Friday, 28 March 2008

We don't need no stinkin' passion!

image "Me too. Me too. Me too." That sums up my reaction to Antony Marcano's TestingReflections post on interviewing testers that just don't 'come up to scratch'. Those testers we interview who claim to have a passion for testing but don't exhibit said passion.

I've gone through the same as Antony and have no words of advice to offer him, because he probably does the stuff I mention in this post already.

  • I still ask interview questions like "what testing book would you recommend to me?", "how do you keep up to date with software testing?". I try not to get disappointed with the answers any more.
  • I try to filter out the testers that will not answer those questions effectively by screening the CVs thoroughly - but CVs have not proven the best basis for checking this stuff out.
  • I try to do web searches for the people before an interview but so few people have a testing web presence.

From now on I will try phone screening, so that at least I get the disappointing answers over the phone and we don't waste any face to face interview time.

I'd like to find a single thing to blame it on... like certification, but I don't think that helps me.

I think Y2K resulted in a flood of testers on to the market. Y2K resulted in a demand for testers that the existing mass of testers wasn't able to satisfy so a lot of people became 'testers' and have remained 'testers' ever since - and manage to make quite a tidy living out of 'being' 'testers' thank you very much.

Y2K doesn't explain why so many of these 'testers' still manage to get work though.

The sad fact remains that the computing industry seems to accept mediocrity or 'poor' as the 'standard' for testers.

At the time of writing this post, I have Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (warning the wikipedia article has many 'spoilers' in it) sitting next to me, I don't know if it offers any solutions to the dilemma that we face, since I still have 200 pages to go till the end. But it does deal with the situation under discussion, where the dispassionate, uninformed and untalented make up the majority and set the norm. Anyone with passion will feel it all too easy to identify with the novel's 'right thinking' heroic protagonists - so perhaps reading it will fuel their antagonism rather than quell it.

I have never enjoyed the general process of recruiting testers, nor have I found that and easy process. Although I have enjoyed the process of interviewing certain specific testers.

So everyone with passion:

  • Stand Firm
  • Don't recruit anyone you don't believe in
  • Build up systems and examples, to have candidates actually 'test' during interviews so that you can 'see' them in action
  • Don't compromise
  • Know what you need the candidate to do 'in' the job
  • Mentor people with potential and grow your own 'good' testers

We know that skilled testers exist out there.

We know that the process of recruiting them takes time and feels painful.

And at least we know that everyone else has it hard too...

...Bwa Ha Ha Ha!

image "Sometimes these little moments of schadenfreude make everything bearable"



  1. Alan Richardson28 March 2008 at 15:04

    Gosh - dodgy Google ads - a completely unexpected outcome of using the word 'passion' in the post.

  2. That was pretty funny and entertaining :)
    I posted a question on linkedin requesting suggested books for QA folks. The responses are
    posted on


    Thanks swamy, I've just subscribed to your RSS feed - best of luck with ETAF

  3. I find one of the main reasons why testers that I have interviewed (and worked with) in the past lack that passion is because they are not actually testers. This is particularly acute with people with 1-2 years of experience, but I have seen it also with people that have been in the software industry for years, specially when the job market is difficult. Testing has long been considered the lowest step in the career ladder in software development (together with customer support), and there's plenty of people that get a job as a tester only as a means to move to development as soon as they have the chance. Obviously, this is not just the fault of the candidate (applying to a job he/she doesn't really want in the first place), but the fault of whoever manager hiring that person. It preserves and propagates the idea that anyone can do the job, that there's no special skills required to be a good tester, and that mediocrity is acceptable and therefore easily replaceable (and viceversa).

    I find as well that recruiting firms are part of the reason so many inadequate candidates are presented to companies looking for a tester. I once had an interview with a candidate that lasted an impressive 3 minutes: first question I asked was "why do you want to work in testing?", and the answer I got was something like "testing? Hmmm..., well doing the same thing over and over is a bit boring, isn't it?". The candidate (an experienced programmer) was sent by our recruiting agency on the basis that, on her resume, she had done unit testing on previous jobs (and the interview scheduled by my manager, before I actually had read the resume. Fortunately he realized the mistake as well and didn't happen again). Many recruiting agencies specialized in technical recruitment have no idea of what they should look for when asked to fill a tester role; this together with a funky manager that will hire the first person that comes along has resulted in a lot of wrong people for the right job, and a lot of so-called "testers" with no passion for testing, 'cause they didn't want to do it in the first place!

    Thanks Marta. Great comment. I can't compete with a 3 minute interview record. I can relate to the recruitment agency experiences and I confess I have made some funky hiring mistakes myself. Testing wasn't my first choice of career. But I soon learned that my pursuit of "World Domination" demanded too much of my time. "Evil Killing Machine" turned out a wee bit too dangerous. "Tester" back in the '90s seemed to combine the best bits of both my first choices and very quickly turned into a highly demanding, creative, enjoyable and never-ending learning experience. Hopefully other people will discover the inherent joy that we have found in the art of Information Providing. As a more serious side note...I found useful information in this Cem Kaner paper.

  4. I think you miss the point entirely of work - its a means to an end, rather than the sole reason for testing. The internet may be a force of good, but that doesn’t mean every tester needs to "have a testing web presence." I would rather focus on professionalism - how well do they do their jobs?

    Passion is great for the bedroom, but in the office, well...

    Hi Sam, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

    I too use work as a means to an end. At the very least, I use work to:

    help me improve my testing skills in a practical setting,
    add value to my clients and employers,
    experiment with the various ideas that I have for approaching testing.

    I don't know what 'end' that you use work to achieve, so I can't comment on that.

    I can honestly say that I don't know what you mean by "rather than the sole reason for testing" so I won't try and interpret what you have written and respond based on my interpretation, as I suspect that I would end up putting words into your mouth that you did not intend.

    I do not expect every tester to have a web presence. I do use that approach as one of my pre-interview checks because I can honestly say that I enjoyed working with every tester with a web presence that I interviewed and hired. If anyone lists a web page on their CV then I look at it (sadly, many people who have interviewed me never visited my web page prior to interviews, despite its obvious presence on my CV). So in practice I have found value from performing that check, even though most of the time it returns no information.

    I perform all these searches to try and help me identify how well they might do their job and help me sort the wheat from the chaff when reviewing CVs. I can only properly evaluate how well someone does their job when I work with them. As you can see from the blog post I continue to change the approach I use for interviews and pre-interview screening to attempt to do this better.

    Feel free to supply any hints that you have learned over the years to evaluate a candidate's professionalism when reading their CV or during an interview.

  5. For senior level tester positions, I abosolutely expect candidates to have a web precense regarding testing. The discussion is focused around passion for the craft. I know a number of really good testers without one, but I wouldn't call them 'passionate'; just really good. Now, they might not have their own vanity domain but certainly a sporatically updated blog or thoughts on things captured in mailing list archives.

    I counsel all new testers who come through one of my courses to get a web presence, and fast. It's one of the cheapest returns you can have when marketing yourself IMO.

    Thanks Adam. Hopefully people heed your advice. Unfortunately candidates then expect interviewers to have read their websites and the next thing you know we'll have testers writing blog posts like "Company calls itself passionate about testing - they didn't even read my blog". So I hope you also prepare them for the reality that even though they will list their web info on their CV, many interviewers won't read it.

  6. [...] the discussion about passion and interviewing testers I started to rethink how I conduct interviews and I think that in the [...]

  7. I laughed a little, I cried a little. I always seem to start reading articles like this just as I'm loading my gun. Then it's like I return to some sort of baseline and I gain some sort of zen in knowing that everyone else has it bad too :) Do SQAs just dislike people in general!?!?

    Anyway, as far as recruiting goes, I have a large contingent of interns that work on my team. It's actually a great thing! A lot of the time you get pretty good people and they still have a spark of life in them. Plus, the ones that work out well and are willing to come back for a second term, are on that satisfying course to becoming an SQA. So once they're done school, you've groomed them to be the best damn tester that anyone has ever seen! So if you have an opening, you will also, usually, have an opportunity to bring some of those fresh minds back into the organization on a full-time basis. I mean you spent time training them, so you should at least get first crack at them! :)

    Thanks for the comment Brent, always nice to know I can make people cry a little. Interns sound like an interesting idea - a lot of work - but since I started in a similar way, it always seemed like a win-win situation.