Testers are kind of like fortune tellers. We need to be able to predict the future, or at least it ought to seem that way.
One of the things people joke about is how mean we testers can be to the product. We find ways to break things that can be quite surprising to others on the team. I like to think of that not as being a dream wrecker, but as being a fortune teller. How did I find that issue? Well, I went into the future and thought about what kinds of things the users might do. The kinds of things that require understanding the way humans think and interact with software. Humans use software to help us accomplish things, but we don’t always do so in a linear fashion of in the ways that those of us who design think we will.
Like a good fortune teller, we testers understand how humans tick and what biases and flaws we have. We know how to size up a user and anticipate how they will react to the system we are working with. We know how to make reasonable inferences from small amounts of information. We know where users are going to stumble and where they are going to be frustrated. We know all this because we pay attention to both the human element and the technical element. Software testing sits squarely at the intersection of humans and technology and so as testers we study both. We understand the technology and we understand the humans, but most of all we understand how they interact with and influence each other.
It may seem like what we do is magic, but much like a fortune teller, it come from years of practice and study. We have experimented and honed our skills. We have made predictions and seen where they have been wrong and we have learned from that. We have been students of our craft and so it can seem like what we do is easy or magic, but the reality is, it is experience, study and practice that has brought us to this place.
In a data driven world, it may seem like we don’t need these skills anymore. Who needs to be able to predict the future when we can react to it in real time? But who is going to ask the questions that need to be asked? Who is going to figure out what data to gather? Who is going to be able to look at that data and understand the thinking of the humans behind that data? The data driven future is not a place where there is no need for these fortune telling testers. It is a place that will see their skills leveraged in ways that will allow for astounding and amazing things to happen. It is a world in which testers will be able to move from the fortune teller’s booth at the fair to the big stages of Penn and Teller. A world in which testers will have resources and data that will allow them to use their skills to bring new value and insights to projects in unanticipated ways. A world world that will open up new vistas and opportunities as these skills are partnered with new technologies and insights.
It’s a world I look forward to.