Skill set of a software tester – pt2.

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In the first part of this post, I commented the importance of technical or so-called “hard skills” and in this one here, we move to the left side or branch of our mind map – the soft skills, also known as human skills.

skill set of a tester mind map

What are soft skills? How they add value to your testing skill set?

The phrase “soft skills” normally relates to that part of your skill set that concerns your communication, leadership, analytical, organisational and self motivation skills. In other words these are all basic humanitarian skills, that are not directly related to your profession. The fact that they are non-related doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not useful. On the opposite, soft skills may greatly improve the way that you perform your job by turning what you simply are good at to being an excellent professional. Not that you will be unable to do your job if your are not into soft skills, but you will have a lot of obstacles to make a difference. I mean, there’s plenty of guys in IT having poor communication skills or bad team players, or lacking presentation and managerial skills, and yet they are great experts in what they do, let’s say testing or software development. So, I want to clear out, these two don’t mix, soft skills are a nice addition, but they are not your core skills. On the other hand, there’s one pretty good reason why you have to try to add these to your skill set and it is – they are applicable everywhere, not just software industry. If you are strong negotiator, for example, that applies to your job, your relationships, your parenting, the way you will buy a car, anything. That’s why, abilities like this are important asset to our testing skill set. So, what soft skills did I pick as valuable for software testers?

Communication skills.

I know this might sound kind of boring, everyone is bragging about “how important communication is…duh”, but when it comes to your job as a tester, believe me, communication is what you will do in 50% of your time. No, not testing. And I’d like to put more emphasis not on the communication as an act of exchanging information with your co-workers or clients. It’s much more than that. The communication skills is part of the next point, it’s diplomacy, too. It’s not only what information you are giving, but how you are doing it. But let’s leave this for the next point and focus in communication skills in a more general meaning – using the language as your friend. It’s always a big deal if you are not just exchanging information with others, but giving them the information they need, in a manner that’s useful for them. We were all at least once at a meeting that business people conduct for the technical group, and the latter are practically falling asleep under their business bullshit, or the opposite, where the business people are banging their heads against the wall, trying to figure out what the f**ck are these geeks talking about. That’s why testers should mediate, to connect and translate from the very technical side of the IT domain to the very business oriented one. And after all, it’s communication and communication skills that helped us improve and evolve as human beings, and not just exchanging thoughts, but giving physical representation of something abstract by the power of our language, that’s why it is your friend, you must learn how to use it.

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Diplomacy is important part of the tester’s skill set for many reasons. Of course, we need to defend the quality of the product, we need to be good negotiators and we need to be capable of pointing errors without harming people’s dignity. And we are not talking only about defects, bugs, error or whatever you call them, we are talking about organisational errors, process errors, design errors, delivery errors. Therefore, we need to be able to pass information in a delicate and diplomatic way, because this really matters. Sometimes it’s because you will be working with a moody developer, or your team leader will be a pain in the ass, or your manager, or the client will want you to make miracles, anything. The way that you communicate errors, progress, how you report your job is essential for the performance that you will have.

One key element is reporting bugs. We all know, that after all, our communication tool is the bug tracking tool, but sometimes it’s much more valuable if you just sit with the guys from dev team and consult with them – “Hey, guys look what I’ve found so far. Just wanted to share it with you, so I don’t log anything redundant.” Yes, after all, we are all there not to make friends, but doing our job, but kind attitude is always a good policy and knowing how to report problems will gain you a lot of respect, that will always be useful for you. Think of it as this one episode of House M.D. where Dr. House told Willson: “You are so good at telling people they are going to die, they are actually thanking you after that.” That’s how diplomacy makes difference, from simply giving information.

Managerial (leadership) skills.

I know, I am putting them in one section, but after all these  are two separate things. And I would like to focus on one of them specifically – leadership. I know that nowadays many people are striving for promotion, to become managers and this is often provoked by the career ladder in most companies. But the fact is, many managers have nothing to do with being good leaders, yet they do a good job at organizing the process, they are doing it by frightening people by the authority of their position, not inspiring them, by the authority of their personal example. The good part in this is, you don’t have to be in constant struggle to be a leader – if you are truly good at what you do, your team mates will let you take the lead, for the sole reason that they will feel comfortable following you. And most of all, leadership is self management more than it is team management, it’s the ability to keep yourself from the sweet taste of glory, from the perks and the honors and figure out, that being a leader is the tougher job, and your challenges are not conquered, they are just coming. If you would like to improve your leadership skills, I think you will enjoy this lecture, by Simon Sinek, as well as his book, where he explains in greater details what the essence of leadership is.

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Presentation skills.

I know might seem like a little bit of a tricky one, since not all of us are feeling comfortable to conduct presentations, but there is some huge value of having good presentation skills as part of your skill set. And I am not simply talking about being able to present well, it’s the ability to present your skills, to promote yourself. It’s one of the important skills that will make you stand out and there’s one simple reason that’s true – many others won’t do it. Many others will think they suck at presenting, so they wont have the guts to do it, it’s their fault, cause only with practice you will be able to overcome the stiffness and the nervousness. Only limited amount of people will choose to blog, or make a youtube channel or a podcast and by this promote themselves as good experts. You see, it’s not about the promotions you had or the certifications, the more people talk about you, in a manner of professionalism and expertise, more progress you will gain in your career. If you are expecting to stay quiet and be a rock star, you are wrong. So, I can’t really make you a good presenter, by just one blog post, but I believe people in IT should read a lot, and maintain blogs, for whatever they like to do. Knowledge sharing is essential for our craft, that’s why I recommend this free course by John Sonmez, that will give you the basics of tech blogging, hope you will like it.

Analytical thinking.

I already talked about algorithmic thinking as part of testers skill set and you might think I am repeating myself, but inhere I would like to focus on analytical thinking in a bit broader aspect. It’s the skill you use not only to analyse software and it’s flaws, but it’s the ability to improve yourself based on constant analytical decisions. You need to know who you are, where your career is going, whether or not your current position is giving you the perspectives you need to innovate and be at the edge of the latest trends, whether or not your skill set needs some improvements.

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So, in this section I will advice you to keep yourself constantly updated in all areas you are able to physically cover – read blogs, media, go to conferences, check the job applications even if you are not planning to move, just to keep updated on what skills are valuable on the job market right now. Improve your professional skill set as much as you can, this way you will be able to justify that you are a valuable part of your company’s team, or be free to move any time, without being afraid whether or not you will receive a good offer. For all of these, information and analytical thinking will be your best advisers.

Mentoring skills.

I think it will be a good wrap up for the software testing skill set to add the mentoring skill. After all, if you are good at presenting and good at finding interesting information, it’s not such a hard task to pass that information to your team mates. Don’t keep that information for yourself, we are not into the “afraid you will steal my craft” business, we are totally the opposite. And in fact, that’s the reason why IT gained so much velocity last years – it’s the knowledge share. So, once again write blog posts, read information and share it with your team mates. The more you share, the better it will benefit your career. There’s something amazing in being able to share you experience with your co-workers and it’s that by giving them the information you have, you practically giving them equal start as you. If you are able to advance from that position, you will make a huge difference, and your leadership will be undisputed.

So, that’s it for the skill set of the software tester. Of course, this is not limited, it’s just the part that I picked to comment, there might be many more branches and skills to add to this mind map. In the comments in my first blog post Chris added that creativity and innovation might be a valuable asset to our skill set and I believe I missed many more. So, once again, as Assassin’s creed motto says – “Everything is permitted”, make the skill set that you believe will work for you.

I hope you liked it, if you have anything to add or comment, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. If you liked this article, don’t forget to share it with your friends. Thanks. 😉

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Senior software engineer in testing. The views I express here are mine, they don't represent any position held by any of my employers. Experience in mobile, automation, usability and exploratory testing. Rebel-driven tester, interested in the scientific part of testing and the thinking involved. Testing troll for life. Retired gamer and a beer lover. Martial arts practitioner.

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