I remember seeing ponies when my parents took me to the circus. They were an important part of the show and impressed the audience with agility, jumping over obstacles and walking on two feet.
The pony act was so varied that it was difficult to get bored of it, even if you were attending the show on consecutive days.
But let’s assume that the ponies could only jump over obstacles. How interested would the audience be if they saw that trick more than once?
With a dwindling, less engaged audience, the one-trick pony act would probably be removed from the program and the ponies would “lose their jobs.”
So, what’s this pony trick story have to do with manual testers?
Manual testers test websites and mobile/desktop applications. This is pretty much the only thing that they do, and while some testers are doing well for themselves, many are not.
A manual tester job used to be a dream come true for many people. Manual testers would find themselves being well paid, in demand on the market, and requiring no education. Most universities have multiple-year degrees for programmers but nothing for testers.
Anyone could become a manual tester just by reading a few books, being able to follow instructions, and paying attention to detail. There are not many other jobs that are so well paid and require no or very limited knowledge and education.
However, things have changed in the last few years, and finding a job as a manual tester is no longer easy. Development practices have evolved toward agile development, continuous deployment, and continuous integration. Everything is more and more development-oriented and happening at a rapid pace.
Instead of hiring people specialized in one thing, companies want talented (and more expensive) individuals who know more than one skill well and are capable of wearing multiple hats.
Like a Java developer who does unit testing and test automation and is skilled with continuous integration tools like Jenkins.
Or a customer support person who can discuss technical issues with end users, but also troubleshoot problems, do some testing, generate reports, inspect logs, and do deployments.
Or a manual tester who knows programming and test automation.
This means that it’s time for manual testers who are one-trick ponies to learn some new tricks and level up their skills.
Why Do I Need to Learn a New Skill?
The job market is primed for people with diverse skills, otherwise known as T-shaped professionals. They are taking over for the I-shaped workers, who possess only a single skill.
How is a T-shaped individual different from an I-shaped one?
In contrast with the I-shaped person, the T-shaped employee has skills to the left and right of their main skill, and to the left and right of the I-shaped employee’s lone skill.
Single-skill professionals share a similar story. They are successful for a while, thanks to the high quality of their main skill. But in time, this is no longer sufficient.
This is something that applies to many other domains.
For example, in mixed martial arts (MMA), the women’s division had Ronda Rousey as a champion for three years. During this time, she soundly beat all her opponents, in many cases in under one minute.
She did this with superior judo skills, and in 2008, she was a bronze medalist in the Olympics. Ronda was a true “one-trick pony” because all her skills were about judo.
Then one day, she fought a true boxer. Even with a lot of boxing training, she lost in a dramatic fashion. After her first loss, she took a year off and trained more in boxing, hoping for revenge. The next time she fought, she lost again, but this time in under one minute.
What happened here?
While she was enjoying her “one trick,” the world changed and she did not notice. Her opponents started analyzing what made her so good and looked for ways to take advantage of her weak side. Eventually, she fought someone who knew how to avoid her strong side and take the fight where she was not truly prepared: to boxing.
So Ronda lost twice in a row and retired (not officially yet) from MMA.
Unlike the above example, some one-trick manual testers are successful always.
Their testing is very efficient because they practice it continuously, not only at work, but also in crowdsourcing or open-source testing projects.
They teach testing to others in meetups and workshops and learn as much as possible about testing from conferences, blogs, and books.
They took their trick far and refined it to great lengths, which put them in a different, higher class than most testers.
But most are struggling because companies have realized that if they cannot get a talented tester, testing can be done also by business analysts, business users, or developers. Many people can do it to a certain degree.
How Can Manual Testers Bolster Their Skills?
Stop being a one-trick pony—sorry, manual tester—and learn more tricks to become versatile and polyvalent.
The new tricks could be technical skills.
For example, learning programming.
Knowledge of a programming language can be extremely beneficial, not only for implementing test automation for a site, but also for other things such as generating test data, parsing application logs, and writing utilities for the test and development teams.
Programming can be learned online on sites such as Lynda and Pluralsight or by attending a development bootcamp.
Other technical skills to learn are application programming interface (API) testing or performance testing.
Many applications are developed today using microservices, which are typically implemented as web services. The web services need testing as well in the form of automated tests written in Java using a library such as REST-Assured.
A site that passed manual testing, API testing, and test automation needs one more type of testing before being promoted live: performance testing.
Without strong performance testing, the site may work well with 10 concurrent users but be very slow for 100 users. Performance testing is usually done with tools like JMeter, LoadRunner, and NeoLoad, so it would be an asset to learn any of them.
In addition to technical skills, a manual tester can expand their area of testing by learning how to test any type of application, not only by executing test cases, but also through exploratory testing, with limited or no requirements and often with no user guide or documentation. Session-based testing is a great tool in this case.
Finally, something that helps grow one’s skills that most people don’t think about is teaching others. For instance, you test your own knowledge when you teach a junior tester programming or exploratory testing, truly seeing how well you understand these topics.
Teaching is such an interactive process with questions going from the teacher to the student and back, so both sides grow because of the mutual feedback. The teacher may from time to time get questions that they never thought of or known questions asked from new perspectives. Answering them can only increase their knowledge of the topic.
Don’t be a One-Trick Pony — Gain More Skills
The more skills a tester has in their arsenal, the more value they bring to their company. Due to the multitude of skills at their disposal, they can test when the application is ready for manual testing, either scripted or exploratory.
When there is nothing to test, they can work on test automation, or coach junior employees when project activities are slow.
The way of avoiding being a one-trick pony is to focus on continuous self-improvement, especially when there are no shows to demonstrate your skills. Using the breaks between shows to learn new skills will make you in demand at all times.
The crowds who get bored with seeing a one-trick pony will come back again and again for you, because you always have more exciting, newer things you’ve learned and mastered, and your future as a manual tester will be brighter than ever before.