Being Typecast and breaking out Henrik Emilsson

Typecasting is the process by which a film, TV, or stage actor is strongly identified with a specific character, one or more particular roles, or characters with the same traits or ethnic grouping. For many actors this has been a nightmare, even if they have earned a fortune on it.

I believe that some of us testers are being typecast; and even though we might be good at what we do in our role, there is a problem for many to change their role once they have been typecast.

Sean Connery was once asked how to avoid being typecast, he said, “First you have to be good enough that they ask you to play it again and again”. And this could very well apply to typecast in testing; and notice that Sean’s explanation “good enough” means that you play the role good enough even if your role is to be “unskilled”.

Here are some examples on when you have become typecast; and why you should try to break out.

  1. The novice tester
    We are all novice testers in the beginning, but for some testers, this label won’t go away. When work packages are dealt out in the team and you feel that you are always treated like the novice tester, it is time for you to step up and move away from this.
  2. The technical expert
    We all have different backgrounds that we bring into testing. For some testers this has been a burden that they can’t get away from. Let’s say that you are a database expert or application server expert, then it is very likely that you will work with this in testing as well; at least in the beginning. But you know when you have been typecast when you always get to do the tests against the database even though you would like to try out other areas; you know that you have been typecast when you always are assigned to do the platform tests on different application servers even though you hate it.
  3. The specific-persona tester
    Again, testers coming from different backgrounds might also affect you by always getting to the play the role of a certain persona when performing usage-centric testing (scenario testing, soap-opera testing, persona-based testing, etc). You know when you have become typecast when you with your clerk background always have to put on the clerk-persona mask every time there is a need for testing from a user perspective. Or if you come from sales and have been on the field for several years, there is a big chance that you always will be the sales-persona speaking for all sales persons in the field. Besides being boring for you, this is dangerous for at least two other reasons: the others make you responsible for all users of your category which enable for them to blame on you: “X said that this was what the users would expect”; and the others don’t need to think about these users and the problems that they might face leaving you with the task to come up with all problems yourself.
  4. The unskilled tester
    Similar to the Novice tester, you will end up doing all the easy and/or boring stuff that no one else need to do. This might happen because you once were unskilled, but even though you have evolved over the years you are still treated as the unskilled tester. You know when you have been typecast as the unskilled tester when your tasks always are the uncomplicated ones; or when you always have to do regression testing that no one else want to do. Also, as tempting as it might be sometimes, growing your strategic incompetence might as well make you end up being typecast as the unskilled tester – for life.
  5. The bug verifier
    Even though it is good to learn about the product by verifying other peoples bugs, you might become so good at this that you are being typecast as the bug verifier. On every new build, you are assigned to verify bugs that have been fixed in the build, while the rest of the team start to test the new (and interesting) functionality. Being typecast as the bug verifier will inhibit you from a lot of creative thinking which is so important in testing; and this might make you blasé and start becoming inattentional blind to important things in the periphery.
  6. The super tester
    Being a super tester is nice, but sometimes this might be a burden upon your shoulders. You are always expected to find all the hard things that no one else seems to find. Not only can this be too much of a burden for you, but it also enables for other testers in the team to say “Don’t bother with that, it is not our responsibility. Let mr Y have a look at it…”. Being typecast as the super tester might also cause a lot of negative stress e.g. if your social life is chaotic. All sapient testers are human beings, with all that comes with that.

Typecasting in testing is an easy way to stop your team from growing and developing. It is a way of letting people win the “Not my job”-award by not taking responsibility (or not been given responsibility). It is a way to foster specialists that might want to be generalists.

In order for you to get away from being typecast, you need to do some change.
You should try as many ways as possible, here are some suggestions:

  • specialize in new areas (where you will become the expert in the team);
  • learn more about testing – read books and take courses in testing;
  • talk to the team leader about you wanting to learn more about the areas where you are currently kept away from – remember that all experts have once started as novices;
  • partner up with your colleagues and work in pairs;
  • make sure that you are involved in all parts of the testing;
  • change employer;
  • etc

But I guess that the most important thing is to realize if, and when, you are being typecast; and not being satisfied with that. Then you at least have a chance to break out.

Also see The Generalist vs. Specialist Paradox

Martin Jansson May 3rd, 2010


Perhaps add these typecasts as well: Test Administrator (the person who tends to get stuck in administrating the testing work instead of testing) and the Test Lead (the person who tries to lead as often as possible and is expected to do so).

As a manager or a test lead you can keep a look out for typecasting your testers. A powerful team with persons who can take many roles and wear different hats is something to look for.

Henrik Emilsson May 4th, 2010

— The constant technical writer.
You know you are typecast when you always happens to be the one that gets to write the documents and reports. This might have been a strategy from your side in the beginning, but by doing this all the time your testing skills will fade away and you tend to be left behind when it comes to the product development.

Rikard Edgren May 5th, 2010

This is thoughtworthy post.
who am I? who/where do I want to be?
For more tester types (from a different angle), see Rob Lambert’s Tester Types