Testers Are More Than Their Skills

As a tester, you don’t just gather and manage test data. You don’t just create test cases. As part of quality assurance, you don’t just check requirements. You don’t just do reviews. In short: you are not just a bundle of skills. Rather, you are a personality and a mindset that happens to have a bundle of skills. So let’s talk about that.

Whether you are working as a test analyst, test engineer, QA Analyst or whatever other title you have been saddled with, you are ultimately providing solutions that solve problems. The solutions help your company meet its goals in an effective and efficient way. Your focus is going to be on providing test and quality solutions, some of which may require technology and others of which are focused on people-related matters, such as meeting facilitation or communicating at daily stand-ups, and so on.

Your chances to provide these solutions will be along a few axes. It’s those axes I want to talk about.

Interaction and Communication

Quality Assurance and Testing are social disciplines and are often predicated as much — if not more so — on people rather than technology. Along with that, many of the challenges you will face will tend to be thinking and communicating challenges. There are thus a few key elements that must be a part of your common set of daily interactions and communications.

  • You must have an emphasis on communication. Your job is not to sit at a desk and “just do testing” or “just make quality happen.” Your job is to use testing as a means to convey information to various people as well as using information from people to inform how you perform testing and how you report on quality.
  • You must have the ability to convince with diplomacy. You often will be presenting news that is unwelcome or at least considered problematic. In some cases there will be disagreement about the facts of what you present as well as your opinion about what you present. Your ability to use tactful means of communication is essential for meaningful interactions.
  • You must recognize that you are more effective when you communicate and interact with rational justification and reasoned responses, not by displays of emotion. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate, but there’s a line between being passionate and being too emotional.

Leadership and Values

How you operate in the context of work is often driven by how you strive to lead others in terms of showing them the benefits of your work and encouraging others to agree to support your work. Another aspect of this is showing that you have a set of internal values that you externalize in your work delivery and in your communication with others.

  • You recognize that you may not always have everything you need when you need it. You display this by continuing to move forward in the face of ambiguity, such as where you have to operate with imperfect knowledge. You do not suffer from analysis paralysis.
  • You must display pride in your work. Everything you do is potentially read or utilized by various audiences. Even if those audiences don’t appreciate the “extras” you put into your work, this should not stop you from doing it. You will have standards for what you communicate (either verbally or in writing) and what you provide as output (test results, tool solutions, and so on). Compromising those standards risks diminishing the pride you take in your output.
  • You should foster and maintain a focus on leadership skills. This does not mean you are a manager necessarily; it means you look for ways to lead when there is an area that you see is not being addressed or could be addressed more effectively. One aspect of this is that you consistently work effectively to motivate people toward a common goal in relation to testing and quality assurance.
  • You collaborate with your co-workers to ensure that decisions are based on the merit of the proposal, not a sole consideration of the proposer. Along with this, you work to appropriately present an idea or decision that you feel strongly about. You display an aptitude towards accepting and actively committing to the support of differing opinions in order to ensure that progress continues.


The software you test is intended to satisfy a business need. You understand that establishing and following effective and efficient test techniques is the best way to ensure that the software meets both the immediate and longer term business needs that it was created to fill. You also understand that sometimes trade-offs are necessary in order to maximize the business benefit of your time.

  • You consistently work to find the correct balance between the business needs and the software quality or technical innovation necessary to meet those needs.
  • You have an understanding of and display empathy for your company’s clients and business objectives, particularly those aspects relevant to your team and the immediate tasks surrounding project cycles.
  • You consistently seek the input of others to make sure your work aligns with your company’s business objectives and you consistently seek to deliver business value.
  • You work with your team and with other teams to recruit the very best people for your company by active participation in the recruiting process.
  • You consistently work to build good working relationships within your own team as well as with other teams across your company.

Your Work and Your Discipline

You need to demonstrate a breadth and depth of the skills that are the core part of your day-to-day work. These skills are the key operational aspects of the disciplines of quality assurance and testing. While there are ways to specialize in various techniques or approaches, there are certain generalities to the disciplines that you should exhibit.

  • You display an aptitude for solving problems at the earliest point that you can and with a broader context for what the actual problem you are solving is.
  • You display a consistent and effective attention to detail. This means you know when you are focusing too little or too much on some aspect of your work.
  • You must display the ability to think critically. This applies not just to the software you will be testing but to the work you are creating in the service of testing or documenting that software.
  • You develop pragmatic solutions that anticipate and solve testing needs. This means you utilize flexible test techniques to broaden your ability to test effectively. You utilize your existing skills (and build new ones) to craft straightforward test solutions to solve a defined need.
  • You demonstrate ability to support knowledge-sharing proactively within your own team and across your company as a whole.

So … aren’t all those skills?

I realize that the distinction between “skills” and “mind set and personality” can be a soft one. In fact, one could argue that the cultivation of an engaging personality is in itself a skill. And yet it’s that very cultivation that makes the difference I believe. Combining your technical skills with the skills required to be an effective human being within a team of other human beings is a large challenge. That’s the case for most any profession, of course. What I think has often gotten lost in the tech industry is how this applies to disciplines like testing and quality assurance.


This article was written by Jeff Nyman

Anything I put here is an approximation of the truth. You're getting a particular view of myself ... and it's the view I'm choosing to present to you. If you've never met me before in person, please realize I'm not the same in person as I am in writing. That's because I can only put part of myself down into words. If you have met me before in person then I'd ask you to consider that the view you've formed that way and the view you come to by reading what I say here may, in fact, both be true. I'd advise that you not automatically discard either viewpoint when they conflict or accept either as truth when they agree.

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