I’ve worked with countless individuals testing everything from websites and phone apps to satellite and security systems.
Many common attributes surface in those that accelerate in the Craft of Testing (CoT). Conversely, many common obstacles exist that derail even the best Test Engineers.
This article explores many of these attributes and obstacles. We’ll examine how to pursue and cultivate the beneficial qualities while quieting the distractions holding you back from becoming a “Jedi” Tester Engineer.
If there’s one common attribute I encounter when interviewing Test Engineers, they’re generally curious, with a natural inclination to explore and understand things better. You’ll often hear them talk about the stuff they took apart as a kid, wanting to investigate how something worked or operated. They rarely mention reassembling the vacuum cleaner or Dad’s old computer; instead, they seem to enjoy taking something apart, merely understanding the mystery of the machine.
Curiosity is a common attribute of most good Test Engineers. Along with this natural impulse is the temptation to keep on going, never getting to the finish line, never concluding the journey. No big deal during the weekend adventure, but between the hours of eight to five, it can cause real challenges for both the Test Engineer and their leader.
Let’s tweak and refine this tendency a bit, applying some strategy to the safari. Start by determining the objectives you want to discover during your investigation. Allocate a specified amount of time, what I call a “timebox,” to the exploration journey.
Consider the following test exploration objectives.
- Introduce three errors, applying invalid input data, and then analyze the error messages. (15 Minutes)
- Review the consistency and differences between Web and Mobile form entry. (30 Minutes)
- Observe the data handling of the application with intermittent network connectivity. (60 Minutes)
Break the research into bite-sized experiments, leading to a thorough knowledge of how new features operate. Once the timebox budget has elapsed, be content with the insights discovered, and move forward in your testing. It’s essential to be realistic, knowing there will always be more to learn about any technology or topic. Your sniper-like skills to investigate and test a product responsibly are the keys to testing most things well.
Methodical & Strategic
Great Test Engineers have a method and strategy for their testing. They build on experience and align efforts with the overall team approach. Great Test Engineers consider the customer, business, and product as they test. They look for ways to raise the quality of their work and the skills of their teammates.
Test Engineering is still a young and often misunderstood discipline. Many Quality Teams and Engineers have their effectiveness gauged by the number of test cases they write and execute. Potentially great Test Engineers may begin to adopt bad habits like writing meaningless test cases that don’t reduce risk, all to pad their numbers.
Some Test Engineers abandon strategy all together and go into Lone Ranger mode. Somewhere along the way, they recognized that performing busy work appeared like legitimate testing to those around them. A common attribute of this problem is abandoning test planning altogether and resorting to 100% exploratory and experienced-based testing.
We all communicate every day, so you may be thinking, why discuss such an obvious topic? The art of conveying information to someone else is more complicated than merely uttering words to another person.
My writing instructor taught me two fundamentals of effective communication.
- Understand who your (target) audience is.
- Determine what you want your (target) audience to takeaway.
I’m reminded even now of conversations where I missed one or both these points. I accomplish both goals best when taking the time to write things down ahead of time. Most written communication has a time of writing and editing before sending the message. Let your message “cool” for a bit, then go back and edit it with the audience and takeaway in mind. The “cooling” time allows you to see the message more clearly and typically leads to more successful results.
To sharpen your message from excessive rambling, introduce these disciplines into your communication.
- Who’s the (target) audience? Be as specific as possible. Avoid vague references such as “Everyone in my company” or “All developers.” Refine your audience down to, “The director of e-commerce” or “Senior mobile developers.”
- Identify what you want the audience to take away from your message. Be specific and include thoughts and reasoning on the topic. Avoid over-generalizing takeaways such as “Our approach to Agile is awful” or “We need to write better software.” Over-generalized takeaways are unrealistic to what a single communication can accomplish and are often unactionable as well.
- Write things out before you deliver your communication. Even if it’s a bulleted list, take time to write your message and points, then let it “cool.” I allow at least an hour and sometimes a day or two for “cooling” before editing and refining the message. This “cooling” time has helped me reduce my words to just the essentials.
- Deliver your information at the right time. As the cliche goes, timing is everything. Avoid sharing something critical right before lunch or at 4 pm Friday. Consider 30-60 minutes after the day has begun. When will your audience be in the best mindset to hear what you have to say? That’s the time to deliver your message.
One final point I’d like to discuss, relationships matter! I’ve been able to accomplish far beyond my capabilities by building authentic relationships with those I’m around.
I place much emphasis on the truth that all people matter. No one wants to feel used, and everyone knows how awful that feels. When a person who never acknowledges your existence suddenly shows up and tries to be your best buddy, our “imposter” alarm goes off, and we become suspicious of the offender.
Relationships take time and authenticity to build. How come topics as basic as building sound relationships seem simple yet we encounter poorly executed interactions daily? Many don’t put effort into building effective relationships and instead bank on their title or position to do the work for them.
So how can you begin to do relationships more authentically starting today?
- Build authentic relationships with those around you. Begin learning who they are, about their work, family. These take time but help to build good working harmony with those around you.
- Take time to listen and learn. If you’re getting to know your developer, take time to hear about the new language they’re learning or the book they’re reading. Conversations should follow a ping pong match model, going back and forth with each person sharing and listening.
- Respect their time. Keep a pulse of how much time has gone by and what signals are surfacing, indicating they need to button things up and get back to their work. Don’t be that person who overstays their welcome. Keep it sincere, focused, and on point.
- Recognize when someone has helped you out. Send a quick thank you note or purchase a $5 gift card to show your appreciation. If the person went the extra mile, ensure you share this with their leader, how much you appreciate the extra effort. Most folks appreciate recognition in some form. (Check out my website for more on recognition in the workplace at RecognizeAnother.com)
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful as you become more successful in your work. Decide today to plan and implement these tips, refining your craft as a Test Engineer.
I’d enjoy hearing about your journey. Feel free to reach me, Greg Paskal, on LinkedIn.