5 surprising books that QA professionals recommend (and 10 useful references that won’t shock you)

QA professionals’ jobs aren’t straightforward. Neither are the software testing books they recommend.

QA professionals’ jobs aren’t straightforward. Neither are the software testing books they recommend.

March 10, 2020
Tamas Cser

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QA professionals’ jobs aren’t straightforward. Neither are the software testing books they recommend.
QA professionals’ jobs aren’t straightforward. Neither are their book recommendations.

Books are sources of delight. When a friend recommends a book, you expect each page to teach you something new or to remind you of something familiar.

When I asked five QA professionals which books had helped them, I received the same recommendations, only with a lot more lateral thinking. Sure, they mentioned traditional technology books for software testers – that list is at the end. However, several people suggested professional testers look outside the Computer section in the bookstore. If you even remember what a bookstore is. Or a shelf. 

As with the rest of the QA world, you don’t always find what you’re looking for—and you find what you’re looking for in unexpected places. 

Here are five thought-provoking works that gladden the hearts and minds of QA professionals.

The fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood,” by The Brothers Grimm

Grimm’s Fairy Tales are fabulous fictional folk tales that predated computers by at least 150 years. But if you’re going to learn about software quality assurance, shouldn’t you learn from a book that was written after the Industrial Revolution?

How it relates to QA 

QA tester Brad Mendenhall’s first mentor told him that “Little Red Riding Hood” wasn’t just a look at colorful fashion choices. It was an introduction to the world of QA. 

“When Little Red Riding Hood says, ‘Grandma, what big eyes you have,’ Red is actually testing the scenario. It’s supposed to be Grandma, but it’s not,” says Mendenhall. 

What’s in front of your eyes might not be what you’re expecting, and with changes made rapidly during a crunch time, errors can be overlooked. It’s up to QA to call out issues. Especially the obvious ones. And Little Red Riding Hood serves as a reminder to do so.

Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders by L. David Marquet

Ahoy, mateys! Turn the Ship Around is about the life and times of L. David Marquet, former captain of the submarine U.S.S. Santa Fe—regarded by the U.S. Navy as the Class Clown and Least Likely to Succeed. But using his unique style of governance, Marquet did indeed turn his ship around.

This book wasn’t written with QA in mind; it’s aimed squarely at the leadership readership. 

How it relates to QA 

QA professional Alexis Stewart believes this book should be on every  tester’s must-read list, because “This book helps tear down the divide between QA and developers.” 

When Marquet took charge, he didn’t micromanage his flagging staff, because he recognized that every person on board was already a seasoned submariner. “He encouraged them to use their experience,” Stewart says. “He allowed them to learn and understand what they were doing,” rather than simply maintaining a hell-or-high-water schedule. 

This recognition that everyone has their own talents and abilities is important in QA, where testers and programmers bring opposite approaches (breaking vs. fixing) to the same task of product development. 

“This book allows both parties to step back and realize they have valuable experience. This puts them on even ground to build a functioning relationship—and build a better product,” says Stewart. When she has a discussion with programmers or even other QA professionals, she embraces Marquet’s attitude: “‘You know what you’re doing. I trust you. Do what you came here to do.‘ I learned that from Marquet.”

A Writer’s Resource: A Handbook for Writing and Research by Elaine R. Mainon and Kathleen Blake Yancey

QA may be a technical job, but former QA tester Seth DeCato recommends a book about writing that is aimed at the people who ditched English class in favor of STEM.

DeCato also recommends Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. This non-QA writer says you can’t go wrong with the classic Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. 

How it relates to QA 

There’s more to QA than testing whether your  application’s date range includes February 29. Software quality duties may require you to flex your human-language muscle. 

“Sometimes you need to send a detailed report back to the developers and tell them, ‘These are the steps I took,’” DeCato says. “You have to write in a way that’s concise and doesn’t take forever to read.” 

In addition, those test plans don’t write themselves (although Functionize’s software can help with the process). Even if you’re filling out a spreadsheet with a minimum of verbiage, a solid grounding in writing builds confidence and helps you communicate—an important skill for workplace success.

Sherlock Holmes short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

In this short story collection of Victorian/Edwardian mysteries, detective Sherlock Holmes says the game is afoot, where the game is a mystery to be solved, and the foot smells like villainy.

How it relates to QA 

It’s elementary that Sherlock Holmes would have made an excellent software tester: He observes the conditions around him, then draws conclusions. QA tester Poorva Ramani says, “Holmes makes inferences easily. If he finds the solution to one problem, it gives him a clue to another one. In my job, the solution to one problem also gives me a clue to find another problem.” 

Holmes is also very curious, and according to Ramani, curiosity is an important part of her job. 

“A QA tester’s job is being inquisitive, asking a lot of questions in order to understand what the product is.” Sometimes the question is “Who is the user of this product?” and other times it’s “Why is a supernatural hound haunting the Baskerville family?” It’s all in a day’s work. 

So to supplement your QA work with something a little more epic, you have all the skills you need to become a gentleman/gentlewoman/gentleperson detective. Deerstalker hat optional.

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

Actually a play, No Exit is about three people locked in a room together for eternity.

How it relates to QA 

Alexis Stewart, Senior QA, uses No Exit as an example when “people bypass processes.” 

She elaborates: “When you do your final quality check and find a bug, you send it back to development. It usually comes back again for testing. But once in a while, it instead goes straight to production.” Stewart finds it crazy-making—just as maddening as when she finds a bug and a developer does not agree with her assessment. 

So how does this 1944 French play relate to software quality testing? As Stewart says, “Hell is other people.”

The usual suspects

Naturally, these aren’t the only books that QA professionals recommended to me. They’re just the fun ones to write about.

Here’s the more-typical books that testers find useful. Compare them to the books already on your shelf:

Look, while you’re reading… take a few moments to discover the good, the bad, and the ugly of continuous testing. It’s one of our white papers, and it goes into a bit of detail.

Carol Pinchefsky

by Carol Pinchefsky

Carol Pinchefsky is a freelance writer who writes about technology, science, and geek culture. She lives in New York City with her husband and their books. She can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and carol pinchefsky.com