O Tester, Where Art Thou?

Posted: June 2, 2014 in Testing Profession

I’ve recently secured gainful employment in a new job. I’m learning the noble art of test automation for a travel company. It’s an area I’ve wanted to get a deeper look at for a while, and I’m glad an opportunity has presented itself.

However, that’s not the topic of this post, but something I’m revisiting from a year ago, when I was last seeking a new job. Namely, interviews. For software testing positions. And yet again, like a child expecting an Imperial Star Destroyer Lego set for Christmas but getting a life-size Twilight Sparkle instead, I’ve been sadly disappointed.

The first and most obvious cause for disappointment was a distinct lack of testers involved in the interviewing process. Of the twelve people that interviewed me during the search, only two of those were testers (one of those being where I ended up). On the other occasion, the tester meekly asked a couple of questions while the accompanying developer and manager otherwise dominated their side of discussion.

As I pondered this, two questions jumped out at me…

1. Is this a reflection in the lack of test leadership in the wider software community (though their lack of presence in an interview is perhaps thin evidence)?
2. More immediately, why aren’t testers involved in recruiting other testers? Surely even a moderately experienced tester is qualified to contribute towards the recruitment of their potential compatriots?

Now, I understand that many smaller businesses don’t have room or reason for more than one tester (though everywhere I interviewed already had at least one existing). However, it boggles my mind that if testers were available, that they weren’t utilised in some capacity. At the very least, they could have jotted down some interesting questions for the interviewers to use (evaluating the answer is another matter, of course). Maybe this was the case, though it certainly didn’t seem to be in any of the interviews I attended. Or maybe this is a local phenomenon, confined only to the city limits of Brisbane.

The second reason for disappointment (probably a consequence of the first) was a distinct lack of enquiry, evaluation or examination into my testing skills and expertise. This isn’t the first time this has happened (see post of yester-year), but the phenomenon continues to amaze, astound and annoy me. How can anyone measure a tester’s skill or expertise if they don’t ask any questions about testing!?!

1. Queries about technologies used – check
2. Questions on tools utilised – check
3. Exposure to this or that – double check

And nary a “what makes you a good tester” or even better, “how might you solve this testing puzzle/scenario”? I did get into some good discussion about testing on one occasion, but again, it was the exception rather than the rule. About as close to a skills test I got was the request from a recruiter to do the IKM test on software testing. Such online evaluation seems to be a particularly unreliable or misguided way of evaluating candidates. In lieu of skills-based talk, a high-level “walk-through” of my experience was usually conducted. It was a weak probe, and often linked to the three points above – “So, you worked at Company X. What technologies did you use?”.

I was recently listening to an NPR podcast lately (brief aside: the Planet Money series is one that I’d highly recommend) which talked about new ways of evaluating job applicants. While I was a little ambivalent about the mechanisms discussed, one point raised struck a chord (perhaps a mild case of confirmation bias occurring, since it’s a view I’ve held for a while): past experience doesn’t necessarily predict good future performance.

The topic of expertise as opposed to experience is fascinating (though it’s not necessarily an “either or” proposition), and one I’d like to explore further in a future post. On the original point of the dearth of testing involvement when it comes to recruiting others, this small essay feels like a mere scratching of the surface. I’d be interested to know if others have had similar experiences (beyond or within the Brisbane metropolitan border), or if my encounters were perhaps an odd little outlier on the big ole’ bell-curve of recruitment.

  1. Cecile says:

    Here are what I have encountered in the “technical” part of my interviews:
    1. Given a multiple choice IQ exam.
    2. Given a sample spec and asked if I had any questions (they deliberately left the last page out). Was asked what else might be missing or needs fleshing out.
    3. Given a logic puzzle and asked to walk through my solution.
    4. Asked “how would you test Google?” (back in the days when Google was just search). Tools used were also asked in the same interview.
    5. Given a fairly simple SQL problem (homework).
    6. Given screenshots and scenarios to test, asked to write up test cases (homework).
    7. Asked about ISTQB certification.

    Other jobs I might not have passed the CV or the “cultural fit” interview :p

    • Hi Cecile,

      Thanks for giving a list of the different ways you’ve been tested. Can’t say I’ve encountered any but the last of those (and certification is another subject entirely). Some of those appear to be reasonable challenges (depending on the situation), but it’s good to hear there are companies that take interviewing more seriously than what I’ve seen lately.

  2. Alessandra Moreira says:

    Hi Dean,

    Great post, and its good to see someone getting this topic more visibility.

    In all the interviews I did in Sydney, the vast minority involved demonstrating any type of testing skills – soft skills or otherwise. What was really surprising to me was that on occasion, even when the test manager was interviewing me the questions were all very high level.

    I remember I was so used to that type of interviews that the first time I encountered a test manager that gave me a hypothetical testing scenario as well as a ‘test this’ type of activity – I was a bit taken by surprise.

    I believe this is a symptom of how our industry can have weak representation in companies everywhere. If the testers companies don’t feel confident to interview or are not allowed to interview – there’s a much larger problem there. It could also be a case of ‘anyone can test’ syndrome, hence anyone can interview. I’m not sure.

    But this post has given me food for thought. Thanks!!


    • Heya Ale,

      It’s good (or perhaps not so good) to hear you’ve had by and large the same experiences in a much bigger market.

      Both of your reasons could be valid – the “anyone can test” argument especially sends shivers of horror and anger down my spine, and has far larger implications for testing (as you say). Whatever the reasons though, it’s certainly a problem and one I feel lets too many “slackers” (for want of a better word) infiltrate the industry/profession we’re fighting to improve.

      Thanks for your thoughts on this!


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