Testing the Limits with James Whittaker (part one)

Once a month, we’re going to “test the limits”, interviewing a leading thinker in the world of testing and quality.  It james_whittakercould be a journalist, an industry analyst or an exec from a top software company.  To kick this program off, we could think of no better person than our good friend, Dr. James Whittaker.  So we recently interviewed James by bouncing emails back & forth over the course of a few days.

Several of these questions came directly from our community of testers.  The whole exchange is fairly lengthy, so we’re splitting it into two posts.  Come back and check out the 2nd half later this week.

uTest:  So the news is out about your move to Google. What prompted you to make this move?

JW:  I didn’t so much leave Microsoft and I did join Google. I was attracted by all the Googlers I met at conferences and what I read on their blogs about the way they test. When they offered me the opportunity to be a part of it, one might even argue an important part of it, I found it impossible to decline.

uTest:  Is there something about Microsoft you’ll miss the most?

JW:  Yes, the breadth of both products and expertise. You literally have every type of software imaginable and a chance to collaborate with the people who make that software. From an intellectual standpoint, Microsoft is mind-blowing.

uTest:  What specific work at Microsoft did you enjoy the most?


JW:  Mentoring – making other people better. I love working with smart people and finding their passions. When you take a smart person and help them find and focus their passions, you have a powerful mix. Smart people who aren’t passionate creates a bad vibe. I think I was pretty good at helping people find that combination and enabling them to become the company’s top performers.

uTest:  That’s interesting. What is your approach to mentoring? Can you give us an example?

JW:  To attract passionate people, you have to be a passionate person. I don’t go out of my way to select mentees, we just discover each other. When I was at Florida Tech I supported a lot of students. Some came looking for the wages or to improve their chances of landing a job at Microsoft or Google, but the ones who were drawn by their intellectual curiosity where the ones that saw the most success. It’s been the same at Microsoft. I mentored folks who came and went and others that really got it and became stars.

uTest:  Can you tell us a little about the interview process at your former and current employers? They are both famously difficult and, now that you’ve experienced them both, do you have any tips for our readers?

JW:  During my Noogler orientation I saw stats on the accept rate of Google applicants — it’s astoundingly low. And although I never saw such stats about Microsoft, I have to imagine its low too. But the interviews themselves were fairly similar.

A lot of hard technical questions, both from a coding and testing perspective and also problem solving. Google kept me in a single room and brought the interviews to me. Microsoft shuffled me around from office to office. I think I prefer Microsoft’s approach from that standpoint, but the actual interviews were fairly similar. I think Google took a page from Microsoft’s playbook on that one.

Anyone out there who plans to apply at either place should be ready for problems that test your knowledge and your creativity. Good luck!

uTest:  With this new role, will you still be able to write, teach and evangelize testing?

JW:  I wouldn’t accept a job where I didn’t have to teach! Googlers will have every reason to get sick of me and I am still doing my STAR tutorial and occasional keynotes.

uTest:  So where can everyone find the soothing, savvy writings of Doc JW?

JW:  On the Google Testing Blog, of course! http://googletesting.blogspot.com/

Stay tuned for  part two of this interview with James when we’ll cover his new book, the future of software testing and a few other topics about his new gig.

Essential Guide to Mobile App Testing

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