An Interview with Michael Bolton – Read His Advice for Upcoming Testers On How To Be Successful

Today’s article is an interview with widely known software testing specialist Mr. Michael Bolton, a Software Testing Teacher, Author, Consultant and thought leader.

This is part of our ‘know a leader‘ interview series of famous personalities on SoftwareTestingHelp. Check our last interview with Neeraj Tripathi, VP of Global QA at Infor.

STH is thrilled to present this interview to you and without further ado, let’s get to a brief rendezvous with Michael. 

For a complete list of his work, accomplishments, courses, and activities, check his blog here.

micheal bolton software testing help

Here goes:

Question #1) Could you please share your story briefly about how you became a software tester? A lot of our readers are QA-aspirants and we believe your story will resonate with them and inspire them.

Michael: There are several ways to answer that question.

I could say that I became a software tester when I started editing the school newspaper, too long ago to mention. I could say that I became a software tester when I started using software.  I could definitely say that I became a software tester when I started writing software, in 1988 or so.  Or I could say that I became a software tester when I started working in technical support, in 1990.

The experience and skills that I developed in all of those situations contributed to making me qualified for a job called “software tester”. I was offered a job with that title at Quarterdeck, in 1994 or so.

Question #2) What, according to you, is the best part about being a software tester?

Michael: Testers not only get to learn about technologies, business domains, and problems, but they get paid to do it.  Testing is a university, where the program lasts your whole career.

Question #3) Rapid Software Testing is considered one of the best testing programs out there. What do you think it one of its kind?

Michael: Lots of other classes focus on memorizing terminology so that you can pass an exam.  We don’t have exams.  It’s not that terminology is unimportant; we think words are very important because they help us think about things in sharper ways.

So we do talk about how we think about testing, and offer some vocabulary for that, but we don’t insist that you use our words for things. We do suggest—quite strongly—that you think deeply about your own ideas about your craft, and how you talk about them.  And that you talk about your craft with other people. That’s what experts do.

The people who like the Rapid Software Testing and Rapid Software Testing Applied classes enjoy the fact that, in class, we test software and work on puzzles, and then we talk about what happened and what we’ve learned.  We’re not exactly one of a kind, in that sense.

Interactive testing exercises happen in Rob Sabourin’s Just in Time Testing classes, for one; and in greater depth over a longer timescale in the BBST classes, too.  The classes are powerful—and justifiably popular—because testing requires practice, not just talk.

Question #4) Testing teams are perceived as one of the most under-appreciated parts of the software projects. What are the biggest challenges that testing teams face?

Michael: The biggest challenge that I see is that employers misunderstand testing, and therefore hold it to a low standard.

It’s too easy for some testers to remain unskilled because the managers who hire them are unskilled.  At the same time, many testers don’t work on their skills—technical skills, critical thinking, systems thinking, reporting—so the situation amplifies itself.

Question #5) Which is more important to be a successful tester- Analytical & Critical thinking Or tool & Process expertise?

Michael: That’s like asking “What’s more important to be a successful bicycle rider—keeping your balance or steering?”  It’s not an either/or question.

Tools and process expertise aren’t very reliable or useful in the absence of analysis and critical thinking.  Analysis and critical thinking can be aided by tools and expertise.  Those things are all important, and many other things are, too.


Question #6) Lot of our readers would want to know about whether or not certification can help them be better testers. What is your opinion on certifications?

Michael: Most testing certifications don’t measure your ability to test.  Don’t worry about getting certified.  Concentrate on educating yourself.  Look up the BBST class material, or better yet, take a BBST class.  Take an RST class, if you like.

Read Jerry Weinberg books.  Read a ton of testing blogs.  Practice testing with colleagues or with the Weekend Testing people.

Question #7) What changes in software testing can testers anticipate that might not be in their favor?

Michael: Some people seem to believe that testing is all about bureaucracy and paperwork; about rote execution of test procedures following a script; about operating the product in specific ways with specific inputs, and looking for specific outputs.  (When that kind of work can be done by algorithms, by computer programs, we call that “checking”. See this.)

Many organizations—and many testers—seem to that the most important thing in testing is following someone else’s instructions. Sooner or later, people are going to realize that testing centered around confirmatory test cases is not very informative and not very valuable.  To the degree that is worthwhile, much of that kind of testing can be expressed as code, and delegated to programs and to machinery.

Testers who are presently following other people’s instructions have the option of upgrading their programming skills, or their analytical skills, or their social-science skills—or looking for other jobs.

Testers who are expert in testing—in analysis, in designing and performing experiments—will be much safer than those who aren’t.

Question #8) What software testing trends should we look forward to?

Michael: My hope is that testing will be recognized as a key set of skills that pervades all of software development, and that more developers, designers, and business people will take on those skills.

I hope there will always be room for people to help development teams by specializing in that skill set and collaborating with the other specialties. For that hope to become reality, though, I believe we’re going to have to upgrade the skills of testers all over the world.

Questions #9) What is your advice for upcoming testers on how to be successful?

Michael: That answer will be different from one tester to another.  But there’s one key skill in which I observe most testers seem unfortunately weak, and that’s the skill of telling the testing story.

The testing story has three strands to it, and they wind around each other like a braid.  One strand is about the product and its status; what it does; what it doesn’t do; how it works; how it doesn’t work; and how it might not work in ways that matter to your various clients.

Another strand is about how you tested the product; how you set it up; how you operated it; how and what you looked for and where you looked.  It’s about how you recognized problems when you noticed them; the oracles that you applied.  It’s also about coverage; what you have tested so far.  And it’s also about what you haven’t covered; important testing that you haven’t done, or that you might not do at all, unless things change.

Yet another strand is about the quality of the testing; why it’s the best testing you could have done under the circumstance—or how it might not have been.  It’s also about what has made—or is making— testing harder or slower.  It’s about the testability of the product—because a product that doesn’t have testability features is harder and slower to test.  And it’s about what you might need and what you recommend to make testing go more quickly, more deeply, more effectively.

A bonus question #10:  If there is one skill aspiring and practicing testers should focus on, what would it be?

Michael: There isn’t one.

Practice what is most helpful to you in your current context, and practice stuff that interests you.  Practice the things where you know you need to improve.  Practice critical thinking; when you see or think something, ask “what else could this be?” Practice your analytical skills, and practice telling the story of your testing.

That’s it!

You can follow Michael on Twitter.

Thank you, Mr. Bolton, for taking the time to share your thoughts, advice, and ideology with our readers. It is an absolute delight. Our readers and STH appreciate it a lot.

Stay tuned for more such interviews with software testing’s most familiar faces. Feel free to comment for your suggestions/questions.


#1 Ahmed Fathi Elgaly

Great advice’s from a great person

#2 Devanath

Useful ……

#3 Rupali b

best advice from a legend

#4 chaitanya

very informative. Thank you STH for providing such a great person interview.

#5 Rahul Nikam

Great Guidance and Info !!

#6 Nishant Gohel

Yes most are testers get confused about writing test ideas

#7 Amit Razdan

Thanks for such a Great Advice in the details above…..
Appreciate the work…..

#8 SPEC India

Very well written. This advisable content is surely going to be helpful to the testers. Thanks for sharing this informative content here with us.

#9 Darshan Satish

Great info, specially skill of telling the testing story :)

#10 Prashant

Thank you for sharing this. Expecting some more(like a webinar) with Testing Legend.

#11 Bhavesh Rathod

Again one of nice article from STH Team.

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