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5 vital QA skills for software testers

As testing extends throughout the SDLC, QA engineers do much more than execute a quick functionality check. Pick up these skills to ensure an effective, team-wide approach to quality.

Effective software testers possess a wide range of QA skills, making them indispensable to all sorts of development teams.

Soft skills matter for software testers, as they must think critically to put themselves in end users' shoes. But that doesn't mean testers can ignore technical skills. Software testers must be proficient at test case design and bug tracking, and work with application development and security teams to make quality an organization-wide priority.

Let's run through five QA skills that testers should brush up on.

1. Test case design

Test cases provide the materials for how a QA engineer assesses the system. Test cases should include user stories, acceptance criteria and other information that outlines stakeholders' needs. Testers design and write these specifications, and the better you are at test case design, the better you can ensure these test cases satisfy software requirements. Testers should know the purpose of a test case, as well as the level of specificity it requires.

2. Collaboration

Some skills are hard to pinpoint technically, like collaboration. How well testers and developers communicate can either boost or hamper overall productivity. Each side should strive to listen and actually consider the other's input and issues, particularly as techniques like shift-left testing and test scripting blur the distinctions between roles.

To generate a good working relationship, the two groups must work toward common project goals. As a QA professional, discuss the goals of the software project and how to achieve them with developers, including the techniques, tools and skills your role brings to the project.

3. Feedback reporting

The handoffs between testers and developers are part of a feedback loop. Ideally, teams should optimize a workflow where the feedback loop is short, meaning a tester alerts a developer about a bug quickly after it enters the codebase.

Agile project managers use various tactics to shorten feedback loops, from team restructuring to test automation. Testers should focus on the QA skills that engender efficient feedback, such as how they describe problems, ways to track bugs and testing in the right way at the right time.

4. Security vulnerability detection

Security must be a team-wide priority during application development and testing. Vulnerabilities can delay a release, or worse, go live and lead to a breach.

While security scanning and vulnerability detection are not often on a list of traditional QA skills, risk reduction is a major priority. To grow as a tester, learn the signs of security vulnerabilities, as well as what fits within a tester's responsibilities and who to bring in to address issues. Follow the principles and practices of DevSecOps to take security out of a silo.

5. Adaptability for the future

Development doesn't stand still. CI/CD, test automation and use of AI all dramatically changed the role of software testers. Rather than execute as many tests as possible manually, they now take a more holistic look at software and how it fits in with requirements and end-user expectations. Just as software development evolves, so too will the QA skills necessary to test that software.

While there's still a place for creative and efficient manual testing, QA professionals should prepare for a future that requires them to understand code and work with programmers. Phenomena like continuous and shift-left testing prove that QA work can be done at faster intervals than in the past, as many types of tests can be automated by scripts and tools or placed on developers' task lists.

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