Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interviewing Your Replacement

Yesterday was an interesting experience for me. Since I've wanted to make the transition into my new role over at SideReel as painless for my current company as possible, I said I would be happy to help interview and talk to testers they were interested in hiring.

This is an interesting place to be in. While I've helped interview for testers to join teams I was part of and also to help with other groups hiring, this is the first time I've ever interviewed candidates who would effectively take over my own job. I had a chance to think "So, if I was going to hire someone to replace me, what would I want to see them do, or be?"

My first interviewee was a really nice lady about my age from Sri Lanka. She had been in the industry for about 18 years, albeit with a little more structure and broader team experience, including management. I was curious as to why she wanted to be entering an environment where she'd be a "Lone Tester" and if she was OK with that. She said she'd had a number of experiences in her career where she'd been the Army of One, and that she was OK with it. She liked when others were around, but it wasn't essential unless the product being tested needed to have that many resources.

One of the things I've become fond of discussing are the ideas that are part of the Association for Software Testing's Black Box Software Testing - Foundations class. Having taken it once and staffed it three times, I felt that  any tester that would replace me should surely be able to cover the material in that class without much effort, even if they hadn't taken the class. Besides, it would make for an interesting comparison. What did I know about this, and would I feel confident to talk about the ideas? Would the candidate?

As it turns out, she handled the questions I had for her splendidly, albeit she used different words and was not familiar with the idea of a test oracle (she was really, just not by that name). I threw some questions at her to see if she'd be able to navigate some common traps (thank you, Weekend Testing (LOL!) ) and again, though the terminology was different, and we both had to spend some time making sure we were both talking about the same things, I thought she performed admirably.

What was interesting was that I started to realize that my own filter and what I felt was "good involvement" in learning and skills development was becoming colored by my active involvement in the testing community. I felt a little bad when I sprung the Lee Copeland question "So, tell me about your favorite testing book, or about testing books you have read recently?" and she said she hadn't read any. My heart sank a little, but after further probing, I found out that she was a Ninja at Google, and actively perused sites, some blogs, and forums to get tool tips, news and ideas. I'm glad I pressed on, because I could have been all self righteous and smug with my "oh really? well I have read (yadda yadda yadda)" and missed the whole point of the conversation. She keyed in on the stuff she needed when she needed it, and had her trusted resources when she needed an answer. More times than not she got them, too.

It's interesting at times how we get a chance to review and see what we are doing and how we frame the way we solve problems, learn and even develop friends in the testing world. I've enjoyed my way of doing it, but I was given a reminder that that's exactly what it was... MY way. Her way was different, but in many instances no less effective. What was also great about this experience was that it was genuinely fun. I had a chance to talk with a peer who was enthusiastic, interesting, and had her own take and spin on what testing and Q.A. was all about, and I enjoyed the debate and I hope she did, too.


Anonymous said...

If "Tell me what testing books you've read" were a pass/fail interview question, I'd have failed them all. ;-)

I am now reading Agile Testing though, so not for long. Maybe I'll do a blog afterwards about before/after having read a book on testing?

Anonymous said...

I frequently use a variation of the "what book have you read?" (which is almost always answered with "none"). Instead, I ask test candidates "how do you learn". Some may read books, others blogs, and you may even find someone who does weekend testing, or attends a test or code dojo. What you /don't/ want is someone who says "I don't know - I don't really care about learning", or "If I get stuck, I just ask for help". You want people in test who actively seek out knowledge (at least that's who you want if you want them to be successful).