire document (PDF download link)  is a fascinating look at the inner workings of those agencies that sell software testing services. The part of the lawsuit relevant to the software testing training begins at paragraph 89, for those who wish to read it. Also of interest given the stated list of Per Scholas partners is paragraph 37.

Under the circumstances, and given the nature of the claims against Klain and Per Scholas, I think it is not appropriate for me to publish my comments, but I would like to point out one fact not contained in the lawsuit documentation: the Association for Software Testing committed their resources  to the Per Scholas training program in NYC while Keith Klain was a member of the AST Board of Directors. I expect that the current and recent officers of the AST are extremely interested in the outcome of this lawsuit.

Klain says this about software testers: "Software testing is a strange business. It’s commoditized (sic), devalued, misunderstood, and goes through cycles of being chopped, changed, and lives at the front lines of imminent takeover by our robot overlords. Why anyone would want to be a professional software tester is even harder to understand." Read the whole thing

Interestingly, Klain and the people involved in this Per Scholas project are also the most vocal opponents of software testing certification, sometimes with questionable approaches to gutting certification efforts.

It makes sense that these agents of minimally trained software testers would oppose certification. A global, generally-accepted, inexpensive certification in software testing would allow those entry-level software testers with limited knowledge of modern software development culture to more easily be their own agents in that culture. The market for this sort of exploitation might shrink considerably. In hindsight, I wish I had said this explicitly when I tackled the topic in 2010.  As your career matures, your CV becomes more important than your certifications, but getting certified early on is a perfectly reasonable career move.

As Marlena Compton said in her 2015 essay "A Tableflip Guide: Transitioning from Tester to Developer"  "If you go to a testing conference you’ll find people talking about how you can stay in testing forever and how it is a great career path. I’ve noticed that, often, the testers who shout the loudest about staying in testing forever have carved out their own place in the power structure of the software testing industry." I urge you to read the whole essay.

I'll suggest further that those testers shouting the loudest may also depend on the minimally skilled testing ghetto for their livelihood, and may not have your best interests in mind.

If you as a software tester

are happy with your career path and prospects for growth
are happy with the skills you have and the prospects to develop them further
are respected by everyone on your development team and are treated as a peer
represent your own interests to your employer with good faith on both sides
have technical training available to you
understand technical aspects of software development other than testing

then this essay probably does not describe you. If these things are not true for you, you may be in the software testing ghetto.