Transitioning to Testing: The Qualities We Should Be Looking For
Testing is an accessible career choice for a lot of people who do not come from the typical paths into a white-collar job. I was doing construction jobs at a hospital prior to my first testing job, a friend of mine was in grad school for meteorological sciences before moving into tech, and a new colleague at work was previously working at a liquor store. Despite our backgrounds and lack of credentials, we all had the necessary skill set and mental approach to become testers.
Today I interviewed a person currently working as a nurse who wanted to move into software via testing. She did a wonderful job of highlighting the skills I look for from people moving into technology.
Nursing is a great base for the testing skill set because nurses spend their days (in part) making observations of complex systems. Those systems include patients and their medical histories, their family situations, and their treatment plans and how those plans are progressing. While making these observations, the nurse is constantly looking for signs that something isn’t right. They can’t describe the entire day of the patient in detail, so the nurse gives the most important aspects of this person's health to the doctor and the next nurse on shift.
As it turns out, this directly translates into someone who “gets” software testing.
Some of the most basic software testing skills are knowing what is important to observe in the moment, identifying risks, and the ability to report that information to the right people in a timely manner. Software testers are making observations of systems less complex than what a nurse sees on a daily basis. We identify risks to quality, usually in the form of software bugs, and then report what we know to developers and people with the capacity to make decisions for the team.
When I interview people moving into testing from another career, I’m generally not trying to assess their ability to test software. I’m looking for their inner tester: the current skills they have that will be their superpower once they learn some basics.
I’ll ask a little about why they want to be a tester and what they think testing is, but I mostly focus on what they do right now. How does the candidate identify important information in their current role? How do they know that the information should be shared? Can they give examples of effective ways to communicate that information? Do they know how to start with an idea that there might be a problem, and narrow that idea down to concrete details?
Testing is one of the few ways people can make it into technology jobs without formal credentials. Rather than making the interview a gatekeeping process, we should optimize our processes to identify a person's current strengths, how they can contribute to the team, and how the team would benefit from having a person with a different background than everyone else.