What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

It seems only fitting to use words from the Bard himself to introduce this topic given it’s been 400 years (+1 day) since the death of old Billy Shakespeare, but nonetheless the quote from Romeo & Juliet is a rather apt one for this topic.

Many of you reading this will be well aware of the many different job titles that are often flung at testers throughout their career. Some simple, some wrong, some overly verbose and some just insulting but at the end of the day, does the job title bestowed upon you really influence how you make the role your own? Let’s begin by looking at some of the more common titles I’ve seen around. If you’re creating a role for a tester, or a tester looking for a job and seeing a lot of differing phrases, then what follows is my take on what all this means.

QA Engineer – this is perhaps the most common one and the one that appears to cause most contention. Not only does it fail to accurately describe the job in hand, it also for some reason unbeknownst to me is one that gets interchanged QE a lot for no apparent reason. For those unaware, QA is apparently “Quality Assurance” whilst QE is “Quality Engineering”. A quick glance at a job specification wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows but the differing semantics (if you’re into that kind of thing) can be jarring. ‘Quality Assurance’ seems to suggest some kind of ‘knight in shining armour’ role where it is my job, solely, to assure everyone that the software is of acceptable quality. First of all, in the 10+ years I’ve been involved in software testing, I have never once ever been in a position to assure anyone about quality. I’ve been able to offer findings and suggestions about my perception of whether or not the software is of an acceptable quality, but those findings change very frequently depending on who is asking about quality. Secondly, I really hate it when people use QA as a verb. It’s almost as bad as talking about ‘Facebooking’ someone. I can only imagine ‘Quality Engineering’ is supposed to be discipline I’m involved in, but the less said about that the better.

Software Engineer in Test – oh this is a recent one. I must say, it’s an improvement on the outright lie that ‘QA Engineer’ is but it feels like a flimsy attempt to offer up a job title to someone so it doesn’t just scream “You’re going to be spending the rest of your career here manually pressing buttons whilst drooling at the screen and occasionally pressing a red ‘x’ or a green tick button”. I get it though, we’re trying to sex it up. That’s ok – this is a job title, not the Iraq War Dossier, a lil bit of sex appeal is fine. That being said, I’m still not clear on why this job title has to have a distinction though – if as a tester for a company, I’m a Software Engineer in Test, then those who program, what are they? Software Engineers in Programming? Software Engineers in Development? Titles I’ve never seen. Why can’t you bring yourself to just call a tester a software engineer, Mr or Mrs Recruiter?

Automation Engineer – This should appeal to the real techy geeky testers that want to spend all day with their heads in code, right? We don’t want any of those pansy manual testers! We want the REAL technical people, so not only will we use engineer, we’ll use automation too. The problem is though, if only appeal to those with the head for coding away at automated checks, you’re missing a world of opportunity for those testers who really know how to interrogate systems, question assumptions and push expectations without ever writing a line of code. Testing is simply not analogous to automation. Automation helps testing but it isn’t testing itself.

Test Engineer – Now we’re getting somewhere – we include two words we all like to see – ‘Test’ because that’s ultimately what we do and ‘Engineer’ because we like to be respected as engineers as much as anyone else in the Software world. So, where’s my beef with this? To be fair, I don’t really have much, as far as job titles go in this discipline, it may just be the best we get. However, the problem I see is this title isn’t overly common. I think there is a bit of an avoidance of using the word ‘Test’ altogether, as if it somehow isn’t appealing enough or indeed only appealing to them pesky manual testers.

All that considered, the job title I personally prefer is simply ‘Tester’ – you can ignore all that ‘Associate’, ‘Senior’, ‘Staff’, ‘Senior Staff’, ‘Architect’, ‘Principal / Principle (I really can’t remember) or ‘Manager’ lark – I really just prefer ‘Tester’. Simply because it accurately describes what it is I do for a living. I test. I’m not an automation engineer, I definitely don’t assure anyone about quality and I’m not half a software engineer in a testing discipline. I’m a tester.

Those with keen eyes and a penchant for clicking on my social media profiles will know that my career history doesn’t reflect my insistence on simply being a tester. That’s because I’ve really just rolled with what the company has bestowed upon me. I never really had the thought to worry about it, instead concentrating on defining the role by my actions and not the title, but as Martin Hynie has shown time and time again with his really quite excellent talk at Test Bash 2015, playing with your job title can give different people different expectations about what it is you actually do for a living.

So I’d encourage you to do two things out of this.

Firstly, have a look at your job title – have a look at your roles and responsibilities. Is there a mismatch? Perhaps your company doesn’t fully understand what it is they want when they talk about testing. A perfect opportunity for you to educate.

Secondly, don’t get too bogged down about the semantics of your title anyway. It’s always nice to have one that reflects your actual role and if you can educate your company about that, then great. However, it isn’t the be all and end all. I’ve never respected the title of someone, only the person behind it, so if you can define yourself by your actions and not your title, then people will respect that more. Afterall, as the bard implies, a damned good tester by any other name is still a damned good tester.

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About Me

Hi. I'm Neill. I'm a software tester from Belfast. You could say a Belfast Tester. I've worked in some companies and all my thoughts are my own. Not the man's. I can think for myself. Honestly.

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