In her editorial for the October edition of Women Testers, Karen Johnson talks about change in the testing profession, particularly the increasing demand for test engineers and automation. She concludes her thoughts by saying:
"...we had to fight for our profession in the beginning and, as it turns out, we might need to fight the good fight yet again."
I find the rhetoric of fight relatively common in the testing community. It's strong language to use in a professional context. To encourage people to fight is to encourage them to "take part in a violent struggle to overcome, eliminate, or prevent". It seems at odds with the type of environment that many of us work within or would choose to create with our colleagues.
In my experience, the quickest way to be removed or excluded from a collaborative conversation in the workplace is to focus solely on fighting for your viewpoint. If you are seen as aggressive or stubborn, people will probably choose not to talk to you. Decisions start to happen around you, rather than with you. Change still occurs, but by fighting you've removed your ability to influence it.
I don't believe that we should approach change with an attitude to fight it.
Instead, I would like testers to focus on being part of the conversations that create evolution in our roles. We need to invite ourselves along, contribute with enthusiasm and pragmatism, and shape change that includes our perspective. Our mindset is not to fight, but to participate.
How can we do that?
I believe that any tester, regardless of their experience or position in an organisation hierarchy, can develop the skills and relationships required to effect decision making. But it's not easy and the scope of what you can influence will vary.
Start by developing your understanding of where change comes from in your organisation. As testers our roles may be shaped by test managers, or software development managers, or managers in the wider organisation. How far away from you are the decision makers?
What forum are decisions being made in? Could you attend? If you're not sure, don't assume that the meeting is closed. Speak to the organiser. If you're unable to attend as a contributor you may be permitted to observe.
Regardless of whether you can be present, try to find your closest advocate in that forum. This is probably the person whose views most closely match your own. It could also be the person who is most receptive to alternate perspectives. If your manager is in the forum and you believe your best advocate is someone else, use extra care and diplomacy as you navigate future conversations!
Try to develop a connection with that person. Take time to understand their viewpoint and how they've come to develop it. What problems do they believe will be solved with proposed change? What do they understand to be the potential benefits and drawbacks of their choice?
Think beyond information to the context that it originated from. How much do you know about the environment that the decision maker is in? What pressure is being applied to them from other areas of the organisation? What is their personal history in the organisation? Empathy will help you feel the weight of their context in their choices.
Only after all this groundwork do you start thinking about your own contribution to the conversation. Can you broaden understanding of the existing problems? Can you offer additional information about the options being considered that may alter the final choice? What new alternatives can you suggest that still resolve the specific concerns of the decision maker?
Then, how can you present your viewpoint persuasively? Successful participation is not just about what you say, but also in how you deliver it. Can you control the pitch and pace of your voice? Can you demonstrate positive body language and illustrate your message with appropriate gestures? If you need to, practice first. You should appear confident in your ideas.
Finally, be comfortable with the outcome, whatever it is. Even when you feel some disappointment in a decision, participating in the discussion will have improved your understanding of how it was made. And remember, the goal is not to "overcome, eliminate, or prevent". The goal is to be involved.
I've described a high-level approach to contributing to change that illustrates a collaborative mindset rather than a combative one. Behind each step is a depth of knowledge to uncover and new skills to develop. It may be harder to be a diplomat than a warrior, but I believe this path will focus your energy in a constructive way.
There is no doubt that the testing profession is evolving. If you want to help shape the changes that affect you, then contribute in your own organisation. Stop fighting and start participating.