Motivated to Motivate Testers

I’ve always been intrigued by what motivates people and the “why” behind someone’s actions. In the workplace, especially as a manager, understanding people’s motivation is a useful skill to have. 

The Dilemma of Unmotivated Testers

I have seen my fair share of unmotivated testers, as I’m sure you have too. I mean, those who are happy with being average or even mediocre in their daily jobs, who do not intentionally seek to become better professionally.

I don’t have much empirical evidence, but it sure feels that there are more unmotivated testers out there than motivated ones, at least in my own experience. That creates a problem for test teams, as it makes it even harder to find good talent. Wouldn’t it be great if we could motivate these testers and help them become passionate and engaged? I have tried, and it is not easy.

Motivating people is a two-way street; you cannot motivate those who do not wish to be motivated. This is really important so I’ll say it again: you cannot motivate those who don’t want to be motivated. But you can show them the way, lead by example, and hope they will want to change.

As a community, we need to be contagious about our passion for testing. I believe there are great testers in the workplace who are unmotivated, but who can be helped out of their ruts, most don’t know any better. Our community and the reputation of our industry, in general, will greatly benefit from it.

But how do we do that? How do we positively influence our peers with our enthusiasm? And the answer is… you guessed it…it depends. It depends on the reason why the individual is not motivated. And the first thing to do to help a fellow tester is to understand the reason why they are the way they are.

Types of Unmotivated Testers

I don’t like pigeonholing people into boxes but I found that knowing which type of “unhappy” a particular tester is, has helped me to better figure out how to interact and assist them. As you’ll see, keep in mind that any given tester can be unhappy for more than one reason too.

The Accidental Tester

A common reason for the existence of unmotivated testers is because so many of us didn’t choose testing as a career. I have still to find someone who, as a child, wanted to be a tester when they grew up. Nope. People want to be cooler things, like fireman or astronauts. The “accidental tester” never chose to be a tester, and often asks themselves how they got into this job in the first place.

Some “accidental testers” realize that, despite having landed in testing accidentally, that a career in testing can be a successful and fulfilled one. Those could go on to learn testing as a craft and be happy and successful testers. Others realize they are not where they wanted to be professionally and do something about that. These become yet another type of unhappy tester: the “Temporary Tester.”

The Temporary Tester

This type of unmotivated tester uses testing as a stepping stone or entry point to get other technical positions. They are testers only until they can get a “better” job, often as developers. They could be good or bad testers, but they are not motivated to become better as they’ll only be testing for a little while anyway.

Some Temporary Testers are so good at it, and/or enjoy it so much, that they go on to become professional testers. I know a few good testers that started testing on their way somewhere else and decided to stay once they realized how much fun real testing can be.

The Bored Tester

The Bored Tester has been caught in the web of useless courses and certifications, and they have come to believe that heavily scripted (manual) testing is the only way to test. Hence, they now do it diligently, and the monotony has caught up to them as they follow test step after test step, day in and day out. Most of these testers don’t know any better. They believe they are good testers, they follow all the best practices they were taught, and they try to get even better through all the wrong ways, such as by creating more metrics, more steps on their test cases, and the like.

I know this type of tester well; I used to be one. And I have to admit I was one for far too long. There is no excuse to continue to be uninformed and not do your research. In my situation, once I became bored (and eventually deeply troubled) by the type of testing I was doing, I set myself on a mission to find out if there were other ways to do it. I found a mentor. I attended conferences and meetups. I networked. And eventually, I learned better.

The Demoralized Tester

Let’s face it, there are still many organizations and teams that do not value what we do. There is still a mentality that testing is not a skilled job, that it can be done by anyone, that it is expensive, and that it doesn’t add value. Some testers have come to believe that too.

The problem here is not that testing doesn’t add value, as in some teams it really doesn’t. The real issue is the tester’s belief that testing can never add value, and that the processes can’t be changed to become not only beneficial but invaluable to the project. 

Motivating Each Type of Tester

What can we do to motivate these testers? Regardless of whether you are a manager or not, you can influence people in positive ways. The first step is to identify why they are not motivated. If you chose to help, you will have to spend time with them, ask questions, listen, and be truly interested. Once you’ve identified what type of unmotivated tester you are dealing with, here are some tips on how to begin to help them:

  • Accidental Testers & Temporary Testers – One of the most important things to try to find out when coaching or helping these two types of testers is to understand where their passions lie. Some of these testers could just be looking for something they can be good at, and they’ve never seen testing as a profession where they could thrive and be respected. These types of unmotivated testers could be helped if they understood what professional testing is. They may never have seen a good tester, worked with one, or have a role model.
  • Bored Tester –  Often they just don’t know there are other ways to test. Start by showing them different test approaches, methods, strategies. Introduce them to good test blogs, maybe play a test game, anything that shows the value of independent, sapient testing can help.
  • Demoralized Tester – this type of tester lack confidence and have low morale as they have been beaten down by team culture. They will need is to be assured that done well, testing can be invaluable to the team and that testers can be respected professionals. They need to be led by example. They’ll need to see blogs, attend conferences, hear stories of other successful testers to slowly build up their self-esteem again.

If you are a manager, it helps to go deeper and understand what motivates people as a general principle. In his book Drive, Daniel H. Pink discusses the carrots and sticks approach that influences people by using external rewards is basically flawed, and that what really motivates us is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. People will be most creative and inspired to do their best work when they feel primarily motivated by interest, enjoyment, and the challenges of the work itself, rather than by external pressures. What are some ways that you, their manager, can motivate them?

One thing is for sure–you will have to be prepared to spend time with people. But seeing people achieve their full potential is worth it! So get out there, and influence at least one tester that you know!

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