Greg Paskal shares some of his best insights learned as a successful test automation engineer. With over 30 years in software development and test engineering, Greg has experience first hand what works and what ends up problematic when implementing test automation across the enterprise.
So you’ve come to love your work in software testing. You might even be stepping your game up, innovating new approaches to your testing? So how do you align your passion with a company that empowers you to do your job in excellence, while also encouraging you to grow in the craft and Science of Testing?
While several roles and titles exist within the Science of Testing (SoT), at their foundation, they are still a profession of engineering with a focus on quality. While my daily work is as a Test Automation Engineer, I am first and foremost a Test Engineer, leveraging the right tools and techniques to provide valuable insights while evaluating risks of the application I’m testing.
I’m passionate about our testing community (yes, that’s you) and wanted to write an article that gives you some valuable tools, to find a great place to work. If you’re considering any of the following, then this article is for you.
Considering any of these?
I want to pursue my first job as a Quality Engineer or Analyst. I’d like to find a great company with plenty of opportunities for growth.
I’ve been working in the field of Quality for several years. I’m considering the possibilities of new opportunities within and outside my company that could lead to better opportunities for my growth.
I want to evaluate my current employer and leadership, are they providing opportunities to grow my skills and capabilities as a Quality Engineer?
Let’s look at some qualities that make a great company. Let’s also discuss some red flags to be aware of and how to recognize them.
Quality Assurance, a Role about Risk
When you get down to the basics of our role as Quality Engineers, it’s ultimately about assessing and raising awareness of risks. Beyond test cases, test plans, and automated scripts, if you have no mechanism or focus on risks, you’re missing the point.
When looking for a great company, evaluate its focus and mission. It should be evident that your work will be about raising awareness of risks in the products your testing.
The Myth of the Testing Miracle There exist within many companies, a myth worth exposing. I refer to it as the “Testing Miracle,” and it’s typically communicated something like this, “Find all the bugs” or “Make sure zero defects go to production.” While the way it’s communicated will vary, the root of the “Testing Miracle” is that all defects can be found.
If you haven’t been confronted with the Testing Miracle yet, you likely will at some point in your testing career. The Testing Miracle is a good indication of unrealistic expectations from those asking you to accomplish it. It’s necessary for Quality Leaders to set an expectation early on, that even with skilled Test Engineers and unlimited time, defects will get missed. Because of this reality, it’s a good reason to have a strategy to reduce as much risk as possible. The Minimal Essential Testing Strategy, also known as METS, is an effective strategy to help reduce risk by adding a level of priority to your testing efforts. Learn more about METS at METSTesting.com.
Why is this foundation of risk assessment so crucial in our work? Why not try to pursue the “Testing Miracle?” The honest answer is, when an individual is given a task that’s impossible to accomplish, they’re set up for unnecessary pressure and lose focus in their area of expertise. In contrast, when encouraged with realistic expectations, the best results can be realized from their expertise and talents.
If you’re instructed to find all the defects with the expectation that zero bugs can go to production, then that role is called “Miracle Worker.” Unless it comes with a magic wand or superhero cape, you should take note and decide if you can meet the expectations that come with the role.
Test Engineering is a Field of Engineering
One of the unfortunate realities of the profession of Quality Assurance is minimal, formal education for Test Engineers. Fortunately, there are excellent training programs with ASTQB and ISTQB and even include certifications.
When considering a company, look for one that believes in investing in the skills of their Test Engineers. Look for leaders that understand, model, and teach testing and quality principals. While leadership skills are an essential part of their roles, if they don’t understand the fundamentals of testing or show no interest in honing their testing skills, then you might be setting yourself up for a dead end opportunity. One of the best quality assurance leaders I worked for, could sit down over lunch and tell you about new areas they were studying around solid testing techniques.
If the majority of what you hear from a testing leader is “get all that testing done” or “just run all your test cases,” then you may be headed for a dead end. All focus on testing without regular investment in your skills can lead to burnout and no future growth for your career.
Testing and Professional Tools
If there is one area I see as cancerous to the field of software testing, it’s a mindset that “everything must be free.” It’s so rampant in our profession that I’ve watched team members pursue hours of searching, all to find a free tool. What’s ironic is, all the while, a $50 off the shelf tool would do a better job 10x over. Screen capture, note taking and, defect tracking tools, fall into some of the more common “pursuits of free” for many teams.
One of the most experienced companies I’ve worked for had an exceptional approach to adding new tools. They budgeted for great tools and ensured our team got the right training, using those tools the right way. They progressed forward, to build a World-Class, Testing Center of Excellence (TCoE), equipped with skilled, Quality Engineers. It wasn’t free, but it demonstrated a commitment to invest in delivering quality products to the customers they served.
Look for Quality Leaders dedicated to putting the right tools in the hands of their Test Engineers. When a free tool is a right decision, then use a free tool. When everything is free because it’s free, then you’re likely getting a clue of what your future looks when you need a tool that’s not free.
I’ve also noticed a secondary symptom that comes with a “free at any cost” mindset, a lack of training. A smart approach that will almost always ensure you’re successful with tools (free or not) is this, when selecting a tool, get training to use the tool properly. Never adopt a tool with the idea, “we’ll figure it out along the way.” Two outcomes typically come from this approach. First, you’ll rarely get out of the tool, all of its capabilities. Second, it takes longer to get anything valuable out of the tool than if you had committed to getting training from the start.
A training strategy we utilized at one company was called the federated approach. We selected a needed tool and sent a couple of team members to get training on the tool. These team members knew they were responsible for training the rest of the team when they returned.
Are all the tools the testing team using free? Ask about screen capture or defect tracking tools. Look for trends of not spending on the right tools in favor of everything being free. If you find the pursuit of free at every turn, it’s good evidence that training and other investments in your career will likely not be there either.
Cost of Quality
Quality Engineering brings stability to the products we deliver to our customers. Unfortunately, it can also be viewed as an unnecessary cost that comes with building products. How the work of Quality Assurance is perceived can change rapidly based upon leadership within a technology organization. One moment you have leaders that see the value of an excellent, Quality Assurance organization. The next moment, half the team is let go, because “Can’t we just automate all this?”.
Keep a pulse of the value of quality in your organization, especially at times of leadership changes. Do you notice less emphasis on testing and more on shipping as fast as possible? Hopefully, you see an emphasis on creating exceptional products for your customer that represent your brand well.
A continued focus on “fast” can be the first signs that your leadership is losing sight of delivering quality products. Leaders may be getting assessed on the number of products shipped versus the quality of the products getting shipped. When you see quality taking a back seat to quantity, it might be wise to consider what your future looks like and if it’s time to consider new opportunities.
I hope these tips will help you evaluate the company you’re thinking about joining as well as the one you’re working for right now. I want to encourage you to find an excellent employer that is serious about investing in your future as a Quality Engineer.
I’d enjoy hearing about your journey. Feel free to reach me, Greg Paskal on LinkedIn.
Any time you get the opportunity to attend a conference, think of it as a chance to learn and bring some new ideas back to your team and company.
It’s important to be intentional as you prepare and to know what you want to achieve. Here are ten strategies that help me get the most out of the experience.
Make a Takeaway Plan
Determine what you want to accomplish at the conference. Is there a new technique, methodology, or approach you want to be sure to learn about? Formulate some critical questions before going.
Study the Schedule
Conference organizers typically publish a presentation schedule beforehand, including times, locations, speaker biographies, and summaries of the topics. Identify speakers and topics that align themselves with your takeaway plan.
Position Yourself to Learn
Sit as close to the front of the room as you’re comfortable with. This keeps distractions to a minimum and helps you focus on what’s being presented. It will also let you more easily engage the speaker with questions.
Avoid Distracting Technology
Many people use laptops, tablets, and phones to take notes. Unfortunately, these tools also make you available for email, social media, and notifications, which draw you away from why you came to the conference to begin with. Keep technology to a minimum so you can focus on the session you’re attending.
Plan to Participate
Look for as many opportunities as possible to participate during the event. Lunches, one-on-ones, meet-and-greets with speakers, and hands-on workshops are just a few of the possibilities you’ll find at most conferences.
Connect with Leaders
Go up and talk to thought leaders who are speaking at or attending the event. Many speakers spend time around the conference proceedings and are willing to answer questions, so look for opportunities to network.
Have a Teachable Attitude
You can always learn something, so keep an open mind for ways to sharpen your skills. Avoid pitting your knowledge against the knowledge of others. Find individuals with similar and different perspectives and engage in civil conversation that will expand your understanding.
Be a Good Representative
When attending a conference, you represent your company and its brand. Be respectful and professional when engaging with others, make it easy to share your contact information, and follow up with a thank-you email.
Prepare to Share
Be prepared to share what you’ve learned when you return. Identify two or three topics, highlight key points and takeaways that could be applicable to your company, and consider how you might implement them.
Give yourself enough time to get to the conference and settle in. Consider arriving the evening before so you can meet others who’ll also be attending. Mark time on your work calendar for the day of your return to review notes and ideas, and schedule meetings with your team and leaders to discuss what you learned and how it can be applied.
I hope these strategies help you get the most from your conference experience. Consider using the worksheet below for planning.
The crowded streets of Rome were busy with locals and visitors alike. With the Trevi Fountain just a short walk from our hotel, we ventured out to take in the sights. Our walking exploits included endless dodging of scooters, speeding cars and a sea of pedestrians. The wondrous thing about Rome is the awareness that history is everywhere. The Spanish Steps, Colosseum, and other memorable landmarks, most thousands of years old, enthralled this traveler.
Another curious observation about Rome was the number of people on their cell phones. Heads down, eyes fixed on tiny screens, yet all around, wonders of the world. As I contemplated this mystery, I realized that the world of software testing and automation suffers from a similar fate. Let me clarify, while most of us would confess, we know what it means to be distracted by our phones, have we ever contemplated our obsession for testing tools?
I’ve often equated the tools of the technologist as the shiny kinds-of-things that sidetrack us from the actual craft of Quality Assurance. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about another tool “you just have to try.” Vendors are continually selling us capabilities of tools that we “must have” to comprehend something bigger, better and newer. If you’re serious about the craft of quality, then you should be equally aware of the things that can distract you, leading to higher risk in your testing. All tools come at a cost, yes even the free, Open Source species. The moment you take your attention away from the application you’re responsible for testing, to “evaluate” a new tool, money starts to drain from someone’s bank account. Perhaps it’s a good idea to start equating time exploring new tools as a withdrawal from your quality bank account? After all, if you don’t take account and balance your books every once in a while, you’ll end up overdrawn in some capacity.
Let’s be practical; tools are required to get the work of testing done. Taking time to evaluate and select the right ones is essential to our success. So what leads to realizing the benefits of a wise tool investment vs. the decision to go with the latest gimmick?
Here are a few ideas to help lead you to successful tool additions.
Do you already have a tool or process that fulfills the promised functionality of the new one you’re exploring? Google testing leaders said it this way; it’s essential to slim down toolsets to only what is necessary and remove duplication. Redundant tools need to be done away with, and the focus placed on becoming excellent with the tools already chosen. Have the discipline to ask, “Do we already have a tool that does this well?”
You might be surprised just how many tools exist in the testing space which yields almost no benefits to software testers. Sales teams and marketers understand the weakness of most technologists, the allure of a shiny, new gadget is hard to resist. Open Source tools get trendy names that draw us away from success in what we’re using to follow the cool kids and their latest, technology fidget spinners. When assembling our test automation team, we standardized on a primary IDE (Integrated Development Environment), taking advantage of its many capabilities. This approach provided several advantages such as sharing newly leveraged capabilities across our team and faster onboarding of new team members. This discipline helps us focus on being skilled Test Engineers developing the right automation efficiently.
Agree as a testing team, how to decide and train for the tools adopted. Be committed to a single-tool-philosophy when possible. Engage team members that may be diluting the selected toolset for the sake of chasing the next shiny thing.
Have a real, financial budget for tools. There is a blind quest technologist get caught up in, the quest for “free” as I call it. I’ve known test engineers who pursue, adopt and replace free tools at a blinding pace. All this energy spent looking for free tools without considering the cost of the quest and reality of great tools that could cost just a few dollars. Screen capture tools are an excellent example, consider the amazing functionality of Snagit by TechSmith which sells for about $50. I use this tool every day because it gives me the features and efficiencies I expect from a great tool. Snap out of the “Everything must be free” trance and instead, pursue excellence tools for your craft as Quality Engineers.
Assign a subject matter expert (SME) and get training for the tools your team adopts. Use a federated approach for the SME to learn the tool and then train the rest of the team on its usage. Building this into your team culture provides opportunities for ownership and growth across your testing organization. Regardless of the tool being paid or free, find the right training to get the most out of it as an investment in your testing organization.
In my book, Test Automation in the Real World, I have an entire chapter dedicated to tools. I often say, “Use a tool as designed, not as discovered.” When you use a tool as designed, you get more out of it quicker than merely trial and error.
As we conclude, remember the craft we pursue is quality. Be tactful and know when your getting robbed of your quality bank account at the cost of a shiny new toy with no real benefits. Surround yourself with a community of quality craftsman, known for putting out products that perform well and meet real testing needs. Be alert for quality robbers, masquerading as a testing tool yet bringing no real value.
Discover The Personality of Your Application with Greg Paskal
247: Discover The Personality of Your Application with Greg Paskal – Test Talks
One of the most common challenges for quality engineers is making the mental shift from merely pursuing pass or fail test results to understanding the characteristics and trends of tests. That’s what we’ll be test talking about today with Greg Paskal. Greg will share how to discover the personality of your application using dashboards created with ELK Stack. Listen up to discover how to create tests that are accurate and actionable.
Summary: Are you getting into data visualization at your company? Greg Paskal, Test Automation Evangelist, chats with TechWell Community Manager, Owen Gotimer about data lakes and how to effectively use data visualization. Data visualization will help practitioners, managers, and stakeholders readily consume, understand, and act on the information displayed.
Summary: In this interview, Greg Paskal, a technology innovator in quality assurance, discusses a new open source tool from Elastic Stack which creates a “data lake” that can be mined to analyze the data coming from test automation on a more effective level than pass/fail. He also discusses his STARWEST presentation, “7 Fundamentals of a Successful Testing Team” in which Greg provides specific instruction through each of these seven areas, including fundamentals of software testing, how to begin implementing and executing the METS manual test strategy, outfitting your manual test team with automated testing, and the importance of building strategic partnerships across your IT and technology organization.
3 More Fundamentals of a Successful Testing Team
3 More Fundamentals of a Successful Testing Team
Many QA managers seek a formula for creating an effective testing team. While they may pursue endless tools and lifecycle approaches, the answer is actually simpler.
We’ve already talked about three fundamentals for a successful testing team: a common language, core testing concepts, and a smart automation strategy. Now, we’ll look at three additional fundamentals that will help lead your team to success.
Test automation engineers: How to build partnerships that matter
Summary: Automation engineers generally work solo or in small teams. This is why it’s important to know how to leverage others’ skills, which can help with all types of work such as test script development, virtual machine management, and promotion of the automation that we build.