Does a software tester need to know to code?

Magdalena Śledź
04 January 2021
4 min read

What skills does a software tester need? People who want to start working as a software tester often wonder what set of skills or features characterizes a good tester and whether it is a suitable job for them. Those who already have some experience in this profession wonder what new skills are needed to develop their careers further. There are many possibilities because the tester's work itself can be diverse. Depending on how you want to build your career, you will need different skills.

The characteristics of a good Software Tester

Testing is a quality assurance process. This work requires diligence and accuracy. After all, its goal is to find and fix as many defects as possible before the customer uses the software. Thus, the tester should be insightful and patient. Moreover, the tester must have analytical, communication and teamwork skills, on top of being able to create tests and business documentation (such as process diagrams, acceptance criteria, business requirements), and knowledge of test support tools (for managing test cases or reporting errors). Does it make sense to require the tester to have coding knowledge?

Does a manual tester need to code?

Yes, but in different cases and to varying levels of advancement. So as always 'it depends'. For a manual tester, knowledge of the programming language is an additional advantage rather than necessary. The manual tester will benefit from programming knowledge in several cases:

  • Performing SQL queries against the database

  • Writing requests and API tests

  • Generating test data using scripts

  • Analysis of the output data using scripts

Basic knowledge of SQL is a handy skill. Consider the following example: you are testing functionality that changes one field’s value on a finite number of records for a given object, under certain conditions. Checking each record manually in the application can be time-consuming. Execution of the appropriate database query takes a short moment. Both methods will allow us to check if the program worked as expected.

The limits of manual testing

Testing requires test data to operate. Depending on the type of tests and the application itself, creating such data manually is often not a problem. Still, in some situations, we need a large amount of data - for example, to perform load tests. Let's agree that creating 25k records of a given object manually is not a dream of any tester. Plus, it'd take a lot of time, even for a skilled person.

A script that generates test data will come to the rescue (SQL knowledge may come in handy again). It may take a while to write it, but it will still be a small fraction of the time it takes to create data manually. The very execution of the script takes a moment. This solution saves the tester time and sanity, who can take care of the actual testing.

API testing allows you to check whether two independent systems communicate correctly and whether the data flow between them runs in a planned manner. Again, basic coding skills come in handy with these tests. The framework configuration is one thing; another thing is to write tests for the executed request methods. Automated tests can be integrated into CI/CD(Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery) with appropriate tools.

The limits of relying on tools

In some of the mentioned cases, it is still possible to avoid coding with the right tools. For example, some automation tools support the recording of scenarios based on logging actions in the browser. Creating and playing such scenarios does not require programming knowledge. Such a solution is, of course, very convenient, but it can be unreliable, and without programming knowledge, such a scenario cannot be freely modified or improved.

However, tools are not always open source, and the right tools’ purchase is not always within reach. Sometimes using programming skills and writing a script by yourself is faster than using a tool with a nice GUI, sometimes your needs are so specific that you will not be able to use or configure a tool in the way you require.

What about an Automation Tester?

Coding knowledge is needed if you are planning a career as an Automation Tester.

Such a person is responsible for the automation strategy and the automation of the test scenarios. Automation tester designs, creates, and executes automated tests in the form of scripts using appropriate test frameworks. Based on specific priorities automation tester tries to cover the most critical parts of the system with tests and creates test runs from individual tests, the execution of which can be integrated with the CI. 

The Automation Tester is also responsible for preparing test documentation and reporting bugs. When writing automated tests, the programming language’s knowledge (even at a basic level) is reasonable. Without it, the tester will not freely create scripts, even in the most user-friendly framework intended for this purpose.

What does a Software Development Engineer in Test do?

Software Development Engineer in Test is a position that appeared on the labor market not so long ago and was proposed by Microsoft. Software Engineer in Test is a position between an automation tester and a developer. SET is required to have excellent programming skills, but is still responsible for testing and part of the testing team.

Software Development Engineer in Test is responsible for the design and implementation of automation tools - not only using them. Software Engineer in Test can create and configure the appropriate structure to perform automated tests and create generic solutions adapted to different situations. Such a person is usually involved in the application development process, takes part in code review, and may also write unit tests. Besides, SDET creates appropriate test scenarios based on customer requirements.

In a nutshell

You can be a Manual Tester without any coding knowledge. However, such an ability greatly simplifies the tester's work and thus improves its quality. If we can facilitate repetitive and lengthy work by writing a query, script, filter, or simple automation and therefore spend time testing other functionalities, it is worth considering.

Programming knowledge is needed if you plan a career as an Automation Tester or Software Development Engineer in Test. The required level of expertise and responsibilities is different for these positions, but coding knowledge is essential in both cases. 

Are you interested in a career in programming or testing? Have a look at our open positions. Looking for the right person to help you build a flawless project? We’re a message away. Write to us at hello@start-up.house.

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