Stop Playing to Weaknesses

Stop Playing to Your Weaknesses

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have to 'fix' our weaknesses, that we have to be good at everything. But do we really want to be 'Jacks of all trades'?

If you look at most job adverts for Test Analysts or Test Managers, you will likely see a pretty long skills list, often with “Required” or “Essential” printed above it. The skills in this list will vary from technical specialties like automation, SQL, load testing etc to broader things like communication, leadership or strategy.

Often, this skills list creates a trap that a lot of testers, including myself, can fall into where they believe they must tick every single box in order to progress in the profession. This leads us to focus our time on learning a bit of everything in order to ‘fix’ our weaknesses.

This approach is not only misguided but when followed by so many, it devalues the profession. Learning only a bit of everything re-enforces the ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ perception of testers that can lead people to think of testing as an easy, unskilled career.

A Square Peg in a Round Hole

The truth is, that if you are doing something you struggle with or really don’t enjoy, the chances are that not only will the quality be lower than from someone who specialises in that area, but you’ll also take longer to get it finished. Whereas, if you’re working on something you’re good at and enjoy, you will get through the work much faster and the end result will be of significantly higher quality and value.

Stop Playing to Weaknesses
The old idiom “square peg in a round hole” is thrown around a lot when talking about team sports and refers to someone played out of position, normally to the detriment of the whole team. The same logic applies here too, whether it’s hiring managers with no leadership skills, or giving technical assignments to someone lacking in the necessary technical expertise.

The ‘Go-to’ Person

Instead, you should be identifying what you enjoy and excel at, and then running with it. Your manager should be encouraging you to read every book and blog they can find on the topic and advising on training that will build on your existing skills. You should be the person entrusted with leading their specialisms and advertised within the company as the go-to person for that skill or technology.

I am in no way saying that you shouldn’t try new things or expand your skillset, but whenever you try something new, you will very quickly know if it’s something you get on with or not, so just don’t waste too much time on the not’s.

Be the Specialist

As someone who has had to review a lot of CVs in his time, a long list of skills may look impressive but I’m much more interested in how a person has excelled at one thing or another. I’d much rather read about how you built an automation framework from scratch, introduced usability tests, or improved a company’s test strategy.

The most productive and happy people in this industry are in roles where they are trusted to crack on with the things they do best. They are round pegs in round holes.

My advice? Stop being a square peg.

Jonathan McGreevy

Jonathan McGreevy

Jon is a regular blog contributor who contracts for SoftwareTester.Careers. He has led the test strategy on projects ranging from small apps to company-defining flagship solutions.

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