Did you know that in Switzerland, it is still mandatory to complete military service (if you’re a male)? How would it be if we had to do the same in the IT industry? How would it turn out if testers spent some time as developers or developers spent time as Business analysts and so forth? Everyone might gain a better appreciation for each other and the jobs they do. Sure, we all have a common goal but the cross pollination might come up with some great ideas that would benefit all. Like the Swiss Army knife.
The Swiss Army knife had humble beginnings in the 1890’s and was manufactured to fulfill a basic purpose and over the years has grown and grown, making it extremely versatile and a highly desirable item to own. I couldn’t imagine one of these handy tools not having a knife or a screwdriver folded away somewhere in the arsenal of tools concealed in its handle. This is not so dissimilar to being a tester. When you first move into the testing arena, whether by choice or a requirement to fill a position, you really should take time to ensure you learn the basics and perform the function required of you and then build extra skills into your repertoire.
Let’s look at some of the additions that have been made over time and how they could be used as comparisons to what you need to learn in order to be a versatile tester.
The Corkscrew is something that turns up in every version of the knife. I can only put this down to the need to socialize on the odd occasion over a bottle of wine. For a tester this compares to the ability to relate and communicate to other members of a project. Take a break, chat offline and build bonds that go beyond the project life cycle. You may be surprised at the knock on effect within the project. If you don’t have this skill then you will always encounter difficulties getting testing over the line.
The Can Opener is another common component. I have used one of these and it does the job but the results aren’t pretty. As a tester you sometimes need to make calls that not everyone agrees with. Mostly it will be exposing something that stakeholders wished did not exist but part of your job is to open up and expose the contents so those that are involved can make well informed decisions. Just be sensible and keep an eye out for the sharp edges that can cut you.
The Reamer or Hole Punch is also included on most models as it can be used for many purposes. Testers, like the reamer, can be called upon to do similar tasks at many stages of a project. That key purpose is to poke holes in the logic, processes and requirements, that when put to the test can have issues or gaps that need sewing up.
I don’t know if you have ever tried to use the Scissors but they do work in a limited fashion. As a tester it would be great to be able to cut all the red tape quickly but you will be asked to validate most things you recommend. Go back to your basics and be the knife and do it properly or utilise the corkscrew to build relationships before trying to cut through the red tape.
Like the Scissors, the Saw can do the job but it has been built to but be so versatile it can be inefficient for any real work. As a tester you need to be across so many technologies. Try not to be too like the saw; specialize in one or two areas and be efficient – Anything else is a bonus as you can’t do everything.
One of the latest additions is the USB that is detachable (so knife can be stored elsewhere during flights, etc). This is another great idea but is this really what you would purchase if you wanted external memory? As a tester it is great to pick up new skills but you should be just as prepared to discard them when the overheads of keeping up to date outweighs the benefits. I have many good memories of my time spent getting to where I am and the skills I needed but there are a number that of skills I needed, learned and used that you will not see on my CV.
I left the Pliers to last because if you have looked around recently there is a new kid on the block. The Multitool has developed over the past few years and is often chosen over the Swiss Army Knife. This has happened because the original requirements of the knife have become less important than current requirements. The MultiTool focuses on the pliers and other items that require more leverage but most, if not all, still include a knife and a screw driver.
I suppose that I am trying to say that no matter what branch you take in testing, there is still a basic requirement or minimal skill that you need to maintain and keep sharp but you also need to be able to do many tasks to remain effective. Please don’t become so versatile that you actually become somebody that is great to have around but doesn’t get used much. “The Giant” by Wegner is a prime example. With 87 tools and 141 different functions it is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most multifunctional penknife. It retails for about GBP 550 or USD 1,400. It can do almost anything but would you carry something like this around when all you need is a screwdriver or knife?
Each new task can make you more versatile but will anyone use you if you are so big and heavy that you sit on a shelf at home rather than being used? Hone your skills; the skills that users require and be their tool of choice.
The whole concept of the Swiss Army knife reminds me of one of my TV favourite characters, MacGyver. He was known to use one of these knives on the odd occasion. I have posted a blog about him and how he is a good example of a great tester. See http://www.blog.revolutionit.com.au/the-macgyver-method-2/ and while you are there check out some of our other entries. You might find them helpful.
As a side bar, here is an example of left brain thinking that illustrates the possibilities of something being more than it should be. It only includes one of the many items it tried to be but other purposes included a blender, a knife sharpener and a drill. Good ideas but would you pull over a cyclist for any of these tasks? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5dLE8lVovI