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23 Sep

Software Testers:
The Swiss Army Knife of Software Delivery

Agile is dead. So is offshoring. So are accreditations.

This is an article by a tester. About testers. About testers' opinions on testers. About testers' opinions taken in a survey by a tester.

Job descriptions for software testers list all kinds of ‘must have’ skills and experience:

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The above, I took from a selection of different job specs for Test Analyst roles advertised on the internet.
My two favourites were "ability to understand and extrapolate priorities" and "Front to back testing". Testers extrapolate and do things the right way round (or is Front to Back the wrong way round?)!
These days, it seems you have to be able to test manage; code; guide the UAT; performance test; build virtual test environments; test desktop, web, mobile phones, tablets, smart fridges, set top boxes … you name it.
We’re a multi skilled bunch.
(Do programmers have as good a grasp as testers of such a wide variety of skills and technologies?)
So, those ads I looked at show the main types of areas that job specifications for testers concentrate on, (as well as corporate marketing stuff). I suspected that real testers (not usually those penning the job specs you see in the adverts) put more value on the softer skills required for their job. All other technical and learnt skills can be, erm, learnt and comfortably applied on the job. On a discovery mission, I set up a quick, 3 question survey and invited my tester friends on LinkedIn to participate. More than 3,000 people viewed the LinkedIn post, according to the site's stats, and almost 250 testers took part in the survey. (Thank you to those who lent me their 30 seconds. Consider this my giving it back :-] ) As I went through the results, it was clear that soft skills were indeed viewed as the most important by real testers.

The Participants' Roles


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Firstly, it was interesting to note that over a third of participants were test managers, followed by test analysts and test consultants (contractors, I'd guess). I don't think I'm connected to more test managers than any other role of tester, so perhaps we're just a more vocal group?
However, the responses given did not vary much between the different roles.

The Development Methodology

It was no surprise to me that the development methodology or framework that most testers worked in was Agile - 59%. Waterfall featured quite highly though (19%) and seemed to be bolstered by those testing infrastructure projects (according to the comments some made).

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The Most Important Skills

Most of the skills mentioned were as I predicted.
Whenever I'm hiring testers, communication skills are always top on my list.
(* Manual Testing covers test analysis, design, execution, results recording, defect raising.)
Stakeholder management is also crucial. Testers do a great deal of explaining, ego massaging, cajoling, bridge building. The gentle, tactful but honest disappointing of a programmer is a tester's forte.

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Mainstay tester attributes of being analytical and the ability to apply attention to detail were also present on the list.

The Comments

The survey invited comments and there were some good indications of real testers' opinions on some topics.
Here's some highlights I read:

Personal attributes are important but not testing qualifications.

I know this is a contentious issue and divides many. Here's a snapshot from James Bach. I speak to plenty of testers, especially while recruiting on behalf of clients. The general opinion I pick up is that testers reluctantly take the certifications to put on their CV. This gets them past the first stage of filtering for a job. More experienced testers do not believe a piece of paper equips them any better to do the job they have been doing for years.

Agile is not working and no-one will admit it.

Again, we've all heard this. Even LinkedIn has hosted many posts and debates on this topic. The consensus seems to be that, done properly with organisational change and teams fully adopting their new roles, Agile is a success. Where it falls down is with organisations that play lip service to Agile without undertaking the required organisational changes.

A good test manager does not make a good test analyst, and vice versa.

Undoubtedly true (if you add the word 'always' between 'not' and 'make') but equally, a good TA will not always be a bad TM, and vice versa.

Good visual reporting beats long-winded reports documents.

Agreed. We develop more software these days. We try to do it quicker. We try to do it with less documentation. No-one has the time to read a test result tome. That said, certain industries (safety critical, for instance) mandate the tome.

Agile requires full management buy-in if it is to work.

Already discussed.

Accountability is lacking and being passed on to offshore facilities to deal with.

More contention. I have seen examples of where this comment would apply. If you don't know how to test or get a test team established, the easy way out is to offshore/outsource it and wait for the quality delivery to come bounding back to you for deployment. That quality may not be there. I hear more and more stories of UK companies having offshored their testing, only to be bringing it back again due to the resultant reduced quality.

Team bonding is important.

I'm a big advocate of this. It applies to all jobs and walks of life and social groups. Social drinks down the pub with teammates is the quickest route to building that bond. For testers, it can be a good ice breaker with programmers, business analysts, project managers, etc. All are stakeholders for the tester.

Testing is a passion.

This was written by someone clearly new to testing or they were drunk when they wrote it! Seriously though, if you take your eye off the ball while testing. If you lose that spark, that curious mind, you'll more than likely see the bugs leak through.

In Conclusion

I set out to see which skills real testers held as the most important for their role and was not surprised that they were on the soft side with barely a mention of any test tools.
I invited comments and saw a snapshot of our testing community. The community of testers that inhabit LinkedIn.
There are clearly issues with Agile and it's adoption and results or perception of results.
The healthy dislike of testing accreditations is still alive.
Offshoring testing is not working for everyone.
There's passion and commitment in our testing community.
We're a bunch who have to be on the ball to uphold the quality of the world's software.
We're the Swiss Army Knife of software deliveries everywhere :-)


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