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Is testing a skill? (The Pragmatic Testing)

On May 26, 2012, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Few weeks ago I asked on my LinkedIn group members whether testing was a skill. I was not sure that it will actually stir a storm within the community. A simple question seemed to have hit a nerve in the testing community and I received many comments from fellow testers. In actual fact, the question was asked by someone who I respect, is running a massive Avionics programme which is nearly USD 100 million and was not expected to make this kind of comment. 

Well, I responded to him jokingly because he commented jokingly. My response was simple, “get people off the street, ask them to test apps on ground and on the aircraft and see yourself successfully deliver the program. Will ya?”.  Anyways, even though I responded jokingly, it did hit some nerve within. I don’t really expect this kind of naive comments from people that senior.

I have collected all those comments from fellow testers from LinkedIn. It is a nice read, indeed.

The topic of discussion was: 
I was a little disgruntled when someone told me today that testing is not a skill and that anyone can do it. Since most of the members of this group are either testers, test managers or even directors; what is your view on it? Is testing a skill or not? In my opinion, testing is a skill. If someone says it is not, that implies that he is living in past, at least 30 years behind.

Comments below:

1.  Muhammad Fahadullah I believe he’s not 30 years behind. He is living in stone ages. 

2. Kathy Flesner  Believe me there are skillful testers and there are definately testers out there who pretend to be skillful…feeding off of others in the group until they finally are found out that they really are not meant to test at all. Definately a skill! 

Me:  @Kathy, I am sure you are speaking of experience. I have that experience personally where those skillful pretenders feed off of others. Unfortunately they do not get exposed all the time. Definitely a skill to pretend to be a skillful tester.

On the other hand, there are genuinely skilled testers who think about what is right to test and test it right. It is indeed a small proportion of the whole testing community. In another group I mentioned that skill comes from experience, training and education. There are barely any schools which provide testing education. Very few testers try to update/upgrade their skills and there are experienced testers who do not update their skills at all.

I posted this discussion to many groups and all seem to agree that testing is a skill. The problem is, it is hard to find. 


3. Keshava Murthy K.NTesting is definitely a skill. Apart from the technical skills, there is also a requirement of certain human characteristics/qualities that make a successful & effective test professional. I would not hesitate to say that not everybody or anybody can become tester! Earlier, testing was considered as an art. Now, gradually it is evolving into science & engineering with methodologies, process, methods, techniques and tools coming into testing arena.There are institutes that provide education on software testing exclusively. 

Me: @Keshava – I agree with your note regarding certain human characteristics of a successful tester. Testing is still an art, a craft and a definite scientific process. I still recommend a classic book ‘The art of Software Testing’ written by G.Myers. This book has influenced critical thinking of many of us software testers.
I believe there are software testing training institutes, but I am not sure how effective they are. My concern regarding software testing has been authentic college education of this field. 

4. Shashi Kant Pandey • That’s a very simple question which realy hard to answer without getting to know – who is asking this question.
As everyone here is from testing background and we need to prove to ourselves that Testing is Skill.

First of all , I want to focus on word ‘Skill’ which will help to explain, why testing is skill.

A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. Skills can often be divided into domain-general and domain-specific skills. For example, in the domain of work, some general skills would include time management, teamwork and leadership, self motivation and others, whereas domain-specific skills would be useful only for a certain job. Skill usually requires certain environmental stimuli and situations to assess the level of skill being shown and used.

If you carefully go through the definition, you see where i want to drive You. Testing is skill if you can –

> Measure product quality in quanative terms. Irrespective of knowing
that Product is defect free or not.

> Draw a visible line in product quality before testing and after.

> Add you domain knowledge as catalsyt which always help to minimize the
unexpected behaviour and improve the trust among stakeholders for testing
and their knowledge.

> involve yourself from scratch in SDLC and your knowedge/experties (Domain)
helps team to design/develop a robust/user friendly system.

To design a skill set for testers depends on the areas where you are working and it is very procedural. Please add your comment based on your respective areas which will help everyone to know and improve. 


5. You could invert the question and ask what lack of skill leads to poor test capability?

It is also natural to define objectives in terms of our own knowledge base and skills (because that is what we know). But often systems have different aspects depending on who is looking at it, and so you usually need to use a broader audience.

I think this applies to test teams and plans as well as other topics (such as requirements gathering) to ensure that you have skills in a team that ensure that all aspects of the system can be covered.


6. Sami Kukkonen You can respond by saying that programming is not a skill and that anyone can do. It’s equally true. 

7. Christopher Smith, CTFLWell, any parent of a teenager could tell you that testing is a skill that they all have. 🙂 

8. Benjamin YarochTesting done well requires a high level of skill after all it is an engineering discipline. This would be like saying anyone can program.

I’ve found that this sort of statement is usually said by someone who doesn’t understand testing and considers it an administrative task, which it is not. It’s sad to hear this and is more common than it should be. 


9. Meeta PrakashThe person seems to be knowing testing only as “checking” and no more. I guess I’d recommend him to start reading Michael Bolton’s blog on “checking” to start with so that he starts to think through the difference between both activities and understands the concept of “skill”. 

Me:  Meeta, this is not a question of knowing. Considering this individual’s experience & expertise in IT, I’d rather term it as ignorance. He is running a programme worth half a billion dollars for which I am managing testing. He cannot be unaware of testing as a skill. IMO, some people find it easier to ignore what is a fact instead of accepting it. 

Meeta PrakashRajesh ….Sadly people are unaware. Please don’t judge them by the years that they have spent here in IT. Judge them by their knowledge and depth in understanding of software as as art and testing specially. Coz a tester is more of a constructive critic.For all these years, you never know if he’s driven only by sales numbers on his paper rather than developing any depth in building understanding of technical operations. 

Me:  @Meeta – Agreed. This calls out for a view at the ‘perception theory’ about testing by outsiders.

Meeta PrakashTrue. But I would not say “outsiders” only. It becomes generic and dilutes the understanding. In your case, it was a business leader. So we should ideally understand the roles and depth of understanding each of them need to develop for themselves. 


10. Michael LarsenIt usually takes sitting down with someone and going through a testing session to bring the point home exactly how much knowledge and the variety of techniques needed to do good “sapient” testing. After sitting with someone for one of these sessions and walking them through it, the usual response is “wow I didn’t realize there was that much involved”. Their image of testing is surfing an application and seeing what happens. They don’t realize that there’s a lot more going on under the hood, so to speak. Programmers would be just as taken aback if we were to say “it’s easy, you just make windows and put words in it”. Basically true, but it ignores a lot that goes on under the board. When in doubt, show the skeptics what you really do. Usually it just takes one pairing session to make your point :). 

11. Bernard HomèsI’m not sure the term “skill” is the only one that should be used. The term “craft” seems more appropriate, as a skill is frequently inherent to the person, while a craft can be taught. I know that testing can be taught, so “craft” would better apply. 

12. Scott BarberIs cooking a skill? How about writing? Or driving?

Of course they are. Most people can do all three of those things to some degree, but some folks are *much* more “skilled” than others.

So if the folks around your team think that “anyone can test” it seems to me that the value your team is providing is not distinguishable from the value the folks around your team believe a bunch of non-testers could provide. Much like how putting a master chef in a diner, not changing the menu, not changing the supplies on hand, and not changing the expectations around speed of delivery would probably not lead to the clientele getting “better” food than they would from a “short-order cook” — especially since the diner would surely need to raise prices to be able to pay what a mater chef would command.

I recommend changing the question. Ask them what value would expect from a “skilled” tester/team that they don’t get today from this team that clearly is only providing value that they believe they could get from “anybody”.

 
13. Graham DaleyTesting is definitely a skill, as is development. Developers are generally skilled at finding a number of different ways to make something work. Testers need to be skilled at finding all the different ways of breaking something that seems to work!  

14. Poonam Bhatia, ISTQB, CEH V6 & 6σ Yellow BeltTesting is a skill where tester has to validate that code is behaving as expected and fit to use. It is challanging for testing resource to ensure that they are not influenced by the project development and management community and never get into clarification why we need this much time to plan and test. Indeed skill can only handle last checkpoint before end product can be realized.

Me • @Graham, testers never break anything, it come to them broken. We only identify where the breakage it and report it as a defect. I agree that it is a skill to identify those defects, though. Some people are particularly good at it and we call them skilled testers and that skill comes with experience, training and education.
Software testing is one of those areas where it is hard to justify that one needs training. Just this morning I was talking to a friend who worked at BA when the incident of T5 happened in London. The system was tested before, but it wasn’t tested thoroughly enough to ensure everything will work fine. And we all know that the world stopped for a day at T5 which was a total mess.

I started the linkedin Group ‘Hong Kong & China Software Testing Group’ because software testing is still taking its initial steps in Hong Kong.

@Poonam, True that testers need to use their skills to say that the code is fit for use.Practically, testers do get influenced by management!

 

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