Generalist, Specialist, T and Pi shaped Testers
“All testers are special but some are more special than others”. To borrow a line from Animal Farm with some variation.
In last month’s testers meetup, one of the discussion points was “Should testers be Generalist or Specialist?” As the discussion was happening, I decided to write a blog post on this subject as it is close to my heart. It took me almost a month to do that which is bad given the fast paced world we live in but not as bad if compared with the whole span of life.
I thought I’ll start with an overview of what we mean by Specialist and Generalist etc. but my draft was in progress when I saw this excellent post at Testastic blog which I think lays a good foundation for the readers. Also as I was researching this topic, I found this great webinar by Derk-Jan de Grood and Jan Jaap Cannegieter done for EuroSTAR which introduces T and Pi shaped very well. My advice would be to leave my blog here and first go to the above links.
Thanks to the sincere readers of the blogs for consulting the references and welcome back. To all other casual readerrs, T shaped professional is a person who has a depth of knowledge on a Specialty but has enough breadth of knowledge on the General subject. A typical example that I give is from medical profession i.e. an ENT specialist while recommending a medicine needs to be aware if the patient has heart disease or is pregnant to avoid any side effects. A Pi shaped professional is then the one who has two special legs meaning they are specialists on two subjects. See the picture below that I copied from the webinar slides that I mentioned above.
(Slide from webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzA-FvRG0DE )
With that background, let’s move to the topic now.
First and foremost, a Tester is already a T shaped professional. If not, tester should be. Testers are members of the team who should have enough knowledge of different functions of the teams like Development, Deployment, Build process, Documentation, Release management etc. yet their specialty lies in Testing. The teams are aware of that and they usually respect that by leaving the testing job to the Testing Specialists.
Some people gets confused with the cross-functional aspect of Agile teams and say that all members test so how come a Tester is special. But good teams know that having a Specialist tester help. In one of the teams that I joined last year, the project lead said to me:
Majd, I don’t want you to spend most of the time writing tests. I’d like to spend most of your time to see how we are doing on the testing front.
So if you are a Tester, you are already a Specialist on testing and you should rather be a T shaped professional by learning the other functions of the team.
The question then comes to developing the other specialty or second leg of a Pi shaped testers. In the webinar mentioned above, when the presenters did few rounds of workshops with testers they found out that the second leg can be Programming, Management, Automation etc. All of those are good but in my opinion for a Tester, knowledge of other fields like Programming or Management actually makes them a better T shaped Tester by expanding breadth of knowledge. A Pi shaped tester’s other leg should also be in testing.
I don’t want to force my opinion and you are free to pick second legs other than a Testing area. But if you take my advice, I’d suggest the other legs could be Performance testing, Security Testing, Usability Testing, Automated Testing etc. By that I mean that you should be subject matter specialist on the subject and not just a Generalist on all. If you want to get started, here is a piece from tester friend Rizwan Jafri that came out this week about automation.
Are you a T shaped or Pi shaped tester? If not, at what stage you are. And if yes, what are the second leg options you’d like to share with us.