Software testing could use non-IT grads' fresh perspective

Non-IT grads can offer value in software testing, as they can give a different perspective and spot issues otherwise unnoticed by those with a technical background.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Non-IT graduates may be put off from IT jobs due to a lack of technical qualifications, but the area of software testing is a plausible option, because they can offer a different yet complementary approach, particularly if the apps are meant for everyday, regular users.

Jeff Findlay, a senior solution architect, Asia-Pacific and Japan at Micro Focus, is one who said a lack of formal IT qualifications does not have to be a deterrent in considering software testing jobs. Findlay himself has a degree in architecture and worked in the construction industry for many years before moving to the IT field.

"The answer to whether software testing is a viable career for non-IT graduates is definitely yes," he said. "Many successful testers come to IT with diverse backgrounds, myself included. I moved to IT using my [architecture] graduate skills in organization, process and design to underpin the complex functions associated with software development lifecycle (SDLC) and testing."

According to Findlay, having a general degree provides a broader mindset for testers to draw upon when doing testing. At the same time, they are able to clearly and solely focus on the testing activities, rather than worry about why and how a bug got introduced or what the best solution to an issue might be.

Two attributes are critical for good testers regardless of academic background, which non-IT persons can develop and receive training, he pointed out.

The first is domain knowledge, which is what separates good software testers from the rest, the Micro Focus executive said. The tester must know the business that surrounds the application under test and its various intricacies--which depend on what business and industry the employer is in, Findlay explained.

In the same vein, the tester must also understand the SDLC processes or models for the app as used by their employer, such as agile, iterative or waterfall, he said.

Peter Noblet, senior regional director of recruitment company Hays Information Technology, said non-IT testers do not have preconceived ideas about the functionality and technical capabilities of an application. This fresh approach means they might be able to give a more accurate view of issues that do impact the user experience when interacting with the software.

On the flipside, because of their lack of technical knowledge, non-IT testers do not understand the limitations of the app, and may have unrealistic expectations of what the software can do, he pointed out.

Developers keen
Derek Ang, CEO of Morces, said since more software, such as mobile apps, today is used by normal, everyday people, "it makes no sense why non-IT grads cannot be good software testers". Singapore-based Morces specializes in providing a platform for businesses to build their existing Web site into a mobile one without technical skills.

"As a developer, sometimes we are too technically-wired that we forget our software is to be used by everyday people, and overlook some things that my team mates will have to notify me of," he said.

For Ang, the ideal software testing team should comprise of IT and non-IT individuals. The IT individuals test technical aspects, while their non-IT peers test other areas such as human-computer interaction (HCI) and flow.

Bryan Wong, chief operating officer of Morces, added non-IT grads would "probably do a better job" in system testing as they can look at the overall functionality of an application without the need to know the internal source code. IT grads, on the other hand, are ideal for unit testing since it involves a programmer to work on the actual code, testing and inspecting individual components to find the actual root cause of error.

Gibson Tang, manager of Azukisoft, which develops mobile apps and games, said some of the best software testers he has worked were non-technical people, who have an eye for detail as well as an "unconventional knack in breaking software while it is still in the development phase".

"As their nature is not IT-based, their feedback on what makes a good feature [of an app] would be more effective since my software products cater to a wide general audience, including non-IT users," he explained.

Tang said he actually prefers testers to be non-IT grads, but added he will also want to train them to handle more IT tasks along the way.

Not for everyone
Hays' Noblet emphasized that ultimately, it is not a question of whether software testing is the best or easiest area for non-IT grads to go into. Technical concepts of the job role will have to be learnt sooner or later, and that could turn out to be a difficult struggle for a non-IT grad, although a degree in engineering and mathematics might give better success, he noted.

His advice to non-IT grads interested in forging a career in IT is to start with entry-level support roles. "For some support roles, the focus is more on securing graduates with the appropriate customer service skills rather than technical skills, which will be trained. As time progresses, candidates will then be expected to show that they are grasping the technical requirements of the role."

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