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One thing I've picked up about testing software is to think about the software from the user perspective, and to sometimes "use" the software the way a "normal" user would. However, what if the software is not familiar to you in a "user" context?

I work for as an automated tester on an project management application for accountants. I have no formal training in accounting nor project management. I'm much more familiar with scientific software, including highly esoteric software for highly specialized scientific tasks (like Maple CAS and EEG visualization software). Clearly, this is a different part of the software world. How can learn how to use the software from a user perspective? I'm not really front facing and don't interact with customers or distributors.

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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There are two supporting features that are great for testers.

  1. Technical ability
  2. Domain knowledge

Technical ability is more along the lines of "I'm testing a game, and I know graphics libraries. I'm more likely to be able to spot rendering flaws." Domain knowledge "I'm an accountant, I will recognize a problem with accounting software faster than most people."

Both are excellent supporting features, but neither are required. The most important feature of a good tester is the ability to find bugs. These supporting features just give you a better understanding of the requirements, and it follows that understanding the requirements better will help you better find flaws in the program.

Ultimately, a good tester (or developer, or manager, or ANYTHING) is a quick learner and will be able to operate effectively even if you're unfamiliar. They're also more likely to seek knowledge on the topic. I don't know if there are accounting blogs (it doesn't sound too interesting, but I'm not an accountant) but perhaps taking half an hour or an hour to do some general research in accounting will help. I know there's a money Stack Exchange - perhaps you can ask, answer, or just read some questions there to get some better general knowledge about your given domain.

Any manager worth their salt is going to make allowances for someone who wants to actively become better at their job. After all, an hour a week is 2.5% of a 40 hour week. I would not find it difficult to imagine your productivity to go up by at least that with just a little bit of time.

Bottom line - if you can pick up domain knowledge, that's awesome, but don't beat yourself up over not having it.

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Hah! QA blog says accounting blogs don't sound very interesting. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. :-) –  user246 May 17 '11 at 14:07
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+1 for Technical ability vs Domain knowledge. That is a really helpful distinction, and one I'll keep in mind from now on. –  joshin4colours May 17 '11 at 18:33
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Keep in mind that you don't necessarily need either one to be a great tester. You just need to keep a sharp eye for how to break things! Technical ability will give you insight into how to break the program, and domain knowledge will give you insight into how to break the requirements. Both are very useful. But if I had to choose, I'd pick good "tester sense" over either or both any day. –  corsiKa May 17 '11 at 18:39
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Does the application you are testing have on-line help? or a manual? Those might be a good place to start.

Also, what about access to designers, support or coders? If you can find someone who has worked with the software for a long time they may be able to give you an overview to get you started.

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From the User perspective you should also understand who the Customers are, they may be in the same boat as you and just told to use the software without training. Some may seem familiar to them with Domain Knowledge, but that is picked up and often testing in that realm can discover very different bugs because you are exploring the software and doing things NO ONE expected you to do. After awhile you'll get familiar and things won't be so tough.

Training, if they offer it to their customers, might be useful as well and you might get to hear some User issues or complaints during the training you can bring back with you as test cases.

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