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Recruiters' advice to testers: Get technical!

The days of being able to get a job as a “manual tester” are no more. According to a panel of QA recruiters at a recent Denver SQuAD meeting, employers are looking for testers who have highly technical skills and specialize in a particular discipline such as security, performance or automation implementation. The panel, which included Bev Berry of Modis, Elias Cobb of Gunther Douglas and Samantha Schreiner of ProtoTest, unanimously agreed that the role of the tester is changing and that employers are expecting candidates who have at least some scripting experience or experience with some of the more popular automation tools, now including the open source tool, Selenium.

The advent of Agile development, of course, plays a part in creating the demand for more technical skills as testers are expected to work side-by-side with the development team, and those testers need to be able to understand code.

This message seemed to confirm much of what James Whittaker had to say at his somewhat controversial keynote at StarWest, “All That Testing is Getting in the Way of Quality.” Eric Jacobson did a great job of summarizing the keynote in his blog, and notes a common theme: “Programmers are getting better at testing, and testers are not getting better at programming.”

Jacobson’s blog also points out suggestions from Whittaker on tester survival that confirm what the recruiters were saying: “Get a specialty and become an expert in some niche of testing (e.g., Security, Internationalization, Accessibility, Privacy), or learn how to code.”

Scott Barber weighed in on the discussion with his own blog post, in which he said: “The state of the testing practice is not evolving nearly as quickly as development, business or products containing or depending on software.”

Should testers be concerned? Certainly Whittaker thinks so. He said to his audience of testers, “You are under threat more than you’ve ever been under threat before.” His keynote underscored the idea that testers must stop justifying the need for traditional testing and get busy learning how to contribute to the code, which he said was “the only artifact that anyone cares about.”

Barber answers the question of whether a tester should be concerned this way: “Only if they are afraid of change, have stagnated in their own professional development, and/or believe what they are doing today ‘is right and will continue to be right’ for at least as long as they will be testers.”

The recruiters, too, advise the testers to be prepared to grow and change. Taking an active part in professional development will make a difference. With all the open source tools available, all testers have the opportunity to learn new technologies, and doing so shows an interest and aptitude.

What if you don’t have the interest or aptitude? The recruiters say that there are growing needs for business analysts (or Product Owners for those who practice Scrum). Technical writing is also a possible career path for testers who are not interested in coding.

But let’s face it. Whether you are a programmer, a tester, a business analyst or a technical writer, if you work with software, things change, and they change at a fast pace. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Be part of it.

Related articles on SSQ:
Is automated testing replacing the software tester?
Are coding or testing skills more important in the corporate world?
Software development: Benefits of pairing programmers with non-programmers

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Yes, Testers should have 'technical' skills. And they should know some programming/coding skills. BUT this doesn't mean Manual (Business oriented) Testers are going away. Far from it, they are needed even more so now because they understand the 'business' side of the testing equation and that is still needed. Technical Testers (like myself) are just (and finally) seeing a need for our skill sets. My automation work is only as good as what the Manual/Business Tester has provided to me. Like good Requirements from a BA to a Developer. This is just a pendulum swing due to the influence of Agile/TDD. Which is good, but too much of a good thing is not good. Developers using the xUnit harnesses will only automate at the code level. That is a part of the overall testing effort. There is still a need for people who understand and can test the middle layers and system level along with the Business Logic. Manual Testers provide that, and if they know how to use tools to aid in that then all the better. But they are only tools, and only work as well as the person using them knows how. This is coming from an automation guy. So for the manual testers out there you do need to be willing to keep up on the technology and tools (like always) and have some speciality. But you don't have to be an automation person to stay in testing. Your 'sapient' abilities are still needed.
Thanks for joining in on the discussion, Jim! I think there will always be a need for some manual test, but that is shifting more towards the business / user community. It may be why the recruiters suggest a BA / Product Owner path for those who enjoy manual testing. The people who do the manual testing should have a strong domain knowledge. According to Whittaker's keynote, that is moving out to actual customers. He makes the point that users are better testers than testers. They know best what's important to them. I think Whittaker's notion of users doing the testing will only apply to certain low-risk industries, it does appear that manual testing activities are moving more towards the business, and the QA/test groups providing more automation tests.