Am I a Good Quality Engineer?

Softvisioner, Elena Marin breaks down the attributes of a QA engineer

What does “Good Quality Engineer” mean?

I don’t know about you, but for me these two questions are in my mind all the time. I always find myself asking, am I the best professional I could be in this field? Am I good enough for a specific project? I have found a lot of articles about “good quality engineering” over the internet and in some books. In all of them I have found good ideas for measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of a QE, with a lot of examples for metrics, but is this enough for deciding whether you are a good QE or not?

I’ve been working in this field for more than 20 years and I don’t see myself doing anything else. For me, working in QE is not just a simple step for moving to a programmer position, like it is for many Quality Engineers I’ve met, especially those who made the step forward to automation testing. For me, testing is a way of thinking, it’s a way of how I am. Throughout the years, I’ve interacted with many QEs  in different positions, whether I was their colleague, lead or manager and what I’ve noticed is that the skills, the knowledge and the attributes of a person are what matters. 

Skills are a large part of the QE’s toolbox. There are skills that can be measured and skills that are sometimes  impossible to be measured.

Tech skills

The hard skills, or the technical skills or whatever you prefer to call them, can be measured. It’s not easy to measure them, but they can be measured. There are a number of skills that a “good quality engineer” needs and some of them include SQL, programming demanded for automation positions, writing test plans, writing test cases and using different tools for application lifecycle. The list can grow, of course, but the important thing here is that you definitely know your level for these skills. You know if you can deal or not with the databases, if you are strong enough with Java, Javascript, Python or C# or if you need some help for covering a specific application with the test cases. If you think you need more help with these, don’t stop learning. Don’t be afraid to do the same course twice or three times if you need it. Always remember that you are not in school and you can always ask one of your colleagues to help you.

Soft skills

The soft skills or the skills that need to be learned before they can be used effectively, aren’t necessarily measurable. Testing is an activity that exists in the gaps between creation of software and it’s delivery to one or more customers and focuses on gaps between expectations and reality. Because of that, sometimes you need to master a lot of soft skills in order to move forward and do your job. Communication is key here. You need to be able to constantly decide how to formally communicate, who to communicate with and what to communicate. This is not an easy thing to do, but it’s imperative for a “good quality engineer” to be a good communicator, formal or informal, both written and verbal. 

More on this, organizational skills are some of the most important proficiencies you can have. Being organized will allow you to meet deadlines, minimize stress and carry out your duties more efficiently. Managing your time well is crucial to being organized in order to maintain a clear picture of what you need to test or complete and when. Critical thinking is another soft skill that you will need to take in consideration. It is essential to decide whether an anomaly is a problem, how much of a problem it might be and what to do about that problem. Teamwork skills usually include a lot of overlap with the communication and critical thinking. The important part here is to be a team player.

The Knowledge

The knowledge is a little bit harder to be measured. In QE, the required knowledge depends a lot on the exact nature of the testing task. For example, the required knowledge for testing an embedded application running on different types of devices in a medical field or in a safety critical environment is rather different than the required knowledge to test a social media application. Knowledge of the nature of the business the software serves is a common requirement for testing positions. You can be a “good QE” without that knowledge, but you may not be a good QE for a particular position without it. You are often more effective when you’re deeply familiar with the business or domain you’re working in. So, when you take a new project, take your time to fully understand the domain, study similar applications and ask questions, a lot of questions, even the stupid ones. Only then will you be able to learn fast and be effective faster.

The Attributes

The attributes of a QE range from tricky to impossible to measure because frankly, it’s impossible to judge someone’s attributes with any degree of objectivity or accuracy. Dedication, motivation and passion are big words, but these big words can make you move forward. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you are able to do whatever is necessary to be better and better every day. There are some common attributes that a “good QE” needs and these include fast learning, seeing the big picture, having a good eye on details, being creative, adaptable and multi tasking. 

Anyone can claim them and it’s next to impossible to measure them or judge unless you know the person. If you are not a fast learner you will be overwhelmed when you will be moved from one business domain to another or when you will have to adapt to a new technology. Creativity and being detail-oriented are also assets in writing test cases and test plans. You need to pay attention to details to keep the little things from becoming big ugly bugs, without losing sight of the overall goal. Be creative, think outside the box to detect problems where no one else would look for them. The bigger your imagination is, the better when it comes to QE testing.

It’s easy to judge someone by how well they perform in a test, but it’s hard to measure this objectively.

For me, a “good quality engineer” has a big range of skills, knowledge, experience, a positive attitude and shows passion for what they are doing. Adaptability to new environments, technology and becoming productive in a shorter time than average when faced with an unfamiliar environment or skill set is crucial for a “good QE”. They are typically self-starters and they will always try to help others to build their abilities and skills.

My question, “Am I a good Quality Engineer?” is yet to be answered. Unfortunately, until now I couldn’t answer this question and I will most likely never be able to truly answer it. The more I learn new things, the more I realize how less I know. One thing I know for sure about me, is that I will always try to not remain in my comfort zone, and I will stay curios, learn something new each day, share my knowledge, help others by providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling and, of course, have fun every day.

Mark Twain once said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Let’s start together being better quality engineers day by day!

Always remember:

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. 

Our struggles determine our success.