When is a software tester an amateur vs a professional?

This post from Farnam St had me thinking about what makes a professional software tester.

Most of us are just amateurs.

What’s the difference? Actually, there are many differences:

  • Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just the beginning.
  • Amateurs have a goal. Professionals have a process.
  • Amateurs think they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circles of competence.
  • Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.
  • Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?
  • Amateurs give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they’re failures. Professionals see failure as part of the path to growth and mastery.
  • Amateurs don’t have any idea what improves the odds of achieving good outcomes. Professionals do.
  • Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.
  • Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people who are strong where they are weak.
  • Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.
  • Amateurs focus on being right. Professionals focus on getting the best outcome.
  • Amateurs focus on first-level thinking. Professionals focus on second-order thinking.
  • Amateurs think good outcomes are the result of their brilliance. Professionals understand when good outcomes are the result of luck.
  • Amateurs focus on the short term. Professionals focus on the long term.
  • Amateurs focus on tearing other people down. Professionals focus on making everyone better.
  • Amateurs make decisions in committees so there is no one person responsible if things go wrong. Professionals make decisions as individuals and accept responsibility.
  • Amateurs blame others. Professionals accept responsibility.
  • Amateurs show up inconsistently. Professionals show up every day.
  • Amateurs go faster. Professionals go further.
  • Amateurs go with the first idea that comes into their head. Professionals realize the first idea is rarely the best idea.
  • Amateurs think in ways that can’t be invalidated. Professionals don’t.
  • Amateurs think in absolutes. Professionals think in probabilities.
  • Amateurs think the probability of them having the best idea is high. Professionals know the probability of that is low.
  • Amateurs think reality is what they want to see. Professionals know reality is what’s true.
  • Amateurs think disagreements are threats. Professionals see them as an opportunity to learn.

Can anyone relate this to their testing career? How has it shown up in practice?


I’ve definitely had this in varying degrees in my career. In the beginning, I’d come up with an idea for testing and just roll with it. As I got further along in my career I started testing out ideas before actually testing. So I’d think about “If I do this, what could be the consequence.” which started to frame the idea(s) for testing better and adjust so that my approach was better informed and potentially stronger because more thought had gone into it.

1 Like

I’m not getting far past the “amateur” vs “professional” definitions… Or more to the point, when I relate these two terms to each other, “amateur” only means “not paid” and “professional” means “paid.”

Then I continue, and it keeps referring to “amateur” things in a negative light. Which means that my unpaid-paid definitions of opposing words won’t work in this context. You can be “amateur” with my defintion and still be good. This doesn’t seem to be the case in the quote.

So I try to figure out what the author meant… Can Amateur mean “beginner” and “Professional” mean “expert?” … No, some of the list refers to mindset which isn’t exclusive to experts.

So the list is my mind reverts to “list of some positive mindsets or behaviors compared to list of some negative mindsets or behaviors.”


I think I can relate to all the above quotes from my time as a software test ‘professional’, which to me means ‘I make my living from software testing and I endeavour to work to a different (subjectively higher *) standard to non-professionals’. I refrain from using the term ‘amateur’ and just state ‘non-professionals’ because the term amateur may have negative connotations, e.g. ‘bah, look at those folks, they’re amateurs’, but of course it can be used totally neutrally as well.

In the company I work for, at present we have two folks employed as software testers (I’m one of them) and due to the pressure we are under, the company is starting to need to involve non-professionals in the software testing process. All the quotes above I can relate to observations I have made in the workplace. I think the key one I observe is this: “Amateurs think they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circles of competence.”

I have struggled somewhat to get management to see the possible drawbacks with the statement “anyone with intelligence and business knowledge can test”. I say “sure they can ‘test’, but can they ‘test-test’?” I think the crux of this is how we define testing, specifically professional testing. If an accepted definition is ‘hitting buttons on a keyboard’, then sure enough, anyone can do that. However, if we want to be more rigorous about which buttons to click, ensure all permutations are covered, robustly capture and report the test outputs and know what to do when something doesn’t seem quite right during test execution, etc, etc, then maybe that’s where the non-professionals are thinking they are good at everything whereas the professional knows otherwise. It’s the old chestnut of unknown-unknowns, i.e. the non-professional doesn’t even know what they don’t know! Their misplaced assurance/confidence, which may realistically be blissful ignorance, can result in a bad situation when they sign something off and we get bitten down the line in production.

So I think many of the quotes are relevant and good at explaining the differences…

*I say ‘subjectively higher’ because one key difference for me between the professional and non-professional is their openness (even desire when it can lead to learning) to being wrong.

1 Like

I’m with @brian_seg. An ‘amateur’ is someone who does a thing for the love of it. I think the OP meant to distinguish between people who are ‘professional’ and people who are ‘un-professional’. ‘Un-professional’ is not the same as ‘amateur’. I’ve seen plenty of “un-professional” people who get paid for what they do (whether they deserve it or not).

And over the years, I’ve applied my professional skills to the things I do as an amateur. Both spheres have, I hope, benefitted from this approach.