Three Things Testers Can Learn From Wine Experts

When I’m not testing, one of my favorite hobbies is alcohol. Wait…that didn’t come out right. What I meant was my hobby is learning about winSommelier_e_Tastevine, beer and sprits. Yeah, that sounds better.

While I do love a cold beer in the summer, a single-malt scotch when I’m feeling sophisticated, or an 1855 classified Bordeaux on special occasions, I think I spend more time studying booze than I do drinking it. I really enjoy learning about the various Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOCs) in France, and the differences between a Pinot Noir from California and one from Burgundy. I sound pretty smart, huh?

As any cultured, refined wine connoisseur such as myself knows, the true masters of the bottle are called sommeliers. These fine folks are highly trained adult beverage experts who often work in fancy, fine-dining restaurants, setting the wine list, caring for the cellar and working with customers to help them select the perfect wine.

So what could a tester possibly learn from a someone obsessed with booze? Good question! I have three answers.

Be passionate

I have yet to find people who are more passionate about what they do than Master Sommeliers. Need proof? Watch the movie Somm (available on Netflix). The tremendous amount of dedication and effort these people pour (wink, wink) into their work is simply astounding.

A sommelier must be constantly learning and exploring. Each year, a new vintage of every wine is created. That means thousands of new wines are added to the multitude that already exist…and a sommelier is expected to be familiar with with all of them. And you thought the IT world was constantly changing!

There will always be a new product to test, a new approach to learn, a new idea to debate. Testers who are passionate about testing are excited about these new developments as they are opportunities to grow and improve.

Be a servant

From the Demeanor of the Professional Sommelier:

It is important for sommeliers to put themselves in the role of a server; no job or task on the floor is beneath the role of a sommelier; he or she does whatever needs to be done in the moment to take care of the guest.

Sommeliers are at the top of the service food chain. They are highly trained, knowledgeable, and professional people, yet they are also the most humble servants. They realize that their qualities alone are worthless. They must be used in the service of a customer for their value to be realized.

Testers too need to remember that we don’t get paid because we think we’re great testers. We get paid because the person who is paying us values our work. Put your client’s perception of value and quality ahead of your own.

Be an expert

A sommelier would never walk up to your table and say, “I recommend this bottle I found in the back.” They are the ultimate experts in wine selection and food pairing. He or she asks questions: What do you like? What have you had before? What is your budget? They learn about the customer and use that information to help them find exactly the right bottle.

Likewise, a tester should be knowledgeable in the testing field. A good tester doesn’t just randomly go banging on things — they too take a more thoughtful approach. What areas are the most error prone? What parts of the product are the most important? What information would be most useful at this stage in the product’s life cycle? They learn about the product and the circumstances under which they are testing to ensure they provide the most value possible.

Take pride in your work. Understand that testing is not a low-skilled job; it is a highly cognitive profession with demands on your professionalism, communication skills, and attention to detail. It takes a lot of effort, study and experience to become an expert (or so I’m told), but that should be the goal of every tester.

A Gold-rated tester and Enterprise Test Team Lead (TTL) at uTest, Lucas Dargis has been an invaluable fixture in the uTest Community for 2 1/2 years, mentoring hundreds of testers and championing them to become better testers. As a software consultant, Lucas has also led the testing efforts of mission-critical and flagship projects for several global companies. You can visit him at his personal blog and website.

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