Like “Moneyball” indicated for baseball, the secret to building a great software team is not drafting superstars but rather hiring team members with solid, diverse skill sets and attitudes that keep the team moving forward to success. A team full of great players with bad or apathetic attitudes will never achieve solid, repeatable success. Sure, some games might be won handily against teams with less skill, but it takes good attitudes to not buckle under the weight of hard work and real competition. Superstars with bad attitudes atrophy when faced with conflict, failure, and adversity because their goal is the elevation of the self, rather than accomplishment of the team; working for no glory isn’t an option. By contrast, people with good attitudes try hard to remove their personal fame and comfort from the equation and will “take one for the team” if necessary.
I’ll never forget the county fast-pitch softball championships my team played in when I was thirteen-years old. It was the final inning of the final game of a tournament in which the winner would take first place, and we were up to bat, down one run with the bases loaded and two outs. The pitcher on the other team was tired and kept throwing balls out of the strike zone—a perfect opportunity to take a walk if there ever was one. A walk would tie the game and put someone up to bat that could hit in one more run or take another walk, which would lead us to victory. Only it didn’t work out that way. The quickest base runner on my team was a girl who couldn’t hit high pitches. And do you know what she did, consistently, every time she got a high pitch? She swung at it and missed. Of course she was the one at the plate at this moment with the fate of the game riding on her shoulders. I remember the dread, the feeling of impending doom creeping over me because even though she was told not to swing at anything—not even a strike—she would swing anyway; that was her habit. My fear became reality and we lost.
It’s likely that if she hadn’t swung and struck out and we’d won the game that I wouldn’t remember this event at all, but I remember it clearly as an example of how a dogged pursuit of self-glory can destroy the potential success of an entire team.
When we interview potential new hires, are we looking for more than their technical proficiencies into the thought processes and habits behind the resume? Are we considering our hunches about what kind of people they are internally? Will they row with us or against us?
Technical abilities aside, high-performance test teams need people who—at least on most days and when the road really gets arduous—work according to this statement by Harry S. Truman: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
But selflessness isn’t the only soft skill needed to beef up the effectiveness of a test team. Teams also need people who can explore and adopt change in order to keep up with the fast past of software development. Likewise, teams need players who can adapt to change thrust upon them from outside sources. That sort of agile idea gets a lot of lip service but are we really looking for that ability when we interview someone? According to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, change is so tough that we have to exert significant effort to overcome the powerful influence of the habit loop—cue, routine, and reward —literally wired in our brains. So in interviews hiring managers should be mindful to ask for specifics when a candidate says he is good at adapting to change because it’s just not that easy.