Friday, 22 May 2015

Technical and Non-Technical Testing Skills

One of the sessions at the Romanian testing conference in Cluj last week was a debate on do testers need to be technical or non-technical. It was an interesting debate and one which causes some great discussions.  One of the first observations was many of the people present were willing to come forward and present the case that testers need to be technical.  The framing of the definitions to me made it difficult to choose which side to present for, since no one had come forward for the non-technical side I put myself forward along with Richard Bradshaw (@friendly tester)  and a couple of other people,  unfortunately their names have escaped me.

The debate was set in the style of one side presented their argument the other side had a chance to reply and then present their side to the various statements that were shown on the screen.   It was a lively and interesting debate and I will keep to the end of this article to let you know which side was voted the most persuasive.

The reason for this article is the issue I have with labeling people as technical or non-technical as if one is better than the other.  I have come across disparaging remarks made against those who see themselves as being non-technical especially if they do not use a computer programming language.   There are the endless debates at conferences, on twitter, in testing forums in which people say you cannot be a tester without knowing how to write code in a programming language.  It is as if you are seen as a second class tester if you do not code or wish to code. Worryingly is this also being reflects in career prospects for testers with many roles requiring testers to become programmers and code. 

The’ testers should code’ debate has been discussed many times and on my blog I have written many articles about this very subject.  ( However this to me detracts from the issue at hand and what is meant by being technical.  During the debate the argument I presented started with the concept that the word technical has different meanings and that it is dependent on context.   This during the debate was missing from the technical and non-technical statements presented on screen for the debate.  (I did not manage to capture the statements due to being involved in the debate).  One of the assumptions I reached during the debate was that to many a technical tester has one of the following skills:
  • SQL
  • Programming
  • Performance
  • Security
  • In depth knowledge of the system under test

With these skills the conclusion made was this enabled them to be a better, faster tester who could test the system far better than someone who was non-technical.  These could be good skills for a tester to have and I am sure that in some situations they have value, however they are not the only technical skills a tester could have.

I questioned this conclusion and asked what about those who understand the business, user behavior, the domain – for example finance and the ability to communicate and sell the benefit of testing.  I asked if these were classed as technical or non-technical.   Many said there were non-technical; I disagreed and stated in the right context each of these areas could be technical.  Understanding human behavior and being able to  work out how humans interact and what is their motivation can be a very technical skill. Understanding the value of something to the business and the reasoning why it needs to be done for the benefit of the company is a technical skill.  

In summary the reason for this article is that we in the testing profession need to resist being labeled as either technical or non-technical and simply state we are testers driven by context who apply the relevant skills for that context

For those wanting to know the debate was won by the non-technical side.

I would also like to thank the organizers of this conference for a wonderful and welcoming experience.  If you have never been to the Romanian Testing Conference try to come along and attend,  the participates were some of the most engaged testers I have come across at conferences.