What Would You Say You Do Here?

For the first time in years, I was with a group of people who:

  1. weren't at a conference
  2. didn't understand what my work looks like, and more excitingly
  3. were interested in hearing about it!

I hadn't been asked "what kind of work do you do?" since my role changed a year ago, so I wasn't prepared with a thorough-enough short answer for the person asking. They'd founded a digital agency a few months earlier and were used to farming out work to developers. They didn't quite understand where a "tester" might fit into their process.

What I said in the moment

"I make sure that stuff works, and the thing that was built is what you wanted. Sometimes that means I'm looking at the website, sometimes that means I'm writing code to verify stuff."

I got scolded later for giving such a simplistic view of my skill set, the industry, and particularly the depth and breadth of my current role.

What I could have said

"Everybody needs an editor. Testers help improve things in the product and process. They're there to collect information, sift through what's relevant, and advocate for what's important. This can look like making sure we agree how big a chunk we're biting off, gathering standards and expectations to compare them to what's been built, or troubleshooting issues customers are having."

"I've been doing this well enough for long enough that I'm not just doing this for one team, I'm doing this for my whole department, all seven teams. I'm in a position to see obstacles coming farther down the road, and I have the skills to pivot more quickly when unexpected hurdles catch us by surprise. I ask curious questions to understand what might be missing, and help eliminate the work that's distracting us from our focus."

It's close to a structure I'd want for this kind of explanation, with three layers of information, in case the person asking lost interest or we got interrupted.

How would you describe your role? Do you spend more time with examples from your day-to-day, or do you find that people outside the industry connect more to what you're saying when you keep it abstract?