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Tony Davis is an Editor with Red Gate Software, based in Cambridge (UK), specializing in databases, and especially SQL Server. He edits articles and writes editorials for both the Simple-talk.com and SQLServerCentral.com websites and newsletters, with a combined audience of over 1.5 million subscribers. You can sample his short-form writing at either his Simple-Talk.com blog or his SQLServerCentral.com author page. As the editor behind most of the SQL Server books published by Red Gate, he spends much of his time helping others express what they know about SQL Server. He is also the lead author of the book, SQL Server Transaction Log Management. In his spare time, he enjoys running, football, contemporary fiction and real ale.

Developer vs. Tester vs. PM

Published 16 August 2006 8:58 am

In a recent blog, Todd Bishop highlighted the fact that Microsoft had hired “more than 10,000 people worldwide in the fiscal year ended June 30, bringing the total to 71,553 (… the biggest annual increase in the company’s history)”.

Subsequently, the anonymous Mini-Microsoft blogger duly wondered what exactly these 10K people actually did AT Microsoft – suggesting that it sure as heck wasn’t developers that were being hired – thus sparking a very heated and partisan debate about the relative merits of developers vs. testers vs. project managers. I’ve picked out just a few of the juiciest comments:

“It’s pretty easy to sniff out what those 10,000 new microsofties do (and it sure ain’t development!). Open headtrax, search BillG’s org with filters (such as start date, standard title, etc) till you get a reasonably small subset – then export to Excel and use the filter views. My guess is less than 10% will be developers. (Anecdotally, it seems to be easier to hire PMs & test)”

“I would like to understand why are we so obsessed on hiring developers only? What is wrong with hiring strong PM & Test. So far all the projects & their releases that I’ve worked with have suffered due to shortage of smart PM & Test folks”

“Devs would LOVE to not have test. Then they could just go fix a bunch of bugs without ever filing any in the bug database. Then management looks at the number of bugs filed against their code and thinks they’re superstars. Wouldn’t it be nice if orgs were FORCED to hire 1 tester for every 2-3 developers that got hired? Way too often new dev headcount gets opened, but nobody bothers to sync with the test group to make sure they have matching headcount opened to handle the influx of new code.”

“As far as dev vs. test vs. PM, let’s put it like this:
If I RIF’d 50% of them tomorrow and didn’t replace the headcount, how long would it take for the company to adjust to still produce at the same level we are at now?

PM: 0-2 months
Test: 1-2 months
Dev: Never”

“Let me guess…you’re a dev? You’re fooling yourself if you think that any team could ship a quality product without a competent PM and test team. Also, PM and dev are very easy to hire. Test is much more difficult (mainly because it’s hard to convince people to take a crappy job)”

“Test? I love Test. I wish we had more testers, paid them better, and gave them more respect. I wish Test was more integrated into product development, and had better career paths. I wish we promoted more people from Test into GM positions. If we fired the PMs, we could do this.”

“To those of you working in orgs with PMs that you believe have no value, I think you are part of the problem. I have managed multi-disciplinary teams across the company and generally found a 1:3:3 ratio effective as a guideline (PM:Dev:Test). The important thing is that each job discipline has a place at some stage of the product lifecycle, and if you fail to realize that, then you have a deficiency in your understanding”

Wow. And it goes on and on. Honestly, it really does remind you to sit back sometimes and appreciate what you have. At Red Gate, devs and testers are roughly equal in number and very equal in status. They work together closely and, although I’m sure there are tensions now and again, the relationship seems largely amicable, with everyone sharing the common goal of making the tools we ship as high in quality as possible. Certainly testing is very far from being viewed as the “crappy” job that it seems to be at MS. Likewise the role of the PM is understood and respected.

Excuse me while I just sit here for a second and offer RG a self-congratulatory pat on the back for being the well-balanced company that it is ;) . I guess the way it works here is best summed up by this wishful comment from the Mini-MS blog:

“Here, you have some people who are good at writing code, and some people who are good at analyzing and finding defects in code. Use them wisely, make a quality product. You will be reviewed on it.”

The full debate can be found on the Mini-Microsoft site. If you missed it, it’s well worth checking out.

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