This article takes a deep dive into the role of a test engineer, and why their contribution is so essential to the product team.
I can look back on more than one occasion early in my testing career when I would get asked questions like “What does a test engineer do exactly?” and “So what is your main objective/priority as a test engineer?” I would get stuck! I stuttered and stumbled my way through an explanation, leaving me and the person on the other end more confused.
At that time I understood that defining my testing role to an outsider could be a bit confusing. Even today the notion of hiring a person solely for testing is surprisingly somewhat uncommon. Yet those who have experienced having a dedicated QA specialist on their team see how advantageous their inclusion was. In order to see the benefits of having a test engineer on the team, you have to understand what this specific role entails.
The core responsibilities of a test engineer
The role of a test engineer is quite vast and diverse, and the responsibilities of a tester could vary depending on the industry, software lifecycle, team layout, and many other factors. However, there are some core responsibilities that all testers strive to accomplish in their role.
- We focus on quality and functionality as we design and implement all tests. The testing techniques could range from multiple different types of testing, including non-functional or functions that are carried out through manual and/or automated testing techniques.
- We contribute to the success of a product from the very beginning of the engagement. We focus on presenting a mindset for critical thinking, as well as having a detail-oriented vision for the end product. From the beginning phases of the product's development to the final release, we are continually working with designers and developers to ensure the product is meeting the needed requirements and acceptance criteria.
- We bring valid knowledge of testing concepts, and have a solid understanding of execution methodologies. We effectively communicate with the development team through verbal communication, as well as articulate test cases and documentation in a detailed and clear way.
- We represent all of the potential users of the product. We are the first user navigating through the product, we are also the experienced user that has no difficulty navigating, we are the user that is colorblind, we are the user that is partially or completely blind, and many more. We bring the mindset of all users into one persona and truly experience the application from their lens.
This list isn't comprehensive and only includes some of the roles a test engineer plays. There are many more areas that testers contribute to that impact the team, product, and overall user experience.
All of these are essential to the health and quality of the end product. Although some would try to argue that other team members could take on these responsibilities, it's the test engineer that has the proper skillset and knowledge to fulfill the need. Additionally, they bring unique perspective throughout the lifetime of the engagement often raising issues that are often missed or overlooked.
What does the rest of the team think of test engineers?
All team members in the product team have the opportunity to bring their key strengths and skills to the table. In embracing this approach, test engineers have the opportunity to bring a critical mindset and deep understanding of test concepts and methodologies, that helps identify and address bugs early on in the development process.
Throughout the development process, test engineers continue to contribute to the improvement of quality and functionality in feature development, resulting in a better product.
To get a better picture of the test engineer's contribution to a project, I thought I’d ask the rest of the team members their perspective. I reached out to a handful of Crema product team members and I presented them with the two questions.
1) Why are test engineers so crucial/essential to a product team?
2) What value do you see test engineers bring to a product team?
Here are their answers:
Test Engineers are the glue that hold user experience and technical specifications together. They serve as the liaison for humans on any device type, ensuring the product that is being designed and built is usable for all relevant scenarios. Whether it is accessibility standards, user journeys, interface design or responsiveness, Test Engineers verify that only the highest quality product hits the shelves.
While quality is everyone’s job, it’s non-negotiable to argue that a Test Engineer is optional. Leaving a Test Engineer out of the software development process will only decrease the overall team velocity and value.
- Brooke, Product Manager
Sometimes when working on an engagement, team members have to push the boundaries of what their designated roles are so that we can provide better impact. In a typical linear project, work is planned, designed, developed and lastly tested before being released. On product teams, it is important to have insight to all these steps.
The importance of Test Engineers to a product team is their ability to help define the work that needs to be done in planning, test those assumptions through the designs, and lastly testing a completed development task. Test Engineers are important because they aren't just the last line of defense, they help create a defense at all points of project.
- Neal, Director of Development
Test Engineers are user advocates. They generally have some of the best insight on how the product is actually being used. Although quality is a team sport, it’s essential for a product team to have a quality expert with the user’s best interest in mind.
In my experience Test Engineers are the ultimate collaborators. Bridging communication gaps from the development team, design, product managers and stakeholders is an extremely valuable thing. Test Engineers have the ability to influence all of those areas by suggesting changes, discovering unknowns and uniting the team.
- Kenneth, Test Engineer
While the quality of the product is the whole team’s responsibility, test engineers champion the quality mindset, and amplify our ability to deliver great results. Test engineers bring expertise on how to test – but also a practiced intuition around what to test and why.
They work proactively to build an understanding of what matters to users and connect across the team to spread that understanding. They have a knack for asking important questions, which helps the team spot risks early and guide product strategy. This also helps the team recover gracefully when issues arise.
- Byron, Developer
By embracing the role of a test engineer, you will encounter a professional who possesses a critical mindset and a deep understanding of testing concepts and methodologies. This individual will be responsible for identifying and addressing bugs and issues early on in the development process and prioritizing the quality and functionality of the product. Having a test engineer on a product team will not only improve the product, but the overall experience of the product for the user.
Establishing effective communication as early as possible in the engagement will ensure a better product is delivered in the end.