What makes a good test engineer?

Successful software testing requires curiosity, analytical skills, effective communication, skepticism, and good time management—key traits for an exceptional test engineer.

For a software development company to succeed, it takes more than a team of talented software engineers, more than a few experienced project managers, more than one or two trustworthy founders. In fact, it takes exceptional testers, who most probably are the most responsible people in the entire company as they make sure the product they deliver is — quite literally — flawless. Many organisations do not expect their future employees to have both knowledge and experience in software testing, however, it very often takes a lot of effort to become a good test engineer as they need to meet very specific requirements. So, are you suitable for the job?

1. Curiosity

When thinking of a good test engineer, think of a child — they crave to find all the answers to all the questions they ask, they never assume something is obvious and investigate it anyway. On the other hand, a great tester should also be aware of the consequences. It very often is hard to determine why the system does not work they way it should and that is exactly why it takes a lot of curiosity to check many cases and think about the connections between the components to find the pattern behind this kind of behaviour. Without this, the task would be impossible to accomplish.

2. Analytical skills

You don’t have to be passionate about integrals, but there is no doubt maths is a great teacher when it comes to gaining logical and analytical thinking abilities. They are crucial in both manual and automated testing. Black-box testing methods that I have already discussed and manual testing bases can very often be figured out without the theoretical knowledge, all you need is logical thinking ability. When it comes to automated testing, being a test engineer is much more than running test after test, as analysing data collected from those tests is also one of the main duties.

3. Ability to communicate

Although many people associate IT companies with introverts being locked up in an office, the reality is nowhere near that image. Communication is probably the most important thing for such a company to be able to succeed and that is why test engineers are also expected to be able to communicate with others in the most effective way. Being assertive and even stubborn is just as useful when reporting a bug to the developers, explaining some inaccuracies in the documentation to the analysts and presenting the product to the client during the acceptance testing. It very often also takes a lot of confidence to persuade others to fix their mistakes.

4. Scepticism

Encouraging people to be more pessimistic does seem a bit odd, but it may work miracles when it comes to software testing. Test engineers should always assume that there is something wrong with the product and that their job is to find the issue instead of thinking that all they have got to do is to check whether the software is alright. Questioning the abilities of their colleagues may not sound fair, but a complacent attitude may lead to carelessness and inaccuracy, which could make some bugs left unnoticed and thus the client — unsatisfied. It is then good and sometimes necessary to have doubts from time to time.

5. Good time management

Truth be told, developing software solutions very often equals working under the pressure of time. Most teams may be surprised by the amount of time given for both development and testing and that is why test engineers must learn how to prioritise their tasks and manage their time wisely — especially when the deadline is coming closer and closer. Unfortunately, the only way to develop such abilities is to wait and gain experience. Understanding what should be tested first and what can be given less priority, what can be tested automatically and what should be done manually comes with, paradoxically, time.

Every company is different and every project requires different skills, but there are qualities that every good test engineer should have in every single case, with the five I have mentioned above being the most important ones. At the same time, they are these soft skills that you can work on throughout your entire career. So how about you, would you make a great tester?

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