Why Would You Call Yourself THAT?

Scott Barber just wrote an amusing and insightful reflection on what sorts of titles testing professionals have, entitled Software Testers: Identity Crisis Or Illusions of Grandeur?.

I personally am inclined toward simple, descriptive titles, and think that ‘Software Tester’ (including variants like ‘Senior’, ‘Lead’, etc.) describes what I do pretty well. Several times at previous companies I’ve discussed changing the titles we use from Software Quality Assurance Engineer to Software Tester. I’ve gotten several interesting reactions, including:

  • “SQAE is a more impressive title. Why would you want a title that makes you sound low-skill?”, and
  • “But we want you to assure the quality here. Don’t try to back out of your responsibilities!”

Both of these objections seem to be compelling reasons to raise the conversation. Do folks around you not understand what software testing is, and why it’s a challenging, high-skill activity? Well, that’s a good conversation to get to have.

More concerning to me is when folks think that my team should “assure quality”. At this point I really want to make clear my perspective: Everyone in software development should consider quality to be there job. I am here to discover and communicate important quality-related information about the product and project – but I cannot and shouldn’t try to “assure quality”.

Rationales that I’m more sympathetic to for having high-fallutin’ titles include:

  • “SQAE is a form of shorthand to communicate to budget setters that testing is a high-skill activity”,
  • “It’s the standard for companies like ours. Job applicants will know what we mean”, and the related
  • “Some applicants might think that Software Tester is a lower-pay position, and so listing the job as such might turn off some.”

Scott ends with

Since there seems to be a prevalent desire for software testers to have fancy sounding titles, maybe we should consider “Software Quality Forecaster” instead. At least that would help our teammates better understand what we really do.

Maybe. I like Forecast way better than I like Assure. Perhaps “Software Quality Investigator”? For someone who doesn’t understand software testing, each title communicates what the job means imperfectly. To capture the flavor and variety of what testing can be, I expect that no title will be a substitute for a good conversation.

Certainly, I would love to see Software Tester considered an esteemed title, and to see the practice of mislabeling testing as ‘quality assurance’ fade away. For now I’m flexible as to what I’m called, but believe it’s important to consider what inaccuracies any given title communicates – and what biases it represents – and then to use the title as a springboard for conversation.

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4 Responses to “Why Would You Call Yourself THAT?”

  1. David Drake Says:

    I’m torn; it’s not that I’m enamored of QA; it’s more the “engineer” that is tacked on the end. This is purely from a job standpoint; the next time I’m on the hunt, I’d like to feel that my title conveys the fact that I’m technically skilled. There are a several big software companies in my area that simply don’t use black-box testers.

    I agree that a conversation would be useful, but that’s not a conversation I’ll have if my resume gets thrown into the trash, and I’m not nearly senior enough to rest on extant reputation.

  2. testingjeff Says:

    @David Drake I think wanting to have a title on your resume that conveys skill is perfectly reasonable – and I know that the standard for both programmers and testers tend to be called engineers nowadays. I’m much happier with Software Test Engineer than I am with QA Engineer. I think one can make a decent argument that we are engineering software tests…but that we’re engineering the assurance of quality? Not so much.

    One thing I’ve heard mentioned, but know little of myself: I’ve heard questions about if to call oneself an engineer when one’s not a /licensed/ engineer is asking for legal trouble, particularly if one’s consulting.

  3. Scott Barber Says:

    Jeff,

    I love “Software Quality Investigator”! It wouldn’t have fit with my analogy about how ridiculous “Weather Quality Assurance Engineer” sounds, or the premise that we can assure the quality of the of software no better than we can assure the quality of the weather — but if I ever get a chance to do a v2 without length restrictions, I’ll definitely take it a step further and wrap up with Investigator — citing you, of course.

    The Engineer thing drives me nuts. I have an Engineering degree (Civil). I am not, nor have I ever been, a Certified Professional Engineer. I can certainly say that I engineer tests, data, environments, etc. as part of my role as a Tester, but I can’t refer to myself as an Engineer (notice the capital letter) with a clear conscious. The potential legal implications concern me too, but I’m more willing to deal with legal implications than to deal with feeling like I’m showing disrespect for Professional Engineers.

    Scott

    Scott Barber
    President & Chief Technologist, PerfTestPlus, Inc.
    Executive Director, Association for Software Testing
    Co-Author, Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications

    http://www.perftestplus.com
    http://www.associationforsoftwaretesting.org
    sbarber@perftestplus.com

    “If you can see it in your mind…
    you will find it in your life.”

  4. Seth Says:

    At my company they call us Quality Analysts. I like it because it’s still QA, without the misleading assurance.

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