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.

Software Testing at University – Is it an Option?

When I left university 10 years ago, I had no clue I would end up in QA/Testing. I didn’t even realise it was an option! Looking back on my degree course (and I really enjoyed my degree), it was very Programming heavy (C#, C++, Java and Prolog all taught) and testing was only taught as part of the Software Engineering module where maybe a week or two of lectures were given and there was a group project where one person was responsible for ‘testing’.

So, ten years on, have things changed? I’ve looked through the course content for the top UK universities for Computer Science to see how much content on Testing is available. Here are my findings:

  • The first University to have a module on ‘Software Testing’ was Swansea (ranked 11th)
  • Newcastle (ranked 14th) has a ‘Software Engineering Professional’ module in year 1 which covers ‘testing and debugging tools’ and a ‘Software Engineering’ module which covers the testing fundamentals
  • Surrey (ranked 8th) had a ‘Software Quality’ module in it’s ‘Software Development for Business’ degree
  • St Andrews, Oxford & Cambridge have modules on Model Checking which is not strictly testing but instead a pre-execution activity.
  • 6-7 of the top 10 have Software Engineering modules where Testing was a line item in the module description

So in a short answer, not a great deal of universities cover testing in any great detail. Swansea and Newcastle cover more than most.

I imagine a lot of students are leaving the top universities thinking Programming or Software Development are the main options for careers. How can it be changed? The software industry has evolved over the past few years to realise the important role testing plays in the software lifecycle. Can universities be made aware of this too?

I’m potentially going back to my university to give a careers talk in the near future and really want to paint this picture of the importance of testing. If students could see and feel the atmosphere at conferences such as Testbash or at Tester Gatherings up at down the country and feel the passion that so many testers feel for the job they do, it would open their eyes and make them realise the potential of other careers available to them.

Testing should be seen as an equal to development or at least a close second but a lot of these degrees are portraying it as a much smaller element of the SDLC.

I think maybe the issue with most/all Computer Science degree courses is that they are very Programming heavy, maybe they could teach slightly less of that and cover a lot more topics not just Testing.

If anyone has any suggestions for stuff I could share with Students about testing, if and when I get to give a careers talk, please comment here or tweet me @siprior.