Everything you do, or don’t do, is driven by motivation. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes a frequent appearance in conversations or books on how to motivate people. As does Herzberg’s two-factor theory. The basic idea is that people need food and safety before they start forming relationships. Only after they have formed relationships will they start working towards achievements and recognition. In short you have to get the work environment right before you can expect workers who are creative and self-driven.
Once, long ago, I was a pretty average tester. I was lucky that I knew I loved testing; University had given me the time to read a number of books on testing and each one fascinated me. Unfortunately the reality of being a tester turned out to be a little different from my dreams. There were highlights when I would get the chance to perform some meaty testing but also long periods of boredom. Test environments needed time to be built and recovered, there were endless rounds of manual regression testing, or worst of all, re-testing all the ‘fixed’ bugs only to find that they weren’t even remotely fixed.
Nowadays the testing industry has improved no end. As well as many more great testing books it is easier than ever to hear and form ideas via Twitter, blogs and, of course, conferences. Despite this there will probably always be motivated testers trapped on projects where they are expected to ‘just test’ with no chance of influencing the actual process or culture (caveat to this sentence is that you should always try to improve culture).
Testing on the sort of project that just wants some ‘testing’ can be a horribly de-motivating experience so how do you cope? If you are committed to the role and know you have no chance of improving things to allow you to actually test in the way that you want to test then you have to seek a new motivation. I survived many uninspiring projects by focusing on what I was learning; New tools, domains, or methodologies will all improve your ability to test. In many cases I learnt more about what I didn’t want in a job than what I did but it’s all valuable experience.
Even dull, death march projects are working towards delivering something to a user. When I get on board an aeroplane I trust that the software will work well enough that it isn’t going to drop from the sky. I trust that the ATM machine is going to give me the correct amount of money and update my account correctly. Every time I use a piece of software, get into my car, or basically do anything at all I hope and trust that someone has done their job and created a safe and effective system.
As a tester you have the ability to influence the end product. Maybe you don’t make the final decision on whether something goes live or not but you certainly play a significant role in identifying who your users are and testing to the best of your ability. So no matter how boring that insurance software is always remember that somewhere out there a user is going to buy insurance and trust that your product works. Do your best for them.