As I sit here listening to Christmas music, I’m giving myself the gift of extra time to write. I want to respond to something Paul Maxwell-Walters recently tweeted:
If there is such a thing as a Tester’s Mid-Life Crisis, I think I may be in the middle of it….
He followed it up with an interesting blog post–The Fear of Age and Irrelevancy – On the Tester’s Midlife Crisis (1)
Paul cited the director of a counseling center who said mid-life crises are likely to happen between age 37 through the 50s. Paul, approaching his 40s, worries that his crisis is here. As I see my 50s getting large on the horizon, I don’t know if my crisis has past, is still coming, or will never come. I was actually around Paul’s age when my consulting business dried up and I ended my 16-year run in software testing. Four years later, though, I went back to my comfort zone, and had four consecutive short stints in various testing jobs.
That last testing job morphed into a development job. I’m very happy with my current employer for encouraging that path to unfold. Over the years, I have fervently resisted several opportunities to move into development, some of them very early in my career. I had latched onto my identity as a tester and staunch defender of the customer, and I wouldn’t let it go.
I have also come across people around my age and older who are greatly dissatisfied or apathetic with testing. They feel that they aren’t getting anywhere in their careers or are tired of the constant learning to stay relevant. They feel that they are being poorly treated or paid much less than their developer colleagues even though they all work in the same teams. They hate the low status of testing compared to other areas of software development. They regret not choosing other employers or doing something else earlier.
That’s surely the story of any tester’s career. Low status, low pay, slow growth. I embraced it, because I loved the work and loved what it stood for. The dissatisfaction seems to be more common now than it used to be, though. My advice, which you will know if you’ve been reading my blog, is: get out! Don’t transition to doing test automation. Become a developer, or a site reliability engineer, or a product owner, or an agile coach, or anything else that has more of a future. I think being a testing specialist is going to continue to get more depressing as the number of available testing jobs slowly continues to dwindle.
Because I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, I want to put an It’s a Wonderful Life spin on it. What if my testing career had never been born? In fact, what if the test specialist role had never been born?
Allow me to be your Angel 2nd Class and take you back to a time when developers talked about how to do testing. Literature about testing was directed toward developers. What if no one had worried about adding a role that had critical distance from the development process? What if developers had been willing to continue being generalists rather than delegating the study of testing practices to specialists, while shoving unit testing into a no-man’s land no one wanted to visit?
And what if I could have gotten over the absolute delight I got from destroying things and started creating things instead? I’m sure I’d be richer now. I’d have better design skills now. But alas, I’m not actually an Angel 2nd Class, and more to the point, I haven’t dug up enough historical context to really play out this thought experiment. But I’ll try to make a few observations. Within the larger community of developers, I might not have been able to carve out a space to start a successful independent consulting practice, which I dearly loved doing as a tester. Maybe I wouldn’t have developed my appreciation for software quality that I have now. Maybe I wouldn’t have adopted Extreme Programming concepts so readily as I have, which has now put me in a very good position process-wise, even if I’m having to catch up my enterprise design and architecture skills.
How about not having any testers in the first place? Maybe the lack of critical distance would have actually caused major problems. Maybe the lack of a quality watchdog would have allowed more managers to actually execute those bad decisions. And maybe those managers would have been driven out of software management. Would the lack of a safety net have actually improved the state of software management by natural selection, and even allowed some companies with inept executives to die a necessary death? I think I’m hoping for too much here, and perhaps being too brutal on Christmas Eve.
It has been a wonderful career. It could have been a different career, but I’m just glad that it has taken me to where I am now. Paul, I wish you a successful outcome from your mid-career crisis. I realize that my advice to get out is much easier said than done.