Skip to main content

Testing vs Chicken


At CEWT #6 we were asking what constitutes good testing. Here's prettied-up versions of the notes I used for my talk.

One line of argument that I've heard in this context and others is that even though it's hard to say what good testing is, we know it when we see it. But there's an obvious potential chicken and egg problem with that.

I'm going to simplify things by assuming that the chicken came first. In my scenario, we'll assert that we can know what good testing would look like for a project which is very similar to projects we've done before, where the results of testing were praised by stakeholders. The problem I'll address is that we don't have anyone who can do that project, so we have to hire. The question is:
What can we do as recruiters, during recruitment, to understand the potential for a candidate to deliver that good testing?
I've been recruiting technical staff for around 15 years, predominantly testers in the last ten, and my approach has changed enormously in that time. Back in the early days, I would largely base my phone screen interviews around a chronological traversal of the candidate's CV asking confirmatory questions. Checking the candidate, if you like.

These days, a CV to me is more of a filter, and a source of potential topics for exploration. I have also spent a lot of time thinking about how I want to advertise positions, and about the kinds of information I want to give and get from each stage of the process, and how I'll attempt to do that.

I have a simple model to help me. I call it the Egg of Testing Recruitment.


The yolk is the core testing stuff; crucial to our identified needs. The white is the other stuff; important to functioning in our context. It supports the yolk.

Some people will tell you that eggs are easy to cook. Some people also think that recruitment is straightforward: identify a need, describe it, find the person who best matches it, hire them, relax. But eggs don't always come out the way the chef intended.


And recruitment likewise. Here'a few reasons why:
  • multiple important factors
  • limited time and engagements
  • a space of reasonable outcomes
  • a dynamic feedback system
That last one is particularly interesting: as a recruiter, be aware candidates will be looking to align themselves with your needs. If, for example, you do and say things that suggest you favour exploratory testing, then don't be surprised when answers which support their exploratory testing skills start to come.

But  recruitment is starting to sound a lot like testing: the extraction of relevant information from an arbitrarily complex system under various constraints. And, if it's testing, I'll want a mission. And if I had a mission I might phrase it something like this:


The kinds of materials you can usually expect in standard hiring rounds are:
  • a cover letter
  • a CV
  • a phone screen
  • a technical exercise
  • a face-to-face interview
And then there's others that are reasonably common these days, including:
  • social media
  • blog
  • personal website
  • open source projects
All of these hold data about the system under test ... erm, about the candidate. I know that some recruiters disregard the cover letter. I love a cover letter. First, it's more data. Second, it is an opportunity for the candidate to speak direct to me, in their own time, in their own words, about the fit of this role to them and them to this role.

When it comes to conversation and exercises, I use the Egg of Testing Recruitment to remind me of what I'm after.

The yolk: when I can interact with the candidate I tend to want to explore core skills that can only really be demonstrated interactively. I'll want to put the candidate in a position where they can't know everything, where there's ambiguity, and see how they deal with it.

Do they ask for clarification, do they tell me what their assumptions are, do they offer caveated answers, do they say "in this context ..", do they use safety language? In this respect I regard interviews as more like an audition -- asking the candidate to perform something like a testing task, and being able to explain their thought processes around it.


The white: I'll be looking for reporting, presentation, consistency and the like in the written material. I'll also be noting stuff that could be ways in to understanding other aspects, particular technical expertise that I can ask about, for example. I can't ask for demonstration of all skills, but I can ask behavioural questions such as "can you tell me about a time when someone doubted the value of testing or when someone asked you to justify your testing?"


In the real world, of course, the egg model looks very different.


The yolk and egg cannot be separated so cleanly. But that's OK. In the interview, I can be testing both at once. For example, on any answer the candidate gives I can be looking for consistency. I can gauge the correctness or reasonableness or depth of a series of answers and use them as checks on the candidate's reliability of answering.

Having explored the candidate using conversation and exercises I need to evaluate them. A job advert that reflects what you actually want helps here. (It's worth remembering that when you're writing it.)

This evaluation is again like testing; you've stopped because you've spent the time that is available. Of course you could have done more. Of course you could have taken alternative routes. But you didn't and now you have to report: what you did, what you found, and the values and risks associated with that.

In your day job this probably goes to a stakeholder who ultimately makes a decision. In recruitment scenarios, you may well also be the stakeholder. But that shouldn't alter the way you go about your business, unless it makes you care even more than you would normally to do a good job.

I think there's three major points here. To put yourself in a position to recruit testers who can do the kind of good testing you're after:
  • understand your mission
  • treat interviews as auditions
  • explore the candidate
Here's my slides:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Can Code, Can't Code, Is Useful

The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "If testers can’t code, they’re of no use to us" My first reaction is to wonder what you expect from your testers. I am immediately interested in your working context and the way

Meet Me Halfway?

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "Stop answering my questions with questions." Sure, I can do that. In return, please stop asking me questions so open to interpretation that any answer would be almost meaningless and certa

Testing (AI) is Testing

Last November I gave a talk, Random Exploration of a Chatbot API , at the BCS Testing, Diversity, AI Conference .  It was a nice surprise afterwards to be offered a book from their catalogue and I chose Artificial Intelligence and Software Testing by Rex Black, James Davenport, Joanna Olszewska, Jeremias Rößler, Adam Leon Smith, and Jonathon Wright.  This week, on a couple of train journeys around East Anglia, I read it and made sketchnotes. As someone not deeply into this field, but who has been experimenting with AI as a testing tool at work, I found the landscape view provided by the book interesting, particularly the lists: of challenges in testing AI, of approaches to testing AI, and of quality aspects to consider when evaluating AI.  Despite the hype around the area right now there's much that any competent tester will be familiar with, and skills that translate directly. Where there's likely to be novelty is in the technology, and the technical domain, and the effect of

Testers are Gate-Crashers

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "Testers are the gatekeepers of quality" Instinctively I don't like the sound of that, but I wonder what you mean by it. Perhaps one or more of these? Testers set the quality sta

Postman Curlections

My team has been building a new service over the last few months. Until recently all the data it needs has been ingested at startup and our focus has been on the logic that processes the data, architecture, and infrastructure. This week we introduced a couple of new endpoints that enable the creation (through an HTTP POST) and update (PUT) of the fundamental data type (we call it a definition ) that the service operates on. I picked up the task of smoke testing the first implementations. I started out by asking the system under test to show me what it can do by using Postman to submit requests and inspecting the results. It was the kinds of things you'd imagine, including: submit some definitions (of various structure, size, intent, name, identifiers, etc) resubmit the same definitions (identical, sharing keys, with variations, etc) retrieve the submitted definitions (using whatever endpoints exist to show some view of them) compare definitions I submitted fro

Build Quality

  The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "When the build is green, the product is of sufficient quality to release" An interesting take, and one I wouldn't agree with in general. That surprises you? Well, ho

Make, Fix, and Test

A few weeks ago, in A Good Tester is All Over the Place , Joep Schuurkes described a model of testing work based on three axes: do testing yourself or support testing by others be embedded in a team or be part of a separate team do your job or improve the system It resonated with me and the other testers I shared it with at work, and it resurfaced in my mind while I was reflecting on some of the tasks I've picked up recently and what they have involved, at least in the way I've chosen to address them. Here's three examples: Documentation Generation We have an internal tool that generates documentation in Confluence by extracting and combining images and text from a handful of sources. Although useful, it ran very slowly or not at all so one of the developers performed major surgery on it. Up to that point, I had never taken much interest in the tool and I could have safely ignored this piece of work too because it would have been tested by

Am I Wrong?

I happened across Exploratory Testing: Why Is It Not Ideal for Agile Projects? by Vitaly Prus this week and I was triggered. But why? I took a few minutes to think that through. Partly, I guess, I feel directly challenged. I work on an agile project (by the definition in the article) and I would say that I use exclusively exploratory testing. Naturally, I like to think I'm doing a good job. Am I wrong? After calming down, and re-reading the article a couple of times, I don't think so. 😸 From the start, even the title makes me tense. The ideal solution is a perfect solution, the best solution. My context-driven instincts are reluctant to accept the premise, and I wonder what the author thinks is an ideal solution for an agile project, or any project. I notice also that I slid so easily from "an approach is not ideal" into "I am not doing a good job" and, in retrospect, that makes me smile. It doesn't do any harm to be reminded that your cognitive bias

Test Now

The Association for Software Testing is crowd-sourcing a book,  Navigating the World as a Context-Driven Tester , which aims to provide  responses to common questions and statements about testing from a  context-driven perspective . It's being edited by  Lee Hawkins  who is  posing questions on  Twitter ,   LinkedIn , Mastodon , Slack , and the AST  mailing list  and then collating the replies, focusing on practice over theory. I've decided to  contribute  by answering briefly, and without a lot of editing or crafting, by imagining that I'm speaking to someone in software development who's acting in good faith, cares about their work and mine, but doesn't have much visibility of what testing can be. Perhaps you'd like to join me?   --00-- "When is the best time to test?" Twenty posts in , I hope you're not expecting an answer without nuance? You are? Well, I'll do my best. For me, the best time to test is when there

Vanilla Flavour Testing

I have been pairing with a new developer colleague recently. In our last session he asked me "is this normal testing?" saying that he'd never seen anything like it anywhere else that he'd worked. We finished the task we were on and then chatted about his question for a few minutes. This is a short summary of what I said. I would describe myself as context-driven . I don't take the same approach to testing every time, except in a meta way. I try to understand the important questions, who they are important to, and what the constraints on the work are. With that knowledge I look for productive, pragmatic, ways to explore whatever we're looking at to uncover valuable information or find a way to move on. I write test notes as I work in a format that I have found to be useful to me, colleagues, and stakeholders. For me, the notes should clearly state the mission and give a tl;dr summary of the findings and I like them to be public while I'm working not just w