One of the greatest thrills I get is when I work with new analysts, consultants, and companies as they take the evolution and become great testers. It is so easy to talk about everything that is wrong with most groups, people, and agencies in our industry, but the reality is that I rarely find people who are not intelligent and not willing to work hard. The reality is that there are a very specific set of skills that you find from the best people, either inherent or developed, that allow them to make a much larger impact than others. With that in mind, I want to present seven skills that all great testers have developed and work on daily to make themselves better.
Willing to challenge all ideas – There can be no stone left unturned and no idea that is too sacred to challenge if you really want to find the best results. Being willing to give any and all ideas a fair shake, and being willing to seek out ideas that you don’t agree with is a skill that takes people time to really learn to live.
They are not beholden to a single Dogma – So many groups fail because they try to force testing into Analytics, IT, Marketing, SEO, SEM or any other specific skill. The reality is that testing is a new skill, one that takes parts and interacts with all of those existing disciplines, as well as any other current or future ones. Being able to develop their own skill base and being able to talk to others on their own ground. It isn’t about owning testing, but about bringing it to others.
Technical understanding of how things work – This is not the same as someone who can write all sorts of complicated JQUERY code or can architect your entire system, but all testers need to be able to understand how your site works, how different systems interact, and the different options available to accomplish each goal. To do this, they have to be comfortable working with, around, and even replacing developers as needed.
They have ADHD – In a single day, you might be talking to a designer, two C level people, 3 product owners, work with project managers and engineers, analytics, and then finish the day preparing a result for product managers. And the next day will be completely different. In over 7 years of testing, I have not had two days that were alike. You have to love the constant change, the shifting conversations, the coming and going of industry concepts, and you have to be easily able to shift what you are doing on the fly. If you are only comfortable when you are focusing on one thing, or when you can really dive into something, testing is not for you.
Understand Why people believe what they do – If one of the core tenants of testing is to prove yourself and other wrong, you are going to be upsetting a lot of people if you cannot talk to them about what lead to that conclusion and how best to leverage that thinking. One of the greatest skills is getting people to challenge themselves or to question their very core beliefs.
Not easily frustrated – Testing can be a very frustrating job. You are so often simply asking people to test out something, knowing full well that it takes you longer to discuss the option then it is to add it as a recipe. Or how about when you are waiting for code to be deployed? Or when you prove that a redesign is a failure and the group decides to move forward with it? The reality is that you are always fighting an uphill battle, and it is only when you are able to get past all of those frustrations that you are to add real value. So many perfectly competent people I know fail and end up acting as project managers and just yes men, because they are no longer willing to fight the uphill battle and are not able to get past all of the frustration that you will face.
Pragmatist – More than anything else, a great tester is pragmatic and efficient in everything they do. You have to be willing to not just hold a dogma and be able to take any idea and deconstruct it to get more value. You will so rarely be able to just run with a testing program, but being able to find places to challenge ideas, add value, and learn are the places where a tester really earns their salary.
The reality is that it takes at least a year to a year and a half for even the first signs of lights to pop-on for most testers. Even worse these skills are constantly poached by other groups, since they can be both non-threatening and add a lot of value. No matter where you are, starting out or have been testing for years, I challenge you to look at your own actions and skill set and to see what you can do to get better at each and every one of these.