At last nights GR Testers Meetup we discussed Tester Skills. We asked people to list what they thought and one that came up was "attention to detail" and that is something I've seen many times on tester job adverts

Is it a skill though or a trait ? Is it something you can practice and get better at - if so how ?

What exactly does 'attention to detail' mean ?

Does it mean that you pick up on a missed full stop ( period ) in an error message ? Or that the right hand side of a text box frame is 3pixels and the left hand side is 2 pixels ? Is that really a skill - couldn't all that stuff be picked up by a test charter that says "check all user messages for grammar and all text boxes for size consistency ?"

Is attention to detail something you look for in a tester ? If so why - and how do you test that a tester has it ?

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I think that when people say someone has "attention to detail" they actually mean "they don't miss small, difficult to spot things" where those things are often not thought of by themselves, small details that could be overlooked, things mentally obfuscated by attention blindness and so on. It's a good question, because the meaning of it is vague in the context of software. Detail could mean GUI detail (minute specifics of text boxes etc) or perhaps conceptually small things like a single cell of a record in a database table, or could refer to the concept of "detail" as a collection of parts that make the whole (so maybe they're good at remembering to check all the relevant parts when doing focused testing of a function and they rarely miss something)

Couldn't all that stuff be picked up by a test charter that says "check all user messages for grammar and all text boxes for size consistency ?"

Yes, but you can't have a test charter for everything. At some point if the testing has any exploratory element then a tester will need to think about what they're investigating on their own which may mean missing a detail.

Now that I'm forced to think about it I have no idea what "attention to detail" really means for a tester. I'll enjoy seeing what meanings people come up with here!

Pretty much how the discussion went last night  - does it mean observational skills or more than that ? So often it is trotted out as a tester trait but what does it really mean ? thanks for your input and hope we get more

I think this is more of a learned trait. When my kids started bringing homework from school and blowing through it in 5 minutes, I got an idea.

First, I asked them "Is this correct?". The inevitable answer: "Absolutely".

Next, I would glance at it and say: "There are three mistakes here." (Using Jerry Weinberg's Rule of Three.) The inevitable answer: "What are they?"

"It's not up to me to check your work. Find them."

After they would inevitably find three mistakes (ones I didn't see), I would then ask: "Is this correct?". The more hesitant answer: "I think so ..."

"What are you willing to bet?" (Another tip I learned from Jerry Weinberg.) "Washing dishes? A week's allowance?" The inevitable response: "Maybe I should check it again."

It only took about two weeks of this before they would not only call my bluff, but also double down on the bet. At that point I would say, "No, I trust you."

Can you teach this to all testers? Probably not. But I understand employers that want to find people that understand the importance of the concept when hiring. Can you test for it during an interview? It is probably something that comes with a reputation, rather than something that can be measured.

There's also the inevitable resume and cover letter that a hiring manager (or team lead, like myself) has to review. Usually a goldmine of information as far as if they pay attention to detail :P

So is a spelling mistake or a bad format an automatic rejection ?

absolutely not, but something to note

Phil, I’ve seen it may times as well and never liked it. I’m fine with curious trait and critical thinking skill – meaning a tester who will never be fooled by a test that pass or seems to pass. But I’ve seen I don’t want to hire testers that would check on each and every detail available before making any conclusions and – most importantly – before moving on to the next test, next feature, next question he is to ask to the software under test.

Or let’s say that: I prefer tester who know how to decide which details are important to pay attention to. And for me, description “attention to details” does not reflect what I’m looking for in a tester.

I prefer tester who know how to decide which details are important to pay attention to.

This. I think you're kidding yourself if you honestly think you can "pay attention" to all of the details, all of the time.
And if you're trying to, you may well be missing the gorilla tap-dancing through the room.

I find this discussion really interesting from the point of view of a relatively new tester who recently applied to several jobs and succeeded. A lot of job applications asked for "attention to detail".

I sometimes thought what employers wanted to ask for is an ability  to stay focused when performing repetitive tasks. When you perform the 100th regression test against the 5th browser (all manually of course) it is important to still be alert and focused to notice the little things. But writing something like that makes their job seem repetitive and potentially boring, no?

I think you can learn or become more intuitive with experience to appear to have "attention to detail" skills but this is, like was already said, probably more a reputation.

Kim - Exactly. In their inarticulate way, the employers may be asking if you have enough organizational skills to handle the myriad of demands that may come your way. Of course, all of this is speculation, but interesting none the less. If we were able to actually look into the mind of the person writing the job notice, we may want to slam the door and run. :)

Hey Kim - your reply really resonated with me.  You wrote: "I sometimes thought what employers wanted to ask for is an ability  to stay focused when performing repetitive tasks."

This is, I believe, what some non-testing colleagues think I am doing when they recommend me, and put in the recommendation letter that I have "attention to detail."

What they really mean, however, is more likely "Matt finds all kinds of crazy weird corner-cases I would never have thought of and I don't know how.  Gee.  It must be his attention to detail."

Among friends, what I suspect is really going on is NOT a repetitive testing of everything-the-might fail combined with a checking of everything-that-might-fail, but a more complex, risk-based process, much more like Soap Opera testing -

Now, to figure out how to explain that to non-testers ... there's the rub ... :-)

When I think about 'attention to detail' the term 'perfection' comes to mind.

Perhaps we as testers are trying to achieve perfection, but at the same time no product is perfect and perhaps what is often lacking is the fine balance between achieving perfection and business needs.

Should we be spending our time trying to achieve perfection - or perhaps focus on good enough so energy can be spent elsewhere (in testing or otherwise)?



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