Good testing – luck or judgement?

I get to talk to a lot of testers, not just those in my team, but other teams in my organisation, testers at conferences and those I interview, and it struck me the other day that there is no real way to tell from a person’s background whether they are going to be a good tester or not. Wouldn’t it be great if we could apply a formula – it would make life so much simpler, but I don’t believe it comes down to training or background – it’s either in-built or not. What I mean by that is that in my opinion, good testing cannot be just left to luck (although it can be I suppose if you just happen to find that critical bug without looking for it!), for me it is all about attitude and mindset. Technical ability and the focus on automation seems to be the overriding requirements for many testing roles, and whilst they are important, they are not the ‘be all and end all’.

If we define a good tester as someone who can write automated tests, then we are essentially defining a developer. So why do we need a tester to focus on writing code if developers can do that?

Good testing comes from understanding the application, understanding the requirements (usually from a User Story if we are following Agile), and determining whether the requirement is testable, whether there are any omissions, clashes with other stories, potential impacts on other applications, and what types of testing are needed in order to prove to the Business Owner that the team have delivered what was requested. Good testing is found in how a tester approaches their job, and I know I have mentioned this before, but it is where a tester adds value to a team. Having another individual who can just automate the acceptance criteria that a Business Analyst wrote adds no additional value – and the team have employed a developer essentially.

A good tester needs to think about the application, and consider it as an end user, ask the questions that no-one else thinks of and be inquisitive. A good tester has to exercise good judgement in determining what to test and how to test it, and whilst this can be learned (to a degree), much of this will come from a person’s character.

If you are a good tester, then luck will play second fiddle to judgement, every time.

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5 thoughts on “Good testing – luck or judgement?

  1. For me, a good tester really depends on what you need – It might be that you are working in a low-risk environment and your one top priority in a tester is a low paycheck (I don’t know if I would call that “a good tester”, but that would probably be the right tester), it might be that you need someone with deep understanding in physics or biology, or even in history. It might be that you require your tester to bee code-savvy, or a great systems thinker.
    There isn’t a formula for finding this type of tester since a great tester in one place will probably be not as good in another.
    In any specific location, though, I believe you can use a person’s background to determine a specific threshold before checking if that person is a tester to your liking, depending on the other properties you look for other than “good at testing”.

    As for luck, I was convinced not to exclude it after reading this post: http://visible-quality.blogspot.com/2015/02/examples-of-serendipity-in-testing.html
    And got some ideas after seeing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XTy8HLGKHw

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    • Hi, many thanks for responding. The post you shared is interesting, as it talks about serendipity and luck, but I wonder whether we make our own luck or not. Exploratory testing can lead to finding more bugs than would have been found just following the acceptance criteria, but is it luck, or a good testing approach that leads us to find these additional defects? Exercising good judgement can appear as though we have been lucky. Of course it is entirely possible to stumble across things without meaning to find them (a lucky find) but I don’t believe we cant rely on that as a good approach.
      It looks like there isn’t an easy answer, but it certainly makes life more interesting to create discussion points.

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      • I like to to think about it as a little bit of both – Yes, it takes some luck to find some of the really odd behaviors. Some of the bugs that escape me are the cases where luck was needed and I wasn’t lucky.
        However, The better one is, the more one can get out of that luck – being able to better notice, interpret and judge what one observes is a skill. Getting that hunch of “I should keep looking around here” is developed with skill & understanding (and experience). Knowing where to look is a skill.

        So, can I control my luck? probably not. There are some ways to “get luckier” (if you check the Video I linked to, the speaker does give some advice on that) But I will do my best to get the most out of the luck I get.

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  2. This is a great article and I agree with it 100%. These days a lot of focus is being given to automation testing – which of course is needed in today’s world of continuos delivery & fast pace releases. But the role of an exploratory tester is slowly taking a backseat. This is being replaced by multiple Bug bashes instead. A good “tester” is really hard to find. The knack of finding a bug – its not luck. Its – well – a knack. And its special. I believe its losing its absolute relevance. Glad to know there are others who share similar views.

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  3. The best tester I ever had as a one-person developer/consultant was my then 10 yr old daughter. She tried EVERYTHING. One day she told me that “Ctrl-F10 followed by ” crashed my app. Why try that? “Because I felt like it”. She may not have been organized, but she did try nearly everything an adult user would. We called her the “Chief Idiot Proofer”

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