Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Jamming" for Testing Jobs

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago, in which I was asked how to determine if a tester really has what it takes. It's a tough question, because it's subjective. Does the tester have what it takes to do what?

To test?
To lead?
To work within a particular organization?
To follow a particular testplan?
To write scripts a particular way?
To test with an exploratory mindset?
To understand the value of context-driven testing?

All of these are important and, as I said previously, subjective; they have different weight with different people. I answered that I didn't believe a resume or even a sit-down interview would realistically help answer these question. Perhaps a testing challenge and writing down observations might, but even then, I think the information would be somewhat limited. What have we really learned about the tester, and how would they really perform?

This caused us to go off on a tangent about how we describe testers, and I used the analogy of the "Rock Star" in music. There was a forum that I participated in a number of years ago (dedicated to talking about music) and those that participated frequently got a ranking. The rankings were based on the old gags about where in the "band" process you were:

Practicing in the bedroom.
Jamming in the garage.
Playing at a backyard barbecue.
Playing a jam night in a bar.
Performing with a band in a nightclub.
Rehearsing in studio.
Headlining clubs.
Touring in a van.
Signed and recording first album.
Playing small sheds.
Touring in bus.
Headlining small sheds.
Playing arenas.
Headlining arenas.
Playing in stadiums.
Touring in jet.
Headlining stadiums.

You get the point. We jokingly put various testers we were familiar with on this "rock star" continuum. The true "rock star" testers? Hmmm... I'll pick on James Bach and Cem Kaner because I think they've both reached this stage... they are the rock stars that tour in jets and headline stadiums. They've also worked for decades to get to that position. Other testers fall on different levels of the continuum. As we joked about where I saw myself, I said I considered myself a touring club headliner as a tester. Not yet a rock star, but quite a ways from first practicing in the bedroom or the garage, for sure.

After I had a chance to think about it, I realized something. When I joined a band, I didn't interview in the classic sense. I tried out. I went for auditions, and sat with bands in their studios (or garages, or sometimes even bedrooms) and jammed with them. They played, I sang. After a couple of hours of hanging out, sharing song ideas, jamming covers, working on harmonies, we knew if we would have good chemistry or not. Wouldn't that be a great way to go about hiring testers, or developers, or, heck, anyone?!

The interview is artificial; I can tell you lots of things about me, but going back to the band scenario, when I try out, it's all or nothing, I either sing in a way that works for the band, or I don't. I had several experiences where I auditioned and even worked with bands for a period of time, only to have them determine I didn't work right for them (it could have been tone, it could have been that I was too tall, it could have been that they had a biker image and I seemed a little more glam by comparison). Put into perspectives of teams for testing, if you have a tester that's been specifically ISO 9001 focused, it's likely they'll have a challenging time mixing with an XP team. It's not a foregone conclusion they won't perform well, but it's important to understand the differences and see how they will interact. It would be like me, a hard rock vocalist, trying out to be a back-up singer for Kate Bush. It would be ridiculous, if I wasn't willing to modify my approach. Even in that light, would I be more comfortable providing cool ethereal backing vocals for Kate's songs, or would I be more comfortable rocking out?

So here's a thought for those looking to hire testers... consider having a "bug night". Provide pizza, have a collegiate atmosphere, and go after a challenge. Invite some people who are candidates to participate. Jam a while with them. Perhaps work on something that would be unrelated to your product (look at some Weekend Testing examples if you'd like). this way, you can determine if the tester that looks great on paper actually performs the way you hope they will. Testers, consider these opportunities to "audition". You get the chance to see what other teams work like in their natural habitat, and if you may not be a good fit, well, that's OK, you learn that, and you may learn a lot more from the experience as well.

In the end, we could all learn a few new riffs or two, eh :)?


Benjamin Yaroch said...

Something else to consider to help flesh out testers during interviews is playing the Dice Game (James Bach) or the card game 'Art Show."

Inder P Singh said...

I think that all "technical" (i.e. releated to the craft) tester job interviews consist of posing questions or problems to the candidates. Then observing their responses. Like follow-up questions, their proposed approach, the actions they take and so on.
However, I like your suggestion of providing a relaxed and more informal atmosphere during the "jamming" process.

Tony Bruce said...

It's all done for you already! Just hijack a Zappers night and make sure your candidates are there!