Software QA FYI - SQAFYI

Skills of a Tester's Skull

By: R. Sankara Narayanan


Software Testing is one of the key practices in the Software Development Life Cycle that requires diversified skills. Because, developers find it difficult to find out the defects in their own code psychologically, the developers cannot test their code effectively. Hence, there arises the need for an Independent Testing Group, who approaches the code with a different perception to test them effectively.

Provided this scenario,

1) What are the unique skills required for the "Independent" Testers (which may or may not be required for a developer)?

2) What are the best practices that an "Independent" Tester need to adopt?

This paper tries to find out the answers for the above questions. Biologically, the skills and talents of a human being is managed by the brain and hence the title "Skills of a Tester's Skull". "Tester's Skull" does not mean exactly the Skull of a tester; it is the Tester's Brain inside the skull.

Understanding Skills

The first and foremost activity of Software Testing is to understand the requirements/ functionalities of the software to be tested. Formal Documents like Software Requirement Specifications, Software Functional Specifications, Use Case Specifications and other Documents like Minutes of Meeting serves as the key references for planning and executing the testing tasks. The testers must have very good understanding skills to read and understand the information written in these documents. Many a times, it is possible to have many interpretations for the information presented in the documents. The testers must be able to identify the duplicate & ambiguous requirements. If the requirements are not clear or ambiguous, the testers must identify the sources of the requirements and get them clarified. The sources of the requirements in most of the project development team should be Business Analysts, Business Users or any other competent authority as identified by the Project Management team. The testers shall analyze and co-relate the information gathered within the perspective of the project.

Listening Skills

Documents are not the only source of reference for the testing activities. The information required for the testing activities may be acquired through offline meetings, seminars, conferences, etc. The minutes of the meetings, conferences, seminars may or may not be recorded in a formal document. The testers must have very good active listening skills in order to collate and co-relate all of that information and refer them for the testing activities. While the requirements or functionalities of the software are discussed over a meeting, many a times, some part of the requirements are missed out. The testers should be able to identify and get them clarified before heading towards the subsequent testing phases.

Test Planning Skills

All software requirements shall be testable. The software shall be designed in such a way that all software requirements shall be testable. The test plan shall be formulated in such a way that paves the way for validating all the software requirements. In the real time scenario, there could be many requirements that are not testable. The tester with his/her test planning skills should be able to find out a workaround to test those non-testable requirements. If there is no way to test them, that shall be communicated clearly to the appropriate authority. There could be many requirements that are very complex to test and the tester should be able to identify the best approach to test them.

Test Design Skills

Software Testing Science preaches many techniques like Equivalence Class Partitioning, Boundary Value Analysis, Orthogonal Array and many more techniques for an effective test design. The testers shall be aware of all those techniques and apply them into their software test designing practice. The tester shall be aware of various formats and templates to author and present the test cases or test procedures in a neat fashion. The tester shall aware of the best practices and the acceptable standards for designing the test cases. The tester shall be aware of the how to write test cases - non-ambiguous, simple, straight to the point.

The test case needs to contain Test Case Description, Test Steps and its corresponding expected results. The tester shall be aware of how to present the content in these three topics effectively in such a way that they can be read without any ambiguity by all the project stakeholders.

Test Execution Skills

Test Execution is nothing but executing the steps that is specified in the test design documents. During the execution, the testers shall capture the actual results and compare against the expected results specified in the test design documents. If there are any deviations between the expected and actual results, the testers shall consider that as a defect. The tester shall analyze the cause of the defect and if it is found and confirmed in the application under test, the same shall be communicated to the developers and it shall get fixed. If the cause of the defect is found with the test case, the same shall be communicated to the test designers and the test cases shall be modified/ amended accordingly. If the testers are not confident about the application functionalities and the test design documents, they may not confidently come to a conclusion about the defect in case of any discrepancies. This will lead to defects being leaked to the next phase and the testers needs to avoid this scenario. The testers shall be confident about the application functionalities and in case of any ambiguity or clarifications; they need to get them sorted out before executing the tests or at least during the test execution

Defect Reporting Skills

Defect Reports are one of the critical deliverables from a tester. The defect reports are viewed by the development team, business analysts, project managers, technical managers and the quality assurance engineers along with the testers. Hence, the defect reports shall carry enough information about the defect. Steps to reproduce the defect, its expected result and actual result along with other information such as Severity, Priority, Assigned To (developer), Test Environment details are very critical for a defect report without which, the defect report is considered as incomplete. The tester shall be aware of the importance of the defect report and he/she shall create defect report in such a way that it is non-ambiguous. During the course of fixing the defect, the developers may come back to the testing team for more information regarding the defect and the tester shall provide the same without failing.

Test Automation Skills

Test Automation is a wonderful phenomenon by which the testing cost is drastically reduced. The manual test cases upon automation can be executed by running the automated test scripts. This means that the manual effort to run those automated test cases is not necessary and hence the total test effort is reduced drastically. The testers shall be aware of the technique for adopting test automation into the current testing process. Identifying the test automation candidates is very critical for the success of the automation project. Automation candidates shall be identified in such a way that the testing cost towards manual test execution would reduce significantly. This involves lots of thoughts from the financial perspective as well. The testers shall understand the process of do's & don'ts of automation to make the automation project successful.


The testers shall understand/ learn and be confident about the application functionalities. Test planning, designing, execution and defect reporting are the basic and essential skills that a tester shall possess and develop in his day-to-day career. Professionals who are perfectionist in using these skills are called as "Testing Professionals" or "Testers" or "Testing Engineers". Hope now, you are a tester…

R. Sankara Narayanan The President, Software Testing Society

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Skills of a Tester's Skull