We're Forgetting About The User

Over the past decade or so of my testing career, I have seen a worrying patten emerge. We’re forgetting about the user.

All you have to do is glance at Twitter or the job boards to see that testing isn’t a user-focussed activity anymore. It’s generally process and technology focused.

As an example, let’s take a look at the top ten skills listed in Test Analyst job descriptions, as per ITJobsWatch:

  • Test Automation

  • Agile Software Development

  • Selenium

  • SQL

  • Test Scripting

  • Software Testing

  • QA

  • ISTQB

  • JIRA

  • Manual Testing

It is terrifying that a specific tool like Selenium, or a certification like ISTQB both make the top ten, but there is f*ck all regarding the end-user. You know, the person who is actually going to use the software.

This is a problem I’ve witnessed first-hand in all of my (many) jobs, and have also definitely fallen into the same traps. I’ve spent much of my career tinkering with different automation frameworks, researching and trying new tools, and preaching about process improvements.

This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself to be spending time on these things, but when they take precedence over the experience of the user, you’ve lost sight of your priorities.

It genuinely doesn’t matter how many green ticks you’re getting, how you’re documenting your requirements, or what certification you have, if your software isn’t a top-notch experience for your users (usability, accessibility, compatibility etc), then you’ve been wasting your time.

So what can we do?

It’s very easy to fall into these bad habits and lose focus on what’s important. Especially if you’re playing with certain tools, or trying new processes.

It’s quite simple to remedy this, talk to users. Even if it’s not real end-users, it’s useful to talk to different people, from your colleagues, to your friends, to your family, an easy way to do this is talking them through what problem the software or functionality is trying to solve, asking them how they would solve it, then showing them or explaining how you solved it.

The conversations will often surprise you, which is a good thing. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking we know what’s good or right, but we’re all afflicted with cognitive biases and it’s massively important to identify those blind spots.

If your company has a support desk or help forum, these are also good places to look to bring yourself back down to Earth. Testers can discuss new features and improvements all day long with product owners and developers, but a quick chat with someone in first line support will really let you know what needs focusing on.

Just take time to think

At the end of the day, even if you don’t do any of the above, just make sure you ask yourself what you’re doing to improve the life of the users, as often as possible.

Our jobs can be busy and stressful, and we can get caught up in our work very easily. It can really help to stay motivated and focussed by thinking about the people that will use our software every day.

That way you’ll hopefully remember that maybe it’s more important to be making sure your website can be used with a screen-reader than it is to be re-writing those tests just because you think you’d do a slightly better job this time.