Technical skills are a must for modern testers

In a previous post I already asked “where are the technically strong testers these days?“, in this post I would like to revisit that subject.

When looking at the current developments within IT the focus of testing is getting to be more and more on the business-logic and functionality rather than user-flows. More and more systems are delivered as API-based systems or service oriented architectures where the UI, or front-end, is only to a lesser extend important. UI’s can be put live into the world a lot easier, with béta testing, testing in production etc. Whereas the business-logic of an application, as well as the API’s are increasingly becoming more and more important, since that is where the actual value of most applications is.

traditional testingWhat does this mean for traditional testers? There already is a lot of talk about the changing role of testmanagers and coordinators in the future, what with Agile and things. But I believe the role of the ‘traditional functional tester’ will also lessen.

More and more testing will be pulled into the “technical” side of software, so into the services and API testing spheres, running functional tests through the API rather than through the user interface. This will result in testers, rather than being able to click their way through a user interface, will need to get used to working their ways through systems architectures and learn how to quickly and easily manipulate XML and other formats over a wide variety of protocols from one system to another. They will need to learn how to set up a full end to end chain and troubleshoot within this chain whenever an issue seems to appear.

Out of all the traditional functional testers I personally know, I am not sure what percentage will be able to make this transition, either due to lack of technical insight and understanding or to a simple lack of willingness to invest the time to learn some extra technical skills.

There are of course courses and trainings for testers to gain knowledge in the technical side of software testing, but whether that is enough.. I personally doubt it.
To be or become a good tester with technical knowledge and skills you will need to not only have an understanding of how systems are built up, but also a base understanding of programming. In order to gain these skills I believe more than formal training is required, you need to be willing to invest some extra time in it by home studying these concepts, practicing with them and keeping up with new technologies which might come your way sooner than you’d think.

Where are the technically inclined testers?


This would have been better had it been called something towards “Where are the technically curious testers” as Anna Baik pointed out. The wording is not perfect.


Over the years I have worked with a whole range of testers, both functional and technical, who have shown different levels of comfort with the technology under test. Some were good, some were great and others I simply never want to work with ever again. The latter ones, to me, are a problem we are currently facing in software testing. There seem to be too many software testers with a lack of understanding how software is actually built, how the internals of a program work.

I have never understood how one can be working in technology, or to be more specific in information technology and not have at least a base grip on how things you are supposed to test work? Even when you are purely focussed on functional testing, I really do not understand how you can not grasp the basics this entire industry is based on.

How come that even now, when it is becoming more and more clear that software testing is an important specialisation within the IT industry we still see a lot of testers with no technical knowledge what so ever in this industry? I realize that historically there was the idea that “anyone can be a software tester”.  I am just not convinced that statement still holds true.

Take for example a building inspector, that is also a tester of sorts, no? He verifies whether all the rules have been followed of proper architecture, the design has been implemented as promised etc. Imagine you are having your own house constructed and this building inspector comes by. You put your hopes on this person to validate that your house is what you want it to be: warm, safe and as you requested.

This building inspector, upon arriving, grabs his excel sheet with the requirements for the house and checks the ones he can verify, without needing any knowledge of architecture or constructing a house for that matter. He then gives you this checklist and tells you he has functionally covered all things of your house.

Considering that you live in an area with lots of snowfall in winter you ask this person whether the roof can manage with a load of snow on it in winter and the heating will not collapse under the strain of having to heat the entire house in a snow-storm.

He says: I don’t know, I am not an architect nor a construction worker, I am merely the building inspector. I just go through this list of things I need to check, why would I know anything about building a roof for a house or what the heating can take? You should probably ask the construction workers what they think.

Would this give you faith in his verdict that the house is indeed what you wanted?

I believe not, yet this is a practice that i see happening fairly often in software testing. So where does it still go wrong in software testing? How come there is still this tendency to believe there is no need for understanding software when you test it?

How often do you see the same bug coming by when testing an application, once you see a bug more than once, in a very similar form, you should be able to come up with the idea that there might be an underlying issue going on. Instead what I  often see is that for every occurrence a new bug is created in the bugtracker. To understand that there quite likely is one underlying problem, the tester doesn’t need to know how to program, you should however have a basic idea of how a program is (or should be) built up and if you are not certain whether it indeed might be one and the same issue in the code, how about talking to the developer?

When exchanging ideas and thoughts with other testers on twitter and forums etc I quite often see an amazing lack of knowledge in this area. To make things even worse, a fair share of testers seems to have a degree (bachelor or master) in computer science yet have no clue what, for example, a regular expression is. Is it just me, or is this indeed a worrying thing? When reading through the Computer Science curriculum of an average university here in the Netherlands, I do see all kinds of interesting subjects and descriptions that would lead me to believe basic programming is part of what you get taught, however when talking to the graduates that end up in software testing I see nothing of that knowledge.

Where are the technically strong testers? The ones that can have a discussion with developers about how the structure of a program was setup, who can tell a developer that the SQL query he wrote is extremely inefficient? I know I see some of them online, these are the testers I enjoy following on twitter and on blogs, but there must be more than these happy and noisy few. Where are they hiding? In my experience there are not enough of them, at least not in the Netherlands.

— Edit–

There is a nice article dealing with similar questions and frustrations on (sorry, it is in Dutch, if you do want to attempt have a look at the google-translated version)


–Edit 03/11/2011 —

Really nice to read Elisabeth Hendrikson’s article on a similar subject, but from a different point of view:

I am sad to see though that there are people commenting on her article and are calling QTP and especially Selenium basically record/playback tools. If you have ever used either you know that QTP is a hell of a lot more than just record playback and Selenium is clearly NOT a record playback tool (unless you mean the Selenium IDE rather than the entire toolset of Selenium.