What skills do you need to start working as a tester?
What are the responsibilities of a tester and what skills does a QA specialist need? What should you do to master new skills and how can you gain knowledge? You will find the answers to these and other questions in the new article on the Anywhere Club blog.
The author of this article is a Senior QA Manual Engineer and testing course instructor at the IT.Life Ukraine academy, Maksym Demianov.
In this article
Creating and launching new software involves multiple stages and complex tasks. It's not easy to come up with all of the necessary features and the visual design of a future application. An even bigger challenge is ensuring that all of the planned ideas work, and that the new application or website meets the demands of picky users.
This is where the testing team comes to the fore in the multilayered tech world. In 2023, the demand for specialists in this field remains strong and is expected to continue increasing in the coming years. In this article, we will analyze the key tech (hard) and additional (soft) skills that are necessary to start working as a tester.
What do testers actually do?
A software tester, often referred to as a QA specialist or simply QA, is an IT specialist responsible for checking the functionality of applications, websites, and games for errors, and for ensuring their efficient operation in accordance with technical documentation.
The main responsibilities of a QA team include:
- creating and maintaining documentation on test processes;
- calculating risks and planning the time required for specific assessments;
- identifying bugs and malfunctions in the product operation;
- conducting manual or automated testing, and comparing the functionality with the technical documentation or visual mockups; and
- gathering the data necessary to fix the error.
The effective performance of these tasks is impossible without a comprehensive set of skills. Let's consider those in more detail.
Hard skills — key technical skills
Hard skills are the technical subject knowledge and abilities without which testing cannot be effectively conducted. They are often referred to technical skills because they enable efficient work at all stages of functionality verification, and the understanding of relevant terms.
The main hard skills include:
- Basic knowledge of terms and principles in the tech field helps a specialist better understand specifications (technical descriptions) and the organization of mockups (visual examples), which serve as a basis for comparison with the actual functionality.
- Deep knowledge of various testing methodologies allows testers to identify the optimal approach in terms of speed and coverage for each task. Here are a few key methodologies:
- Unit testing: Checking individual units of functionality to ensure that the code behaves as expected.
- API testing: Verifying that integrating ready-made code components from other developers (API) has not caused any issues and that the code functions as intended overall.
- Regression testing: Checking a tested product after changes have been made, or testing functionality after the programmer has reviewed the code.
- Performance testing: This testing evaluates the stability of the product, checks its operation rate, and determines the server load that the product can handle without any failures.
- Black box testing: This is testing without access to the program's code, which means that the tester evaluates product functionality without prior knowledge of how the entire system should work. This approach allows for less biased testing and often helps discover more "creative" errors.
- White box testing: This refers to testing the product with access to full information about how everything should work, including project documentation, source code, and so on.
There are numerous testing methods and approaches based on the test object, goals, system knowledge, testing time, positive scenario criteria, etc. It might seem impossible to fit all of this in your head. At IT.Life Ukraine, however, we know that it is possible to learn, understand, and remember all of the necessary information with an effective training program structure that includes the following modules:
- Creation and maintenance of a bug database: The testing team contributes to and shapes the list of bugs currently present in the product.
- Introduction to test management and bug tracking tools, such as Asana, Jira, BugHerd, etc.: Testers not only report bugs in a specific task manager but also monitor their relevance, update them when necessary, and close them when the problem is no longer reproducible.
- Understanding the principles of log analysis: Logs are technical data containing information about the localization and type of errors on the device.
- Learning different product development life cycle models: Development might follow the Waterfall model, where tasks are described, executed, and passed on to testing in turn. Alternatively, one of the Agile models such as Scrum may be used, in which development is divided into equal periods (sprints), and each sprint includes a plan for what needs to be developed, tested, and released. These are just two models out of many that exist. Understanding the basics of different development models helps testers adapt more effectively to tasks, projects, and even companies.
It is important to note, though, that it is not only technical skills that facilitate effective work by a software tester.
Soft skills — useful human qualities
If you think of hard skills as the physical components of a mechanism without which it won't function, then soft skills can be thought of as the timely lubrication and proper combination of these elements to ensure smooth and uninterrupted operation.
Soft skills are the character traits and personal qualities that help you feel comfortable as a tester, and support your productive work in this specialty.
The main useful personal qualities are:
- Effective questioning skills: Technical documentation is helpful, but QA specialists are highly valued when they are proactive and unafraid to ask the developers clarifying questions. Doing so can help avoid unnecessary bugs and result in complete descriptions for the necessary ones.
- Attention to detail: Users quickly notice even the smallest flaws in functionality because they focus on specific elements while working with a product. A tester benefits from meticulous attention to detail. This helps avoid missing a small white square that is displayed instead of one of the ten necessary icons, for example, or a problem that only occurs in limited circumstances, such as when an email address is entered incorrectly in a payment form.
- Patience and focus: Testing involves working with all of the parts of an application or website, resulting in task variety. It is important to remember, however, that even with this diversity, there is often a need to carefully test the same part of the product multiple times or to process large volumes of information throughout the day.
- Creative thinking: If you describe yourself as someone who is not afraid to experiment and think outside the box, you will enjoy the profession of a tester. In addition to following predefined test cases, taking the initiative in exploring alternative ways to test functionality is highly valued. What will happen if a user presses buttons in reverse order or tries to enter "abracadabra" in the name field? If your curiosity and creativity lead you to ask such questions and then find an answer, you are a good fit for this specialty.
- Time management: If you can accomplish tasks and easily create a daily plan in your personal life, then welcome to the world of testing. This skill is essential during tight deadlines in releases, when a tester is required to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
Where to get the necessary knowledge and skills
The most effective and efficient option for gaining key knowledge and finding a job is to take a good course.
But there are other things that you can do to develop existing skills or learn new ones:
- Read specialized online resources and blogs written by experienced QA professionals. You can find life hacks and recommendations there and also funny stories about the everyday life of a tester.
- Practice testing approaches on existing websites or applications and think creatively about how you would test ordinary things around you. For example, how many test cases can you come up with to test a backpack?
- Watch online tutorials or attend QA events, workshops, and conferences. This allows you to stay current on the latest news and innovative solutions, and to meet and communicate with colleagues from different companies.
- Read self-development books. This is a beneficial option for those who want to learn more about time management or explore techniques to enhance creativity. For example, we recommend Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, by Michael Michalko, and Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky.