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What (Soft) Skills Does A Test Engineer Need?

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Having technical skills will certainly help you land the job you want, but, if you want to be really good at what you’re doing, you’ll need some extra help. While some soft skills are common and expected for everyone, there are some that are specific for Test Engineers and can make a difference between an average one and a master of testing. So what are the soft skills for software testing?

It’s easy for developers, no one expects ‘bug-free’ code from them 🙂 (smile was added to clarify that this was a joke ;)) Scrum master or Project Manager will give you objectives and set you on the right path. But if you are Test Engineer you have the whole bunch of stuff to think of – understand the code you need to test, try it manually, create some automation scripts for testing, try to squeeze whole testing effort into that small piece of time at the end of the sprint/project, prepare report and so on and so on. And if you find a bug it gets even more complicated – analyze it, describe, explain, test, retest, verify…

It’s not easy to be a Test Engineer but working on your soft skills may help you to become most wanted one.

While you definitely need strong technical background (it helps to know coding for automation part) everyone will expect that you have excellent communication and analytical skills and are curious at the same time. And this is exactly the biggest challenge in becoming the most wanted test engineer – you can learn to code easily, but it’s more challenging to work on your soft skills, especially for the IT people, where the mindset is: “OK, it’s a bug, why do I need to explain it so thoroughly?”

soft skills for software tester

Communication

Although a very basic human skill, it is at the top of soft skills for test engineers and a hardest one to master for (introvert by default) IT people. You need to know when to listen, when to ask questions and when to talk and report. Of course, everything should be mastered in verbal and written way.

Always be present on Planning and Grooming session where you will get important information about the product you will need to test. Test Engineer must never be afraid to ask for additional information when needed. Don’t forget to ask a developer to provide some hints about additional ways of testing product and verifying bugs. And whether you are submitting a bug or presenting test report – it is crucial that you are precise and that you are giving enough details to avoid any ambiguities. Use too many data and details and no one will read your reports. Use too little and everyone will ask you for more details. Try to talk with the team and your manager and to find out what are they expecting to see in reports. That will help you provide the right amount of information. Most of the times no one will care about the number of bugs you’ve found. Instead try to focus on improved quality and performance, time saved by automation, faster support response time and so on. Show them where the risks are and what are you doing to tackle them. Good team communication can significantly improve the quality of the product being built.

Ask Questions

Asking questions is mastery of itself – before even think of testing you need to know who will use your application, how, when and on what (environment). Make sure you get all these pieces of information before you start to design test approach.

Once you have enough information and you know what needs to be done you need to figure out how to put all those tasks into the small amount of time you have. It helps if you are good at…

soft skills for software tester

Time Management and Effort Prioritization

Let’s make one thing clear first – you will never have enough time to do/test everything you want. Sooner you accept this and learn how to prioritize tasks, sooner you’ll learn to make the most of what you have. One thing that always helps is test automation, so make sure that your scripts are reliable. They will save you a lot of time for regression testing. Invest in Test Automation and Continuous Integration. Automate regression in order to have more time for exploratory testing of new functionalities and don’t forget Performance Testing. Having separate test environment will help so be sure to ask for one in advance.

Once you have planned everything and began your work there’ll be a plenty of challenges. You will need to be…

Focused, Organized but Flexible

Yeah, I know, it sounds like a motivational poster right ? Test process can be very dull sometimes because of repetitiveness. And all those time when you just can’t get that bug to reappear again and you just know it’s there…

You need to learn how to turn off and focus while trying to reproduce that elusive problem. And there is no room for mistake when writing down all steps necessary for issue reproduction.

Although you will have defined process that you follow, you need to be prepared for changes. In fact, the only thing that you can be certain about is that things will change – new requirements will be added just before code freeze, new feature will not be ready for testing on time as promised, your team will change… Test Engineer must be able to quickly adapt to new reality and to do best with what he’s got.

Also very important is the ability to look at the product from a customer point of view ! And this is exactly how you will find your best bugs.

All these skills are more or less common need for every team player but something specific for any test engineer is…

soft skills for software tester

Negative Thinking

This is why you need (independent) test engineer to test if something is working or not (and not the person who built it). Of course, it helps if you have all negative scenarios defined or planned in your test approach. Keep in mind that positive scenarios will only prove that something is working. You need to unleash destructive inner self in order to find weak spots before customers do that themselves.

Strong Character

As a QA engineer you can expect a lot of pressure coming your way and especially increasing as the end of the project and a release date is approaching. Do you really need that much time for each test cycle ? Don’t you think test team is too big ? Is that really Critical bug ? … When you are exposed to these always remember that once issues start coming to support you will always hear ‘who tested this ?’and never ‘who coded this ?’. Therefore make a test plan, say what you need and hold on to it. Do not bend under pressure and if you need to do it then make sure you have clearly stated all the risks that may happen because of that.

It is not easy to be the bearer of bad news (I found a bug !) so it’s important for a Test Engineer to be a…

Team Player with Positive Attitude 

It is very easy to slip into negativity and to become an outcast from the positive people in the team. After all, they are all trying to build something, pushing forward and Test Engineer is only telling them that’s not good enough, that they are making mistakes and that they need to slow down… But think of the alternative – without test team, all issues would go directly to customers. Test Team must be aware that they are the major filter between failures and satisfied customers and as a result of that – success of the product and company as a whole. It is important to develop friendly relationships with a development team in first place and to have excellent communication with them. There is no success with strong development and weak test team or the other way around. You should always have your team on your mind and how to support them – automating your tests so that manual test engineers have more time for exploratory testing, preparing and maintaining your test plans in Jenkins so that developers have quick info about whether their last builds is good enough, preparing valuable test reports so that management knows current status of the project.

Don’t forget that you are ‘just’ a part of the team and that success comes from teamwork. There will be no team success if you are brilliant test engineer but developers keep deploying low-quality code too late because your automated scripts are not helping them, Or management is failing to plan because your reports are not showing where the risk is and what area needs to improve. And this is exactly where your extra help comes in play, your soft skills that will help the team to act as a team.

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Aleksandar Ristic has over 15 years of experience in software testing. While working on numerous projects on behalf of ComTrade Company, he had gained valuable extensive experience in both automated and manual testing in various industries and settings (storage, telecommunication, gaming, education). He believes firmly in the importance of maintaining close relationships between testing and development teams and he knows just the right tools you need to use to achieve it. His weapons of choice are: Watir, SOAP UI and Protractor

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