Coaches and Consultants

One seemingly intractable feature of the software test conference scene is that it is dominated by consultants/contractors. I surmise this is intractable because of the obvious benefits to consultants to build their brand by presenting and networking at conferences; secondly, there is something about the wide variety of experiences that consultants are exposed to that allows them to better synthesize their experiences into a theoretical framework. Now, Test Coach Camp is a special case of this phenomenon because coaching is so essential to effective test consulting at a high level.

Working at a single company on a single product line is limiting in terms of the ability to innovate the meta-field of testing because the quantity of contexts is lower. To mitigate this, a company with stable cross-functional product teams needs to do everything it can to encourage cross-team collaboration. Otherwise, testers are doomed to only acquire the simplest level of knowledge to attain: domain subject matter expertise, and perhaps some skills related to a particular technology stack. Overall, this reduces the value of testers to the organization, which drives down salaries, and makes it even harder to attract testers who will make good theoreticians to the field. There’s an obvious collective action problem here.

Good testers are very good at inductive reasoning from small data sets; but inductive reasoning is more reliable the higher your sample size. In a large organization, the test team as internal consultant model seems highly effective; where this is impossible, a reasonable approximation is having as many ways for a dispersed test function to regroup and learn from each other as possible. I really like the two tiered Community of Practice approach for this: a leadership group dealing with meta-concerns, and a SIG focused on directly applicable education, sharing, and improvement.

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