While it’s certainly true that good testers can come from anywhere and with any background, it is not true that anyone can be a good tester. Testing may not require a specialized degree or years of formal training, but it does require a specific set of skills that not everyone possesses. Many organizations hire young adults right out of high school or college who have ambitions of doing pretty much any job that isn’t quality assurance. While this does sometimes bear fruit (I was admittedly one of these people when I began in this industry), it frequently results in an angsty team of people who are often overlooked and treated poorly. I’m not suggesting that you should never take a chance on a young inexperienced job seeker, but I am saying that we need to be more picky about the people we choose to do this job.
Many of the greatest testers I’ve worked with live a life filled with curiosity. What I mean by this is that they thrive on gathering information about the world that they interact with. Curiosity is not something you shut off after work, it stays with you always. These individuals come from a variety of backgrounds and excel at different things, but they all share in the constant desire to learn from the world around them. When a curious person looks at a product, they are more likely to explore the different ways you can use it. They are the earliest users you will hear from that question why certain features were designed in a specific way. So you see, good testers don’t like to “break things” they like to discover new things.
Discovering new information can also elicit an emotional response to things. For example, customers don’t always agree with design choices that were made and sometimes are not very polite or understanding with their feedback. While this is to be expected with a customer, you don’t typically want a tester who will respond emotionally to learning new information, as this creates unnecessary friction and drama. When your job is to look for problems, your reaction to problems needs to be level-headed. But that’s not the only skill you should look for in a solid tester. A solid tester is also patient, efficient, and has the capacity to be a great communicator.
Patience is important because you won’t always see what is wrong with a product immediately, it sometimes takes hours and hours of looking at the same thing with a different user’s eyes to find a flaw that could gate the release of a product. Additionally a healthy respect for patience will tell you that this tester will stay dedicated to your department for a long time. You don’t always need to hire people who aspire to be lifelong analysts (though that’s always my aim), but you should hire people who are patient enough to stay dedicated to your team whether their time as an analyst is 2 years or 20.
Efficiency is crucial because we often test within the constraints of a hard deadline. You need testers who can look at a product quickly without missing major flaws, and are constantly analyzing their processes and refining them for more efficiency. When my test team looks at a product, we have a list of activities that must be performed to clear a release. Testers are given the autonomy to create their own process for doing those tasks and each tester has found ways to optimize for their own workstyles. As they gain experience over time, they develop new ways to become even more efficient.
To get the most out of your testing team, your testers should be great communicators. While this doesn’t need to be a skill they have the day you hire them, they do need to learn how to communicate well and quickly. One of the most basic functions of a tester is to report defects in the product. If your tester can’t clearly communicate information about the issues they discover, there was really no point in hiring them in the first place. Additionally, one of the greatest areas of value a tester can provide is feedback about the product. They are already testing like your users, and they will likely know how a user is going to react to design decisions. If your tester is going to be providing product feedback, they need to know how to communicate their feedback in a way that is well-received by the team. They also need to know when it’s time to listen instead of talk. One of the most consistent things I hear from QA analysts is that they are not taken seriously by the developers on the product. In my experience, this is largely because the testers in question are not great communicators, and almost no one takes a bad communicator’s opinion to heart.
Looking at the Big Picture
Your testing team may want someone who has played a specific genre of game or understands how to test to a particular standard, and while I encourage you to continue to look for these things, you need to first consider the fundamentals. Training a tester on how to play an FPS or how to write a test plan is less arduous and time-intensive than training them to be calm, patient, efficient, and a strong communicator. Employers can get much more out of their testing team if they emphasize these skills in the hiring process. And if you’re looking to start a career in testing, take note! These are the skills that will set you up for a long and successful career.