Wednesday 16 December 2015

Hiring for skills and team diversity

Over the past six months, I've been involved in a lot of recruitment activities. To illustrate, when I look at the length of time that our testers have been in their roles, just over half have been hired very recently:

The majority of this recruitment has been due to growth. In April 2015 we had 20 testers, while in February 2016 we'll have 29 testers. We've also had a bit of churn due to internal promotions, maternity leave and people leaving the organisation.

I enjoy getting involved in recruitment, because I enjoy shaping a team. There are a couple of community building strategies that I've advocated for during our recruitment over the past few months that I think have had a positive impact on our testing culture.

Skills Diversity

Prior to my arrival, the hiring managers had collaboratively created a list of skills and experience for a tester. These included a minimum number of years in a testing role, a minimum number of years experience using our specific automation tools, experience in an agile development team, and preferably banking domain knowledge too.

In the New Zealand market, people who fit all of these criteria are very rare. The kakapo of testing.

Though I agreed that we needed all the skills we were seeking as part of the testing competency, I didn't think we needed them all to sit with each individual. Instead I wanted to broaden our hiring scope and choose people with complementary strengths. I felt this would still achieve the same end goal of a cross-functional testing team.

I examined the testing capabilities within each tribe (a collection of agile teams who work on the same product) against four experience criteria: testing, automation, agile and banking. Through consultative subjective assessment of the existing testers, we identified the most important skills that we needed to look for in each hiring iteration. We've started to select candidates based on these priorities rather than looking for a person who has everything.

Team Diversity

As editor of Testing Trapeze and as a co-organiser of WeTest, I'm constantly conscious of accurately representing the community behind the forums through the voices we elevate. Similarly, in my coaching role, I feel a responsibility to foster diversity in the team that I support.

In February 2016, with all our new starters on board, our testing team should look something like this:

It may not be perfect, but I'm proud of the diversity that image reflects.

Prior to my arrival, there were very few testers with less than three years testing experience. I've been vocal in my arguments for hiring juniors as part of a balanced recruitment strategy. I'm happy with how the Testing Experience graph has shifted over the past six months, with approximately a quarter of the team now considered to be junior staff.

It's probably also worth noting that the testers aged in their 20s and the testers with 0 - 3 years of experience are not the same group of people, despite their identical pie graph segment sizing. We've hired inexperienced testers across a wide age range.

I don't use any conscious strategies for gender or ethnicity, and our ratios in these areas are largely unchanged, but I feel they're relatively representative of our local community.


The biggest benefit that I've observed in hiring for skills and team diversity is that it promotes a culture of learning. Where people bring different strengths and different experiences, it creates opportunities to learn from one another.

The exchange of knowledge is personal and hands on, rather than learning online or from printed materials. This means that, in addition to imparting new skills or ideas, we improve collaboration between testers across teams and foster a sense of testing community.

I believe in hiring for a team, not a role. Look at the whole picture and consider the tenets of diversity.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Why you should hire junior testers

I am a vocal advocate for hiring junior testers into our team. By junior, I mean a person with no experience in testing, regardless of age or other work history.

I've been having a lot of conversations recently about why I believe we should hire juniors as part of a balanced hiring strategy. I'm curious to know how these points align to the thoughts of others who are involved in recruitment.


I look for junior applicants who want to get into a testing role, in an agile environment, where they'll have the opportunity to pick up some automation skills, in the financial sector. In other words, I look for junior applicants who want the role that I'm advertising as opposed to any role at all.

These juniors distinguish themselves by being prepared for their interviews, by having a series of questions about the role that indicate they've considered what the position will require them to do, and by demonstrating the ways that they have started their own study towards entering the profession. They make their desire plain to see.

Hiring this sort of junior brings a driven individual into your organisation who is motivated and passionate about learning. In a supportive environment, this kind of attitude is infectious. Though juniors may not bring many skills, I believe they bring a unique thirst for knowledge that can revitalise the desire to learn in the people around them.


Hiring a junior into a role that they don't yet have the skills to perform will obviously provide them with a huge number of challenges. However it also introduces challenge to the roles of those who will support the junior in their learning. I believe this is a good thing.

When a junior starts with the organisation, we pair them with a senior buddy. The pair usually work in the same agile development team, sitting alongside one another day-to-day, for easy and contextual knowledge transfer.

In a relatively flat organisation structure, being a buddy to a new starter is one way for our senior testers to get experience in mentoring and teaching. It's a responsibility that challenges our seniors to take ownership of developing a junior, by offering them new experiences and imparting their knowledge. Without juniors, we cannot offer this leadership challenge to our senior staff.


I don't like hiring people who can already do a job comfortably on Day One. I think these are the people who get bored and leave within a relatively short period of time or, worse, they are happy to stagnate and occupy their role without developing themselves.

The learning opportunities for a junior are the greatest of any type of hire. Their development path should be long and rewarding. It's growth that makes a role exciting, and creates loyalty between an employee and their organisation. A junior will feel grateful for being given the chance and support to shine.

I believe that loyalty, paired with a healthy work environment, leads to lower staff turnover. I want to retain our testers. Hiring juniors feels like a great way to extend the period of time that people stay with our team.


A junior candidate is, in many respects, an empty vessel. There are no bad habits to break, no misconceptions to correct, no terminology to redefine. Starting from scratch can be easier than cleaning up before you begin.

Juniors are comfortable asking questions, because they know that there's an expectation that they will have to ask to learn. They bring very few assumptions, because they don't have any prior experience that taints their perspective. They are great at thinking laterally, because they've never had their ideas confined to a particular box.

I believe that junior candidates have massive potential to be amazing testers. Providing an environment to turn this potential into a reality is essential, but their clean slate can be viewed as an asset for a testing role.

I'd like to see more organisations hiring junior testers, not as a strategy to cheapen or deskill their workforce but rather as an investment to develop the next generation of testers. There is potential for junior hires to have vast positive impact and shape the future. Let's give them the opportunity.