That's a great question. Many might say that it is automation, coding/scripting, writing good test cases or attention...
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to detail. And there is no question that any and all of these skills are valuable to your career.
However, at the STAREAST Conference earlier this spring, an entirely different answer was offered. Speaker after speaker stood in front of the crowd of over 1,000 testers with the same message -- the top software testing skill is the ability to communicate effectively with your peers and management.
But communication is not a technical skill, right? While there are a large number of purely technical skills that may help ones career, communication skills cut across all types of testing. Communication is essential not only in your career, but in any role you may play.
Why is communication important? Let's say you are the best and most effective tester in the world, but if you can't convince people of your results and recommendations, you won't be considered effective. As MIT researcher Sherry Turkle said in her book, Reclaiming Conversation, data is the beginning of a conversation, not the conclusion. What she means is that data doesn't tell a story; we tell the story with numbers as a backdrop.
How can you polish this software testing skill and become a better communicator? First, listen to others. Often, we fail to appreciate each other's positions or stands, and instead promote ourselves and our ideas without showing any respect to our other team members. They have good ideas too, even if they arrive at a solution from a different direction. We will be better positioned to respond to people when we walk in their shoes.
Second, use logic rather than emotion. If your position can be supported by facts, use them. Weave your conclusions through those facts so that you both define your position and support it.
Last, be organized. If you are not, then you'll be disrespecting your colleagues. Make sure that you are prepared for a professional discussion, and know the positions for which you will be advocating.
These are the secrets to the top software testing skill.
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