The Knack

When we speak to people about testers, or getting into testing, or the types of skillset needed to excel in a functional testing role or, more specifically, the best approaches to unstructured/destructive testing (breaking those applications within an inch of their digital life!) we always refer to “the knack” – that inherently prodigious instinct to find those salacious bugs that get everyone in the office excited! It’s a relatively cliché reference that seems evasive or ambiguous but it simply calls to the individual gift of someone who excels within a functional testing role. It’s hard to define what makes a great “bug finder”. It’s hard to objectively outline a specific state of mind preceding the grand discovery of a complicated crash or functional issue. And it really is that. It’s a state of mind. It’s the instinctive awareness that some people have that allows them to break code, to understand code as a relationship between code, to view the game/app/website as a series of features all in play together – the problem solver in reverse. In our mind, the functional QA tester is highly skillful, highly talented, and a highly valuable asset in the development of any digital product. Because the skill of unstructured testing is more subjective it’s harder to define and harder to ascribe value in a prescriptively “data-fied” society. Of course, test plan creation will allow for objective gauging of “what’s been checked or looked at”, and this is hugely valuable in it’s own right. But the approach to a destructive testing phase cannot be quantitatively charted, as that is to bind it to a series of analytical measurements – essentially the “what”, “when”, and “why” of intuitive expression developed from collective experiences, spontaneous responses to product contact, and personal talent.

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The Artist

The subjectivity is similar to the artist. Ask an artist to convey in measurable terms the emotional inspiration for a piece of work and they’ll probably stumble and refer to instinct and internally inspired responses to a thing – whatever that thing might be. Ask the expert destructive, functional tester how they’ll approach discovering those elusive and profound class-A issues and they’ll probably respond with a similar gut-fuelled vagueness. It’s not that the value of their skill should be any less, or that a tester is an “artist” (that would be a pretentious assertion!), but that the value of the destructive functional tester should be similarly measured by the bug’s they find and by the output and impact of their work – the overall quality of the product as a result of the contributive inventiveness and talent of the functional tester. It’s not uncommon for the QA department to be viewed as the “bottom rung” of development, as the entry-level role that doesn’t require skill or talent to excel. But this is wrong. The talent displayed in functional QA teams is crucial in the success and quality of digital products. The functional QA testers we have working for us are exceptionally talented – their talent and appetite just happens to be for breaking games, applications, and websites!

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The Tester

However, beyond the need for innate flair to succeed in destructive functional testing, there is a responsibility to educate new, talented testers who display the type of prodigiousness referenced throughout this piece. This education relates to processes, platform considerations, general QA awareness, exposure to issue types, experience of specific functionality and content relationship defects, and other types of experience driven mindfulness that allows for the conceptual “knack” to translate into tangible output. The talent is inherent and acknowledged during interview processes and initial training periods. However, it is the responsibility of the more experienced QA members to widen the potential context of their talent so that they are aware of “how things work” and so can actually translate unfocused potential into focused output. Giving them insight into all QA considerations, all platform considerations, all feature considerations, all processes and objective approaches allows the tester to fully realize the art of destructive functional testing.

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