The Future of Testing: Quality Engineers and Specialist Skills
I had the pleasure of participating in a testers leadership roundtable recently, and one of the questions posed was “What is the future of testing?”
Now, I’ve been asked that question a few times in my career, but I never had the chance to speak about it in a public forum. As you could guess, the panelists’ answers spurred lots of spirited discussion and follow-up questions, and there were many great points made. I’d like to expand my answers and share with you my opinion on the future of testing.
I believe the role of the traditional tester is moving to that of a quality engineer. There are many organizations that have already adopted this title, and I did the same thing about seven years ago. In my opinion, the quality assurance title no longer fulfills the expectations of the new capacities of testers.
My definition of a quality engineer is a skilled role that blends technical acumen with user advocacy to analyze information, create a solution, and execute that solution, all the while using context-driven techniques to emphasize efficiency.
When we emphasize efficiency in our solution, we should become micro-efficient. This means we save seconds that turn into minutes that turn into hours. By eliminating duplicate, unneeded, or outdated approaches, we gain “found” time through which testers can broaden their capacity and offer teams testing services we couldn’t consider before. When we invest in becoming micro-efficient, we ultimately add specialist skills to a generalist’s portfolio.
I used the term generalist in my talk, but if that spurs a negative connotation, feel free to substitute your word of choice. I chose generalist simply to denote the progression of skills widely adopted by the majority to those of a specialist.
When we look at the traditional functions expected from a software tester, we also now should look at some of the skills that were previously reserved for specialists—think automation via tools or technology, performance engineering, accessibility testing, etc.—and bring those into the fold of a quality engineer.
So, what happens to the specialists? There will always be a need for experts who work in innovative and cutting-edge technology that hasn’t quite been adopted in mainstream companies. If you are more suited as a consultant (an established expert), I see the quality engineer role poised to absorb specialist skills cyclically every five to seven years as technology evolves.
A well-rounded organization blends both specialists and generalists as a balanced staffing model. Consultants should push forward and forge paths in the next new technology, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, virtual reality, robotics, and the internet of things—or at least certain components of these areas that are not covered in existing technical testing approaches.
This continuous emphasis on efficiency becomes an evolution that keeps an organization—and its testers—driving the forefront of technology instead of juggling the everyday minutiae.