Friday, March 24, 2006

Tester maturity

Someone asked me the other day 'What makes a mature tester'? Which set me thinking, as these things do.

Maturity in cheese or wine means age - if kept in the right conditions. A mature cheese or wire is differentiated by a certain quality of smell, taste or appearance that is hard to achieve in any other way. A deepening, a richness, a complex subtlety amalgamating into a coherent whole. This is valued. Sometimes, the dulled mess is only valued because maturity takes time to achieve, and because rareness and maturity are linked. The process of maturing can change, with maturity or inappropriate conditions, into one of spoiling.

For testers, as with cheese, I believe that length of experience is less important than the conditions in which that experience is gained. Maturity is not just experience, but, perhaps, expertise tempered by perspective. I do hope it's not a certain smell.

Maturity in testers might be characterised by a coherent vision, based on a deep and diverse set of experiences and sources. Perhaps there is a process of over-maturing, perhaps a hardening or vinegary sharpness about some testers. Unlike cheese or wine, however, testers can reverse this process.

There are plenty of ways of gaining expertise and developing perspective - the most important for me, so far, have been to do with practice and communication: working in a wide range of businesses; engaging in discussions with other testers, designers, coders and users; showing people why and how I've made a particular decision. There's a difference, of course, between what _makes_ a mature tester, and what _marks_ a mature tester. Training doesn't make a mature tester. Certification doesn't mark a mature tester. There's no vintage certification on testers, or use-by date on their ideas.

Am I a 'mature' tester? Do I want to be? I'd rather be a tester who reverses the process occasionally, and goes back to the fundamental, rapid and joyful changes of immaturity. Hence this half-baked post; I'm going to learn about blogging, and see where I get. I have a handful of other things I'm learning about this year, too - perhaps one will grow to some sort of maturity, but I hope I'll learn from them all.

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