Software Testing Interviews in India - Importance of definitions for a Tester!

Last Sunday I was having a conversation with Ajit, a tester friend who works for a reputed Software MNC. He has been in testing field for more than 4 years now with experience in some cool domains. He is in his current organization since 2 years and now, much to his discomfort his company has started sacking employees citing the goddamn recession as an excuse. So obviously Ajit feels a sense of job insecurity despite his good performance in the organization all these years. People with such experience will tell you, it is never easy to concentrate on your job when you are insecure about it and always in fear of a pink slip landing on your desk bringing the news of misfortune. And it would not be long before you would find yourself searching for a new job (even though that would not mean any better sense of job security). May be, it is human nature to change nest when they feel a storm might be on it’s way. Obviously, it is no secret that Ajit has also started job hunting and has started appearing job interviews. If you have started to wonder if this post is going to talk about the current recession and it’s impact on people in IT industry, then I am sorry for disappointing you. I am no economics expert, and hence I don’t think I can take a look into the global slow down and suggest any solution.

The idea of this post came from a question that Ajit raised during our conversation. He has been attending some interviews recently and has spotted an interesting tendency among the interviewers, i.e. “they tend to ask lot of can-you-define-xyz-testing kind of questions”! Ajit was curious why they are so much interested in the definition of some testing buzzword, whereas they should be more interested in judging the level of competence of the tester being interviewed, by asking her some practical questions.

I can understand how stupid it can be to ask such “define this testing terminology” kind of questions. The stupidity would be more obvious if we take a look at the following reasons:

1. No testing terminology can be defined in a single unanimous way. Any particular term may mean differently to 2 different testers, testing organizations, schools of testing, testing gurus depending upon their own understanding of that particular testing terminology. Then how can the interviewer ask the candidate to define something and expects that their definitions match?

2. A single underlying testing principle might be called differently (different testing terminologies) by a different group of testers depending on their organizational practice, education, school of thought etc. Then how can the interviewer ask the candidate to define something and expects that their definitions match?

3. Lets say, I have memorized the definition of a testing buzzword and I am lucky! My definition (luckily/coincidentally/by chance) matches with the definition that my interviewer had memorized from his testing institute days. So suddenly, I look more competent as compared to other candidates whose definitions had not (due to bad luck) matched with the interviewer. But what does this prove? Does this prove that I have applied this understanding in practice? Does this prove that I can apply my understanding of that buzzword in real life testing? Does this prove that I am a better software tester than the earlier candidates who could not define it in a way that maps to the understanding of the interviewer? If not, then I wonder what makes the interviewer think that asking such definitions is a good way to judge how skilled the candidate being interviewed is!

I am not saying that knowing the basic fundamentals (read as theoretical testing) is a waste of time. I agree, learning the fundaments of testing is equally important to start a career in testing. But wait, doesn’t that hold good for any other professions too? Isn’t having theoretical knowledge necessary for any other profession? Then why is the fuss? The problem seems to arise when people on the interviewer's chair start imagining that whatever they know is the ultimate truth about testing and all the rest (read as candidates) must also know it. This problem becomes even worse when the interviewers start to think that testing is just all about textbook definitions and fundamentals (types of testing, levels of testing, testing life cycle, verification vs. validation, smoke vs. sanity testing, test automation, testing certifications, and so on).

Stories like Ajit’s often make me wonder if software-testing definitions are so important for becoming a skilled tester that they must be asked in interviews! Is it an absolute necessity to know how something is called (definition) to be able to actually do it? I think the answer lies with the Mother Nature. An average human child starts to smile, cry, sleep, play, crawl, stand and even walk much before it actually learns to SPEAK (define?)! If a child can do so many things even before knowing how they are called and described (defined), then why should it be so mandatory for a tester to define something in order to apply it in practical testing? I have come across many exceptionally good testers who are great at testing even though they often don’t realize that there must be a term to describe what/how they perform testing. At the same time I have come across many testers who are like the bookworms of a testing bible (they know every nook and corner of the textbooks and know each and every word in it), but when it comes to apply that knowledge into testing, they often fail miserably.

Then why do we give so much importance to testing definitions in interviews? Is it wise to ask these questions just because we were asked the same in our interviews? Is it a good way to judge whether a candidate for testing is skillful by asking some testing definitions [as if there is no better way to judge a tester’s competency]! Let me hear what you think.

Happy Testing…
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About Debasis Pradhan

Debasis has over a decade worth of exclusive experience in the field of Software Quality Assurance, Software Development and Testing. He writes here to share some of his interesting experiences with fellow testers.


  1. Hi Bhai,
    Your post was so nice. Let's hope, the interviewers will also have a look at it.

  2. Hey Deb.
    Yeah, Words, Words, Words.
    There is no strict definition of any testing method, every described by a single word, has part of other one. I personally have difficulties in ansvering, while asked what methods I use. Could I say "all of them"? What my interviewer would say?
    Probably: Thank You, We call you later. Good bye.
    So we must learn those words, remember them, and their meaning, and say them to our employers...

    Today is first Year passing since my start in testing. The funniest thing about it, is, that it was Your blog which was my first-tester's one, added to my google bookmarks :)
    I had read and learnt a lot, since that time.
    Thanks for inspiring me, and wish You and Your readers good luck.

  3. @ Subhasis, Bipin

    Glad that you liked the post. I would have appreciated more if you could have shared your insight on the topic at hand. At any rate, thanks for dropping by and commenting. Happy Testing...

  4. @ Chris,

    You said: "What would my interviewer say? Probably: Thank You, We will call you later. Good bye. So we must learn those words, remember them, and their meaning, and say them to our employers..."

    I am NOT going to agree or disagree with you on this point. But let me ask you a question:

    "Would you want to work with someone who expects you to remember and tell things just because that would please him/her?"

    If I were you, my answer would have been a big NO! Once we start trying to make others happy, we would no longer be testers. I understand that it is kind of ironical that we, as testers, face many such situations where we end up with people who are not so happy with us/our work. But lets face it. It is our job to find any project-critical information and report them to the stakeholders. And it is no surprise that people might take things personally when we find defects in their work. My point is: if we don't mind about annoying someone while doing testing, then why should we mind while we are at an interview?

    As many Testing Gurus say, the fate of testing lies in the hands of people who have the courage to question the conventional practices and think on their own! So may be, it is time to start questioning the year old conventions and ask, "Can it help me in becoming a better tester?" Personally, I don't have anything against the definitions. In fact, I always suggest newbies in testing to first become strong in the basics before diving deeper.

    - But I don't like it when people start expecting others to memorize and vomit things as if that was the only sure-fire way to be better at testing!

    - I don't like it when people get narrow-minded and stop accepting others who might also be correct at their own context!

    - I don't like it when people do such things just because their predecessors also did the same without questioning their validity!

    Today is first Year passing since my start in testing. The funniest thing about it, is, that it was Your blog which was my first-tester's one, added to my Google bookmarks :)

    Let me congratulate you for completing 1 year in testing and let me congratulate myself for being the first tester to have been bookmarked by you. :) I wish you all success in testing. I will try to keep inspiring you and I would hope for the same from you too. :) Happy Testing...

  5. Thanks for response.
    Good point. I am also not against definitions.

    There are in fact people whom know definitions well (theory) but don't know real life/testing and about those I was writing.

    I told, I am not good writer, but I have the talent to create a discussion by saying/writing just few words :)

  6. @ Chris,

    Looks like we were trying to talk about the same group of people and somehow ended up all jumbled up! :)

    Who says that you are not good at writing! Trust my words, a good writer is not the one who is good at using words and create a maze of great looking sentences. I would say a good writer is one who can make others think by his writing. And I believe you are one such writer. :)

  7. There was a joke on "wordology" about a guy being ambushed by a robber. He said "I know kung-fu, kara-te..." the robber ran away, "... and other strange words" - the guy continued.

    It is near the same thing about difference in knowing description of testing methods and really knowing and using them. Some people know descriptions, but don't know practice.

    When I was preparing to my certification exam, I recognized that I use many of testing methods, without knowing their names.
    So if any interviewer would ask me: "describe me how would You run test using BlahBlah method", I would not know what to say, even if I've used it.

  8. @ Chris,

    But did knowing those terms suddenly make you a better tester? :) I understand how it can help you at certain contexts of job interviews.

    - But what if you weren't lucky?

    - What if the person taking your interview had done a certification from a different certification providing body?

    - What if he was made to remember and define that particular term differently?

    - What if his way of understanding that particular term did not match with yours?

    - What if...

    What I have learned in these years of testing tells me that it is our testing skills, way of thinking, ability to think out-of-the-box, ability to imagine/visualize complex yet probable worst-case scenarios, ability to spot errors, communication skills etc that helps us to be a good tester not those Certifications or Definitions! :)

  9. I've had some experience in interviewing testers as well and also used some of this "what does this... mean?", "define that ..." questions.
    Firstly to check person's awareness in the testing subject in general. In the end if the guy has no idea what is a test case, then he's obviously not the best candidate.
    Secondly, to hear his own opinion (or somebody's opinion he likes the best) about this or that testing approach (I do agree that there is no universal definitions in testing).

    Of course the interview didn't consist of these questions only, but still, they were always present in my interviews.

  10. @ Chrishoneybee,

    Thanks for dropping your comment and sharing your views. I see no reason why I should have any problem as long as the person taking the interview use such questions just to judge the awareness of the candidate in testing in general [just as I mentioned in the above blog post]. As long as he/she realizes that there is no universal definition in testing, I have absolutely no objections. And as long as they have better questions to ask (to judge the candidate's testing skills) I am not complaining.

  11. Hi Debasis,
    Congratulations on writing such an interesting and realistic post... However, there are certain cases which might be an exception : Interviewing freshers...

    When I was a fresher, my idea of testing was very much theoretical and process based... and after 1 and a half years I know that the books I read were full of terminologies and conventional practices, and far away from Context driven testing ideas...
    I was prepared for answering terminologies and things I had read when I had appeared for interviews. I couldnt have handled other questions like "What if this is the situation..." with that much confidence, as such things can be learnt only with experience which I had lacked being a fresher...

    So, personally, would it be justified if such questions are posed more to freshers and less to experienced candidates...?

  12. @ Indira,

    I understand your feelings. But lets not forget that everyone of us (including myself) was a fresher one day. If you would look closely at my post, you might notice that I am not opposing to the idea of having strong theoretical knowledge in testing. I am just opposing the "over importance" that is often given to such terminologies during a testing interview! And how this might not be such a good idea to judge the competence of a tester. Knowing the basics is just the beginning!

    You mentioned an interesting point how a fresher in testing might lack testing experience! This is one idea that I tend to disagree. Often people believe that to gain experience they must work in an organization. But from my own little experience let me assure you that even a fresher can gain (hours of) experience if she is really passionate about it. There are many ways to gain experience even if you are not on a payroll of an organization. You might want to take a look at this post for some of such ideas.

    At any rate if at all the fresher, who is being interviewed, does not possess any real time testing experience, that should not mean that she should not be able to *think* and generate some powerful *test ideas* IMHO. I believe, a good tester should also be a good thinker. And to be a good thinker, we don't require any testing experience! :)

  13. I think this post points at a larger issue with job/contract interviews in general: buzzwords and "inside baseball" terminology. Anyone wanting to demonstrate a facility or expertise on a subject where they have real knowledge should both be able to communicate in simple language, and should not be discounted if they DON'T use buzzwords or insider-only language. Just as the person conducting the interview should have expertise in the area they're hiring for - don't laugh, there have been a number of times I've observed an interview conducted by someone who had very little expertise in the area they were judging another's expertise level.

    Bottom line? Ask and answer authentically, with a minimum of jargon or secret handshakes. You'll get better answers - and a better feel for the person you're talking to and their actual skill level.

  14. Hello Debasis,

    This is quite a passionate post! It is also quite judgmental against asking a job candidate how he or she might define a particular term in testing jargon. I agree that if the interviewer is simply looking for how well the candidate can recite textbook definitions it is not a very helpful question. On the other hand, it can be a way to get the candidate talking and revealing their understanding of the concept and how they approach it in practice.

    Here are some ideas for how candidates can handle this kind of question:
    "Well, I know there are several definitions for that term, but in my last position this is how we applied that concept..."
    "If asked to apply that concept to my test approach, this is what I would assume and what I would do... or this is what I would ask in order to be clear on my assignment."
    "That term actually has a range of meaning - some take it to mean xyz while others take it to mean x'y'z'. In any case, it would be important to ask the test lead for clarification just to make sure all expectations are understood."
    Or (being honest if you really have no clue about the term):
    "To be completely honest with you, I am not familiar with that particular term. Is there another term that is similar?"
    "Forgive me, but I am not familiar with that particular term. But if you tell me your definition I can tell you how we referred to that concept in my former position and I can describe how I applied it."

    IMHO each of these answers can reveal that you know what you are talking about and they invite the interviewer to go deeper with you. If indeed you are being interviewed by someone who is not a tester (in other words, he is tasked by his boss to conduct interviews and has been given a rote list of questions to ask) then your answers should impress him - especially if you answer with a sense of confidence in your abilities.

  15. Hey, I thought I would express another opinion on this subject.

    You know what to test, you know how to test, but when you go to a job interview, you need to get yourself prepared. Have you ever thought that your future employee, who is interviewing you, may have learned some terminology and have no clue about testing at all? They`d just ask you some basics.

    Don't HR people also piss you off with a question like "What makes you think you are better than the other candidates?"? Well, it`s their job.

    Your job is, when going to an interview, to get prepared for all sort of questions. Deal with it.

  16. Hai Debasis..
    I think i too had a similar experience like Ajit last week..I am in manual testing for last 2 years..In the interview they asked what is this...that ..define?,and they said will call after two weeks..I was very satisfied i thought why these guys asking what is this that and all.....A simple definition from one's point of view won't define any testing...form my opinion..
    Anyway one should have sme questions from there to analyse the depth of knowledge

  17. the interviewer must have asked definitions to check his understanding....and not to match his own definition...surprised to see u telling this..ofcourse definitions are important for better level of understanding...

  18. As a fresher i had attended 5 interviews. Three of them had more than one level. Like first round GD or written test,second round theory & third round practical etc. I think this is not resticted to software testing.A fresher in every field has to face this.This interview pattern is something which has been followed for years.Companies are just following the same for testing also!!

  19. Hi,
    Nice one!! This is so real about the interviews. Even I agree with your view that person's intellectual level should be tested in interview rather than just definitions which are mugged up. I prefer checking out the logical skills more for testing purpose.


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