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Software testing careers: What's your hedgehog concept?

I’ve worked with a lot of people new to testing. Helping people find an area within testing they like is something I enjoy doing. Testing is fun. It’s challenging. I think it’s got something to offer everyone who’s willing to learn, is comfortable dealing with conflict and doesn’t mind hard work.

So what does that have to do with hedgehogs?

I’m a big Jim Collins fan. I know I’m on the bandwagon, but if you’ve not read Good to Great or Built to Last, please give them a try. There is some great material in there that I think applies to all levels of contributors. For example, I’d like to take a second to look at what Collins calls the hedgehog concept. If you’re not familiar with the hedgehog concept, please take a quick look at it.

It’s ok, I’ll wait.

So let’s apply the hedgehog concept to software testing. You have three circles:

  1. What you can be the best in the world at
  2. What drives your economic engine
  3. What you are deeply passionate about

Best in the world
For companies, we have fairly well defined measures of success. For individual contributors, it becomes a bit more difficult. The idea here isn’t that you would literally become the best in the world, it’s that you have the ability to be one of the best, you know what it would look like to be one of the best, and that you recognize the depth and breadth of what it would likely take to be the best within that aspect of software testing.

This question reminds me of a conference talk Rob Sabourin gave a couple years ago on the topic of what baseball taught him about metrics. Think of the back of a baseball card and the stats that you would find. Do you know what stats are important for measuring testers? What stats do performance testers care about compared to security testers?

I think what’s important isn’t that you’re actually the best. There’s no real way you’d ever know. Instead, what’s important is that you’re thinking about what being the best would look like. You’re asking yourself how you’d measure it. And as far as your hedgehog concept is concerned, you believe you can be the best in some aspect of your testing.

Figuring out your economics
Economics in this case has a double meaning. It’s not just about how much money you make. However, that’s certainly part of it. You can’t work as a tester if you can’t pay the bills. But it’s more general than that. As a project team member, you play into the “economics” of the project team as well. How do you drive the project economic engine?

Think about the statement “profit per X.” If you substitute the word “value” for “profit,” what X’s might a tester care about?

  • Is it value per test?
  • Is it value per test idea?
  • Is it value per requirement covered?
  • Is it value per line of code covered?
  • Is it value per defect identified?
  • Is it value per document?
  • Is it value per project?
  • Or is it something else? Or some combination?

How do you affect the project’s bottom line? What value to you provide to the project? Do you know how you affect the project’s economic engine and do you know how that in turn drives your personal economic engine? Is the connection clear and do you actively try to manage it?

Finding your passion
This is typically the easiest circle to figure out. What types of activities or issues keep you at work late, not because you have to, but because you want to? Where’s your passion? Is it performance testing, security testing, usability testing, exploratory testing, test management, testing automation, or some other aspect of testing? Think about when you’re most satisfied in your work. You likely won’t like every aspect of testing, but which aspects give you energy?

Thinking about your hedgehog concept can be a valuable activity in trying to figure out what you want to do with your career. It’s also useful in recognizing what value you provide to the project team so you can actively manage how much value you provide. Just as Collins says in Good to Great, you likely won’t be able to answer any of these questions right away. They take thought, questioning, and self-discovery. If you candevelop a hedgehog concept (and follow it), I suspect you’ll have a clearer understanding of what sucess looks like for you and you’ll be more fullfilled as you work to follow it.

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I am new to this site, and but would like to comment on this topic. You mentioned finding your passion!! This is very interesting to me, as I am looking to get into the software testing field. What you said will help me to research performance, security, usability, exploratory, test management, and automation testing.