1 - Which factors could prevent me from salvaging the situation? How to spot those factors in the interview or in the first few days on the job (and quit without wasting too much time)?
Asking about the state of testing, where things are at, and what they think success looks like in 6 months, a year, etc can give lots of clues as to whether they’re trying to fix things, open to change, etc.
2 - Given the challenges, should one ask for much more than market rate wages?
I don’t think a lack of test cases is a particularly unique situation, and it wouldn’t impact my salary negotiations.
3 - Are these companies generally startups? Are/were they run by grossly incompetent people? This one is probably hard to answer.
Usually it’s just a matter of organic growth and churn, and not emphasizing test from the beginning. Like I said, a lack fo test casts, not having any formal QA, etc, is not unusual at all. I tend to actually like these kind of environments, where the job is more about building out a culture of test. There’s a lot of opportunities here and so many different ways to approach things. The companies with mature practices, where the bulk of your day might be writing automation, is boring to me.
I wonder if one should also make testing practices a criterion in acquiring a company. Maybe it could show you the challenges and also serve as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
Sure, if you’re a C-level/director/etc, an owner, etc, you should do your due diligence when you’re acquiring a new code base and/or dev team and try and figure out what the lift is going to be to incorporate them, but it’s hard to do. As an individual contributor, I don’t have much impact at that level.