What is a good tester?—Interview with Alexander van der Berg

Today's guest is Alexander van der Berg, an experienced software tester who can shed some light on this part of the industry.

What is a good tester?

A good tester knows where the bugs hide and reliably finds them even under time pressure. The tester does not ask what needs to be tested but knows it based on qualifications, experience, and intuition. A good tester also knows the priority of each found issue so that not every issue must be discussed with the product manager.

Regarding test automation: A good tester develops tests that find and prevent bugs from going to production. This means that if the automated tests never find bugs before they appear in production, then maybe the tests are not well written, are superfluous, and can be deleted. And more useful tests should be automated instead.

A good tester also develops automated tests that have a low maintenance effort. This means that the tests have a good architecture and require the tester to have programming skills. Automated tests must also be reliable and, under the same conditions, always show the same result. The automated tests must not be flaky because this causes loss of trust in the test results.

What were you looking for in people when you were interviewing candidates for your junior colleagues?

I looked for various things:

  • Experience with the tools and in the technical [focus] area we used in the company. When I, for example, needed someone for mobile app test automation, the job applicants who only automated Windows Desktop software were not the best fit because they had to learn mobile app test automation and the used tools first.
  • Talent to find bugs. I checked this by showing some screenshots from the company's website or app and asking the job applicant how these screens should be tested.
  • Programming skills for test automation. I always tested Git and programming knowledge with a short exercise. This filtered out a lot of job applicants because some people write everything on their CV they ever had installed on their computer but do not have working knowledge in any of it.
  • My recommendation for job applicants: focus your CV and your job applications on the area you know well and want to work on. If you would like to change the testing area, then write a good motivation for it. And keep your CV short: no one takes the time to read a ten-page CV when they receive dozens of applications each day.

How is the market for testers right now?

As usual, I would say testers are looked for a lot. Maybe this will change with AI doing testing, but someone with testing experience will have to tell the AI tool what to do. So the testing job tasks will change, but the job will still be needed.

Why do you think it is so difficult to find good testers?

Only two percent of the job applicants I received in the past few years had the skills and knowledge necessary for the company I worked for.

Some people only work in testing because they are not good enough to work as a developer. They are, therefore, not able to program reliable and low-maintenance test automation; this means they are not a good fit for any company that relies on automated tests.

Other people only work in testing for the money you can earn in IT, which means that they are neither very motivated nor skilled at it, and are not really motivated to get better.

Not many people like testing AND are good at it. Most people want to create new things.

What was your day like as a tester?

This depends on the company. Some companies structured test and test automation in Scrum sprints, the same way as for the developers. In others, I did not know what I would be doing the next day because many unexpected issues and tasks came up. For some companies, I did manual testing only; for others the goal was to automate as many tests as possible—or to support the developers with the configuration of the continuous integration and deployment system. I also worked in parallel to testing as a third level support and analyzed issues reported by the customers because testers usually know all the parts and subsystems of a product very well.

From what I’ve heard, companies often look for test automation, but in the end require manual testing. What is your experience with that?

It is and will always be a mixture between manual testing and test automation: it is often not possible to automate every test. The goal should be to automate as many tests as possible to reduce the manual testing effort. The test automation should not be postponed because when too much manual testing must always be done, then the tests will never be automated.

Besides this, exploratory testing will always be manual and will always be necessary.

One possible way to reduce the effort for manual testing is to automate the test case steps that can be automated, execute these automated test steps locally, and then manually continue the test from the last automatically executed step. This saves the time for the manual execution of the steps that run automated.

How does collaboration between testing and programming usually work?

This depends on the company. In Scrum teams, a tester is included in a developer team. In others, there is one tester responsible for various teams, or the development work is done by an external company and only the final or milestone result is delivered for testing.

How can one know if this job is a good match for them?

The most important thing is that you like your job. Only then are you motivated to do high-quality work and to get better at it.

Maybe it is possible to get to know the department, colleagues, and tasks during a trial day.

If you’re unsure, maybe better not start; or try it out and change jobs if it is not a good match. Changing jobs is not a big issue, and no job is forever anyway.

For whom would you recommend testing as a job?

People who have talent for finding bugs: if you cannot enjoy a play because the stage is dusty and some lights on the ceiling are broken, then you are a good tester because you are one of the few people who immediately notice it.

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