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AMA: hiring technical testers

Mark asks…

Right now the software testing space is a very challenging area to hire in. We see many candidates that lack strong technical skills, in particular strong foundational knowledge in programming and automation. Why do you think this is the case? How can we improve this?

My response…

Great question. I believe there’s a few factors at play here.

Firstly, software testing still doesn’t really get taught at universities. I know of a couple of Australian universities that offer a single software testing course, but from what I hear it’s the same as 10+ years ago when I did my software engineering degree where testing was always just an afterthought rather than taught as a way to build quality self-tested code. So I have found there isn’t technical testers with those skills coming straight out of university – they need to pick up these skills in the industry. I’ve been in some organisations where we’ve put IT graduates into these technical roles to develop these skills but they typically those graduates have wanted to move into software developer roles so this wasn’t successful.

Secondly, in the past, I’ve found few organizations that fully recognise and value technical testers/software test engineers as a profession it it’s own right, so a lot of people who have these skills may rather work as a software engineer/developer where they’ll be recognised and valued more. In the past, places like Facebook had zero testers or people will a sole responsibility for QA, although from what I have heard this may have changed. I have noticed recently there is a general trend to value these skills more highly of late and since there wasn’t enough demand in the past I believe it’s a catch up game of increasing supply.


Finally, technical testing particularly developing test automation for systems that haven’t been built with testability in mind can be a tiring task: especially when dealing with inconsistent or non-deterministic test results which an organization is often relying upon to release software rapidly. This potentially discourages a lot of people from taking on these roles, although as my GTAC talk promoted it doesn’t have to be this way if we build systems with testability in mind as a collaboration between testers and developers.

2 replies on “AMA: hiring technical testers”

Building upon what Alister said, here is my additional take on the topic…as a result of what Alister discussed, the candidates that do apply then fall under one of these two groups (or even both), many if not all of the time:

* they started off coming into the field/career as a manual tester, e.g. came from a non-tech field, or they started work back when (software) testing/QA wasn’t focused on automation and scripting, but more about the manual stuff and formal test cases, test plans, requirements gathering. The latter case will probably be the older candidates you see applying.

* they are the 2nd or 3rd rate, etc. programmers, software developers, etc. (by career/profession or by college major – CS/Engineering) who were not able to score jobs/gigs as a software developer/engineer, and thus they try out for these software testing roles that have automation/programming requirements/desirables, hoping they qualify (and that the job will be fun in terms of the programming aspect). I take it these candidates may be self taught on the tech side, or weren’t at the top (or higher tiers) of their class in college.

My personal experience, after almost 30 years, is this. I have a B.S. degree in Zoology. While in college I also took extra classes in math and computers because I wanted to combine my knowledge for work in the Medical field. My first job was working as a programmer on an imaging system for Nuclear Medicine in a hospital. I worked on dedicated systems for Planar and 3-D SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography), for Caridiac care patients.

I didn’t get paid much, and had a roommate who worked for a small software company so I got on contract to do “testing” on the side. I was always good at debugging code and figuring out how software worked. The skills from my ZE degree were in use because I was creating “tests” to prove the software worked. I had found my niche, that and the software company offered me a lot more money than the hospital could pay.

A year later I was given the chance to take a formal 1-week seminar class on Software Testing, followed by a another week dedicated to “Test Automation”. The lights went on. Not only could I work in testing, but could use my skills as a programmer to aid in my work. Hey, who doesn’t want to let a machine do their work while they sit back and play “Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards”. Needless to say my initial efforts were a bit mediocre.

A few years later I got on to a project where I got my hands on one the first GUI Automation tools (Automated Test Facility, or ATF, for OS/2 & Windows). I spent 3 plus years building up the code/framework and tests. It was fun.

A few years after that, after moving into management and not doing automation work, I went to work for a Test Consultancy/Test Lab company. Back into the tools and doing what I do best. For the last 16 years that is all I’ve done is be a “Technical Tester” who does Automation and Performance work.

Moral of the story. Testers have certain skills and inclinations, use them and make them stronger. Shore up your weaknesses, it will only help. In the end it is all OJT (On-the-job training), and it is up to you to do it. Universities neeed to do more to teach these skills (Testing, Automation), and some are. But it is up to you yourself to do it.

I consider myself to be a rare breed, a Technical Tester.

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