8 things you ought to know if you do not know anything about hiring a software tester

In a recent blog entry over at 8thLight’s blog Angelique Martin points out to 8 things you ought to know if you do not know anything about hiring a software developer. Having been involved with the Software Craftsmanship movement since the early days, and 8thLight has played a major role in that movement early on, this list was compelling to me.

In short, Angelique reminds us to ask potential new employees for the development processes they used, their development practices, – particularly TDD, pair programming, short iterations, and continuous integration – and how they educated themselves and kept their claws sharp. She also points out that she would ask for a proof of their talent, how they estimated, how deadlines are met, and what they can say about the costs involved when developing software.

This list was so compelling to that I decided to put up a similar list with the things I was looking out for hiring a software tester. I believe there are some unique skills I would look for in a software tester that I would not necessarily look for in a programmer. So, here it is.

I would ask about their approach in different contexts. Agile software development is all around us. But still many companies also use more traditional approaches. In the end, one approach to testing might work in an Agile shop, while it would fail dramatically on a more traditional project. I would look for their adaptability to different contexts, and how they react to different situations. In today’s world it’s certainly not enough to know about the latest methodology, but also to apply different techniques as unique situations unfold. I would also look out for their tactics in fast-paced Agile iterations, and how they adapt to two week long sprints. What about one week? What about daily deployments?

I would ask about the testing techniques they could show me right now without preparation. My experience in our field is that testers visit a course or two – if they actually can do so. After that they use the 20 percent of testing knowledge that they need in their day job – without exercising their brain cells on the remaining 80 percent. Even worse, there is little interest in growing beyond these practices. If the potential new hire can share a lot of testing techniques without preparation, she certainly uses all of these different techniques regularly.

I would ask about their programming experiences. Fast-paced iterations call for test automation. Even if you don’t work in an Agile context, programming knowledge will benefit you at creating different tools that assist your manual tests. In the end, you can talk to programmers on a different level, if you can at least read their code. Specifically I would ask the potential new tester if she could pair with me right now on some production code. I would also ask for experiences with TDD, pair programming, pair testing, continuous integration, and different automation tools and programming languages.

I would ask for heuristics they regularly use. Test automation alone is not enough. A good tester also needs to be aware of the oracles and heuristics by which we recognize a problem. A good tester also knows when to aim for more depth in their test sessions, or to aim for overview on a new product. These are covered in many of the mnemonics on software testing around. Maybe they even came up with their own mnemonic on aspects in their testing which they regularly use.

I would ask for a demonstration of their skills. This could mean to submit an example bug report as Lessons Learned in Software Testing points out. This certainly also means that I hand them some problem to test, and ask them to show me how they would test the particular application. Among the things I would look out for, is how they handle traps, and what basic assumptions about testing they follow through. I certainly would use one of the missions over at Testing Challenges.org. I would also spent an eye on how they try to clarify the mission, and how they involve the different stakeholders in their testing.

I would ask for how they work on their knowledge. What has been the latest book on software testing that they read? Which blogs do they read regularly? Did they invent a new testing technique (like the Black Viper testing)? Which conferences did they attend? Which online coaching opportunities did they take? Weekend Testing? Skype coaching? Miagi-Do? BBST? These are all examples of personal dedication to our craft. They also show a passion for life-long learning.

I would ask for how they collaborated. This includes collaboration with programmers like pair programming, but also with peers in pair testing sessions. I would also seek to get to know how they worked out specification details and acceptance tests with the customer. What is their approach to collaborate with programmers who don’t give a thing about testing and testers? How do they show their unique value they bring to the software development process, and how do they get others engaged in what they do? Testers need not be alone in their daily struggle on quality, and certainly shouldn’t be the gatekeeper about quality. I would look for a tester who understands that quality in the software is a team effort.

I would ask for their previous professional job. In the last year, I attended the second writing-about-testing workshop. During the introduction on the first day, everyone stated how she or he came into testing. Most of the participants didn’t pick software testing as their first job. Eventually they found out about their passion for testing by accident. Since then I made it a habit to interview testers about their path to the profession. Most of them had interesting stories to tell, and even compelling insights about fields of expertise that suits any tester.

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12 thoughts on “8 things you ought to know if you do not know anything about hiring a software tester”

  1. Pretty comprehensive list of great ideas.
    Really makes me wonder how a candidate (or I, for that matter) would fare at such an interview. Or how many would live up to such expectations. Or how someone who is not familiar with the context-driven school would react.
    In short: if you have any hiring stories that relate to this post, it would be awesome to hear them.

    1. Well, I didn’t hire a tester so far, and seem out of hiring business right now. I even turned down most of the applications that landed on my desk, at least after a short telephone interview.

      This might sound like high standards if you consider the whole base of questions I supplied here. Anyhow, I also keep in mind that some people are not well-known in all of these fields, yet they show the talent to learn about it if necessary.

      So, either if you didn’t answer with the “right”-seeming answer to any of the areas above, you might still have a chance with the right attitude (and if your CV also reflects this).

  2. Great list! Fully agree!

    I had the same thoughts as Rasmus. How many people would be able to live up to your expectations? And how many items may somebody fail before you turn him down?

    1. Well, the criteria are some areas which I would look for. Yet they still provide a basic insight into some attitude. I haven’t seen many people living up to these expectations. I am aware of this. But I would also hire a tester provided they show me the attitude I am looking for, and assume they will learn the remainder.

  3. Markus,
    agree with all your requirements if I can call them such but my experience and discussion with Agile and ET minded people has shown me that people fitting that description are as rare as a Haggis in sunshine (it’s Burns Night). My blogs about Writing job descriptions http://bit.ly/emSvdX go in a similar direction – I found that none of all my requirements were satisfied even though I employed 8 people last year and interviewed about 50-60.
    From your list the demonstration of skills is the most important, especially if you sit beside the candidate and watch them testing. Most of your other requirements can be judged by watching someone test.

    Nowadays I employ by personality, skill and potential, the order of which depends on the current need.

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing.

    1. I don’t look too much for personality, as I assume that it will fit my team. In the past I introduced myself into topics like CVs, applications, and what I should look for when writing my own. This served me to get applications screened pretty quickly, but maybe the ones hitting my desk were rather bad at the time I had the opportunity to be responsible for hiring a new tester.

      I agree that I skill and potential . i.e. attitude are the most interesting ones to look out for. Thanks for sharing your blog entry. I think it adds great value.

  4. Its nice article and useful for all Software Testing Learning Students and Employees,i like very much about explanation of Developer and Tester Collaboration its nice,please share more information. In Online if you want to read Software Testing Basic Practice Session and QTP with Example and its related stuffs refer Qtp Book to get full information about that and etc….

    1. Your premise is true. I think there are of programmers out there that come with the particular skill-set I look for in a good tester. I think the culture of thinking “programmer or tester” is something we need to overcome in the long run.

      I thought I mentioned that I didn’t hire any tester in the past two years, but I might left that detail out. I was hiring about five years ago, but didn’t any particular tester that interested me back then.

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