What to look for in a software tester

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I started my career as a software tester. I did this through the co-op program at U of M – Dearborn and when I graduated, this was my first job for a year and a half.

While I was a software tester, I learned from so many of my mistakes. As a result, I became much better at being a software tester but eventually, I realized that I stood in the shadow of those who were truly gifted testers. These people had skills and a personal disposition that I did not. I was happy to move-on and become a developer, but I held onto the knowledge of what makes a good tester.

Caveat Emptor

My experiences with software testers has not been stellar over the past 15 years.  I have noticed several unpleasant parallels between typical software testers and Business Analysts.  Namely:

  • Most testers don’t have much formal training as testers.
  • They should be held responsible for large amounts of paperwork, but very few people know what that paperwork should look like.
  • Most testers expect their employers to have a mature methodology with mature processes and templates. (as opposed to the tester bringing maturity to improve the employer)
  • Most testers expect to be acclimated into their positions and receive some sort of training to establish direction and expectations for performance.
  • Most testers don’t plan on doing this job for a living.  They are just passing-through on their way up to a better job.
  • Most testers don’t fully shoulder the responsibility of their jobs.

I guess you could summarize these into two root causes: 1) Lack of experience or 2) lack of professionalism.

If you review the list again, you will notice that none of these are really deal-breakers.  A tester could have all of these limitations and still be a solid “B minus”.  Certainly, having a “B-” tester is going to get the job done better than having [no tester].  However, there is a diminishing return after a while.

When you are ready for a real, experienced tester you can go one of two ways:

  1. Bust out the wallet, because experienced testers can cost as much as any other experienced IT person
  2. Hire someone with all of the traits and potential, but is un-developed

To find an experienced tester, go over the first list (up 4 paragraphs) and look for the opposites.

To find a diamond in the rough, look for the following:

  • Responsibility – this is the most important.  A responsible person is going to excel at whatever they do.  With a little direction and guidance, s/he can accomplish nearly anything.  An irresponsible person will not test anything or care about finding those bugs.  You might as well not have a tester if the tester is irresponsible.
  • Patience – Testing moves at 2 speeds: hurry or wait.  Isolating a bug can take patience or perseverance sometimes.
  • Detailed – An app can be a big place for a bug to hide.  Like the old “Where is Waldo?” books.  A good tester must leave no stone unturned.
  • Not-easily-bored – Lets face it, testing can be mundane, tedious, mundane, tedious, tedious and boring.  After a while, you are going over the same tests that you went over yesterday to ensure that they still work.  A tester must do this, consistently and thoroughly, without skipping parts.  It would be really hard for an ADHD person to do this job well.

In my career, I have worked with 3 people who were exceptional testers.  Two of them were odd people.  I couldn’t tell you how to find people like them.  I don’t know if their oddness was a key factor in their abilities or not.  They were just gifted at testing and that can be unusual in itself.

The third exceptional tester was a retired lady.  We found her at the reception desk for a company.  After knowing her for a few weeks, it occurred to us why she would make an excellent tester:

  1. She was very patient. So she was not easily bored.
  2. She was venerable and respected. This tends to go hand-in hand with responsibility.
  3. She kind-of hated us snotty spoiled developers and derived much joy from smashing our programs and bringing us down-to-size.  It really motivated her to do an excellent job at testing.
  4. She was retired and only wanted to work a few hours a day, periodically and wasn’t all career-oriented.  So she didn’t want an arm and a leg.  She just wanted more pay than the local fast-food places, and a comfortable chair, and some respect.
  5. She had wisdom.  So she didn’t complain about the work.  She understood why it had to be done.  When she had suggestions, she already thought them out before she said them.

I’m not saying that all retirees are going to be winners like she was, but if I was given the chance to hire another tester, I’d give preference to someone like her.

It doesn’t take much skill or training to be a good tester, but it does take the right foundation.


About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in Career, Methodology, Professionalism, Testing. Bookmark the permalink.

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