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What is Test Engineering?

The Changing Titles of Testers

For as long as we have been writing software, there have been people testing it. In the early days, all the testing was done by programmers, but over the last 30 years or so, many people have been employed as part time, full time, and career testers.

One of the problems we have with the whole discipline we call testing is that testing can be and is performed by many different roles in software projects. By and large, the people who were full time testers were called testers. For many years, many testers have 'worked for' Quality Assurance, particularly in the United States. But in Europe, QA mostly relates to the design and monitoring of processes, not products.

In Europe, we have tended to use the term 'quality control' to refer to the activity of testing of products, so there is some confusion in the industry. More recently, the term Quality Engineers has become more popular as the title for people who test.

The Test Engineer

Obviously calling people engineers implies that they are applying engineering disciplines, and this makes sense as testing - in most contexts - can be seen as an engineering activity. For our purposes, will use the term Test Engineer to mean people who test software and systems that use or are dependent on software. We'll also use the term Test Engineering to refer to what Test Engineers actually do.

Test Engineering

Test Engineering comprises all the activities through the life-cycle of products that Test Engineers perform. This can include involvement in requirements definition, review, and refinement of requirements, as well as the conventional activities of selecting/designing tests from requirements and from other sources of knowledge.

The skills required of a Test Engineer vary with the business and technology domains they work in and obviously the type of software and systems they are actually testing. But broadly, Test Engineers need skills in five areas:

  • The technical skills required to identify, design, implement and execute tests and report on progress through all test activities.
  • Test Engineering isn't just about running tests. Test Engineers need to solve a basic problem: How to expose defects, bugs etc. in systems and how to assure the quality of those systems on behalf of stakeholders? Problem-solving is at the heart of Test Engineering.
  • As Test Engineers progress in their career, they will need more skills and experience of both technical and managerial leadership at various levels.
  • Clearly, Test Engineers will need a wide range of business and interpersonal skills, enabling them to communicate with stakeholders to find out what stakeholders need and to report and give feedback to those stakeholders.
  • Finally, Test Engineers must adopt ethical practices like all other engineering disciplines. Test Engineers need to commit to continuous professional development to learn their craft continuously and stay up-to-date with modern methods, techniques, tools etc.

    These five skills areas are identified in the UK standard for Professional Engineering, Competence and Commitment, otherwise known as UK-SPEC.

    UK-SPEC was created as the overarching framework for experience and competence for (currently thirty-nine) engineering institutions in the UK and worldwide. It defines the requirements that people must meet to become registered as a professional engineer, in particular, Chartered Engineer, Incorporated Engineer, and Engineering Technician. You can download the UK-SPEC standard from the Engineering Council Website here.

    The Test Engineering Society aims to become a 'Professional Affiliate' and ultimately a 'Licensed Institution' of the Engineering Council so it can award engineer registrations. You can read more about how the the Society plans to achieve this in the the Society Vision and Strategy here.