Ideas On How To Succeed As A Tester

by Rosie Sherry


I often get asked what makes a good tester.  And even more, what makes testers succeed. There is no ‘secret sauce’ for this, but I do believe good testers do certain things to put themselves ahead of the curve.

Not all good testers succeed.  And not all testers who succeed are good.  And what do testers actually need to do to or be to succeed?  And what is success anyways? Isn’t it a very personal thing?

Are you confuzzled yet? The point I’m trying to get as is that there is no clear path, only the path you choose.  I’d like to help you choose a good one.  The right one for you.

Let me explain and expand on what I believe makes a good tester.


Don’t worry about being…you…yes you!

We all have insecurities  Yes, all of us. Even the most famous person you know will feel insecure in certain ways. They will doubt themselves and their abilities, constantly.

Perhaps we are not educated enough. Or don’t have enough qualifications. You might be male or female. Too tall, too short. Too fat, too thin. Been in the game too long, or not long enough.  There is an excuse or insecurity about almost anything.

Please, please, embrace being you.  The best thing you can do is love and accept being you. Do things and stuff to help discover who you are. Become comfortable in your own skin and find ways of making you better and awesome.  You can do wonderful things once you learn to accept YOU!

Being you means you:

  • can become more confident in helping others with your experience and knowledge
  • know you are human, not a machine who knows everything, you will know it’s ok to ask questions and seek support
  • develop specific interests and passions, inside and outside of work, you will follow them and connect the dots
  • aspire to become better and define your own path
  • others will see your drive, passion and (the right ones will) become infected by it.


Forget What Everyone Else Is Pushing

Success comes from looking within.  Yah, sounds cheesy.  Sorry, I get like that sometimes, but hear me out.

Listening to others can be overwhelming and confusing. It can lead you down paths that you are not born for nor interested in. It can stop you from listening to what your heart tells you to do.

So stop, switch off the noise and listen to yourself.  Take note of the things that do interest you. Then do things and stuff. Make something, anything. A drawing. A discussion. A test scenario. An idea. A mind map. A plan. Splurge stuff out.  Then splurge some more.

It doesn’t have to be directly related to software testing.  Go browse a book store or Amazon and look at the wealth of topics that are out there.  What do you find yourself attracted to? Pick some topics to learn more about.

Then sit back and think how it can relate to your career as a tester.  Start trying to connect the dots.

Over the years of running a software testing community I have seen how practically every topic on the earth can relate to our industry.   Design. Programming. Management. Business. Marketing. Sales. Psychology. Education. Sport….I could go on and on.

Our industry still needs to evolve, you can help do that.  Having a real interest in the things you learn about will help make worthy connections.

Please take some time (for yourself) to think and action this.  Answers may not come immediately, that really is ok.


Do Things And Stuff

I’m a big believer in what many people call the slight edge.  Or the snow ball effect. By this, I mean little actions add up to big things over time.  I call it doing Things and Stuff.

Starting to invest into a decent savings scheme when you are 18 instead of 35 makes a massive difference to the outcome for when you retire.  The same applies when you invest in yourself.  Seek to do lots of regular and small scale investments in yourself and you will thank yourself massively later.

From my experience - you don’t need an ambitious, big or clear plan.  Life plans rarely work out as you expect them to. Plus, big plans are often overwhelming.  Being overwhelmed usually leads to inaction.  That’s not helpful!

You don’t need to measure your results immediately.  Often it will take you years to notice the how the paths you chose to take have ended up benefiting you.  Having the belief that positive changes will come in time, at the right time and often when you least expect it is the beauty of it all.

So what kind of things and stuff could you do from a professional software testing context:

  • go to a few meet ups a year
  • go to one or two conferences a year
  • write a blog post
  • read - books, articles
  • consume - videos, podcasts, conversations
  • be active online
  • share your ideas, things and stuff
  • go out of your way to help people
  • (keep yourself fit and healthy)
  • take time out to reflect
  • think constantly on how you can improve things within your work and the community around you
  • be a good person, be human
  • learn to accept failure


Stay Focused

It’s so easy to get distracted!  It could be emails. Or colleagues. Meetings. Or the latest rants (within the office, or community).

Don’t let that wrong person on the internet destroy your productivity for the day.  Stay focused on your goals, get things done, reward yourself after you do things and stuff.

Of course, we all have our own strategies on how to stay focused.  What works for me, may not work for you. Plus life is complicated sometimes, it’s easy to lose track and enthusiasm. I know, for me personally, I often go off track a bit when I’m not ticking off things on my todo list or if I don’t go and get some exercise.

Find what works for you.


Measure Your Testing

No, I don’t mean create metrics. I mean take a good look at your work. Then judge it for yourself.

How good is the testing work you are doing?

  • Are you proud of it?
  • Do you feel you are making a difference?
  • Do you feel you are providing value to your team?
  • Are you asking questions?
  • Are you asking for feedback?
  • Are you solving things in the best way possible?
  • Are you being proactive?
  • Are you keeping up to date with industry good practice?
  • Are you growing as a tester?
  • Are you learning new skills?
  • What new skills should you be learning?

I encourage you to continually discover the answer to these types of questions. Do you feel like you are doing a good job? And most importantly - if you were the one hiring, would you hire yourself?


Know If Your Testing Is Making A Difference

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were quietly removed from your team or role? Would it actually make a difference to your team?

Good testers are hard to replace.  Good testers who make a real difference are ones that companies want to keep hold of for as long as they possibly can.  Does your company believe you make a positive impact?

  • Do you make a difference to the team dynamics?
  • Is your work high quality? And are you efficient with your time?
  • Do you bring new ideas to the table?
  • Do you know if your work makes a difference?

I hope the answer to that last question is yes, but sometimes making a difference is not enough.  Sometimes you need to take some extra steps to ensure people are aware that you do make a difference.

How can you do that?  It’s hard to say, but usually it comes down to good communication.  Be sure to communicate to your team and company about the awesome work you are doing. It could be in meetings. In casual conversations. Or you could pull together some information or data to share. Or perhaps start writing down your ideas or activities.

The more visible you make your work then the more others have a chance of understanding the awesome difference you are making.


Don’t Be Wasteful

Business is harsh sometimes. Someone, somewhere is paying your wage. Someone somewhere needs to make a decision as to whether you are a good investment.  Businesses do not like waste.

It sure helps if you can demonstrate that you make a difference.  It also helps if you can demonstrate that you are not wasting resources.  Companies will always love a quicker, better or more cost effective solution.

You are on the side of the company you work for.  It’s not your responsibility to dictate budgets, but I’m pretty sure you will be well remembered as a good tester if you come up with ideas to be less wasteful.

Some ways you can do this:

  • Always be on the hunt for how you can do things better
  • Look for new tools
  • Learn about new things
  • Figure out good ways to do things.
  • Be proactive in being mindful about how you spend your time and resources.
  • Do some research to see how other people are doing what you are doing
  • Teach others, openly and freely
  • And of course, pass on these things to the rest of your team
  • Even better share with the software testing community - you’ll probably get feedback and reports from others who have already walked your path!


Seek to understand technology, constantly

The technology world we live in will not stand still.  The moment you choose to stop learning is the moment you will stop progressing.

Companies want testers who are always doing their best to keep up to date with technology.  This also means keeping up to date with the latest software thinking. Or the evolution of our craft.

Testers that succeed seek to constantly evolve their understanding of the testing and technology world around them.  Google is your friend, as are we at the Ministry of Testing.

Sometimes working in tech can feel overwhelming.  The need to always be learning is a big one.  However, it’s also important to understand that you don’t need to learn everything.  You should pick and choose the things that are relevant and interesting to you.  Become so good at them and communicate that you are an expert at certain things so that people will always come to you.

Please don’t make the mistake of saying you are good at everything and then disappointing people further down the line when you can’t execute on requirements.  That’s a bad place to be.


Make Decisions

I personally find not making decisions to be on of the biggest things that stops me progressing. To the extent, that I personally feel, making a good decision is better than making a perfect one that happens too late.

Decision making gives you the ability to start moving forward. It gives you the chance to start learning and putting things into action.  No decisions are ever perfect and hindsight is a wonderfully strange thing.  Once you make a decision and start acting upon it you will start learning new things almost immediately.  It’s amazing!

Personal decisions are easier to adapt or even drop later on should you decide not to continue.  Decisions at work can often have greater impact, so often more care is needed.  However, the same principle applies.  Just make a decision!

In your personal life it could mean making that decision to stay in your current job, or not.
In your work life it could mean deciding whether to use a certain strategy, or not.

In both scenarios you will almost instantly feel pressure released and the excitement of being able to progress to make, do and learn new things!