A couple of tweets by Justin Hunter (@hexawise) recently got me thinking about what makes a tester really valuable for the long term. He tweeted:
3 things more testers should know more about: test design approaches, Context Driven Testing, Bach & Bolton-style Exploratory Testing (tweet)
As a tester, if you want to maximize your ST earning potential, learn Selenium. To maximize your LT value, study Context Driven Testing. (tweet)
(In the last tweet, ST and LT refer to “short term” and “long term” respectively.)
While I agree these are all valuable skills for testers to have today, I believe these hint at deeper skills that are actually immensely more valuable over the long term.
Before we begin, consider what “valuable” means to you. Is it money? Is it getting the opportunity to work on cutting edge products or products that help change the world? Is it the flexibility to work remotely or to be able to travel around the world? Is it getting to work with brilliant people? Depending on your answer, your path to becoming “highly valuable” will vary greatly.
Since the tweets above mentioned earning potential, I’m going to focus on that aspect for now, though I personally rank some of the aspects above higher.
Here’s another way to think about it: your industry is changing every day. Your team is hiring new people with new skills and different experience. Why? It wants to be more efficient and more effective. Staying static in a dynamic world is extremely risky if you want to keep your role for very long.
Learn How To Automate Tests Effectively
There is a heated debate that has been raging for years about whether testers should learn to automate or not. My personal opinion is that nobody should do anything they don’t want to do. Having said that, testers who can automate tests effectively in addition to doing a great job at all the other stuff (test planning, manual testing, attention to detail, etc.) are more valuable in the long term. I claim this in the same sense that any skilled craftsperson who is an expert with two tools is more valuable than one who is an expert in only one tool. Manual testing is essential to validating many types of products, and I would never suggest removing all manual testing in favor of automation for a product with a user interface. However, all great craftspeople know that it’s best to use the right tool for the job, and manual testing isn’t always the right tool. Much of what testers do on a daily basis is repetitive and predictable and could be automated. Testers who know how to write automation that is fast, reliable, and maintainable will have an advantage in the long term over those who don’t.
Selenium is a great platform for automating web sites, and Justin is correct that knowing Selenium will probably help you earn a well-paying job in the short term. While the web seems to be pretty popular these days, websites are just one type of product in a sea of many. Knowing the “elements” of test automation is what’s most valuable. This comes with years of experience and learning by trial and error for many. I’ll cover these elements in depth in a future post.
Written and verbal communication are critical elements of being effective as a software tester, and it is a fallacy to think you could be highly valuable if you don’t “work well with others”. Think about all the parts of our jobs that require effective communication: writing test plans, filing bugs, clarifying requirements, reporting test results, sending e-mail, documenting processes, giving presentations… Yet examples of ineffective communication are all too easy to find every day in each of these scenarios. I’m not perfect by any means; communicating effectively is a life-long pursuit. This is equally important if you work remotely or in a team room with other engineers.
When you communicate effectively, others will “hear” you the first time. You won’t waste precious time going back and forth asking and answering questions. You’ll be less randomized, and so will your team. You’ll be seen as someone who can be trusted, because your communications will inspire confidence rather than doubt. All of these will contribute to higher earning potential over time.
One of the best tips I can offer for testers is to say as much as you can in as few words as possible. This holds for your defect reports, presentations, emails, test plans, etc. Don’t assume you have to fill up a certain amount of space with “fluff”. Just say what needs to be said and be done. Look for words like “utilize” as smells that you’re off track.
For defect reports, try to anticipate what questions others would have after reading your report. Did you report enough detail in the “steps to reproduce” section, or did you make assumptions that the reader might not also make? Including screenshots or videos can be extremely valuable too.
Lastly, smile. A tester’s role is highly critical, and many testers come across as unnecessarily grumpy. Of course, many developers also come across as grumpy, but who wouldn’t when there’s an army of people paid to point out how bad your code is? If you think about your role from the developer’s point of view, you can see how a friendly smile (no, not a Dr. Evil smile!!) can go a long way in convincing a developer to pay close attention!
There are many ways to maximize your long term earning potential as a software tester. We discussed three such ways above: adapting to change, learning how to write effective test automation, and communicating effectively. Each of these deserve much more attention than a single blog post and can take years to master, but hopefully by putting them on your radar you’ll stop to think how well you do them now and how you might want to change.