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Fight ageism in QA: 4 skills experienced testers can tout

Michael Fritzius President, Arch DevOps, LLC

It's a fact of business that younger workers are often cheaper than older ones. We see this in virtually every industry—education, manufacturing, and now DevOps and QA testing.

This might look scary to the experienced tester, seeing all of the buzz about automation, especially as shops transition to more flexible development approaches. They’re coming for my job, you might think, and wonder just how long you can hold out.

To make matters worse, if you do get let go, who's going to hire a tester over 50 years old, when the new kid just out of school can be had for less than half as much? 

The good news is that as an experienced professional, you have a lot more going for you than you might think. Your years of personal and professional development give you the advantage in many ways.

Here's a reminder of just what you bring to the table, and a couple of strategies to continue to keep these advantages front and center in your own career in QA—and in the eyes of your employer.

1. You know how to design test strategy

With experience comes wisdom, right? You've been through it all. You've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Over time you’ve watched test fads rise and fall like empires.

The advantage is that because you've seen so many different ways of attacking the problem, you can help to design a test strategy that is likely to identify the most critical issues sooner rather than later.

That is, you know that testing isn't just an everything-all-at-once methodology such as might be tempting for newbies using automation tools. That would involve a little bit of testing on a lot of different aspects.

Sure, they might turn up 45 or 50 errors. But what if many of those are surface issues leading to a deeper, underlying problem? If instead you had applied very deep, very robust tests on a few critical areas, you could have identified the three or four crucial flaws leading to a majority of those 45 or 50.

Fix the crucial problems first, and the rest disappear, simplifying the process and shortening the development cycle.

You have the experience to see the broad spectrum of what could go wrong. Because of that experience, you can design an appropriate strategy for going deep where it makes sense, and pushing shallow tests to later in the process.

2. You can head off problems even before testing begins

One surprising way that experienced testers can improve the process is to be involved much sooner. Rather than waiting for developers to complete their work and throw it over the wall for testing, experienced testers should have built up enough trust from the rest of the team to be part of earlier phases.

They might be available to sit in on a requirements session, or even an early design session, providing input on potential problems that testing might discover later.

Because they have the experience of knowing what could go wrong and the consequences of those errors, it's more likely that developers will listen to them, rather than to someone who's seen as asking questions just to ask questions.

With that reputation in hand, experienced testers should not hesitate to expand their influence into more than just their little world of testing and test automation. And when they do, they'll become a much more valuable piece of the development cycle.

3. You can provide recommendations to solve problems

This is the most powerful plus for experienced testers. It's one thing to say that a certain number of tests failed. It's an entirely different thing to say, "Okay, we have this list of failures. Here's what we should do about it.'

When you're providing not just diagnostic evaluation but a prescriptive plan to address the errors, you're demonstrating the value of experience.

Sure, theory tells you that you can test every individual quantum aspect of your code, your website, or your data sources, and automation tools allow you to do just that. But neither theory nor automation can provide a guide on what to do after the test fails, or doesn't fail, and that's where experience is still valuable.

So, what does that mean for testers in their mid- to late-career, who are worried about automation and cost savings affecting them? Here are two factors to help you sleep a little easier at night.

Remember to be proactive

You're probably going to have to start taking the initiative to implement some of the actions above. For example, if testers aren't already part of the requirements-gathering phase, let management know that you want to be involved.

Point out that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, suggest it as a test on a project or two, and see if you can start to change the culture that way.

It's up to you to bring your expertise to the fore. It's actually not that hard to do so, and it will be very well-received when you go from being simply a butt in a seat to a value-added resource for the company.

Seek out junior testers to mentor

If your company has a formal mentoring program, sign up. If not, do it informally or lead the charge to start one. This way, you'll be demonstrating that the wisdom inside your head is valuable, and the company should not risk losing it just so save a few bucks.

You'll also be downloading that same knowledge from the archives inside your head. This is going to get that hard-earned knowledge distributed out into the company more broadly, which should improve everyone's processes, leading to better satisfaction all around.

Show off your experience proudly

Automation is here to stay, and for some, that’s scary. It may look like the robots are coming for your job, but remember that because of your experience, you provide much more than ticking boxes on a checklist.

You provide strategic thinking and effective test design, which, once implemented, mean test automation can actually happen. Plus you can help set the direction for future professionals in the industry, ensuring continuity when the inevitable transition actually happens. (You will want to retire sometime, right?)

You've been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Don't let that experience go to waste. Your career, and your employer, will be better for it.

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