One of the biggest conversations in tech at the moment is increasing diversity in the industry. As a 35 year old white middle class male, I represent a very large percentage of people working in our industry, but a much smaller percentage of the actual users of technology worldwide. If we are making products for an audience, why do we accept that our product people, our developers and, critically, our testers, do not and cannot represent that audience?
Recruiting for Potential by Lena Pejgan Wiberg
Lena Pejgan Wiberg gave the most directly relevant talk around this at TestBash (although others and other conversations touched on it), speaking about recruiting for potential above all else and challenging our recruitment anti-patterns. She spoke about the Halo effect (also mentioned in Maaike’s talk) in recruitment – the former meaning we’re likely to assign higher value to someone like us in certain ways. This is contrasted with the Horns effect, where if we identify something about a person we associate with someone we don’t like or a negative experience, we’re likely to overlook some of their positive traits. When we interview, we are placing someone in an artificial situation – we’re trying to build correlations between interview performance and people’s working life or potential to be great testers, and the result means we prioritise people just like us, as we perceive these to be “safe bets”. This makes a lot of us hire only white male extrovert seniors.
We were offered some expert tips from Lena to break down this pattern of behaviour: she described a more systematic approach which allows her team to escape the negative/unthought approach to recruitment in testing. Lena broke her needs down into 5 categories, and designed a recruitment process to identify specific traits within each in order to assess potential in candidates without allowing biases to get the better of her:
Analyze – Making assumptions; Interpreting information; Reading instructions; Guts to question.
Plan – Prioritisation and limits; Structuring work; Risk management; Choosing techniques/methods.
Execute – Reaction to unexpected behaviour; Re-plan or follow plan; Risk management; Findings.
Tell the Story – Describe findings and reasoning; Risk management; Interpreting information; Recommendations.
Review – Answering questions; Motivate choices; Reaction to being challenged; Reflect on options.
By taking a less “personal opinion” approach and assessing people against these more objective criteria, she can not only hire better candidates, she can break down the unconscious biases which make the testing/tech community so homogeneous. Lena spoke about hiring people from poorer backgrounds, and designing a process that didn’t require people to have access to tech in advance (for example, one could invite them into the office and provide equipment in order to complete technical tasks) – something which was a brainwave to me.
Key qualities of a variety of testing positions
So, should we white middle class males quit tech? Of course not! But we should be doing more to diversify the people in our teams. When we hire, it’s easy to discount people because of differences in experience, but how often have you subconsciously decided someone wouldn’t be right for your dev culture because they’re not a native speaker, not the right age, not talking about their experience in the same way as you? That’s without even getting on to things like race, religion, perceived sexual orientation, ableism, social class, etc etc etc… things we may not consciously accept, which we may be positively disgusted by in other areas of our lives, but how about subconsciously? When you look for culture fit, do you also look for cultural fit?
A major takeaway here is that there are a huge number of undercurrents at play in tech hiring and it’s appropriate to work to understand this when we approach filling a vacancy. But how about when we aren’t hiring? Where it is not possible to simply hire more diverse teams, we should be careful to understand our own biases and discover our patterns of thinking. We should think about accessibility for example, even if we are not colour blind, not using a screen reader ourselves. But what about UI for cultures who are used to reading right-to-left? How about foreign character sets looking mangled? How about things as simple as challenging gendered language in basic UI elements? Do you require people to specify if they are Male or Female – what if they’re neither? 1 in 10 of your users (statistically) will be left handed, are you considering them in your designs?
Of course, diversity should not be about box ticking. If you have an all-white team and an Asian person applies, should they get the job by default? I think it’s impractical to suggest they should. Experience, expertise and potential are all relevant factors in any hiring decision. But should (in this example) ethnic diversity be a factor if two candidates are similarly matched in other areas? Well, why not? It’s advantageous to hire people in order to have a broader opinion base, to bring in new ideas and disrupt existing patterns, why not consider diversity as a facet of your team’s outlook?
I also wanted to give a shout out in this post to Amy Newton who, in an impassioned 99 Second Lightning Talk spoke of an initiative to get testers in front of school-age kids in order to encourage them into the industry. This seems like a great idea, as how many teenagers do you know who have even considered a career in testing? By making testing accessible we open doors, start conversations and build opportunities in areas where there were none.
This post can’t encompass the whole diversity spectrum, and I don’t mean to dismiss anything by not mentioning it specifically (I’m also aware this is really the first time I’ve specifically given this issue all that much thought…). The lesson here is thinking about more than just YOU AND PEOPLE LIKE YOU. If you are making software for humans remember not all humans are alike, and consider the tremendous positives greater diversity can offer your software, team, working environment and testing capacity.
For more on this topic, check out this AMA with Amy Newton on the Ministry of Testing Dojo, which directly addresses the challenges around recruitment diversity in testing and tech in general: How to Recruit a Tester – Amy Newton