How to Test a Tester

My daughter, Hannah, is a senior manager in the hospitality industry and due to the transient nature of that industry has probably conducted more interviews and hired/fired far more people than I ever have/will. So how does she test her prospective chefs/waiters/waitresses/dish pigs etc? Once she has conducted an initial interview she invites them in to do a trial shift or two. This is the norm for hospitality and provides excellent indictors into customer service, efficiency, cleanliness and general attitude. Sometimes (sadly, more than sometimes) the candidate doesn’t show up for the trial and you have saved yourself from a “mistake hire”. Sometimes the trial ends abruptly with a few curt words or a tantrum; but, mostly the trial is successful and the obligatory 3-month probationary period becomes the lead in to the successful candidates next career stop. Incidentally, prospective Managers in hospitality are also expected to attend “Trial Shifts”.

About 10 years ago I was being interviewed for a senior Test Manager role and once the main questioning phase had been concluded I was asked to “whiteboard” a Test Strategy for a project that was outlined to me. I spent about 30 minutes on the whiteboard (while the interviewing panel left the room) and then I explained my approach. It struck me a few days later that maybe the company was struggling with a few issues and they wanted a fresh perspective – I never did find out as I rejected the job offer when it came.

Recently I was asked to join a small group of Test Managers in conducting regular assessments of prospective job seekers based upon a short online questionnaire that was completed as part of a Tester screening process. I provide a score out of 10 for each answer and provide some guidance for the job seeker if their answer is less than optimal. I think the (constructive) feedback is the most important part of the process.

The reason I’m recounting these stories is that it is my belief that most organisations DON’T do a very good job of hiring Testers. Most organisations don’t have a strategic approach to hiring Testers and don’t know how to sort the wheat from the chaff. As I’ve said in previous Blog Posts, I hire based upon attitude and deal with aptitude later – if someone has a creative and inquisitive mind we can move mountains, but if someone is gifted but lazy you are throwing good money out of the window. I also build the smallest possible teams to achieve an outcome. Five “gun” Testers can do the work of 20 “average” Testers in half the time – I know they can because I’ve taken over failing Testing initiatives and cut the team in half and turned the project around.

So, how can we do a better job of assessing Testers – other than asking them to come in and do a “trial shift”? Firstly, we can give them some critical thinking challenges – a “thinking Tester” is a valuable Tester. Secondly, we give them some puzzles to solve. I use very simple puzzles like “what 9-letter English word is the only one where all five vowels are present and occur in sequence”. I may give them a Sudoku or mathematical challenge or a model to reconstruct. I want to watch them thinking and solving problems. If they can use Boundary Value techniques, understand when and when NOT to automate tests, describe a few basic techniques for assessing risk and quality and can identify some of our thought leaders – we are starting to hit the target.

Hiring (and firing) staff is an extremely time consuming exercise and one that should be approached both professionally and critically. I have finished an interview with a candidate after 5 minutes when it became obvious that they were not going to fit into our team. We typically have between 15 and 20 characteristics that we use to assess a Testers “fit” with our team and we expect them to have at least 80% of the characteristics to even be in the ballpark.

I have provided a few Lists in other Blog Posts that help with some of these assessments so take a look at the “Col’s Lists” category of Posts for guidance. Otherwise please contact me if you would like some assistance with your Tester hiring challenges.

Dateline: Melbourne, Thursday August 14, 2014

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3 thoughts on “How to Test a Tester

  1. Pingback: Testing Bits – 8/10/14 – 8/16/14 | Testing Curator Blog

  2. Pingback: How to Test a Tester | iTesting

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