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What makes a good software tester?


1. Know Programming. Might as well start out with the most controversial one. There's a popular myth that testing can be staffed with people who have little or no programming knowledge. It doesn't work, even though it is an unfortunately common approach. There are two main reasons why it doesn't work.

(1) They're testing software. Without knowing programming, they can't have any real insights into the kinds of bugs that come into software and the likeliest place to find them. There's never enough time to test "completely", so all software testing is a compromise between available resources and thoroughness. The tester must optimize scarce resources and that means focusing on where the bugs are likely to be. If you don't know programming, you're unlikely to have useful intuition about where to look.
(2) All but the simplest (and therefore, ineffectual) testing methods are tool- and technology-intensive. The tools, both as testing products and as mental disciplines, all presume programming knowledge. Without programmer training, most test techniques (and the tools based on those techniques) are unavailable. The tester who doesn't know programming will always be restricted to the use of ad-hoc techniques and the most simplistic tools.

Taking entry-level programmers and putting them into a test organization is not a good idea because:

(1) Loser Image.
Few universities offer undergraduate training in testing beyond "Be sure to test thoroughly." Entry-level people expect to get a job as a programmer and if they're offered a job in a test group, they'll often look upon it as a failure on their part: they believe that they didn't have what it takes to be a programmer in that organization. This unfortunate perception exists even in organizations that values testers highly.

(2) Credibility With Programmers.
Independent testers often have to deal with programmers far more senior than themselves. Unless they've been through a coop program as an undergraduate, all their programming experience is with academic toys: the novice often has no real idea of what programming in a professional, cooperative, programming environment is all about. As such, they have no credibility with their programming counterpart who can sluff off their concerns with "Look, kid. You just don't understand how programming is done here, or anywhere else, for that matter." It is setting up the novice tester for failure.

(3) Just Plain Know-How.
The programmer's right. The kid doesn't know how programming is really done. If the novice is a "real" programmer (as contrasted to a "mere tester") then the senior programmer will often take the time to mentor the junior and set her straight: but for a non-productive "leech" from the test group? Never! It's easiest for the novice tester to learn all that nitty-gritty stuff (such as doing a build, configuration control, procedures, process, etc.) while working as a programmer than to have to learn it, without actually doing it, as an entry-level tester.

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