Saturday, August 1, 2015

How Can We Interview Testers Better? - Live from #TestRetreat

One of the challenges that anyone who has been involved with hiring software testers can tell you is that it can be maddening to interview testers. We can find people, but getting the right people is often a struggle. We have all had the experience of reading a resume and seeing what looks to be very promising history and experience, only to have them in an interview and have to ferret out what they actually understand or do not understand. is there a way that we can do this better? Dwayne Green led a group of us to discuss how we approach these interviews and how we can improve the process.

Many of us have worked through resumes and had to make phone screens or initial interviews, and a common phrase that came up was to "audition" the candidate. There are several approaches to auditions that we can use. Some people will use a sample program and walk through how to test it. Some people like to use their own company's product as part of the audition, and to see how the candidate tests the product, or if they can find problems we already know about.

A discussion I recently had with our VP of Engineering at my company was the way that we expect people to work. Most of the programmers that write code have certain things open on their desk at all times: their IDE or programming environment, a browser with a google tab open and Stack Overflow or some other reference sites. the point being made is that, when we work, we tend to have these tools open to help us get to the things we need. When we interview, we deprive these candidates of that ability, and we expect them to "code" on a whiteboard. One of the ways that was suggested that we could change this would be to ask in advance what they like to use to work, and to feel free to bring that in with them. When we put the audition challenge in front of them, we also say "use the tools you would use". This has tended to give a more representative view as to how those programmers actually code. We discussed the idea that people should do the same thing when it comes to software testing. Let a candidate come in and use the tools they already understand.

One of the questions that we asked was "how could we make these interview approaches more real, but avoid a situation where we are making people "work for free" as part of the interview". There is always a danger that putting people into a simulation or scenario with the company's product runs the risk of replicating real work without compensation. One approach could be to use a virtual machine with a version of a release and a story that has already been worked, and have a list of issues that have already been discovered. Do we want to have them run an abbreviated test session and see what they discover from our list? Do we want to have them sit with our team members and pair for a particular period of time? In my view, I think we need to make clear that we are going over material that has already been covered, and that we are using it as an evaluation criteria and not as a way to get "free testing" out of someone.

Some people like to use games or use sample programs to do these experiments. The issue there is that some people are not good at games, or are not good at particular applications. Does that mean they are a bad tester? Probably not, but it does mean we need to take into consideration multiple avenues. They might not be good at one area, but be great in others. If we find that they don't do well in multiple areas, that might well give insights as to how well they will perform or not perform in our work environment.

We all discussed some of the worst experiences we had with interviews, and I shared that would often be asked some strange questions related to math problems or other specific questions that seemed to have no bearing on what we would be testing. Over time, I came to realize that these questions served one purpose: does this person think like I do? To be fair, it's been years since I've had to deal with those types of questions, but I know that some people still do, and if I can make one plea, it's to say "knock it off!" ;).

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