Ever wondered what the “attributes of a good tester” are?

Go ahead and punch that into Google, if you’re curious. I’ll wait.

That was fun, wasn’t it?

I don’t want to pick on anyone who has written one of these super helpful lists, so I’ve included instead a generic list cultivated from several lists.

  • test to break attitude
  • take the point of view of the customer
  • technical knowledge
  • test technique knowledge
  • test technique skill
  • data analysis skills
  • strong desire for quality
  • attention to detail
  • tact
  • diplomacy
  • communicate technically
  • communicate generally
  • judgment skills
  • understand entire SDLC
  • patience
  • honesty
  • responsiveness
  • skepticism
  • don’t compromise on quality
  • ensure end user satisfaction
  • prioritization
  • identify and manage risk
  • start early
  • observation skills
  • constant learning / self study
  • time management
  • organizational skills
  • lateral thinking
  • clear communication

I had a much, much longer list that included all kinds of things. What I found was essentially that people decided it must be a thing and therefore went forth applying skills, knowledge, and expectations without examining their initial assertion. This list is mercifully devoid of the majority of the extremely specific things included in many lists. Despite that, the list is still pretty worthless.

These aren’t really tester attributes, but a combination of job expectations, generalized skills, and specific knowledge. You can give yourself a check mark on most (if not all) of these and still be a terrible tester.

You may have noticed I left my personal allergy off that list: passion. {insert sparkle font…}

This one rattles me more than it should as it generally seems like it’s used as little more than a personal achievement. The little pat on one’s own back, for being one of the “good ones.”

Maybe I’m wrong and maybe passion is critical, but passion for what?

  • passion as a proxy for the user?
  • passion for limited bugs in a product?
  • passion for a good job review / compensation package?
  • passion for security (application or personal)?
  • passion for novelty?
  • passion to shred developer work?
  • passion for lunch with your co-workers?

It’s such a generic catchall that it’s meaningless without any contextualization.

It was once suggested to me that you must be so passionate about testing that you’re excited to mentor and coach junior testers. I felt a little bit bad in responding that coaching little league and being a professional baseball player are discrete states that do not need to overlap.

But only a little bit.

The other rub of these lists (generally) and passion (specifically) is the navel gazing self aggrandizement. Writing about what makes a great tester automatically implies that the author thinks they just may be a great tester. It also makes an implicit statement on how they feel about anyone who doesn’t reflect an idealized embodiment of bullet points.

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have some opinion on how to be a good tester. But before I get to that, I took a little bit of a continued dive into these types of lists and I found something interesting.

Here’s a list pulled from a site almost verbatim.

  • strong base of technical skills
  • commitment to continuing education
  • positive and approachable
  • willing to make mistakes
  • customize your work
  • work hard
  • share your work / knowledge
  • be active in the community
  • attend conferences
  • be flexible

It’s still pretty generic, but it’s more about how to build up your skills and reputation to be considered a good tester rather than how to identify someone as a good tester.

Except this isn’t a list about how to be a good tester. It’s a list about how to be a good hairstylist. Similar lists exist for almost every profession I could think of. If the profession has a skill based component to it you could bet that it contained a lot of overlap with the lists for other professions.

Back to my take on the subject. So, how to be a good tester?


I’m kidding…

If you want to chase certification, by all means, don’t let me hold you back. However, I will say that while Mark Twain proclaimed the Book of Mormon to be “chloroform in print” I feel obligated to note that he was never subjected to the ISTQB study materials.

My actual statement is to worry less about being a ‘good tester’ and more about being an effective worker, co-worker, and person. Being a ‘good tester’ is a trap. Build life skills that matter to you and apply them to your life and your work.

A breadth of knowledge, insight, and experience are valuable. The skills that round out your life will round out your work. How you approach building those skills is up to you. Chase the skills and methods that interest you. Those are the ones you’re going to build the fastest with the least amount of effort.

Who you are as a tester is a facet of who you are as a person. Exploit that. Strive to apply labels that you’re willing to apply to your life, not ones that are specific to a job.