How to Attract and Retain Skilled Software Testers: An Interview with Judy McKay


In this interview, ASTQB President Judy McKay explains how you can not only attract a skilled tester, but keep one. She talks about the traits that make a tester good and what to avoid if you're looking to keep this person around. 


Josiah Renaudin: Today I'm joined by Judy McKay, the president of ASTQB. She'll be discussing how to attract and retain skilled software testers in today's industry. Judy, thank you very much for joining us.

Judy McKay: My pleasure.

Josiah Renaudin: Let's start with a broad question to establish the tone. What constitutes a good tester, and why do we need skilled testers to produce quality products?

Judy McKay: As anybody knows who has hired testers, there's a lot of factors that make somebody good, and make them skilled, and make them effective. I always go for a good attitude, number one, over anything. I used to list that as just "attitude," but the bad attitude is not so good. A good attitude: somebody who's willing to learn, somebody who's curious, somebody who really wants to make a difference. Double-edged sword there, right?

You get somebody who's really wanting to make a difference, wanting to improve quality, and they can get frustrated pretty easily, too. If you're a manager, you need to really think about how you're going to balance that hard-driving person who really wants to own an area, have responsibility, and really cares. How do you keep them from burning out?

In some cases, you're not going to fix all the defects. Things are going to ship in less than, shall we say, optimal state, so you always have to balance these things. You can't go out there and say, "Ooh, perfect tester. I'm going to hire them. Boop. They're going to be great. I never have to do anything with them again." It takes a lot of care and feeding to keep a tester happy.

The second part of your question, "How do the skilled testers produce quality products?" A skilled tester is going to be able to embed themselves into the whole software development lifecycle regardless of what your lifecycle is. They're going to be there doing good reviews. They're going to be there building quality from the beginning. I always think of it as buzzing around. If the developers are doing something, the testers need to be doing something—making sure the unit testing is getting done, making sure the integration is happening, making sure environments are set up, making sure test data is being assembled.

They're always around with that quality focus, and that tends to make the whole team quality-focused, whereas if you just have a case where the software is going to get tossed over a fence at the end, you end up with people that are not quality-focused. They're kind of like, "Ah, whew, done. I can go on to my next thing." But if you have that presence of the tester, that quality focus throughout, everyone is building a quality product together, and that's really honestly the only way you're going to make a quality product.

Josiah Renaudin: You mentioned how a tester can enhance a product, but what can a good, skilled tester do to enhance a full team? Can a skilled tester be a loner, or does he or she need to encourage smart testing practices throughout an organization?

Judy McKay: Now you're back to that hiring thing, too. Some testers are loners, honestly, just like some developers are loners. That doesn't mean they can work in isolation, but it does mean that sometimes they're more effective in that role. For example, maybe that's the person that works on test automation. Maybe that's the person that sits back and designs new testing tools. That kind of a personality. You need the technical, head-down, "I just want to get my job done" kind of personality on a test team, but that can't be your whole team.

You need people that are also going to go out there and get involved, and do the reviews, and ask the questions that may seem stupid. But I've got to say, I've prodded a lot of developers into finding defects by asking probably stupid questions like, "I don't see how that's going to work," or, "What are you going to do in this kind of situation? How are you going to handle that kind of error?" Then they kind of go blank and you can see their eyes turning, thinking, "Wait a minute, I don't handle that." Yeah, it was a stupid question, but you have to sometimes go out there and put yourself out there, and maybe be a little subjected to people going, "What an idiot." Sometimes that really helps.

Sometimes that gets people thinking more, and honestly, the loner personality is not going to be very comfortable doing that, but sometimes you need the loners. You definitely need the people that are going to be willing to put themselves out there as well.

Josiah Renaudin: How much has the role of the tester changed in even the last ten years? Can a tester get away with just testing, or has the job expanded to include a larger suite of responsibilities?

User Comments

1 comment
David Stevens's picture

Great advice by Judy. If someone would like to learn more about the software testing career roadmap she mentions, she has written an article that discusses the differences between test analysts, technical test analysts, and test managers. It's in the ISTQB Certification context, but every tester will find this a useful discussion of where to take your career:

May 18, 2015 - 10:17am

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