As a Double Agent at Test Double, I am surrounded by people who are excellent software consultants and enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons™ (D&D). One late evening, while thinking about running a game for my colleagues, my mind began to wander.
I started to imagine what kind of D&D character class would make the best software consultant. I flipped through my mental catalog of character classes and the pros and cons for each as a software consultant.
Who wants someone who will wait till you’re not looking, stab you in the back, and then take your gold?
Someone who is known to be possessed, so hidden agendas? No thanks!
Do I really trust someone whose wild magic might randomly just destroy whatever they are working on?
Um, anyone want to pair with someone who has berserker rage?
Let’s see, harnesses the power of nature and can turn into an animal whenever they get into a disagreement… not sure that makes sense for tackling tough technical challenges.
Then I started going through all the rest of the character classes that my D&D friends and I would often play. On the surface they all had definite pros, but also major drawbacks…
Years of grueling training, these are martial arts masters. (I always imagined them to have no sense of humor and only talk when absolutely necessary.)
- Pro: They wield a mysterious internal energy called Ki (Chi) to do astounding, physics-defying things and surgically solve problems.
- Con: You have no idea how they do the things they do—even though you are looking at them when they do it. You would have to send your best programmers off to a mountain-based monastery for years of arduous practice to try and replicate what you just saw, and there is no guarantee they will return.
Holy warriors who storm the countryside looking to right wrongs. (These are knights on a war horse with a holy glow and an attitude of disdain for non-believers.)
- Pro: You can bet your company on the fact that they will only do good deeds.
- Con: Are known to stumble across all manners of wrongs, no matter how large or how small—requiring them to annoyingly and frequently get sidetracked on insignificant quests, lest they taint their vows. If you don’t want someone to waste time taking on problems they want to solve, instead of the big problem you want them to solve, then keep moving along.
Mounted woodsmen with hound-dog-like tracking skills and Robin Hood archer skills. (Think leather armor, horses, bows, and whatever animal they just killed for dinner.)
- Pro: They will surely find the problem before anyone else can, and deal with it from a distance.
- Con: Your team has no idea how the ranger discovered and dealt with the problem as no one matches their keen senses. When they ask the ranger, they are already gone… off again to scout out the next sign of danger or hunt up dinner.
Wherever they hail from, these warriors generally like to solve their problems with the blade of a sword or an ax (Imagine spending time with very angry people, whose frontal cortex isn’t quite developed yet, and they smell like rust, wet leather, sweat, and dried blood… i.e., a lot like my days in college)
- Pro: They will dispatch whatever problem that is presented to them with haste.
- Con: You will always know where they are by following the trail of carnage they leave behind; some might be your best programmers.
These folks are holy healers with hammers and maces. (Think musclebound warriors that smell of incense, holy oil, and sacramental wine.)
- Pro: Comes in to fulfill their duty by laying hands on the problem and healing it with their faith and skill.
- Con: All you see is someone mumbling an appeal to their benefactor, a bright light, and then everything is just better. You, of course, have no way of knowing if it will be fixed for good. And when your team asks how to make sure the problem doesn’t come back, they are told to just have faith.
These magical practitioners have deep arcane knowledge of mystical forces. (I always think of mages as tall and wiry folks who don’t enjoy going outdoors, are weary from dealing with a world they believe is beneath them, and smell faintly of old books and electricity.)
- Pro: They walk in and don’t listen to anything you or your team say, point their finger at a problem, yell a few words that make no sense, you see a startling bright light, and where they pointed there is now either a gaping smoking hole or a frog.
- Con: Whether or not they fixed your problem is up for debate, but they tell you they solved the real problem. However, if you continue to question them you may, at best, get a look of cold disdain, most likely will be told that you’ll never understand, and at worst they may just turn you into a frog. When you ask for documentation, they hand your team a piece of parchment with mystical runes and diagrams annotated in a spidery and completely foreign script that makes absolutely no sense to anyone.
[sigh] Perhaps there is no D&D character class that could play a great software consultant. They all seem lacking in some way, and only capable of solving the problem in a unique and often repeatable way.
Then, as I thought about our own Double Agents, it dawned on me: the one character class that would make the perfect software consultant!
When I think of what a Test Double software consultant does, the best match for a D&D character class crystallizes in my mind.
Test Double makes a point of hiring technically gifted people who are empathetic and can explain what they are doing to create a better solution and why. Our agents will help solve the problem you have, but also help you understand if there are bigger issues to resolve and why it matters. They are also great at stepping in to facilitate better processes and have the knack for filling in any number of skill gaps required to ultimately deliver software that positively impacts their client.
A description of a Bard from D&D Beyond (produced by the Wizards of the Coast, LLC):
The greatest strength of bards is their sheer versatility. Many bards prefer to stick to the sidelines in combat, using their magic to inspire their allies and hinder their foes from a distance. But bards are capable of defending themselves in melee if necessary, using their magic to bolster their swords and armor.
…They have a wide-ranging knowledge of many subjects and a natural aptitude that lets them do almost anything well. Bards become masters of the talents they set their minds to perfecting, from musical performance to esoteric knowledge.
…A bard’s life is spent wandering across the land gathering lore, telling stories, and living on the gratitude of audiences, much like any other entertainer.
So, lots of great strengths. Let’s parse this a bit…
- Bards are versatile, capable of filling in where needed and have an aptitude that enables them to do almost anything well. In D&D terms, Bards can dual class their abilities at will and can become experts in things outside their immediate bardic skills.
- Bards can inspire their allies and buff their own capabilities to enable them to accomplish more than they could alone.
- Bards listen, gather information, and synthesize it into a coherent and compelling story that tells you what you need to hear—not just what you might want to hear.
If you’re working with software consultants, ideally you want someone who will listen to your concerns and really understand your problems. The way they solve problems enables you to hire the smallest team you can get away with, resolve the symptom you have, lay out the real root cause issues, solve those issues while helping your team grow, and leave you better off than you were before.
The best software consultants will not only tell you if there are skill gaps or communication issues amongst business, product, and engineering, too much technical debt to overcome, or infrastructure issues that are creating impediments. They will also step in where needed and fill those gaps to solve the problems. Because they are listening and synthesizing, they will be able to tell you why the problems you have need to be solved within the context of your business objectives. And that helps you make the case with your boss.
Since the best software consultants are empathetic polyglots and see the world through a lot of different lenses, they can identify the best way to solve the problem and communicate the solution to each team member—regardless of their area of expertise. Because they are such great communicators, the best software consultants will tell you what should be done to fix the problem, show your team how to do it, and teach them how to identify and fix the problem next time. They become the ultimate force multiplier to solve the problem at hand, while also upskilling your team and company.
Bards! The one character class most people do not enjoy playing—nor play well—may very well be the one character you need the most to help solve your software challenges. We have many Bard Double Agents ready to dual-class as needed to help you and your team!