Testers and coders are both developers

T.E.S.T magazine piece by James Christie This article appeared in September 2009 as an opinion piece on the front page of T.E.S.T magazine's website.

When I was a boy I played football non-stop; in organised matches, in playgrounds or in the park, even kicking coal around the street!

There was a strict hierarchy. The good players, the cool kids; they were forwards. The one who couldn't play were defenders. If you were really hopeless you were a goalkeeper. Defending was boring. Football was about fun, attacking and scoring goals.

When I moved into IT I found a similar hierarchy. I had passed the programming aptitude test. I was one of the elite. I had a big head, to put it mildly! The operators were the defenders, the ones who couldn't do the fun stuff. We were vaguely aware they thought the coding kids were irresponsible cowboys, but who cared?

As for testers, well, they were the goalkeepers. Frankly, they were lucky to be allowed to play at all. They did what they were told. Independence? You're joking, but if they were good they were allowed to climb the ladder and become programmers.

Gradually things changed. Testers became more clearly identified with the users. They weren't just menial team members. A clear career path opened up as testing professionals.

However, that didn't earn them respect from programmers. Now testing is changing again. Agile gives testers the chance to learn and apply interesting coding skills. Testers can be just as technical as coders. They might code in different ways, for different reasons, but they can be coders too.

That's great isn't it? Well, up to a point. It's fantastic that testers have these exciting opportunities. But I worry that programmers might start respecting the more technical testers for the wrong reason, and that testers who don't code will still be looked down on. Testers shouldn't try to impress programmers with their coding skills. That's just a means to an end.

We'll still need testers who don't code and it's vital that if testers are to achieve the respect they deserve then they must be valued for all the skills they bring to the team, not just the skills they share with programmers. For a start, we should stop referring to developers and testers. Testers always were part of the development process. In Agile teams they quite definitely are developers. It's time everyone acknowledged that. Development is a team game.

Football teams who played the way we used to as kids got thrashed if they didn't grow up and play as a team. Development teams who don't ditch similar attitudes will be equally ineffective.