When it comes time for you to write a job ad to fill a lower rung position in your quality assurance department, you might be tempted to merely copy the same old, same old boilerplate from other job postings and put this out there:

Job Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s Degree or minimum 5 years’ experience testing software applications
  • Experience with particular tools or graphical software, testing or otherwise.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Self-directed
  • Solid, demonstrated knowledge of quality assurance and testing methodologies
  • Experience writing, executing and maintaining test plans and test cases
  • Experience with defect tracking tools and processes
  • Experience working in an Agile Development environment
  • Ability to write and maintain automated test scripts a plus
  • Experience with some testing package would be a big plus

The human resources hive mind proffers some similar combination of job requirements for each junior level job, but confining your candidate search to existing members of the IT field might yield you junior tester candidates who are looking at this position as a stepping stone to their real goals-development or design positions. Perhaps you’ll poach a couple of people making lateral moves because they’re unhappy with their current equivalent positions.

Instead of recycling dissatisfied testers, you might consider hiring people from outside the IT world into your starting-level QA positions. In the 21st century, many people have a basic understanding of computer behavior compared to what you would have found twenty years ago. Now, almost everyone knows how to close windows and to launch programs. A lot of people know the rudiments of website pages and their behaviors as well, even if they don’t understand the technologies behind them. Their experience as software users can readily serve the purpose of relevant experience in job requirements.

1. Advantages of Non-IT Testers

Although it might not seem obvious at first, hiring testers from outside the professional information technology world offers some distinct advantages.

First and foremost, people hired from outside of IT view websites and applications like real users do. They have not spent several years’ worth of weekdays (and some weekends) plunking at keyboards running the same test cases over and over. Instead, they approach applications with fresh eyes, ready to identify things that might be obvious oversights or problems but that the organization has overlooked or ignored because it was looking at macro-level considerations. An absence of a forestry degree allows one to appreciate the individual trees.

Unseasoned candidates also lack experience in the bad habits of information technology workplaces. This can include some complacencies in the way things are done in your organization and in the industry as a whole. For example, someone not steeped in IT might not understand why a set of actions that crash the application is not a real problem. He or she might not know that nobody would do what he has just done. Or the new guy might not understand that it is customary to overlook mere misspellings.

When you hire some experienced testers, those testers can bring a wealth of experience about how they did things at the old place. In many cases, you can learn something from how things are done elsewhere, and this information can help improve your organization’s process. However, sometimes an experienced tester can waste time trying to make your organization do things “the right way”—that is, the way the tester is already comfortable doing things. Sometimes people resist altering their habits, and the effort to retrain someone ingrained in one way of doing things can equal the effort to train someone in the first place.

Inexperienced candidates are not Dryden’s noble savages, but hiring someone from outside the IT industry to a junior position on your team does offer some possible advantages. The key, though, lies in the candidate. Although I cannot tell you the competencies and abilities of individual people, you might find some resume items could indicate a hidden aptitude for software testing.

2. Finding Outsiders

Not all non-IT candidates are the same. You might find that the resumes include experience that is not directly related to software testing but that can highlight a candidate amenable to the software testing way of thinking, concentration, a good attention span, tenacity, and attention to fine detail.

People Working in Other Precise Professions
You might not think that people who work in manufacturing and other hands-on, non-office jobs could have any skills your junior software tester needs. Think again. Many professional trades require a keen eye for detail and a quick appraisal of defective product. Printers, for example, can pull a sheet of paper from a conveyor belt and instantly identify the misalignment of elements by fractions of an inch, improper colors, and other flaws that they need to correct before the mistake is replicated—expensively— thousands of times. For that matter, your local copier operator from FedExKinkos should have the same eye for detail. Machinists and machine operators might not only know how to adhere to processes and procedures to improve quality, but if you talk about certain quality methodologies, such as Six Sigma and LEAN principles, they can relate.

People with Precise Hobbies
A large number of crafting hobbies require a precise eye and patience. Anyone who knits, paints lead figurines, weaves elaborate tapestries with beads, or builds china cabinets in the workshop already demonstrates a commitment to concentration and, quite possibly both patience to make something right and impatience to things that are imperfect. Crafters vary in skill of course, but most people who have practiced a hobby for any length of time have evolved some skill in it. Ask your inexperienced interviewees what sorts of hobbies they pursue, and delve into precision hobbies.

Former Military Servicemen and Servicewomen
Popular depictions of servicemen and women in film tend to center on two archetypes: psychos and Sergeant Bilko types. In reality, former members of the military are well-adjusted and, if they’ve served any length of time, they’re not bumbling clowns like Bill Murray or Phil Silvers. They’re professionals accustomed to process and procedure and to making quarters bounce off of bunks. They understand teamwork and cohesion. They’ve learned to adapt to conditions and situations outside of control or that deviate from the original plan and to survive those situations. While QA is not life-or-death, that spirit and mindset comes in handy. You might want that sort of five-by-five signal on your team. And if the developers fear that they’ll make Tst. 2nd Class Reever lose it if they don’t fix issue #1308, so much the better.

3. Conclusion

With our heads down and our attention focused squarely on IT problems and challenges, when it comes time to hire junior level positions for software testers, our immediate bias is toward the IT industry and candidates within it. In QA, though, we look at software applications with an eye to doing something different and unexpected to beneficial effect. When it comes time to look at job applications, a little of the unconventional might prove advantageous to the QA team and to the organization.

About the Author

Brian J. Noggle Brian J. Noggle has worked in quality assurance and technical writing for over a decade, working with a variety of software types and industries. He currently works as a freelance software testing consultant through his own company, Jeracor Group LLC and has recently published a novel set in the IT world, John Donnelly’s Gold.