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10 skills of highly effective software testers

While test automation has gained traction in recent years, a QA professional is still a better fit than robotic tools for many cases -- but only if the tester has these 10 skills.

Testing is essential in any software project. To be successful, however, you need talented software testers.

Unfortunately, you don't see that in many organizations. Some people in the software community consider testing a mediocre job, suitable for people who have lesser analytical and problem-solving skills. The essential skills a tester should have are not properly assessed when recruiting for a testing assignment.

Let's take a look at those essential software testing skills.

1. Think analytically and logically

The major objective of testing is to identify the hidden errors, not simply prove that the software works. For a tester to be effective in the role, they must be able to analyze the given business situation and judge all the possible scenarios. Software testers should have the capacity to identify and tackle unfamiliar problems and should develop a strategy to validate them. Only a person with a strong analytical skill set can create situations and validate the application under test, before presenting it to customers, effectively.

Software testers should be able to separate the whole into logical parts -- to examine a complex problem, its elements and their relationships. They should be able to develop a logical argument based on relationships between elements and propositions, as well as identify implications, relationships, redundancies and contradictions without leaving any room for inconsistency and ambiguity. They should be consistent in analyzing and solving complex, multistep problems.

2. Envision business situations

A tester should be able to envisage real-time business situations through mental mapping, abstracting the idea inferred from the specifications. Real-time business scenarios should crystallize in testers' minds, and they should think about what test cases are, rather than what they ought to be.

A tester should be able to anticipate complex problems, in addition to visualizing and articulating them. He or she should be able to do a complete system simulation rapidly and accurately. In the present software development environments, which frequently follow Agile and DevOps methodologies, teams or individuals might not get enough time to do a series of conventional brainstorming sessions to finalize the concept mapping. Therefore, it is vital that a tester have conceptualization skills through mental mapping.

3. Stimulate curiosity and creativity

A tester should understand that being an intellectual and being intellectually curious are not the same. A tester should arguably be the latter one -- intellectually curious -- which is all about asking questions and not about having answers. Software testers should believe in the pursuit of knowledge as a value in and of itself. They should love asking questions and should not consider it a blow to their ego when they are wrong about something.

It is intellectual curiosity that motivates and prompts a tester to identify interesting questions about the software being tested. Thus, a tester should develop the knack to see what everyone else hasn't seen, to think what no one else has thought and to do what no one else has dared.

4. Take a glocal approach

Software systems have become extremely complex. Most of the time, the system designed involves multiple stakeholders, and dealing with such systems is not always easy. Testers should be able to deal effectively with business situations marked by complexity and numerous interactions with third-party systems. They should be able to identify how the system under test interacts with other constituents of the system. They should also be able to isolate the most minute units of the application under test and do the validation, keeping in mind the behavior of the system as a whole.

Testers stand out among their peers when they detach themselves from the system. Look at it as an outsider, and present findings on the relationship between the individual components convincingly in a logical fashion. At the same time, testers should keep their eyes and ears open so as not to ignore issues that may be inherent in individual components. Thus, a glocal (global + local) approach is essential.

5. Use critical thought and rational inquiry

Quality is a concept that doesn't exist in a vacuum: The quality of life of an individual and the quality of what they produce/deliver depend largely on the quality of his or her thought process. The thought process of a tester should be undistorted, impartial and without any prejudices. A tester should be able to take charge of the inherent structures and impose intellectual standards upon the software under test. Testers should be able to raise vital questions precisely and clearly, gather and assess relevant information, interpret it effectively to come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, and test those conclusions against the given criteria and requirements. They should be open-minded, suspend any judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence to support a decision and always abide by logical reasoning.

Effective tools for effective software testers

By Matt Heusser

As software engineer Grady Booch once wrote, "A fool with a tool remains a fool still." That said, a backhoe can more effectively move a lot of earth than can a shovel, as long as the operator knows what they are doing.

While the approach to software testing is more important than the technology, testing tools help a QA professional find defects in code. Here are a few categories of tools for software testers to use:

  • Bug tracker. This type of tool provides a way to list known bugs, prioritize them and track the progress toward a fix. Bug trackers are a subset of collaboration tools, which can include source code version control, instant messenger, video chat and shared drives.
  • Screen capture. A picture is worth a thousand words. Use a tool to snap a screencap of an error message and provide annotation. Better yet, make a short, narrated video reproducing the bug.
  • Test data generation. Free tools, such as PerlClip and TestDataGenerator, produce sample data and export it. Similarly, form filler tools, like Fake Data and Bug Magnet, automatically fill forms with fake valid or invalid data for tests.
  • Test idea generation. All-pairs -- also known as pairwise -- tools reduce the number of possible test cases, while optimizing coverage. One such tool, Hexawise, provides a free trial online.
  • Mind maps. Make a list of the major features, paths or risks of the software, then publish and track progress with mind map software. Visualize notes for better organization and clarity.
  • Log searchers. Splunk and similar tools can ease log searches, essentially turning them into a Google-like experience. You can also use merge tools, like WinMerge, to compare text files.
  • This technology enables you to have multiple versions of OSes and browsers for various operational scenarios, all on the same computer.
  • Emulators and simulators. Testers can run a hundred different configurations of mobile devices, all from a laptop. You can also test real devices in the cloud and view results on your laptop.
  • GUI automators. Selenium WebDriver and similar tools drive the browser, either for check automation or to get to an interesting place to stop and test.

6. Apply basic and fundamental knowledge

Knowledge in the context of testing can be attributed to the fluid mix of experience, values, contextual information and expert insight. Those elements provide a framework for evaluating the system under test.

One can attain knowledge by many means, but that knowledge is worthwhile only when it adds value to situations encountered. A smart tester should be able to apply the knowledge attained over years of experience with the domain, process, product, customers, mistakes and successes in his or her testing. The tester should be able to make use of fundamental communication, as well as mathematical and software application skills, and effectively apply those skills to practical situations.

7. Continue to learn

Organizations and business environments change rapidly, which means the approaches and processes that work well today will be outdated tomorrow. Therefore, it is imperative that a tester notice, adapt and learn from change. That doesn't mean that testers should undergo training or certification continually. Rather, they should be open to learning from everything in life. If a tester gains basic and fundamental knowledge, then the rest can be achieved through self-directed learning. In short, learning should be a lifelong habit.

8. Respect truth and intellectual integrity

A tester should be able to examine the piece of software under test and the resulting processes, with focus on the given specification, and understand the behavior of the software. Being human, a tester could have severe biases, prejudices and intolerances that prevent him or her from performing well. Testers should possess the intellectual integrity to correct those barriers to efficiently understand the nature of the software under test. They should also be willing to shrug off the set of practices and character traits that undermine their intellectual integrity. And a tester should be able to exemplify intellectual virtues, such as honesty, impartiality and openness to the views of others.

9. Plan and manage time wisely

Planning is nothing but writing the story of the future. A tester needs to have a thorough plan and must develop a well-thought-out test strategy and approach. And that plan must be in place before work begins on any software testing assignment. It should describe, among other details, the items and features to be tested, test strategy and levels, pass/fail criteria, suspension/resumption criteria, schedule and requirements.

The plan should be monitored continually and validations done through organized system feedback. Stick to the plan, and monitor the progress in order to ensure timely delivery.

10. Communicate effectively

A tester must be able to communicate thoughts and ideas effectively, using a variety of tools and media. Testers need to develop and use skills throughout their careers and should learn to communicate effectively to the stakeholders so as to avoid ambiguities and inconsistencies. For example, printed presentations should be concise, logically organized and to the point. The points made should be pragmatic rather than philosophical, and arguments should be supported by facts.

In the case of oral presentations, the voice, body language and appearance of the presenter are as important as the content and visual aids. Testers should develop conversational skills to overcome shyness and fear of speaking, as well as good listening skills.

About the author:

Baiju M. is a testing and QA manager at Envestnet Asset Management in India. He has more than 10 years' experience in system analysis, development and testing. He originally wrote these 10 points in 2007. The article was updated with input from Matt Heusser in 2018.

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What interpersonal skills do you look for in a software tester?
It is very informative blog. Thanks for sharing.
The information was relevant and helpful. I know it might be hard to ask, but being cognizant of the pronouns you're using would be amazing. As a FEMALE reading this article, it is discouraging to assume testers are only men (using "He" instead of a gender neutral term like "They" when referring to subjects/testers.) As someone who struggles with envisioning herself in the field of tech because of its male dominance, recognizing that women are included and encouraged in these spaces can start with the interpretation of your article.

Thanks for your consideration

"A tester should be open minded, suspend any judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence to support a decision, and always abide by logical reasoning."

You should not struggle envisioning yourself as a tester. If nothing backs the image that male testers are superior to female ones why do you bother? Just be a good tester no matter you are man or woman. Someone uses male pronouns? Its nice to point that out, but saying it hurts you means you cant overcome this boundary. 

The content wont be more informative even if he changes the pronouns, sure in the next one he will probably consider using neutral ones, but rewriting this would be an overkill. +its 2 months since your comment, I'm not sure he bothers reading the comment which is not a tester-way-of-thinking: we shall learn from our mistakes and consider all opinions. :)
Hi Octavia, the author likely has not responded to your request because the article was written in 2007, and the author may not use the same contact email now as then. However, I can tell you that we follow AP Style primarily, which accepted "they" as singular in limited situations only starting in 2017. Hope this helps! If you're interested in current articles about women in testing, check out some of Daisy McCarty's articles for TechTarget, such as this one: