The impossible and the ironic

Recently I spotted a job advertisement in LinkedIn and decided to tweet the advertisement. My commentary on the tweet “When are we going to stop seeing this in tester role ads. It’s way past time this was history. Good luck with ensuring error free.” The job ad I tweeted is shown below with any references to the company removed.

So, what’s the problem with the advertisement? Here’s several things that trouble me.

Testers do not – ensure and neither do they assure. Why? If you’re unfamiliar with the term as it’s worth having a look in the dictionary and the thesaurus or just look below

When you ensure or assure you are providing a guarantee that something will be true. In this case a future state over which you have both limited control and limited knowledge. You are making a commitment without the tools to deliver the commitment. That seems like a very risky thing to do Whilst looking at various dictionaries I found what I think is an interesting explanation of assure (a synonym of ensure)

The notion of telling a stakeholder something “so they do not worry” is right up there with the notion of “giving stakeholders confidence”. Both are rooted in emotional reactions to data that are in the control of the person receiving the data. One requirement of testers is to present evidence based reports that provide insight into product risk risk. Testers should not be thinking about “confidence” or “worry”, they should be focused on empirically/evidenced backed information that just might shatter stakeholder illusions. I do wonder if that ad might have really meant “the tester is required to say “everything is OK Boss”.

Error free – I have no idea how you do this. We can go philosophical “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Black swans did not exist until explorers travelled to Australia and found them in Western Australia. It was, until then, considered impossible for a swan to be any colour other than white. So how does someone provide a guarantee of a system, with multiple layers of complexity being error free? You can only know what you know (or as Daniel Kahneman states “What you see is all there is”), there will always be blind spots (and we tend to be unaware of those simply by the nature of them). I mean you could be honest and state “we can no longer find any bugs that we believe will adversely impact our clients businesses”. But….. that’s not a statement of error free, that’s not a guarantee that a client won’t do something with the software you never thought of doing while testing, that the system is capable of behaving badly in production. The ad is asking somebody to commit to the impossible.

Over 150 people applied as at time of taking the ad snapshot. If people want to apply for roles, that is their choice and their right. However it raises questions in my mind. Perhaps what the job advertisement says and states is now considered irrelevant by job seekers. If that’s the case we should ask if that is a problem. Moreover the job ad is asking me to do things that I cannot, with honesty, state that I can deliver. How do I work with that? If I landed the role does it play out with the expectations of the advertisement? If it does, then I (and anybody else that might get the role) won’t make it past probation. If the job advertisement is inaccurate then why? There is plenty of time to get the wording right and focus on the people you are wanting to apply. If you can’t do that there might be issues working with the people that you hire. At a minimum it shows that there is a remarkable misunderstanding of what testers do and can bring to an employer. I suppose you could idealise that you might be able to change the thinking from the job ad to one that is based on reality while you are there. Perhaps those that signed off on the ad were happily paying for copy that didn’t reflect their beliefs. Remember to keep those rose coloured glasses on all day, you’ll probably need them.

The thing that lingers in my mind is that I see on Twitter and LinkedIn, many testers selling the idea that testers are gatekeepers and are responsible for quality. That testing is “assurance” of quality and that testing is about 0 defects. Perhaps it’s the idea (illusion) of having control or power that is attractive. Perhaps it is an angle that is intended to make a persuasive argument for retention of testers. Perhaps it is the unfortunate and popular conflation of testing and quality assurance. In my view this is a destructive and dishonest way to talk about testing. It also helps reinforce out of date views and poor practices on non testers that read the commentary. I don’t see it as a big stretch to suggest that it helps contribute to tester job ads that are remarkably inaccurate. As a community we need to do better in this respect. We need to talk about how testing helps bring better through collaboration, even if your current role has you sitting “at the end of the queue” waiting for code to be thrown over the wall. Rather than selling that you are a gatekeeper, think about and promote the idea that you can collaborate and influence and that the team owns quality. If you want “power” (whatever that might mean in your mind) you’re far more likely to find it when collaborating and influencing. If you want job ads that speak to what testers can and should bring then join in and help educate others that do not test. Choose your words carefully and wisely, talk in ways that are both compelling and honest.

The irony – so, in an advertisement that demands “ensured….error free” we get this

Perhaps it tells us everything we need to know about the offer.

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