The “No Desk” Experiment – Working Closer With My Team

Ever since becoming a manager, my motto has always been “People before Projects”, meaning that ultimately, if I provided my team everything they need, then the project work would take care of itself.

Working for a big corporation which has a lot of moving parts, meant that for a while, I was consistently in 6 hours plus of meetings per day, each one believed to be the most important by it’s respective organiser. It got to the point where the only time I would read emails would be in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, and as for having time to spend with my team, well apart from my scheduled 1-1s, there was very little. Sure I would stop by their desks and try and check they were ok in between my meetings, but I felt I was failing them as a team. So i decided to try and change my days in the office.

Firstly, I made the assessment on the meetings I HAD to attend, compared to the ones I wasn’t compulsory for and could either decline or pass on to one of my team to attend instead. This in itself, cut my meetings down to an average of 4 hrs per day which can still be a bit overwhelming some days, but is certainly more manageable.

The next step was, how do I give more to my team, at least now in the period where I have two junior new starters? Firstly I changed my 1-1 structure, I left my laptop at my desk, took a notepad and pen and asked them how they were, how I could help them and tried to show support for what they needed. The problem with taking a laptop was that if emails fly in during the meetings, it was easy to get distracted.

Secondly, I came up with a drastic solution, which I trialed for a week. Whenever not in meetings, I decided I would literally hot-desk around the Development and QA team members, meaning I would spend time sat with the team, understand the projects in more detail and offer assistance in any way I could.

This meant I could start doing what I’d been trying to get around to before bureaucracy got in the way and that was coach my team members and use snippets of the years of knowledge I had to share. If one of my team was putting together a Test Plan or Test Scenarios, I was able to review them while sat with them, rather than them sending it to me via email and my thoughts being sent back maybe a couple of days later.

I was able to respond straight away to any concerns, we could go for coffee and discuss the issue as soon as they came to me, rather than me telling them I’d get back to them when I was free.

I felt more aware of the day to day project work and the technical difficulties the team may be experiencing, I was hearing it all first hand, rather than through chinese whispers by the time it reached me.

I was worried the team would respond negatively to me being around, maybe see me as “checking up” on them or trying to micro-manage, but the response I got from the team was hugely positive. Mainly because I was more plugged into the day-to-day work, they were able to start conversations on that level, rather than bringing me up to speed first before getting to the point.

I took them all out for lunch that week too and it all just added to the point I was trying to make with the whole week, I value them all and I want to ensure I give them all the tools and time they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

While the obvious solution is to try and engineer a desk in the middle of the team, that isn’t immediately possible, but what is possible is to find every moment I can to be available for them. That still means I have work to do and emails to read, but it’s about being organised enough to allow the time while you are all in the office together, to be as around as they need from me. The team will grow and develop and in the same way children become more independent from their parents,  the team will grow and become self sufficient, then the job of coaching them will take a back seat and the focus for me can then switch. But while they need me, I will continue trying to make myself free for any time they want from me.

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Are Some of Us Doing it Wrong?

I love the Testing Community, there are so many opportunities to share knowledge, talk to others, attend events and learn. Of course, there are always different perspectives, different opinions and different ideas and this is part of what makes the community so great!

I had heard the term “Imposter Syndrome” banded about for the last few years and never really felt it myself, but recently, I have not only experienced it myself, it actually brought a sense of “Am I doing it wrong?” and having had some conversations on social media and recently at UKStar, I started to realise I wasn’t alone. To the point that people were deciding to not attend events because they didn’t feel good enough.

This was also inspired by a thread on twitter by @AllCapsTester:

Let me give a bit more context, recently there have been some phrases thrown around:

  • “Test cases are dead!”
  • “There is no need for dedicated Testers anymore”
  • “Everyone is doing Agile/DevOps”
  • “Testers need to code”

Now I’m not saying any of these phrases are wrong, but they are communicated like they are the norm. Of course, there are a huge amount of innovative people in the community that have inspiring ideas and have brought them to fruition, but for as many that are following innovative methods, there are probably just as many who still following waterfall with a team of dedicated QA who write hundreds of manual test cases. Does that make them bad Testers? No. Are they doing something wrong? Of course not. Does that mean we should avoid working for those companies? Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for improvement and I’m sure the above mentioned are improving what they do to ensure there Testing is as effective as it can be. All should be able to appreciate what they do and not feel like they aren’t good enough.

I have also found Social Media is not always the place to have discussions about the above points as it can be quite intimidating. Semantics can be argued over and increasingly can make people feel like they aren’t good enough.

So it’s really a simple plea, when talking about an innovative solution to move the industry forward, please don’t talk about it like everyone is already doing it. Let’s embrace the abilities of everyone in our industry. We are only moving forward as fast as our slowest member, let’s help get everyone to to be the best they can be and feel like they are doing a good job, even if they aren’t up with the latest ideas.

UKStar 2018 – Fuelling the Passion

My first conference since TestBash in 2015 and I had genuinely forgotten the buzz that these events provide. There was a real sense of community, I made some new contacts, caught up with people I had met before and generally networked with everyone who would talk to me.

On top of that, I would also be giving my first talk on the 2nd day, something which typically, I had spent the week or so before stressing about it, but I really shouldn’t have worried.

There were some great talks which I really felt I learnt a lot from and others which have inspired me to do more of this!

Here are some of the talks which really stood out for me:

Christina Ohanian – Growing a Testing community of practice and navigating ‘traditional’ mindsets”

Christina’s keynote really set the tone for the two days. She talked about her journey to where she is now which included some of the hurdles which resonate with me. Hurdles such as the perception that testers are responsible for quality, testers are just there to find bugs and that everything needs to be automated. She gave hope that these hurdles can be overcome and also that working on the concept of a Community of Practice can really help convince some of the ‘old-fashioned’ mindsets which may be blocking progress. I’m hoping to start an internal Community of Practice for Testing and will be using ideas from Christina’s talk to help me get there.

Ali Hill – Learning to Become a More Technical Tester

Ali presented his first conference talk and went through the path that has brought him to his current role at Craneware. It was impressive to see the effort he has gone through to ensure he had the right skills to do his role, especially given he came from a background of a non-technical degree. Ali shared the steps he had taken to become more technical, including getting involved in the Automation Strategies, learning to code enough to help with the API testing, working on Performance testing and having monitoring in the production environment. The key points he made was really about finding allies and pacing yourself, these are key messages which anyone should consider when learning a new skill.

Isabel Evans – Leadership, Fellowship and Followship

Isabel’s keynote at the start of the second day set the positive tone for the day, it touched on some topics around how we could be made to feel in our teams as a tester and used examples of different animals to explain team dynamics. She also talked about the different types of followers and leaders, which I intend to use with my team to find out how we all fit together.

Isabel had a great way of explaining some of the tough issues and touched on mental health issues within work and it was very inspirational to hear her stories of how she has coped in difficult situations.

I also enjoyed talks from Richard Paterson where he talked about convincing people to share stories if they have something to share about Testing as too many people find every excuse not to. James Lyndsay’s hands on session was engaging while understanding the “Basic Pathologies of a simple system”. Marianne Duijst’s enthusiasm during her talk was just phenomenal and the concept of the 24hr Innovation event is something I would certainly love to try. I also loved the concept of the Conversation Track, I attended Yann and Viktor’s session on the Monday and thought the concept and the presentations were great. I especially related to Viktor’s talk aboth the Testing Survival as alot of the issues he mentioned (lack of documentation, having to automate everything etc), were things that are regularly being lived by many teams all over the world.

Both workshops I attended were engaging and I felt like I learned something new – Christina Ohanian and Nicola Sedgwick’s on Day 1 and Isabel Evans’ on day two. Both these provided the opportunity to work in groups with others and get a chance to talk to new people.

Then there was my talk… Part of a conversation track with Joel Montvelisky, I had spent some time with Joel before the conference and also attending the London Tester Gathering on the Monday night to see him talk. Joel is a great presenter and really enthusiastic about Testing and particularly the concepts of Modern Testing.

I loved presenting my topic, and hope my enthusiasm for raising awareness came through. I believe the general reaction was positive and I certainly had a lot of comments and questions which suggested to me, it’s a topic which needs exploring further. The key sticking points which were suggested were that we maybe shouldn’t just be looking at University students as some delegates said, they never attended university and they have since had a successful career. The other point to make was that the skills suggested for #MakeATester were all soft skills and a University would find these difficult to teach. This is something which needs more exploration, but having completed the talk, I have a few more people willing to work with me to keep raising the awareness.

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The conference was a great experience and I really can’t thank the organisers enough for asking me to talk and giving me the chance to fuel my passion of continuous learning and growing my knowledge for my career.

A Change in Perspective – Moving from Tech Lead to Manager

I’ve been in Software Engineering since I left University as a graduate in 2006 and have performed many roles such as Software Developer, Scrum Master, Build Engineer and then in 2010, I moved into Software QA. At that point, I had several awesome mentors who I owe so much for fueling my love and passion for all things Testing/QA.

Fast-forward 6 years and I had moved teams and become the QA Tech Lead in my new team which are an Operations Engineering team. I finally got my head around the complexities of the systems we were responsible for as a team and was starting to move the teams focus to processes and ways in which i felt could move the team forward. So at this point, I felt I had got to grips with the production process.

In 2017, I started working towards becoming the manager of the local team and also taking on hiring a new team for a second project. That team were to be located in Ireland and I took on building that team from scratch. Hiring that team was my first real taste of management responsibilities. I had previously been involved in hiring from a “who would I work well with?” perspective, where as now, I was looking at the overall dynamics of the team, how they fit salary wise with the rest of the team and whether there was anything about them that might make them difficult to manage. This really opened my eyes to how things would change with my new role.

Over the next year or so, to now, there were several other parts of the role which opened my eyes to there being more differences than me just taking on line management duty of my team mates.

1. Trusting the team to be Technical

Once I got the Irish team set up, it became obvious that I couldn’t be the technical point of contact for two teams and had to start backing away from the deep down technical details and trust the teams to pick that up. It really became clear that I had to trust my team to pick up the details and I needed to enable to do them that.

 2. Time is for your People

I soon learnt that to enable the team, it required them to be my main focus. Therefore, giving them all time with me, through 1-1s and spending time sat with them at their desks, meant that I started working longer hours to give them the time they wanted/needed and then still performing the other duties i still needed to do. Over time, this has got easier to manage, but with two teams on completely different projects, it’s certainly been a challenge.

3. Difficult Conversations

One element of the role which I needed to adjust to, was having to have conversations which I wouldn’t have previously had to worry about. It really was about working out where the line is in situations and then being strong enough to talk to team members when that line is crossed. Then also being consistent to ensure that everyone is treated the same way.

4. Technical Advocate rather than Technical Leader

With having to trust the team to take on the technical leadership role, it became clear that although I still need to understand the technical detail to some degree, I would give the team the freedom to advise me on technical directions, then be their advocate when talking to others about the technology, ensuring the team know I have their back and support their decisions. While also still offering my opinion and helping to guide the team, the directions of the team would not be down to just me.

5. Someone Resigned! Was it Because of Me?

This was a tough lesson, and caused a lot of over analysing and over thinking. But ultimately, I had to try and not take it personally. Then, secondly, try to turn it into a positive as it would give me a chance to re-build the team in the way that I feel works.

6. No Favourtism

Before I became a manager, I felt I got on well with all the team I worked with, but becoming manager changed the dynamics. Some suddenly started being more formal with me and I couldn’t understand why as I hadn’t changed. There were some members who I found very easy to talk to, but I had to show that I valued all members of the team. That meant backing away from socialising with them regularly over lunch or out of work and only really doing so when all the team is present.

The Future

I love my role and I love the fact that I am learning and developing every day. I value the work my team are now able to do, with my guidance and seeing them become more self sufficient, means I am starting to be able to focus on more strategic work and still see my teams move forward, knowing I have their back, encouraging them to do the best they can.

 

 

 

It’s Been A While – A #MakeATester Update

In Summer 2016, i kicked off the #MakeATester project on social media, asking for the community and beyond to tell me what skills are needed for new testers to get started in a testing career. I published the results in early 2017 and since then, have been working hard to try and push the awareness of the project with it’s original aim, which was to get more awareness of Software Testing in Universities, enabling graduates to consider testing roles when they leave university.

So what has happened since then?

  1. I submitted a talk to several conferences (maybe i haven’t quite got the hang of the talk submissions for some conferences) and in March this year, i have a slot at UKStar 2018. As part of a “Conversation Track”, I get to share my message and urge others to consider reaching out to universities.   https://ukstar.eurostarsoftwaretesting.com/submission/if-the-universities-wont-help-us-how-do-we-makeatester/
  2. I have started reaching out to universities to give careers talks on testing. Some have been re-buffed with a “sorry, we don’t teach that!” message. I have two lined up in the next few months. One of which is a pure Software Testing careers talk, the other is more focussed on the CyberSecurity careers, but I am fully intending to have a few slides mentioning Testing 🙂
  3. I’d like to find other methods and media to get this message out further, so if anyone has any ideas, please get in touch, either through the blog, or through my twitter account (@siprior)

What would I like next?

I have two things I would like to start from here:

  1. It would be good if I could add a bit of meat behind my message to Universities and as part of reaching out to them and offering career talks, I’d like to also provide the universities with the types of topics they should be covering if they run a Testing module or two.
  2. I can’t do this alone, I would love for all of the testing community to feel empowered to reach out to Universities and other talent who may be unaware of testing careers and would be good fits for roles, and let them know of the rewarding options they have in front of them.

Getting new people into testing should not be as hard as I have found it when hiring for my team.

We have the resources available to get people interested in testing. Podcasts, blogs, online courses, videos, and an immense community always willing to help people with their testing questions.

Now it’s time to start building on what we have and start looking outwards from our community and drawing more in.

Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Maybe elsewhere, this isn’t an issue. Let me know your thoughts. 🙂

What Skills #MakeATester – The Results

Last August I kicked off a little social media project on the back of my shock at the lack of content on University syllabus’ for Software Testing or QA. With this, I asked the increasingly awesome Testing community to list the skills/attributes that are required to make a good tester.

Life then kind of took over and my second son was born in December, so it has taken longer to collate all the responses from Twitter, this site and also responses on Post-It notes from the #AylTest event which i kicked it off at. After spending time merging categories and ordering them, there were 28 skills defined and over 400 votes. I can’t say I’m hugely surprised by the outcome but it does make for interesting reading (at least in my view 🙂 ).

So I won’t bore you with the full list, but let’s look at the top 5 skills/attributes which were voted for:

5th  – Coaching & Facilitating – 9% of votes

Being a good tester also requires the ability to mentor more junior testers, coaching them through any struggles they may have. Also from experience, it is usually QA/Testers who end up stepping forward and acting as Scrum Masters or facilitating project meetings and discussions, just because they feel more comfortable doing so.

It might also be a possibility that they may have to work with the developer to teach them good practices around unit testing or just trying to ensure their code is testable.

4th  – Ability to Continuously Learn – 13%

After 10 years in Software Engineering (last 7 in QA/Testing), I can honestly say that in the last few years, I have genuinely felt like I have learnt a new concept/technique/tool atleast every week, maybe even more frequently. This is largely due to the mass of amazing information and discussions that occur through social media or the testers slack channel or discussion forums through the Ministry of Testing or other sites.

Also, with the rapid change of technology, it always helps to be one step ahead and understand tools and techniques which will help you tackle the next app/web site/system that needs testing.

2nd = – Problem Solving & Analytical Thinking – 14%

Every piece of software is a new problem to solve as far as ensuring you have tested it enough to mitigate any risks and validate it is of a shippable level of quality. This of course then requires a degree of Analytical Thinking to understand how to overcome the problem. There isn’t one particular way to do this and every tester may have a slightly different way to tackle the problem

2nd = – Good Communication Skills (Written, Verbal and Listening) – 14%

Needing to be able to articulate well is a must have skill for all testers. Whether it be a defect report, a test case, test charter or even just discussing concerns with a co-worker, it is crucial that any communication is clear and concise to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding on the back of what was said/stated. It is therefore also crucial that a tester is able to listen to any response and be able to communicate further if needed.

1st – Curiosity & Asking Questions – 20%

If a tester isn’t curious, then they won’t ask the right questions, if they don’t ask the right questions, they won’t be able to test the software effectively. These questions could be asking the developer why things are working in a certain way, or it could be asking questions of the software during exploratory or test case/scenario identification. Without this ability, i would fear for the quality of the products being shipped.

Asking questions is clearly the most important skill when it comes to testing, and it starts at the conception of a project. From day 0, the tester can start raising questions and queries which will get other members of the team to think differently and look into ideas which could lead to a higher quality deliverable.

So what’s missing?

There have been a lot of debates over the last couple of years over whether coding skills are needed for testers. My view is even if you can’t code, you should atleast have the ability to read code and understand what is going on to be able to have a fighting chance at testing effectively. But my data shows that only 5% of the votes were for this skill so it would suggest that it may not be as high on peoples list of desired skills as i first thought.

 

What Now?

The next step for me is to find a way to look at showing anyone interested in testing roles that it isn’t necessarily about the technical skills you need, but more about making the most of the soft skills you may already possess. Being able to work through problems, communicating clearly and asking the pertinent question would be a huge asset to to QA team, possibly more than one individual who could automate all the testing.

I would love to reach out to students who are studying  a Computer Science degree course and show them that Software Testing is an option for them and maybe eventually even push the universities to start including content in their courses.

What Skills #MakeATester? – A collaborative approach to help future Testers get a chance.

So as my last post showed, Universities aren’t really considering Software Testing as a core topic of Computer Science degree courses. Therefore, by the time graduates are looking for jobs, testing isn’t really on their radar. The same can be said for potential testers who haven’t got degrees. As shown in a recent “Let’s Talk about Tests, Baby” podcast and the following survey, a fair amount of people fall into testing roles, some have qualifications in other areas sometimes not even related to IT atall and end up in software testing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but surely there is a way in which people may want to be able to train themselves for that first Testing position, rather than only accidentally falling into the position? I know from my own experience, I learnt what QA did while still working as a developer and then transitioned across to become a QA Engineer when the opportunity arose. If I had known the areas to focus beforehand, maybe I would have been better prepared to decide the path to take at the beginning.

So, i don’t know whether this has been done before, but I intend to collate a list of ‘ideal skills’ to become a tester, these may be soft skills, more technical skills or any one particular ability which is useful in the role of testing. Using this amazing Testing community, we must be able to come up with a sizeable list of ideas. I will then cut down the list to the top 15-20 and hopefully use it to encourage students or other non-testing folk who may have the skills that Testing is a genuine option for them.

So how can we create this list?  Two options for you:

  1. Tweet #MakeATester to @siprior with your suggestions
  2. Fill in the form below

I can report back in a month or so on what my findings were