Insights Podcasts The Testing Show: Building Testers

The Testing Show: Building Testers

May 5, 2021

Dave Harrison and Simon Prior join Matthew Heusser to talk about the need for software testing to be considered a viable path for colleges and universities, the type of education that would be helpful for institutions to teach, what types of people and educational background would work well as testers, and how to help them get the best leg up if/when they decide to make that decision.

 

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Transcript:

Matthew Heusser (00:00):
Good time zone and welcome to The Testing Show. This week, we’re talking about “Making Testers”. What it takes to make a tester, particularly, and how we can make more effective testers. If the average tenure of a tester is something like five years and the industry is growing at 10% a year, about half of the time, half of the people have less than five years of experience. Getting that incoming funnel of people in to have the skills that they need so they can be effective as quickly as possible seems to me to be important. Yet we don’t have the kind of computer science college programs… that traditional software development path. To figure that out, we’ve got two guests today, Dave Harrison and Simon Prior. Simon comes to us from the United Kingdom. He is the head of the Digital Test Team at EasyJet with about a decade of experience in cybersecurity. And he started this “#MakeATester” initiative. So Simon, tell us a little bit more about you and about what you’re trying to accomplish with this.

Simon Prior (01:18):
Yeah, thanks Matt. I’ve been in testing for 10 or so years now. And one thing I’ve realized over the last four or five years is the talent that come out of university. They’re looking for jobs in the software industry. Very rarely do they have any idea about careers in testing. During my previous roles, I was going out to schools and colleges and doing careers talks. Frequently, I’d get asked questions about, “What’s this testing thing that you talk about? What’s QA?” And it got to a point where I went to my university, my university called me and said, “Would you come and do a careers talk? We know you in the software world (at the time, worked for a big cybersecurity company). We’d love to have you come back.” And I just asked the question, “Are you okay with me doing a talk about testing? Because that’s my field of expertise I’ve worked in testing for a while now, I’m now a test manager at this point, and I’m building this culture of quality with the organization. It’d be good to talk about what testing is and the importance of it.” And the response I got back was, “Ah! That’s not something we teach on the syllabus. Could you come and do a special topic talk rather than a careers talk?” And at that point, it kind of put me off because, for me, testing is, as I’m sure the rest of you will agree, that it’s as valuable as good development skills. For a university to teach 10 or 12 programming languages, but not teach anything around testing, was really starting to baffle me. And if I look back, when I left university, I had no idea testing was a career. So then this “Make A Tester” idea started off, I thought, I’d look around universities and see whether this was a single university in the UK that was like this, or whether it was across the field. So I looked at the top 25 to start with, looked at their syllabuses, contacted the head of departments and said, “What do you do about testing?” And most of them come back and said, “Oh yeah, we don’t do anything” or, “We might touch on unit testing during one of the programming modules, or we’ll talk about testing as an activity in the software development life cycle. But that’s it. We won’t do any more than that.” There was only one university in the top 25 that had a dedicated quality and testing module. So then that started me putting together ideas around, “Okay, if universities aren’t going to help us, how do we make a tester?” And you start thinking about the skills that it needs to be a good tester. A lot of it is soft skills along with a curious mind, critical thinking mindset, maybe technical skills, as far as being able to write automation or to debug code, et cetera, that’s all useful as well. So it’s was trying to build up that picture and then look at how we could start building out syllabuses to help universities or to do it as a separate entity to train people so that we had the right kind of skillsets coming into roles.

Matthew Heusser (03:58):
Well, you… certainly, there’s a lot there. I want to hear more about it. We’ve also got to get to our second guest, Dave Harrison. We’ve been trying to get Dave on the show for a while now. We’ve done a couple of shows about management and been kicking ideas back and forth. He’s got more than 30 years of software development and test expertise. I don’t know at what point you transitioned to being focused on testing, currently doing a software test practice lead role. And have got a strong background in FinTech. Tell us about your interests, Dave, and sort of your perspective on the entrance pipeline to testing.

Dave Harrison (04:36):
Well, thanks again for this opportunity. Glad to be here. My background was working at a startup that was doing some advanced technology projects. So you couldn’t just place a Want Ad for testers with certain levels of experience in technologies that hadn’t come to market yet. We would bring in people who were… in theory, they were experienced testers. There was a little bit of a sliding scale to that, but I ended up being the person that would have to show these people this new technology and get them to think about how to test it. It was completely different mindsets. They were coming from mainframe experiences, mid-range computing technologies. So we started to develop this pattern. We’re going to show them the series of things and they’re going to go and try and do it themselves. And then they’ll take off with the skills they had from testing previously advancing to these new technologies. It’s important for me to establish that, because at that point I wasn’t a manager. I was just one of the people that had survived numerous reorganizations within the technology organization that kept me around. So then there came a day when I became a testing manager a few years later and different company, but still products and technologies that really still hadn’t hit the ground and markets yet. You were having to source people that you thought would project into successful roles as testers. And I came up with the idea of, “Okay, we’re going to have this set number of steps and things that they will do for self-training and education, and then come back with questions”. And that’s how we would onboard people. We would get them to establish system knowledge as early as possible. That system knowledge would be extremely rudimentary, but then we would be asking them to continue to build upon that. And we would grow them into system aware people that could make contributions to projects. Now in recent years in the work I’m doing with this FinTech testing practice… Simon’s right! In the U.S., there’s very few opportunities for formal software testing training inside of colleges and universities. Many decades ago, I was a graduate of the software testing program at a university outside of Boston. That’s long gone. That’s not in effect anymore. So what we do now is, is that we source interns. We bring interns in to interview and we have to explain to them what testing is. And we do a little bit of a sell, but at the same time, the college students are looking for summer employment that’s relevant to their major and their studies. And this is another situation where we will seek to project people into a role, even for an internship, even for 8, 9, 10, 11 weeks… and we say to them, “I”m going to bring you in. We’re going to consistently train everybody. And then we’re going to do actual project work”. It’s going to be a real practical internship that then turns into recent college graduates where, we then go to a formal employment offer… you know, I’ve been at this current FinTech in different manifestations for the past seven years. And I was the second tester in, there was no formal process for learning things. So every time I learned something, I created a Wiki page and documented it. And someone walked by and saw me doing it and said, “Why are you doing that?” I’m doing it because this is a growing company. And the next person that comes in after me is not going to go through this for onboarding. They’re going to have a document that they can walk through that gets them established as a tester. So we do that for people that have experience in testing that have to learn testing FinTech applications. But we also do it for the new hires and people that are new to the marketplace as well. And then that’s our jumping off point, where we start to grow and develop them into testers that make meaningful contributions to projects.

Matthew Heusser (08:22):
Okay. So I see a couple of different pieces there. We’ve got the recruiting piece where we’ve got to bring people from the right backgrounds into the role that we could discuss. Dr. Kaner said that he’s had a lot of success bringing people who have been trained in a sort of logical analytical thinking. Doctors make really good testers and lawyers make really good testers. I’ve only met two lawyers who said, “You know, I really liked this testing thing and I want to do it professionally.’ One of them’s Rachel Kibler and we had on the show and the other one is Dr. Kaner himself. So, so what other fields or backgrounds, trainings, mentalities, mindsets, provide the training for a testing role that may be the salary, career satisfaction, and the social benefits of the role would be seen as the step up where frankly, for a medical doctor, maybe not so much. And then we have the training program that you do to help bring them up to speed and “fill in the blank”. And then we have the actual, “This is the job”. Here’s how to break down the possibilities for a system. Here’s how to do quick attacks. Here are the common failure modes of a mobile device. It’s very different than, “On this team, here’s how you log in to Jira, how we do the daily stand up, h ere’s how you configure the virtual machine to do the things. So you can get to the point where you actually use those testing skills. So I seen those three things as separate and distinct. Did I get that right, Simon? Am I missing anything?

Simon Prior (10:11):
Yeah, I think you’ve done a good breakdown there. I think the other thing that for me is important as well is… Testing is part of a bigger software development world that we live in the software engineering world. It’s not for me just about creating the testers themselves. It’s about raising the awareness of testing as an activity and making sure that even those that aren’t in testing are aware of the importance that good testing brings to the whole software process. We need to create the testers. We need to get the right people into the roles that are doing testing, but it’s also raising the awareness of making sure that developers are aware of what unit testing is needed and how they need to write their code in the right way to make it testable, et cetera, et cetera. There’s two sides to it. Really. It’s making the testers and it’s also raising the awareness of testing.

Matthew Heusser (10:58):
Oh, I’m so glad you said that. And you know, long time listeners or readers will know my position on this, but it’s almost as if computer science has done a disservice to testing in that what computer programmers do is they take business processes that are repeatable and defined and they automate them. That’s what they do. So we look at the simple, straightforward, repeatable process of testing (hint: it’s not). And we say, “This should be automated.” And we create these sort of overly simplistic approaches that lack nuance and subtlety. And we try to… this is the greater software development community. We try to sort of automate away the problem of testing without ever really understanding the skills I mentioned earlier. On balance, it’s like an uphill battle. And we finally trained up people to understand the value of good, skilled, exploratory testing. And two things happened that undermined it here in the United States. One is the sort of… I want to say coding bootcamp, like programs created testers in a couple of weeks who didn’t really particularly have skill or education and then tried to sell them as sort of high value testers. And another, is that… I was at a conference a few years ago when someone started talking about “automated exploratory testing”, and I said “Stop! Stop!”, We finally educated people that this was separate, distinct, and valuable. Yeah, that was very difficult for me because he couldn’t understand my points. So Dave, we’ve got, who should recruit, how do you test, how do we do the job here? And we’ve got raising the awareness of testing as an activity. Maybe pick one and tell me how you want to make the world a better place.

Dave Harrison (12:44):
Well, yeah, just to take a step back, you know, we’ve had good experience with both math majors, computer science, as well as laboratory science majors transitioning into software testing roles. And to that latter point, laboratory science majors are spending a lot of time in science labs with a hypothesis where they have a lab experiment that they have to prove or disprove. That’s the type of skills that they have that they gain throughout their education. We find that translates well over to the software testing paradigm. So just want to, kind of, throw that in there. Then the other thing I wanted to mention was is that speaking to what Simon said, I feel like people who are leaders in test organizations, you need to establish that credibility to bring not just the testing focus to the overall organization and the approach to the SDLC, but also that quality mindset and culture and eliminating the idea that testing is end state inspection. Then once you can establish that credibility as a leader, then you bring in people who are new to the testing space that you’ve evangelized on the value of testing as a career. Or it can be a jumping off point where you can do an internal transfer to a development role. We never get in the way of that when that happens, because the things that we showed people, who were coming up on testing, they then take that approach to a development role or to a business analyst role, to a product management role. And we feel like the entire organization is enhanced by that. So we grow testers and then we let them go, If that’s the way their career path wants to take them.

Simon Prior (14:24):
I think I’ve had scenarios in recent years where there’s been a natural point where testers I’ve worked with have wanted to spread their wings and go into business analyst, analysis, or project management even. And actually it does the whole organization, a good service from quality perspective to have those quality minds working in other functions. Yeah. And absolutely agree that testing doesn’t just stop at being in a testing role, having that mindset outside of those roles helps to move things forward. The other thing I’d say about the types of backgrounds, some of the best testers I’ve worked with have been history and English graduates because their attention to detail is quite high. They do their research, they investigate things. Two of the people I worked with were history and English graduates, and they were two of the best testers I’ve ever worked with. I don’t think there is a specific set of paths of which background they should come from. But the beauty of testing is everyone thinks differently about it. There isn’t a prescribed way to do testing. We don’t need a one size fits all mindset. It is about identifying the right people with the right skills and they can come from a variety of backgrounds.

Matthew Heusser (15:34):
You mentioned English and history. I would add music and particularly a knowledge of foreign languages, in particular, Latin. In the scientific literature, we kind of understand this music, math connection. And a lot of that is about managing and maintaining multiple variables that are thematic over time. A math proof kind of looks like a Beethoven symphony, if you sort of turn your head and squint, the kind of conjugation you have to do with Latin and to know correctness, it looks a lot like Oracles in software testing, if you know what you’re looking for. I think all of those points to the kind of analytical testing, which I think is one aspect of it. You alluded to other aspects of it. I think James Bach talks about the social tester and various other approaches, the subject matter expert. But if I didn’t know anything else and I was hiring all of those sort of analytical backgrounds, I think are very valuable. Engineering… i n MBA programs, they talk about quantitative analysis skills, which I think all of those can show. So great. You also have a podcast, right? Simon?

Simon Prior (16:51):
Yes. The Testing Peers, four of us, we’re all test leaders. There’s myself, Chris Armstrong, David Maynard and Russell Cracksford. We started it last year. Last May was our first episode. Two of us have never actually met in person. We, virtually, the four of us meet every Wednesday to record episodes. We cover everything from testing leadership. We’ve got a mental health episode coming up. It’s just a chance for us to try and share our experiences from being test leaders, how we’ve helped people grow in roles in testing. We’ve done an episode on make a tester itself just to talk through. And part of that was I wanted to re kick-off the campaign. The process, there is a lot of this boot camp process now, with development boot camps and testers come out with a small amount of testing, not necessarily the full skill sets that we’d look for. And the Make a Tester idea was to get out there and try and find out what we can do to improve. So the four of us have that there’s 110 universities in the UK that teach computer science or software development as a degree. We are going to, between us and between some of the other friends that we have in our Testing Peer Slack, we’re going to reach out to all of those universities and find out what we can do to help. And that’s a campaign that we’re going to look at doing start of this year. Obviously with the pandemic, universities are on the back foot with the way they’re having to readapt to teaching online and everything else. So we thought we’d reach out later this year to all of them and, and try and see what we can do to try and improve that pool of talent coming through from a testing perspective. But yeah, the podcast… we’re coming up to our year anniversary, we’ve done about 20, 25 episodes now. It’s going well.

Matthew Heusser (18:32):
So, we’ve talked about who, and you’ve alluded to the material we use to train testers. The Black Box Software Testing course that the Association for Software Testing does. And I believe there are a couple of for-profits to do it too. Something like a six week part-time course you can do remotely. I think it really covers the fundamentals of testing. What other resources do people have to build their internal tests, training programs, Dave?

Speaker 3 (19:06):
Well, I mean, across my career, we’ve done things like the QA book club. We used to do it with the Kaner book “Testing Computer Software”, 10, 15 years after that was published really 20 years, there was still a lot of applicability there. I mean, yeah, there’s the chapter in the book, you know, “Testing Printers”, right? We skip that. Right. But lately we’ve been working with people on “Lessons Learned in Software Testing”. Again, that’s another book that’s been out there for, well, over a decade, I still think has a lot of applicability. There’s some coaching that needs to take place around some of the finer points, but still valuable. There’s a tremendous amount of free videos that are available through decent web searches on YouTube from prior testing conferences, where if you’re willing to spend an afternoon screening videos as to whether or not they’re applicable for training programs, once you find ones that you like, as long as they stay there, you can have people watch them and then do a debrief with them about what they’ve learned. We also employ that in a practice review that we do every month in my current role, where we will bring all the testers together, we’ll bring up a topic, we’ll be doing that on Monday, after we record this, the Fiona Charles talk on ethics and software testing. We’re going to present that in a practice review to all the testers. We just want to try to be consistent and deliberate and aware of where people are during those early days of their testing careers and apply the lessons learned from our own careers to say, “Okay, we need to work with people on how to operate in the end game.” They can’t sit on defect reports. They think there’s a problem, but they’re not certain about it. And there’s a amount of pressure with a release date looming, for whatever reason, speak up, engage with the developer. The amount of time they get spent troubleshooting something, there could pay off as opposed to something going live or the defect in it. So we just continue to try to set a decent baseline through our onboarding process and then continue to build and enrich skills for testers over time. And then you start to see the fruits of your labor when developers are asking, “Hey, is that person back from vacation yet? We really need them”. Right. And I think to myself, “Hey, two years ago, that was a recent college grad that we had to show the value of operating with an API transaction versus a UI transaction and seeing the same outcome in the database”. So we know when we’ve been successful because these people end up being in demand, valuable members of project and product teams.

Simon Prior (21:41):
Going back to the books you mentioned earlier, Dave, one book that we’re working through in our practice at the moment is the “Explore It” book by Elisabeth Hendrickson and working through that with the team, taking exercises, making sure the exploratory testing processes are improved on the back of that. And we use quite a lot of the Ministry of Testing resources as well. There’s lots of conference talks and stuff on there that we can then share around what other people have got ability to access them or find versions online that we can all sit and watch together. It’s just an opportunity to try and learn and then have a feedback discussion session afterwards and build up that way. There’s also trying to build out a checklist of stuff that we think every new test that needs to start learning. Like you say, Dave, it’ss looking at the technical side as well as the more human investigative side and building up that best practices of what we think we can help them build and then giving them the opportunities to apply those skills as we go forward.

Matthew Heusser (22:36):
You know, you mentioned books. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this two times. We’ve done almost a hundred episodes. So if you’ve got the budget, consider the book, “How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing”. I think it’s available on Safari. So if you have a Safari subscription from O’Reilly, you can get it for free, but Michael contributed a chapter. I contributed a chapter. Jon Bach contributed a chapter. A lot of, at the time, the leaders in software testing, Selena Delesie contributed a chapter. Michael Bolton contributed a chapter… but we took the question presented to us by management, “how can we make testing cheaper?” seriously. And the short answer is, “Better skills so that you know what you can skip testing or test less often and better flow and faster feedback.” So if I had to do it over again, I would call it “The LEAN Software Testing” book, but it’s organized as chapters. And then there’s like 26 chapters. I wrote a couple and one of them was like things you can start doing right now for free to make testing faster. So I’m kind of proud of that. Are there any other books, Dave? You mentioned a book club. What else should I be reading?

Dave Harrison (23:50):
Well, I mean, uh, I want to put in a word for Ministry of Testing as well. I think it’s the premiere testing resource on planet earth. I mean, it’s the place to go! And the membership is something that has just an easily calculated ROI. They are just laser focused on educating testers and making them better. I would add in “Thinking Fast and Slow”, it’s almost an obligatory podcast mention for books around testing that might not fall into the testing space classically, but for people that are looking to learn more about the cognitive side of the work they do, “Thinking Fast and Slow” a great resource. There are so many blog aggregations out there now where you can look at a email every week of 15 or 20 blog posts that you can then go assess for applicability to your context. Big follower of Dan Ashby, really have bought into a lot of the stuff that he’s put out there around test approaches, especially in evolving models towards DevOps environments. Big fan of Anne-Marie Charrett out of Australia, when it comes to some of the coaching aspects of the work that I’m doing, I could keep going. So I should just probably stop, but…

Simon Prior (25:09):
I would agree with both of those, Dan and Anne-Marie, definitely. There’s incredible amount of good resources out there. There’s a lot of new up-and-coming testers that have become quite vocal in the last couple of years as well. Thinking of people like Beth Marshall who have both been very vocal in some of their learnings within the testing world and how they’re growing, moving forward. And I think one of the key things to give to any aspiring tester is get involved in the community. And it’s not for everyone. Not everyone wants to be involved in the wider community, but you can learn so much from people posting blogs, sharing talks and listening to podcasts, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s just a perfect opportunity to build your knowledge.

Matthew Heusser (25:51):
Sounds great. So it’s getting to the part of the show where we ask for closing thoughts. I would suggest a sort of emphasis of closing thoughts on what’s one or two things people can actually start doing maybe tomorrow to either help with the recruiting training or awareness of the importance of the test role outside of their group. What can people do, Simon?

Simon Prior (26:16):
I think it’s just find opportunities to talk and talk about testing outside of your team. Try and find a way of communicating in a way the business or the team that you’re talking to understand. Quality can be communicated in any language and it needs to be in the language of the business team or whoever you’re talking to. For finding new testers, let’s try and reach out to our local colleges, universities, and other platforms that bring us the talent pool and try and encourage them to look at testing as a course for education or find other ways in which we can build that talent pool up.

Matthew Heusser (26:53):
Okay. Thanks! Dave? Your final thoughts?

Speaker 3 (26:57):
My final thoughts are, when it comes to identifying and growing and investing in people to give them opportunities and careers and software testing, I just go back to the opportunities that were provided to me. So at one point, you know, I was a new person to testing. I was an internal transfer. I had done support. I had an awareness of the products, but there was a whole new set of learning that I needed to pick up. And it wasn’t obvious to me right away, Okay? But there were people that invested in me that saw something in me that was worth developing and sharing their knowledge about testing. And then I was able to take that and grow. So when I’m working with people around them, interacting with people, either as interns or recent college graduates, I just always think of those opportunities that were provided to me. And I’m seeking to provide those opportunities to new testers as well. They put up with a lot of the war stories that I’ve been able to relate to them from over the past three decades, but they also say that it provides some perspective. And then they find themselves in situations where some of the things that I’ve said have resonated with them. That’s where I believe that anyone that’s listening to this that has an established career as a tester, don’t hesitate to seek, to cultivate and develop the next generation of testers or people that are new to the field because it’s a great career. It’s been really good to me, really enjoyed it. And I hope that people can get something out of this that applies to their day to day, as well as their overall career perspectives.

Matthew Heusser (28:34):
Thanks, Dave. Usually this is where we say, where can people go to learn more about you? I guess before we get there, I will say that Qualitest is always hiring. It is a consultant company. I think this is the second time we’ve advertised it two shows in a row. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s an opportunity to work for a lot of different companies while still being at the same company, which is a chance to develop the kind of breadth that we’ve been talking about throughout the whole show. And I thought it was relevant to mention. If you’re on the management or executive side, then Qualitest provides managed testing services. So you’ve got a whole new project and no idea how to staff it, to give us a call. That said, Simon’s talked about his podcasts. He’s talked about where to go for his videos. There’s a hashtag people can follow on Twitter, right?

Speaker 2 (29:28):
It’s “hashtag: MakeATester”. There’s been a few sort of posts recently about it. Like I said, The Testing Peers did a podcast episode on it. It was quite a lot of feedback on that based using the hashtag. And there’s been a few other people that posted blogs and articles using that hashtag as well. So yeah, it’s an active hashtag as far as me, @siprior on Twitter, I blog at https://simon-pryor.uk as well. So I have some blogs on testing leadership and one of my other passions, which is neurodiversity, and ensuring that we’re opening up our talent pools for roles, to people with autism and ADHD and others as well.

Matthew Heusser (30:05):
So Dave, where can people go to learn more about you? I know we met over Twitter. What kind of things would they be learning if they were following you or engaging with you?

Dave Harrison (30:15):
Social media presence, LinkedIn is still around. You can still find me there. Twitter @Davadora. D-A-V-A-D-O-R-A. Yeah. There’s a couple of other podcasts and presentations that are circulating out there on the internet where you can find me about testing with the 20th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto. And, um, some talks coming out soon about that exploratory testing.

Matthew Heusser (30:37):
And I will say that both of our guests, they don’t run consulting companies. Their motivation seems to be, to make the testing world a better place. And the idea that a rising tide floats all boats. Thank you for your time. And I want to celebrate that. So that’s all I’ve got. Thanks for being on the show today, guys.

Dave Harrison (30:55):
Yeah. Thanks very much for the opportunity. Really appreciate it.

Simon Prior (30:58):
Cheers, Matt. Thanks for having me.

Michael Larsen (OUTRO):
That concludes this episode of The Testing Show.

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