Sometimes the most interesting thoughts get developed by email conversations that I have with friends and people I work with or know. Recently, I had an interesting discussion about hiring testers and what to look for when hiring testers. It gave me a chance to consider some of the things that I have grown to value and would find both worthwhile and interesting in potential test candidates.
1. A Sense of Community: This is a recent development for me, so I shouldn't say that belonging to and contributing to the overall community of Software Testers should be a prerequisite, but I think it does speak a great deal to a parson's commitment to the craftsmanship of their career.
Sites like Software Test Professionals and Software Testing Club have a global presence and the ability to share ideas with people from all over the world. Twitter likewise allows many testers to stay in touch and share ideas (with very few exceptions, my twitter feed is overwhelmingly populated with testers and consultants who work in software development and testing. As Jon Bach said some months ago "It's like a testing conference running 24/7", and he's right :) ). The Ruby, RoR or Selenium Meetup groups that are located around the U.S. are also great places to get to know and rub shoulders with other testers. What I think is great about these avenues is that those who take advantage of them and utilize them actively tend to be those testers with some natural "curiosity", i.e. the desire to look for things just because they find it fun.
2. Look For Those Who Embrace Challenges: When asked about ideas and ways to spark discussions with would be testers or tester candidates, I suggested having a look at the Weekend Testers archives and reviewing some of the archives. There are some great discussions there, and even if you didn't participate directly in them, there's a lot to learn from the various chat transcripts. Plus, there's three different groups to connect with; WTANZ (Weekend Testing Australia-New Zealand), Weekend Testers India, and Weekend Testers Europe. The one thing that bums me out... There's no Weekend Testers USA yet? I wonder what that says about us testers stateside? (Update: Joe Strazerre rightly calls me to task for that comment with the following... "Perhaps it says that nobody (including you) thinks its worthwhile enough to spend the time and effort to create a publicly-announced Weekend Testers group themselves." Totally fair comment, and I'll let my original comment and the rebuke stand). In any event, I considered many of these challenges and thought to myself "wow, I wonder what conversations would result from discussing some of these?" I think they'd be enlightening, and they would definitely tell a great deal about the way the testing candidate thinks.
3. Tester, or Software Developer In Test?: Truth be told, these are not the same thing. They are often bandied about as though they are, generally speaking. Sometimes they are mentioned as "Testers" vs. "Technical Testers". Personally, I tend to like the idea of "explorers" vs. "mapmakers", although I'm not sure that an entirely fair comparison either. My point is, if you have a goal to hire a software developer and have them focus on testing aspects (including developing test automation) then state that up front. I fully consider test automation to be a software development discipline, and having someone with that specific skill set is important if you are looking to automate tests. Where I disagree is that that level of development background will necessarily make for a better tester. The two are different skill sets! I admire the surveyors skill and the ability to create a precise map. I also admire the explorer and the way they use their wits to scope out and scout out a new area they have never been. Both are important, but there's a time and a place for both and knowing the time and the place helps put the right person in the right spot to do the best work based on thier natural attributes and abilities.
4. The Tester's Personality Tends to Outweigh Their Technical Knowledge: I absolutely believe this to be true. If I have to choose between hiring natural testers and then making them technically proficient, versus taking technically proficient people and making them good testers, the former is way easier than the latter. When I consider testers that I'd most like to work with, I like to look for people that have an inquisitiveness. Give them a testing challenge and see what questions they ask. Determine if they are "by the book" or more context-driven (and of course, being a fan of both Kaner and Bach, I have a personal bias towards the context-driven school of testing, but hey, that';s just me :) ).
Since the topic veered into the idea that the tester would likely be the only person doing that particular type of job, I felt compelled to warn them about the challenges Lone Testers who make up "Armies of One" tend to have. Unless the role is understood and championed by management, their very chances of success will possibly be doomed to failure. While this can be better in Agile shops, it's important that we give the tester enough room to grow and breathe, and not feel like they are the "guardians of the gate", so to speak. I find it helpful to encourage an Exploratory Testing mindset where possible, and seek those testers who understand these approaches. I think it is important to encourage collaboration with the developers and a shared sense of tool-smithing (especially when it comes to automation frameworks; it can be frustrating automating tests in a vacuum).
5. Solid Tester's Read a Lot: ask testers if they are familiar with James and Jon Bach, Scott Barber, Lanette Creamer, Selena Delesie, Bret Pettichord and Cem Kaner (there's lots of others, of course, and yes, it's heavily biased on the people I read regularly). I also suggested that, if they happened to interview people who had successfully completed the Association for Software Testing's Black Box Software Testing Classes (Foundations and Bug Advocacy), giving them a second look would be warranted, as they will already be way ahead of many tester's understanding and practice (note: this isn't the only way, of course, but it's an indication of those willing to invest in themselves. Active participation in such things as LinkedIn groups and mailing lists are also a way to determine a tester's involvement in furthering their craft). Additionally, I think it's vital to look for testers that have a passion and a willingness to do more and learn more and keep wanting to do and learn more. They are the ones that will be around for the long haul :).