Looking for testing talent – an ER from Melbourne (Australia)

I’ve recently had the opportunity to look for an experienced tester to fill a new position at Quest in Melbourne, viz. a Test Coach/Lead Tester. The main responsibilities included coaching the wider development group here in improving their testing as well as hands-on exploratory testing. I crafted the job description accordingly with a deliberate focus on the key coaching and exploratory testing experience we were looking for in the ideal candidate.

Once the ad went up on Seek, our Talent Acquisition group was inundated with the usual flood of resumes – while it surprised them, it didn’t surprise me as previous experience suggests a large response to any “testing” category of job ad on sites like Seek. Rather than wasting their time and mine reviewing unsuitable applications, the field was soon whittled down to a very small number based on whether the resume even contained the phrase “exploratory testing”.

For the resumes that got through this simple filtering, I was a little surprised by their poor quality given that this was clearly advertised as a senior role with quite specific expectations on skills & experience. So, a few words of advice for testers looking for work in this market when it comes to the resume:

  • Show attention to detail (I view this as kind of important for a tester): this means removing all obvious spelling and grammatical errors – Word and other document creation tools will show you these mistakes quite clearly, so if you didn’t bother to fix them, what does that say about you?
  • Use plain English: so many resumes use fancy words when simple ones would do, using a thesaurus “don’t impress me much”!
  • Tell me what you did:
    • Focus less on talking about project specific detail (and especially the project budget, why is this important?)
    • Focus more on describing what your role was and what you actually did, noting anything that you feel is particularly relevant and important to the job you’re applying for.
  • Keep it short: bearing in mind the advice above, focus on key information and keep the overall resume down to a couple of pages. Always think about the information you absolutely have to communicate in order to best represent yourself and remember that resume length alone is not an indicator of experience, skill or anything else.
  • Tailor the resume to the job and company: this shows you’ve made a small effort during your application, in the same way that a generic resume shows that you haven’t.

We shortlisted a small number of candidates (it wouldn’t be a shortlist otherwise, right?!) for phone interviews, in which they were asked a number of questions designed to gauge their practical experience in the areas of interest, while also attempting to determine their general attitude towards testing. While most of the candidates were good at explaining their current work in the context of their current employer, the more open questions about their opinions on some testing topics were often answered by again referring to the way things are in their current job. It would have been good to hear more genuine personal opinions backed up with their reasoning, but it seemed most were either unable or afraid to offer such opinions in this setting.

The more worthy candidates after phone interviews were then asked to complete a “take home test” in which their actual testing skills were examined, in particularly their ability to perform exploratory testing and document what they did. This group of tests was highly instructive and any nagging doubts we had about a candidate from their phone interview were generally cleared up by their test answers. It was clear in most cases that “exploratory testing” on a resume was not an indication of practitioner experience of performing structured (e.g. session-based) exploratory testing.

After reviewing these test responses, only a small number of in-person interviews resulted and I am pleased to say that we found an excellent candidate – we’re looking forward to welcoming them to our Melbourne team very soon.

Based on this recent experience in this particular market (i.e. testing in Melbourne), a few recommendations for job seekers:

  • Please heed the CV advice given above!
  • Don’t apply for jobs where you fail to meet many of the asks: job sites like Seek have made applying for jobs too easy, so think of the people on the other end before you do your daily search in a category, select all, and hit Apply.
  • Don’t be afraid to have and express your own opinion: especially when you are explicitly asked for it – and be prepared to back up your opinion with sound reasons based on your unique experience.
  • Stand out from the crowd: being active in the testing community and/or showing signs of continuous learning (attending conferences, meetups, etc. or following some blogs on testing) are easy ways to do this. Wearing your ISTQB certification as a badge of honour does the exact opposite (for me).

(The “Testing in the Pub” podcast has covered the topic of hiring testers and they have some great recommendations too, so check out episodes 50 and 51.)


Time for another podcast

A few months ago, Johan Steyn reached out to me from South Africa (via LinkedIn) to ask if I’d like to be a guest on his Careers in Software Testing podcast. Johan has been very busy interviewing lots of testers around the world for his relatively new podcast and I was happy to accept his invitation.

It took a while for our calendars and timezones to line up, but we eventually got there and recorded the podcast in early September. Johan likes to keep the podcasts to around twenty minutes but we still managed to talk about a few different topics. With the subject of the podcast series in mind, he always asks his guests how they ended up in software testing and it’s been interesting to hear the answers to this question from his numerous guests so far. The common theme is “falling into testing” and my story is no different. For those who don’t know how I ended up in testing, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear the story – but it all started when I moved to a different country and interviewed for a job as a technical writer!

Johan’s been a very busy man recording the podcasts, so my contribution won’t be “live” for a while, but I’ll update here when it is. Thanks again to Johan for the invitation and the chance to share my thoughts on software testing.


“The Coaching Habit” (Michael Bungay Stanier)

In my job working with teams across various worldwide locations, I am often coaching testers and leaders on how to improve their testing. I also specifically mentor a number of testers in our office in China in a one-on-one setting. I really enjoy this aspect of my work and, in the interests of continuously improving, Michael Bungay Stanier’s best-seller The Coaching Habit seemed like a worthy addition to my library.

There are two big ideas in this book. The first is in the subtitle “Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever”, namely that as a coach, it’s important to learn to stop jumping in with advice and instead ask more questions. Michael acknowledges that this is not easy as we tend to naturally assume that responding with advice or solutions is what we’re meant to do: “…the seemingly simple behaviour change of giving a little less advice and asking a few more questions is surprisingly difficult”.

The second key idea is that just seven simple questions can help to break out of the cycle of advice giving and instead move to genuine coaching by seeking more from the person being coached and helping them learn for themselves. The bulk of the book (which is a short and easy read) is given over to detailing these seven questions:

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. And what else?
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
  4. What do you want?
  5. How can I help?
  6. If you are saying Yes to this, what are you saying No to?
  7. What was most useful for you?

The first question is a simple conversation starter and invites the person to share what’s actually important to them right now. The second question helps to stop us leaping to offer advice: “…even though we don’t really know what the issue is, or what’s going on for the person, we’re quite sure we’ve got the answer she needs.” Asking “And what else?” is “…often the simplest way to stay lazy and stay curious. It’s a self-management tool to keep your Advice Monster under restraints.” The author goes as far as suggesting that this second question is “the best coaching question in the world” and I immediately realized how effective this one will be in curbing what I hadn’t recognized was an inclination to jump in with advice before fully understanding the person’s concerns, context and actual problems. I also love this, erm, advice: “stop offering up advice with a question mark attached” (e.g. “Have you thought of…?”).

The third question – “What’s the real challenge here for you?” – acts as an excellent focusing question, especially if there are many issues/challenges exposed by the previous question. The fourth question – “What do you want?” – works as a clarifying question and I like the suggestion to also offer to share what you want when asking the other person this question.

The fifth question – “How can I help?” (or, more bluntly, “What do you want from me?”) – really cuts to the chase and is a potential saviour of falling back into our default helpful, action mode.

The penultimate question – “If you are saying Yes to this, what are you saying No to?” – works to combat over-commitment. Most of us have said “yes” to additional work, knowing that it’s really over-committing and this is ultimately unsustainable. This very clear question helps to clarify priorities and helps people to only say “yes” to more important tasks, knowing they can ditch some other lower priority work in the process. (I can see this working well in sprint planning sessions too!)

The final question – “What was most useful for you?” – feels like a great way to capture feedback and learning from coaching interactions. (Again, I can see value in this question in more general meeting situations too.)

(Note that almost all of the questions are “What?” questions, deliberately contradicting the advice of “Why?” advocates such as Peter Senge and Simon Sinek.)

I particularly liked that each of the questions is supported by some science and there are also videos available to show how to put them into action.

I really enjoyed reading this short, easily digestible book and it’s packed full of great takeaways. The seven questions are already posted visibly at my workspaces to remind me to utilize them in my ongoing coaching and mentoring activities. I have already started to make use of the lessons from this little book right away, a very good indicator of the quality and usefulness of the content.


It was early December 2017 when we found out that an ex-colleague at Quest in Melbourne had passed away. Bruce was a very popular guy during his few years with us as a tester – his flat-top haircut, dapper clothing and brightly coloured socks made him stand out amongst on office full of the usual IT crowd attire! He stood out to me, though, for just being a good bloke – he (along with his wife, Denise, who also worked at Quest) were incredibly generous to me when I first moved to Australia and started working at Quest, fielding those naive questions from a new arrival with patience and being good friends who just happened to live in the same area in which I’d chosen to settle.

It was testament to Bruce’s reputation as a good bloke that his funeral was a large affair, drawing representations from the various communities he was involved with around cars, dancing, and surf life saving. A few of us current Quest folks attended and we were pleased to find that a bunch of ex-Questers had also made the effort to remember him there too.

It was good to see some of the old Quest faces again and catch up with our various work and life changes since we’d all last seen each other (in many cases meaning ten-plus years). It was during one of these conversations that I happened to talk about the volunteer work I’d been doing to teach software testing to young adults on the autism spectrum (along with my good mate Paul Seaman). Dennis mentioned that his son, Dom, had a spectrum diagnosis and might be interested in the training, so I sent Dennis some details on the application process shortly after the funeral.

We had completed the first run of the EPIC TestAbility Academy in June 2017 and were actively looking for participants for the second run, so it was a timely opportunity for Dom. I was delighted when EPIC Assist informed us that Dom had applied – and we were very happy to accept him onto the second course starting in March 2018.

We had ten students on this second course, with nine making it to the end. It was a great group and I was disappointed to only be present for four of the twelve sessions due to work travel commitments. But I saw Dom as an engaged student, always contributing to discussions, and always tackling the homework between sessions. (I’ve already blogged about this second run in more detail here.)

Dom receiving his ETA completion certificate

I returned to Australia after the course ended in June and I knew that Paul had been working hard (along with Kym Vassiliou from EPIC Assist) to get some kind of placement going at this workplace, Travelport Locomote. The usual ping-pong between departments and HR burned a lot of time, but eventually it has come to pass that Dom is taking up a placement at Travelport Locomote as part of their just launched “LocoStart” programme, working alongside Paul two days per week.

Out of something so sad, something so wonderful has come about. Dom should be very proud of himself for taking the plunge to be part of the training course and for being such a diligent and engaged student throughout. His dedication and potential have been recognized by Travelport Locomote and I hope this opportunity to engage in a real-world software testing job in a modern IT company is a very positive one, both for him and Travelport Locomote. I know Paul is going to enjoy having Dom as part of his team and is committed to his success.

Finally, another shout out to Bruce, without whom this opportunity would have never happened for Dom, that good bloke karma just keeps on giving!

Another first, being interviewed for a podcast

Last week I was interviewed for the Super Testing Bros podcast, my first time taking part in an online podcast recording.

James Espie invited Paul Seaman and I to talk about neurodiversity, based on our experiences of teaching software testing to young adults on the autism spectrum through the EPIC TestAbility Academy.

Along with Akshay Sud, James guided the interview very well and Paul & I really enjoyed chatting on this important topic. We don’t claim to be experts in this field but can talk about our first person experience in working with folks on the autism spectrum for the last year or so. (We will also be talking about these experiences at the TestBash Australia conference in Sydney in October.)

It’s great that after 19 years in the software testing industry, I’m still doing new things and contributing my small part to the testing community.

Look out for the podcast online later in July on the Super Testing Bros website.


Another EPIC TestAbility Academy course comes to an end

The second run of the EPIC TestAbility Academy recently came to an end. For this second run, we had ten students and nine made it to the end of the 12-week course.

I unfortunately only managed to be present for four sessions this time, due to various work and personal overseas travel commitments so Paul Seaman shared the teaching load with Michele Playfair during the other eight sessions.

I was fortunate to be able to Skype into the final session, though, from the Czech Republic to wish the students well and congratulate them on their achievement in making it through the course. The final session included the presentation of completion certificates and also the chance for some great photos thanks to professional photographer, Monika Berry.

Lee Skypes in from the Czech Republic during the last session of ETA #2

Hard-earned certificates of completion

ETA #2 students and trainers

(To see the full set of Monika’s photos, visit https://mbcaptured.pixieset.com/epicassist/)

This second group was very different from our first and certainly proved the oft-quoted statement about autism: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Our approach to teaching the course needed to change quite significantly in response to the different personalities and group vibe, these are good learnings as we plan for the next run of the course. As context-driven testers, we of course know that context is everything and this was another example of using our CDT mindset to great effect.

My personal thanks to Paul for taking on so much extra load in teaching the course in my absences and also to Michele for her unbelievable commitment at short notice to play such a big role in bringing this run of the course to a successful conclusion. Thanks also to Kym Vassiliou and Craig Thompson from EPIC – your belief in the programme and continued commitment to it are great motivators and ETA wouldn’t be what it is today without you.

The people who make ETA happen (left to right: Michele, Craig, Paul, Kym)

Planning for the third run has already begun! If you know anyone who might be suited and interested in learning the basics of software testing through this programme, please let them know to register on the EPIC Assist website.

Speaking at the inaugural TestBash Australia conference

I’m delighted to have recently found out that I’ll be co-presenting (with Paul Seaman) at the first TestBash conference in Sydney, Australia, in October 2018.

It was Paul’s idea to submit a proposal to TestBash to talk about our continuing experience of teaching software testing to young adults on the autism spectrum through the EPIC TestAbility Academy. We presented on this topic at the LAST conference in Melbourne in 2017 and this time we’ll be able to share more experience, as we’re already halfway through the second run of the programme as I write.

The first course had six students (five of whom completed the full 12-weeks) while the current one has ten students. As we expected, the course will be quite different each time we run it based on the unique attributes of the students involved – suffice to say, it’s another very revealing and rewarding experience as we work with these ten inspiring young people.

Thanks again to Paul for suggesting we submit to this conference and also to the Ministry of Testing for giving us the opportunity to share this great story. I must also extend thanks to EPIC Assist for their ongoing support of this programme and especially to Kym Vassiliou without whose tireless efforts this second run might not have got off the ground.

See you at TestBash Australia 2018 !