Paying Attention to Paying Attention to Detail

One question I often ask a tester in an interview is what they believe are the essential skills that differentiate a good tester from a great tester. One of the common replies is "Paying attention to detail". But what does that really mean? Start with detail. What do you mean by detail? Mrs Google offers the explanation "an individual fact or item", but what sort of detail? Visual detail? Detail from a coding perspective? Any detail or only detail that matter? Is it detail as in 'small stuff' as in the Devil is in the detail?

Also what exactly does "paying attention" mean?

Maybe it's one of these interpretations:

  • A tester is attentive as in a teacher saying "pay attention!"? As in be alert?
  • A tester is only observing detail?
  • A tester is observing detail exists and then noticing they are problems?
  • A tester is noticing detail without a conscious attempt to observe in a methodical manner?

Going deeper, why 'pay attention to detail' in the first place?  Is it because you've been told to, or because the tester genuinely wants to? Your motivation and purpose play important roles in bug finding. For example what's your 'attention to detail' on being told to complete 40 test scripts in one day, compared to your attention to detail if you get made handsomely for finding a bug or winning a prestigious competition?

Yes, paying attention to detail is important, but so is understanding what you are doing when 'paying attention to detail'.

In my book, there's not enough meat on that answer to figure out if someone's a good fit for my team. I want more. I want my testers to suck the marrow out of that question, to boil it until the flesh falls away from the bone.

Professional testers¹ consciously observes systems using a multiple of models. Their maxim is "the more you see, the more you see". And that's only the beginning. Following observation comes evaluation. Now testers get to interrogate information by asking (either explicitly or implicitly) is there a problem? Not content with relying on one oracle they may consciously use many different oracles in their evaluation process.

They then report this information in a way that's meaningful to the people who want to hear it.

So if you are a  tester coming for an interview on my team and I ask you this question, please have fun with it. Show me your testing process, demonstrate it with diagrams and models and show me a bit of your testing flair. All testers pay attention to detail to some degree. What in particular do you pay attention to?

¹ by professional tester I mean someone who makes an attempt to understand and then improve their personal testing process. They tend to develop a unique approach and style to their testing through years doing, thinking, talking & writing about testing.

This post is a result of a tweet I made which many testers. An interesting aside, my poor spelling was explained away by many as a purposeful trap designed to snare the unwary tester. It wasn't, though I'm flattered that you would think that of me.