What is the future for a manual tester?

I started as a manual QA tester for a games company back in 2008 as part of a massive team, very disconnected from developers. Since then I’ve worked in smaller test teams, within feature teams (i.e. server software) and within a scrum team. This includes a chunk of time where I was the developer, with a tester in our small team.

This time next year I am expecting that my team will join a larger organisation within my company, where I would be the only dedicated tester within a scrum team. It does raise the question of what my role will be. Unsurprisingly this is often on my mind.

It also got me thinking more about what might be the future for someone who most enjoys manual exploratory testing. What roles might there be?

No doubt that for several years to come there will still be jobs out there for manual testers, either in dedicated teams or working more closely with the developers. I hope that we see more of the latter and fewer companies still having dedicated test teams. However it is clear that most people recruiting right now are most interested in automated testing. An idea that I am not fond of and have previously written about (twice in fact).

I recall listening to an AMA session where testing guru Alan Page suggests that developers will be responsible for writing automated tests, probably with the use of record and playback tooling. From my experience working as both a developer and test engineer, I definitely agree that having developers writing the automated tests is the way forward (although convincing some of my colleagues to use click and record seems ambitious).

Developers are obviously skilled in coding and as part of good engineering practice, should be thinking about edge cases and writing testing. It can help force them into thinking about writing code for testability as well. I’ve heard the argument that developers might miss edge cases that a tester writing automated tests would get, which I don’t buy. There may be developers who are more reluctant to be writing these tests or say they test, but I’m not accepting that. Not trusting your teams to do a good job isn’t a reason to hire automated test engineers. If you have a weakness, you need to develop it. Perhaps be coached somehow?

Over the past couple of years I’ve heard of more and more people who’ve become test specialists/coaches who work across multiple teams in a coaching capacity. This is intended to ensure that developers are capable of doing their own testing.

I do like this as a concept and can definitely see this being the way forward. I think it works well with methodologies like scrum and ensures that the whole team is responsible for quality.

Techniques like ATDD / BDD mean that those with a business viewpoint can get involved with testing and quality by defining the tests using gherkin. As tooling continues to improve here, it will get easier to collaborate to define behaviour and tests together. This sounds like a great time to get your test specialists involved and shifts that bug “know how” left.

This does however sound like it is suited for people who like changing company every year or two. That isn’t me. My other concern with this is that I really enjoy exploratory testing. It is why I switched back to test from dev. If I was to become a coach then would I be doing the job I love?

It possibly also leans into one weakness in having scrum teams being solely responsible for their own testing. Teams can easily wind up being in their own bubble, working on their features. Quite often what a tester brings is not just the “knack” of finding a bug but a wider product knowledge.

If I was able to pitch my perfect role, one that best leverages my skillset as a test engineer and brings most value to my company it would be to see test specialists that are more akin to POs/BAs/Scrum Masters in an organisation than someone who comes in to help teams solve their problems, then possibly move on.

Developers should write their own tests and functionally test what they are developing. However having a test/quality focused role that works with a handful of teams seems like a really intriguing prospect to me.

A typical work day could be joining a couple of stand ups then attending a refinement session, where I use knowledge of the products and knack for edge cases to help teams spot the gotchas early. I then might meet up to pair with a developer who is a bit unsure on how to test a complex problem or pick up testing of a story for a team who are short handed at the moment. I later have a look at a sprint review that I couldn’t make and see that a team have just got their feature across the line. I know its been a challenge for them so lets get the build installed and do some exploratory testing. Finally I might put together some training material on a new extension that I’ve found for our E2E automated testing framework.

This sounds awesome as a job to me. Being an almost free-spirit who helps the teams. Sadly it is most likely a fantasy although who knows? Perhaps there may be a role out there?

The future is rather uncertain and, if I’m being honest, a little unsettling. Will my role continue? Will I be able to find a new manual testing role should I want/need to? Will I be forced into automated testing, or (more preferably) a return to development? Will I move to coaching?

Curiously I am also thinking that with my interest and training in cyber security, I may end up being a pen tester. From my experience so far, this seems very much like classic testing – trying to find bugs in the system. To move forward in my career, will I find myself working in the same ways as all those years ago? …