If you’ve attended a QA or testing conference recently, it seems as though manual testing is a dying discipline. Due in part to the speed of development, test automation, and artificial intelligence, a greater proportion of test management is now influenced or even controlled by developers.
In our interview with Jennifer Bonine, CEO of PinkLion.ai (formerly VP of Global Delivery and Solution at Tap|QA), she illuminates the evolving role of test and beta managers. In particular, she focuses on the lost art of communication and its importance to surviving tectonic shifts in software development and testing.
Let’s cut to the chase and address the tension that many testers have. Are manual and beta testing truly vanishing before our eyes?
Jennifer: It depends where we draw the line between test and development. On the one hand, there are many facets of testing that are and will be automated, especially the more monotonous and repetitive aspects. On the other hand, there are aspects of testing that include collaborating with customers and internal stakeholders that will increase in both importance and urgency. To be clear, manual and beta testing are not going away for the foreseeable future.
Now that our audience can breathe a sigh of relief, can you elaborate on these new aspects of testing that we should cultivate?
Jennifer: There is nothing new, per se. Rather, the skills we should cultivate (and really, it’s more about “relearning”) are those that humanize the roles of beta and test management. In the unfortunate trend of the past decade, the increasing emphasis on programming languages and skills has turned human-to-human communication into a lost art. That’s not just a tech company problem. It’s prevalent in nearly every Fortune 100 company that I’ve advised over the years.
If you strip away the aspects of testing that AI and machine learning will inevitably become better at than humans, what’s left over is an even larger opportunity that beta test managers must grab onto.
For those resistant to change, how do we overcome the anxiety of learning or relearning this skill?
Jennifer: Instead of feeling nervous, we should be excited. One of my missions is to humanize the role of testing and add greater value to what we’re doing. The net result of these changes is incredibly positive. Most of them are already happening now.
If you strip away the aspects of testing that AI and machine learning will inevitably become better at than humans, what’s left over is an even larger opportunity that beta and test managers must grab onto. The impact of humans working alongside AI will far exceed what we’ve previously accomplished.
Speaking of this impact, which areas should we nurture in order to align with trends in AI and machine learning?
Jennifer: It all comes down to the roles and responsibilities that humans have over machines. Most importantly, it starts with empathy, which enables us to understand our users and customers at a strategic level. Humans are also better at critical thinking, contextualizing problems, and collaborating across people, technologies, and processes to drive success.
Can you provide an example of how this evolution of AI and enhanced human interaction plays out in the real world?
Jennifer: I was at a conference in Las Vegas and noticed that Uber now allows you to opt-in for a self-driving car. But because self-driving Ubers are not thoroughly reliable and proven yet, they put two people in the front seats: one is an operator and the other is an engineer that makes real-time fixes. So as this program evolves, it needs guidance and assistance from humans.
It takes both humans and machines — interacting in real time and using increasing amounts of data — to optimize the systems.
Get used to doing your own research, talking to people who know more than you, finding mentors, and learning how to use communication more effectively.
Bringing this back to beta and test management, do you have some advice to help us elevate this craft of developing better products?
Jennifer: It all starts with your customers. We need to use our critical thinking skills to understand user profiles at a deeper level — who they are, what they want, when and where they use your product, and how they buy.
It also involves assessing how your product stacks up against competitors and using critical thinking and analysis to create product differentiation and advantages. As testers, if we can provide granular insights to internal teams about users and competitors, this is guaranteed to help drive better decisions amongst our executives. Not only that, but also look at the holistic, end-to-end customer experience across the customer journey of pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase.
To that end, can you talk about the mindset that is required for facilitating better decisions internally?
Jennifer: Be a knowledge worker. Instead of coming in every day with a set of tasks, come to the table with knowledge. The way to do this is by becoming a continual learner. Technology is changing so fast that what works today may not work tomorrow. So get used to doing your own research, talking to people who know more than you, finding mentors, and learning how to use communication more effectively.
What are your tips on becoming better test managers and technologists in light of ongoing disruptions in technology?
Jennifer: First of all, technology has in part led to the deterioration of our communication skills. We need to bring back the human elements of communicating — emotional intelligence, effective listening, body language, and situational awareness.
For example, pick up a book about body language or research it online. Be able to interpret body language to find out what people are telling you but not telling you. These are skills we don’t often learn in school, yet they are critical in the way we communicate and collaborate.
Fight the attention span deficit by using more visual tools to tell a story and break through the clutter. If you can do that, you will be valuable to any organization no matter what tech disruptions are on the horizon.
At the end of the day, technologists with consultative skills are much more effective at their jobs. They communicate effectively, contextualize for relevance, think critically, solve problems, and adapt dynamically to different situations. As another tip, fight the attention span deficit by using more visual tools to tell a story and break through the clutter. If you can do all of that, you will be valuable to any organization no matter what tech disruptions are on the horizon.
Speaking of communication skills, this leads us to our last question. How can beta managers communicate better with customers?
Jennifer: It all starts with design thinking and empathy. When you’re working with customers, put yourself in their shoes and understand the true problem they’re facing. Once you’ve mastered design thinking, you can iterate and validate quickly. In other words, it enables you to fail fast. This increases the velocity of the organization and pushes it towards constantly delivering greater value for customers.
Thanks for sharing your insights, Jennifer. This is a great reminder about the importance of truly connecting with customers for effective product iterations before launch.
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