So, what’s an automation tester anyway?

editor’s note: over here a great piece can be found that complements the point I’m trying to make below.

Quite some time ago, when I just started out in IT, someone once uttered the below sentence in my direction:

Anyone can test, but not everybody is a tester.

Back then I was pretty offended. If anyone can test why is it that it takes me just 2 minutes to click around and spot 12 defects while you look at it for an hour and think everything looks OK? As time moved on and I became more experienced I came to realize that a particular skillset is only part of the deal. To actually become a good tester you need to have the right mindset. Skills can be learned. Sure, some people are more talented than others, but assuming some basic form of intelligence you should be able to get the basics down.

This also applies to other disciplines by the way. The intro might just as well have said: Anyone can code, but not everybody is a developer.

I can’t imagine this is new information for most of us. There are a lot of publications around that go into this in much more detail. The reason, why I’m bringing this up, is that at wehkamp we have a position for an automation tester open for quite some time now.

It’s in Dutch, but it pretty much comes down to this: We need someone to create automated tests during a sprint so the devs don’t need to bother with that. This should result in a shorter feedback cycle, an increase of quality and speed up development overall. It’s topped off with some buzzwords/tools/frameworks like CI/CD, Docker, GitHub, Scala, React, Selenium, Jenkins, etc. So far so good. And I’m not being sarcastic here, this is exactly what an automation tester at wehkamp should be doing. So if this is so obvious, why is it so hard to find suitable candidates?

During recruitment, the focus is on automation and technical skills, while those are the things that are most easily obtained.

The right mindset is a whole different thing. I believe this is even more of an issue when you are looking for an automation tester. In my experience, there are roughly two types of automation testers: devs who turned to QA and former manual/functional testers who took interest in automation.

Just for the sake of argument (and I’m exaggerating here, I know there are plenty of exceptions out there), you could say that the former has the skillset and technical baggage and the latter has knowledge about testing methods and the correct mindset.

So taking the above paragraph into account, and having another look at the job opening, a couple of problems arise. First off, this is only appealing to the (former) devs turned QA-er. They recognize most of the tools and frameworks and also know how to use them. Great, right? Well, no. These are the people that like to write code all day. They don’t care what they automate, as long as they can automate. Needless to say, this doesn’t give you the best overall test suite in the long run. I’m sure their test code is reliable and rock solid and uses all kinds of clever tricks but in the end, it still remains questionable if the what we are testing is still getting proper attention.

In the meantime, the second group, the former manual/functional testers are scared away based on the text of the job offer alone. They don’t know the tools or frameworks (or only vaguely) and there is no mention of any of the skills they can bring to the table. They don’t bother with applying in the first place so we don’t even get the chance to add some nuance to the text during an interview. And even then you need to take into account that it’s very intimidating for a tester to suddenly get thrown into a highly technical environment. I know because I was once the guy who took the plunge. The first couple of weeks I had no clue what everyone was talking about, let alone I was able to contribute to any of it.

My ideal candidate would be a mix of the two types of tester. But since those are pretty hard to come by, my preference would go towards a functional tester with an interest in automation. I don’t really care if you don’t know anything about JavaScript or Selenium or Jenkins. As long as you’re willing to learn I can teach you those.

In the end, It’s just way easier to give someone with the right mindset the proper skillset, than the other way around.

Now… where is that recruitment guy who is in charge of composing our job offers…


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