This one has programmed a PIC chip; that one has a degree in applied mathematics; those carry a certificate in SAP consultancy or a letter proving membership in a W3 advisory body – these are all really good signs that someone might turn out to be a good tester. I’ve all but trembled in my boots before interviewing such candidates, they have such auspicious qualifications. But there are more reliable indicators.
In job interviews I have often asked test engineer candidates, “How would you test a pencil?” I don’t give them a pencil, they have to imagine it. Some merely smirk, as though the question were beneath them: A pencil!
One candidate started talking about the ductility of the shaft, which threw me for a loop. I was wondering how to re-state the problem without insulting him when he saw my discomfort and said, “Ah, you are thinking of a wooden pencil – I am thinking of a mechanical pencil!”
A woman who turned out to be one of my best hires asked me if the hypothetical pencil was new or used. She is the only person to have asked that question.
In their first responses, both of those candidates indicated that they were reluctant to make assumptions. That’s a prized attribute in test engineers.
The test engineers I’ve hired have tended to share other traits as well:
- – Inquisitive
- – Analytical but rarely left-brain dominant
- – Broad range of experience and interests
- – Fascination with technology in general, not just computer science
Several might ask “what kind of pencil is it”, or “what will the pencil be used for”, but the best candidates have such acute powers of imagination that they simply have to be stopped in their enumeration of possible tests: conducting all tests in high temperatures, high humidity, zero humidity over unit time, submerged, at minus 270 degree Celsius, under high torque, in ice, so many pounds of sheer stress, etc.; if painted, the chemical stability of the paint, resistance to wear, consistency across large batches; if the body is wood wrapped around writing material, one list of questions (test qualities of the glue), if it is a mechanical pencil, another list; is the graphite or lead material of required hardness, and so on.
One of the worst candidates had a Masters in Computer Science and a PhD in astrophysics (trying to find a job in the same city as where his fiancee had landed a plum position). One of the best had worked for five years repairing vintage European sports cars.