Unicorns Of Testing

unicorn dropping rainbows

You may hear the term Technical Tester thrown around more and more these days. You may even hear how there is shortage of candidates for those types of roles. The technical tester sounds like a mythical creature, some hybrid between a developer and a tester.

I’m all for testers learning new skills and contributing to their teams and learning to at least not be intimidated by code can be very beneficial. I’ve even blogged about it’s benefits… Despite all that, there are some fundamental issues with chasing these magical ponies.

You know what would make you a better tester? Be a developer…

The software industry values developers, end of story. The other roles exist in one form or another to either support/enable them or mitigate their potential shortcomings. The closer to that development core the more value you possess. Similarly the more understood your role is by development the easier it is to demonstrate value.

Many early test teams were completely segregated from their development teams. We all know the adversarial of relationship that this created between testers and developers. So testers are now playing catch up. We have the opportunity to show our value now that we are increasingly more tightly integrated with development teams but it’s almost on an individual scale. One developer, one company at a time.

To bridge that gap we have companies seeking technical testers. It means they aren’t quite comfortable adopting a dedicated testing role wholesale, instead they are choosing to have a test ambassador that speaks their preferred language and values.

It’s A Scarlet Letter

So is a technical tester a tester first or developer first? Do want them to write automation code or just to be comfortable looking at pull requests to inform the testing they will be executing manually? We are painting with some pretty broad brush strokes with this categorization.

Regardless of where on the skill spectrum the technical tester falls they will be unfairly branded by both ends as an outsider. Are you a failed developer, seeking solace in the testing ranks? Are you trying to worm your way into the dev team through QA? If you can write good code why are you stuck in testing? You can’t be that good if you had to be a tester first…

It’s not like if you didn’t have the chops you couldn’t overcome that bias, but why bother? It’s not like the career path for testers is laid with gold. You have to be passionate enough about testing and development to essentially make that your specialty. Otherwise it’s an intermediate role where people pass through on their way to other roles.

A Non-Technical Tester?

Would you apply for a job with a title like that? It sounds a lot like unskilled labor. Have you seen the people that describe themselves as non-technical actually try to use technology? What they actually mean is that they are technology averse. This type of person would have panic attacks every day if they had to not just begrudgingly use but investigate and try to understand software. Granted many testers enter this field with little explicit testing experience, it doesn’t mean what they will do on the job is not technical. Just because it’s not code doesn’t mean it’s not technical.

Isn’t Testing Good Enough?

For whatever reason to many it’s not, they just can’t see the value there. There is so much baggage and negativity associated with dedicated test teams that the only way to make testers acceptable is to imbue them with mystical powers to overcome the history. It’s not that the powers are bad, it’s just a shame that the industry can’t accept that there is value to dedicated testers and that code can’t solve all problems.

  • Calkelpdiver

    I’ve called myself a “Technical Tester” for years. Reason being is that I did come from a development background and got into testing because I found my niche. I know how to program, but also how to test. I look at testing from the technology and process aspect of the overall work. I can do both manual and automation roles. I use them in combination to do my work. I can talk with the Developers and other technical staff, Management, and End-User’s on the project.
    Now I spend most of my time working with tools for Test Management, Automation and Performance Testing work. I act as a consultant to companies that are adopting tools and process to suppor their testing efforts. I also work with companies on how to work smarter and more efficiently in their testing efforts.
    So yes, I am part of the rare breed and proud of it. I wouldn’t say I’m a Unicorn, that is a mythical creature. I’m a hybrid, a Tester and Developer who uses their skills to get the job done.
    Jim Hazen

    • I fall into a similar role as you, I see the value that development knowledge can bring to testing, and I am proud to self identify as a tester. I also completely believe in the value of testers that do not have those skills and may not be interested in pursuing them. I’m just troubled that the software industry continues to struggle with justifying the need for dedicated testers. It’s ok have people with different skills, it doesn’t have to be code related to be valuable.

      Yes, we are hybrids but to many people (testers and developers alike), we seem like mythical creatures. They can’t fathom a world where someone with those skills would be called a tester and choose that role. They may have never seen a person like that or understand that role on their team.

      Thanks For Reading!

      • Sandeep Samuel

        I too have a similar experience working both as a developer and tester. Started as a developer and then to testing, I think I am more comfortable in being the technical tester because it helps me to use my skills as a developer and as a tester. I am inspired by People like Alan Richardson who emphasizes the importance of Technical testing. Even though Manual testing itself is a skillset, technical testing adds to it.

        • I love testing and I love writing code. You are right there is a ton of value you can bring to the team as a technical tester. The 2 skillsets really bolster each other, and I actiely encourage testers to get more technical. There’s also some primal satisfaction in being able to submit a fix for the bugs you just found.

          Thank you for reading!

      • Calkelpdiver

        I agree with your point about the software industries continued struggle with having dedicated testers on projects. But this goes back to the management layer first in not understanding the value we bring to the equation. This is something we as Test professionals need to educate them on and push into the light.

        It is what some people say is bringing value to our existence. And we do that by showing how our work affects both hard dollar (revenue stream) and soft dollar (reputation) factors on a project. This can be difficult to do, but with some effort it can be done and then our real value (helping to produce a stable/reliable/usable system) comes into light.

        And you don’t have to have code related skills to do this work. I know solid testers who can’t code, but can analyze a piece of software and test it very effectively. These are people I pair up with and then we use each others skills to get the work done.


        • I think we have very similar views, but I think some organizations aren’t open to hearing about a tester that can’t codes value. They only understand the development language, and the only testers that can offer any influence there are code enabled testers. I agree that testers need to show value, but its a major hurdle to overcome and at this point I think we are starting in the negative trying to just not have groups of people actively trying to target testers as fat that can be trimmed from dev budgets. We need to educate and show value but there needs to be a good faith effort on the other side of the equation.

  • Gem

    Great post! I have had issues when trying to join open source communities where the people most passionate about getting more people involved want to push you towards developing. I’ve tried developing, I don’t enjoy it. I can do it, I just…don’t want to. I want to test, and its hard for some people to get their heads around that.

    You can be technical without being a developer; you just might not be as technical.