Thursday, January 13, 2022

Onboarding Struggles and Strategies

Onboarding to a new company and new team for the first time after six years was something that felt like a daring challenge to look forward to. I was both excited and anxious, and hence tried to be strategic about it. It was clear that I would never have all the facts upfront and would need to adapt as I go. Here's what I imagined, what actually happened, what I tried in the situation and how it worked out so far. Brace yourself, this might be a long-winded road - so let me start right away with the helpful parts.

What Helped

Before I go into what happened from a timeline point of view, here's what helped me during this onboarding phase, and what will still help me when I go further. The good thing: these points more often than not proved to complement each other. A word of warning before you dive in: these things helped me in my situation and my bubble - they might not be the right thing for you. This is only intended as an offer to draw inspiration from plus a note to my future self what helped me in the past.

  1. Rest and forget about overpreparing. Before starting a new job, prefer recharging your batteries to the fullest - you're going to need your energy for the onboarding phase. Take some time off between your previous and the new job if you can, it's invaluable. Don't bother about preparing too much - it's going to be different than you imagined anyway, and it's better to learn it directly in the context. You're going to have enough time for that as well (and if not, this might not be the place to stay). The only thing valuable to prepare is to take note of any question you might already have which also allows you to feel you're not going in completely blank and quickly get back to resting again - yet nothing more.
  2. Build relationships. Relationships are the foundation for everything. Better get started right away to build a base to get and give feedback on, add to trust, and create the ground for bolder moves and changes. In the end, it's always coming back to the people, so let's put them first where we can. Try to opt for direct face to face calls to get to know each other - if the other one is open for them. Maybe get to pair or ensemble from the start and work together - again, given that people are ready for this kind of collaboration. Each day you can build on these growing relationships a little more.
  3. Approach with curiosity. Ask a lot of questions, and then some more - we're here to learn. There are reasons why things are as they currently are, and they can be manifold. Try to stay open-minded and focus on learning. When you understand the context better, questions like "How might we...?" can work like magic to learn about current thoughts, ideas and suggestions.
  4. Build knowledge hands-on and contribute as soon as possible. You won't know everything yet and that's okay - yet any chance to get your feet wet is an opportunity to learn more: more about the product, the processes, the people, the pains - and also praiseworthy things. The domain, the tech stack, the unique challenges. At the same time, you can bring something of you into all of these right away and give back - have people experience the benefits of having you here now. As especially the contributing part can be tricky if you haven't had much experience before, you can see it like this: if not anything else, working on something concrete is a wonderful conversation starter to deepen your super fresh new relationships. I've found it's easier to get talking with people and people talking with you when it's on a topic they can grasp and a topic that's (hopefully) safe and easy to speak about when not knowing each other yet (work compared to private life).
  5. Take tiny steps and improve as you go. Instead of waiting for big change initiatives or designing your own with lots of detail, incorporate small changes in everyday work right from the start. Anything that works better than yesterday already helps - and more often than not, people coming from different contexts first need to experience the benefits before they understand why we should change our ways and improve. Actions trump words all the time. Also: if you see something is incorrect and you can fix it - try fixing it yourself and suggest the fix along with the conversation on the issue. This could be anything from correcting the team constellation on a wiki page to updating onboarding material to submitting a pull request to make a project's readme more accessible.
  6. Meet people where they are. Which people use which wording? Are developers falling back on technical terms, product people talking about narratives for users? If possible, speak their language when aligning or working on something together. Are people are not used to pairing and have no experience what it entails? Invite them to show them something you detected to hear their thoughts about it, ask people to walk you through, ask for support - get them to talk with you directly on what you're trying to move further. Show your screen, take them along with you. Are people are not ready to kick stories off together and align before starting? Brainstorm test ideas and share them with everyone upfront, including assumptions and mental models. Invite people to join in and see if they detect any mismatch or missing points. Have people never done something before that proved valuable in your experience, let's say testing an API before testing the fully integrated system? Use it as an opportunity to learn why things were done differently (remember, people do have their reasons), and to share your experience - it's an opportunity to learn from each other.
  7. Observe and take notes. Gather as much information as possible from all kinds of sides. What you observe yourself, from conversations with people, what you overhear in group calls, and more. Especially look for pain points, needs, concerns, fears, waiting times, wishes for the future, praise and appreciations. After a few weeks, you can start looking for patterns - do several people mention the same things? Do you spot different symptoms pointing to the same cause? Is there something systemic about it? All the collected observations are the source we can draw from to decide on our first and next initiatives to work on. What does need change now, what's most helpful next?
  8. Focus with impact in mind. When you gathered lots of observations, identified your first patterns and have thought of where you want to end up at - it's time to pick one or two things to change first. If possible, choose small topics where it's feasible to have valuable impact in short time. You might have lots of ideas for initiatives for the future, yet refrain from deciding too early on big ones on a limited information base. Instead, focus on the one or two small ones for now. They will still take time to shape and drive. Be clear about when they are good enough, when it's time to move to the next challenge to tackle.
  9. Experiment. It might not be time to initiate experiments on a team or larger level yet, but that doesn't mean we have to stop trying new things. Why not experiment with your own way of doing things? Set out each day to try one new thing and see if it helped or not at the end of the day. Very informal. Not everything will work out, yet lots of new insights can come out of that. Bonus: you grow your own experimentation and learning mindset that you can share with the team and company as you go further.
  10. Make your boundaries explicit. You will probably interact with many new people with many expectations that are unlikely to be aligned. Be clear about your own boundaries and make sure to share them - explicitly. You can only do so much when you're new and don't have the full context. Also, this will help once you do have the context - as you're still human and can (and should) only do so much in the time given. Final plus point: making them explicit for yourself helps keeping your own boundaries as well.
  11. Take breaks, be kind to yourself and enjoy the journey. You might struggle with this one like I do - yet it's utterly important to remind ourselves again and again. Any onboarding situation will be a lot. It goes better with breaks and not forgetting the fun over all this! Enjoy yourselves, this new journey is part of your life after all.

Looking back at this, I realize this grew into a long list already. Are you ready for the full story, including the struggles? Then read on.

Before Starting

I'm more the anxious type, always trying to reduce uncertainty where I can (a trait that's often challenging yet also that really helped me with public speaking). So in the months before starting the new job I fought with myself many times. I was utterly eager to find out all about the new place in advance so I could prepare for it (whatever that might have meant).
I've focused most of my interview questions on culture... Yet what's the tech stack, the frameworks used, tooling? Maybe refresh my knowledge on approach A, or gain insights on concept C, so I won't look like a dumb one when starting. Starting with a lofty title anyway, oh my there will be lots of expectations. It's nice to hear they think highly of me, they hired me anyway - yet can I really match that? Or what if our mindsets are too incompatible and my way is the wrong way for that company? Sure, I can also apply somewhere else, yet I've already put my mind into this. Alright, stop it - not helpful! Yet maybe I can prepare somehow? No, let it be. There had been so many kind people from the community around me assuring me I should not waste my free time before starting and I can learn everything on the job. Hm... guess I should take that advice.
In the end, I found a compromise for myself. A community friend figured out and told me what the main tech stack in my new team will be like, so at least I could stop wondering. In my first days between the job, I limited myself to very minor research about it, then decided to prepare for my next conference instead and afterwards not do anything work related - the next months will show a lot of that anyway, and this free time to rest and relax won't come back so soon.

So, where's the plan in all this? Well, I did come up with a list of questions and thoughts of all sorts for my first month, to serve me as a starting point. Questions around culture, thoughts around my first focus topics. Just a raw brainstorming, nothing polished. Any time my brain came up with a new question, I could park it there and continue doing whatever else I was doing.

One thing that also helped me before I started was that I've received lots of invites for onboarding sessions way before my start date, so I knew quite some time ahead how my first days will look like in that regard. Such a relief! I didn't have to ask lots of questions myself this way, which was much appreciated. All hardware also arrived within a week before my start date so I could fully set up my new work space before. I was feeling prepared.

The First Days

Honestly: I've never seen such a smooth company onboarding. And that remotely! On my very first day, the basic computer setup was clear, we had a great introduction session on people, culture and the company, and I had a first talk with my new manager, getting briefed on what's coming. I received a prepared onboarding guideline with lots of pointers what to do next: resources to read up, people to get to know, trainings to do. I also happened to get to know my fellow quality people from the company's guild - amazing to see so many known and new faces and receive such a warm welcome!
What I was very intentional about was to quickly get a "working system" running. How do I organize myself with the new tools provided? Can I find something that's similar enough compared to what worked for me before? My urge to stay ahead and on top of things is high, and it's easy for me to feel like drowning in case I feel I'm losing my overview, so I wanted to have as good start as I can with this and neither let things slip through or let myself feel overwhelmed. I tried to stay pragmatic with my first approach, decide quickly and move from there, learning and adapting as I went. This proved really valuable in hindsight. Just as my decision to try something new every day! Experiments for the win.

Second day, meeting my new team for the first time. Another warm welcome. Further onboarding sessions, first team sessions. First calls with me team onboarding buddy, my fellow quality engineer Leila Gregory (thank you for making me feel welcome from day one and sharing so many insights right away!). First realization that I need a lot more access and permissions to tools - and that it wasn't clear which ones. My first challenge began! Besides that, I also had time to set things up for myself and schedule my first "get to know each other" sessions with a lot of people.

Third day, seeing the team in action, working together to investigate an issue and releasing a hotfix. More sessions, more relationship building, more local setup.

Fourth day, another issue - stepping in to help where I can with my very limited knowledge on product and context. It really felt good to get hands-on soon, even in a complex environment - learned a lot by doing so! More realizations on people and current procedures came along with it.
Fifth day onwards - first time realizing internal team dynamics and role understanding. What happened? Well, Leila was off and I was perceived as the one you could leave things to test with. Here you go, haven't you seen the wall yet? ;-) Kidding aside, I realized quickly that I needed to be very explicit with this new team about what testing is, what is needed (context would be a good start), what is possible and what not, and how I intend to live my role. After repeatedly stating my needs, the good thing happened! We did it together, and learned. And the next day. And the one afterwards the next developer said they wanted to pair with me on their story. And the next day as well. You know, little steps, wherever people are right now. These steps might not have been a lot for people used to pairing and ensembling a lot - yet it was huge for this team.

The First Weeks

What difficult weeks! I had lots of positive experiences and at the same time it was a real struggle. I was frantically trying to gather any bits and pieces I could gather to get a more holistic picture. Especially getting information from the team was proving to be difficult, it was hard to find anyone willing or able to tell me more or help me hands-on. I was trying to do a lot at the same time: get all the access and permissions I needed while having to figure out myself the missing pieces, setting things up locally as much as I could to be able to do my job, learning about mobile and the related testing difficulties, trying to figure out tooling to help me in this space, building up relationships with my team by working on first stories together with them (while still not knowing the product), trying to figure out what is required for compliance when testing and documenting notes, joining all my onboarding sessions (postponing any trainings to the end of the month) - and at the same time being pulled into everything already (which I appreciate) without getting further context or space to be able to do that (which I don't appreciate). I was really wondering how to manage all these contradicting expectations I encountered. Again, I had to be very explicit with people - a lot more than I was used to so far. I realized I crossed my own boundaries easily those first days, doing a lot more than I should. At first, I felt a bit pushed into it. The next weeks though... I felt I pushed myself into it. Yet more on that later.
So here I was, trying to get a grip on everything. What really helped me here was my experience from the past company. I knew a lot of the questions I needed to ask, and more often than once encountered people not being aware why I would ask for that in the first place. I was able to figure out the bits and pieces myself, yet it was a struggle. A struggle that I can do because of my experience, yet I wouldn't want that struggle for anyone, especially starting new.

Overall, the company onboarding was excellent compared to what I've experienced before. The team onboarding... well, it was clear that this will be one of the first topics I'll work on, especially given that the next new joiner was scheduled to start one month after me.

The Next Weeks

I've started the job in December, so there was another challenge at hand: upcoming off time for most of the team for the holiday season. It was very clear that people rushed to get everything done before, and I needed to be quick to build those relationships, especially with my new developers, within three weeks before they were off.

At least now I got access to everything, I received further help from my teammates and others, we managed to get more things set up. This way I could extend my reach, see more during testing, and show more value of what I do. Oh, and build those relationships (in case I haven't emphasized that part enough yet).

We had great conversations, things slowed down a bit, and finally I felt I could breathe a bit more.  Expectations on me could be managed better. I received first feedback from my team which was immensely helpful! I also had more opportunity to share where I'm coming from and why I'm looking for what I do, decreasing the current gap between us.
At the same time, I suddenly found myself putting in more hours and crossing my own boundaries - where was my own discipline? Oh yes, I was working now on something really purposeful for me, a new space, I finally enjoyed learning new things, pieces of the puzzle clicked together - and it was hard to stop and let go for another day. Oh my... that old trap again.

What really helped was the calm last week of the year. Less people, less work in progress, way more focus time. I managed to complete my overdue trainings, get more things set up, enjoy the learning part, and had even more of these good conversations. I managed to provide feedback on changes early on, earlier than people were used to - which resulted in even better conversations.

To add to that, I've already gathered so many observations from all kinds of talks and situations by now, and decided on what to focus on first over the next weeks - what would have the biggest immediate impact (like making onboarding easier for the next one coming right after me). All in all, I felt way calmer and more relaxed at this point. I knew the next year would get very busy and I needed that foundation to tackle it.

Starting The New Year

What a rollercoaster first week of the year. Learned a lot again, and once again found more challenges to tackle. Oh, and we could welcome not only one, but two new joiners to the team! So, so, so many things to figure out - things we all need to figure out as a team, while becoming a team. The whole team changing, product direction changing, company changing - it's a lot on people. A reminder to be cautious not to initiate a change at this point in time that's too big for people to come along with, without people starting resisting and the forming team breaking on the way. At the same time, lots of historical baggage as well, old conceptions and perceptions, old relationships as well as the lack thereof. The social foundation of teams can never be undervalued - we need to focus much of our efforts here as it's the base for everything: for working well together just as much as for delivering a valuable product of high quality.
Before joining the company and team, I was fully aware that not everything was in place and that there would be lots of opportunity to help shape things. And yet the extent of unclarity still surprised me. At least now I know that it's not me, it's just the current situation, whatever got everyone here. We can move on together.

There's so much to do. There's a lot of uncertainty ahead. There's a lot of freedom to shape and clarify things. There's a lot of great people involved. I do see a lot of potential and opportunity here. Which gets me thinking of how we might do all this in an incremental, iterative way and make the whole change journey easier for all of us, while enjoying our time together. Time will tell whether we found a good way! Whatever happens, I feel like I've already found a new place for myself to help discover and shape our future.

Monday, December 27, 2021

2021 - A Year in Review

There's a global pandemic going on for quite a while now and the whole emotional rollercoaster coming along with it. Lots of things were different the past year and nonetheless it's time to reflect and look back at what else happened.

Here's my raw list of things that came to mind. Events, achievements, struggles, and joyful moments. Everything I'm grateful for.

  • I've helped build and shape a fresh new team this year - completely remote - that grew into the best team I've ever been on so far. I'm very proud of the people I had the honor to work with and am sure they are well on their way. It was amazing to see them grow and hard to leave them. They have all my confidence on their further journey and their future colleagues will be fortunate to have them.
  • The first half of the year was a constant struggle that got me very close to burnout - and I came out on the sustainable end again. I do catch myself from time to time falling back into old behaviors, yet the good thing is I do notice this earlier each time so I have a chance to adapt course earlier as well. Also: I have amazing people around me checking in frequently and reminding me to take breaks even before I might remind myself. Ever grateful for these amazing humans.
  • A really remarkable thing this year was a series of six leadership workshops that I've co-created and facilitated together with Shiva Krishnan. It's been the first time I had a try on this territory, attempting to build quality in on a foundational level - and I learned so much from this experience. I've deepened my own knowledge of what it means to know yourself, build relationships, and shape the environment around you. I've learned a lot about pairing again - this time when creating such a deep and long-going workshop series together with Shiva (whom I'm ever grateful for to agree on pairing with me and go on this journey together). I've learned even better ways of how to do remote workshops in a manner that's beneficial for participants and facilitators. And I've learned yet again so many things about diversity, equity and inclusion - which is part of my personal vision.
  • After six years at the last company, I've found a new place for me to grow further. I've just been working there for about three weeks, yet I already see the potential in so many ways. Yes, there's work to do, and yes, I feel I'm able to contribute. People are great and we can move things forward to the better, together. It's amazing to work with so many wonderful quality people there as well, many of whom I know from our shared communities! Still can't quite fathom that I can call all of these my colleagues now. Also, I'm ever grateful to have found an amazing new manager! From day one, I've felt listened to and very well supported based on my needs, and I heavily appreciate that - so here's a shout-out to David Williams. Oh and I've dipped my toes into a new tech stack - exploring the space of mobile apps. Lots of learning ahead!
  • I've received a lot of feedback this year. Really, a lot. Probably the most in my career so far. And I am so, so grateful for that. Feedback is a true gift! Especially for someone like me, feeling the urgent need to know where I stand with people, how certain actions land with people, worrying whether I should course-correct or not, and more. I'm rather the anxious type and receiving feedback in time helps me massively to calm down and relax and just do me - knowing that if anything is off, I'll hear about it right away, and if anything is going great, I can enjoy myself just as well in time. So please everybody, if you have feedback for someone please offer it to them as soon as it's feasible, so that if they're ready to hear it, they can learn from it. It makes a whole difference.
  • I gave a lot more direct feedback this year than I've ever did so far. Especially on behavior, and  in specific on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion. It's still a long learning journey ahead for me to stay on the candid and clear and hence the kind side of things, and not fall back to just being nice; and still: giving this kind of feedback from teammate to C-level and in between is something I am glad about and want to build on further.
  • I said "no" a lot more this year. I know it might not look like it as I've also said "yes" to a few things, and yet the majority was indeed on the "no", "not now", "not yet" side of things. Fun fact: I had the opportunity to attend a workshop to practice saying no more often - and managed to decline when it was scheduled just before starting the new job. So yes, I'm making progress! Still probably will say yes to that specific workshop if I get another chance.
  • My confidence grew a lot with this last year. First, with the new team at my last company where I could use all my past experience and pass it along, with people being deeply appreciative of that. Second, with them not questioning me for once whether I'm "technical" or not (whatever that means anyway). Third, with my first workshop that everyone (why ever they'd like to judge) can call "technical" that's all around growing your own technical confidence. And lastly, with my new current team where I now benefit from all the built up "technical" experience for a quick kickstart and where I can already share back as well on that end. Confidence really, really, really goes a long way. And makes not knowing so much less of a worry. Or at least makes me get over my anxiousness a lot faster towards a calm space again.
  • I've been nominated "Tester of the Day" two times this year and ever grateful for the recognition - thank you so much Thomas Rinke and Patrick Prill! And many thanks to Ben Dowen for this amazing initiative. If another quality minded person did something great you want to give kudos for, go ahead and nominate them. I can assure you it'll make their day.
  • Not many scheduled pairing sessions with community people this year - besides the regular sessions together with Peter Kofler on security testing. It's quite amazing that we're doing these since my Testing Tour back in 2018! Still learning a lot together.
  • Participating in one on-site conference this year was magical. It was a risk to be with all these people. Despite being super cautious the whole year, this was the one thing I couldn't resist to do. Agile Testing Days was my first conference ever back in 2015 and I've came back every year ever since. We were fortunate that it took place at all, that organizers made sure that people followed safety rules, and that attendees were seriously considerate and took care of each other. This one event will feed my soul for the whole next year if need be.
  • My dear power learning group people were there all along. Not too many group calls this year and still I cherished each and every one of them. Many one to one calls as well. Thank you all for being you and being there.
  • Really grateful for another group that evolved this year, formed by amazing people from the crafter community. Having regular calls, checking in, exchanging experiences, thoughts and ideas - knowing they have my back. Just feels really good.
  • I did not publish an official pact challenge this year. I had a sort of unofficial theme in my head, and there was opportunity to make it happen, yet unfortunately it turned out that the situation did not allow it. I never gave a full-day tutorial yet which came to be my secret goal this year. At first it seemed I could make it happen already in July, with the all day pairing workshop planned together with Simon Berner for Ministry of Testing. Not enough people registered to make it happen, though. Then there was another chance in November to give a full-day tutorial together with my learning partner Toyer Mamoojee at Agile Testing Days, on leading quality - well, that one too did not take place due to the limited travel situation during a pandemic. Well, next year, hopefully. Also, a new actual personal challenge hopefully - yet I won't decide on this before July. My focus during the first half year will be fully on my new job as I don't want to spread myself thin again.
  • I did not write a lot of blog posts this year. I did have lots of topics and ideas I could write about yet hardly found the energy and capacity to do so. I ended up with "only" seven including the present one, which is my all time low so far. No regrets on that part, though, given the situation.
  • For what it's worth, as of writing this blog post I'm three people away from reaching 5,000 Twitter followers. Not the widest and not the smallest reach - yet it does mean a lot to me. Special thanks to everyone who chose to stick around for longer!
  • I gave three keynotes this year which makes me arrive at a total of six keynotes so far. I'm still quite surprised it's that many already, yet now at least I can confidently tell myself as well that I'm indeed a keynote speaker. I don't have to be the best keynote speaker ever, that's fine with me. Yet I know now that I did stand my ground already and that I'm capable of doing so.
  • My best friend and sister at heart wrote four novels this year, published three of them already, and just started with the fifth. I am ever so grateful that she overcame the hurdle of writing something without instantly destroying her work, that she read these books out loud to me while creating, published them before she could change her mind, listened well to feedback, took the good parts from it and incorporated them in her next creation. You can really see her grow as an author with every book written, and I just love her very unique stories. She has a lot more to tell! After so many years of hardship she finally found her voice and along with it, also the courage to share it with the world. Couldn't be prouder.
  • I've created a website for the first time - for my freshly baked author friend, based on her wishes and needs. Never done this before and still learning, yet happy I can contribute and support her in some way.
  • I've "tested" a novel for the first time - as a copy editor. A job I have much respect for! My experience as a tester served me well in this regard, too - and still, domain knowledge and expertise cannot be underestimated. It was a fascinating experience and I hope I didn't do too bad a job. Well, there will always be errors, and after reading the published version again I've came across more, obviously. It's not as simple to published a revision though when it comes to printed books. Still, I really enjoyed the experience and am thankful for the trust put in me.
With everything that happened, I'm so grateful for the people who accompanied me through this year. A huge shout-out goes to my former and new colleagues, my sister, the wonderful communities I'm fortunate to be part of. Thank you all for being there, in hard times as well as in joyous ones. Let's continue taking care of each other also in the year to come.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Agile Testing Days 2021 - My Heart Is Full

The last week I've been to Agile Testing Days 2021, my very first on-site, in person event since twenty months. Here's my attempt of writing down my perception and hence enabling my future self to take a trip down memory lane.


Why It's So Special

How to even start describing what this conference meant to me. In our daring times, it most probably wasn't the smartest idea to take on the accompanying risk when Covid-19 figures are climbing through the roof, and still I recognized it was my only valid emotional decision. What contradiction, after so many months of being extra cautious, especially coming from my tester heart. I am ever thankful for the organizers and other participants to do their best to reduce this risk as much as we can and uphold any possible safety measure, while I'm aware there are factors we just cannot mitigate. The next days are going to be exciting still, and I hope for the best for all of us.

Here I am, fully rested after this amazing and emotional week of Agile Testing Days 2021. Probably one of the most special ones ever for me, given the situation. As I've been one of the few lucky ones that weren't hit as hard by the ongoing pandemic including lockdowns and more, I didn't realize just how much I missed and needed this reunion. It filled my heart up to the rim and I know it'll be what my soul will be feeding from for months. Keeping those memories dear to heart.

The very best part of this special conference-festival are the people. I'd usually point this out for most conferences, and for this one it's especially true. I'm totally biased here as this was my first conference ever in 2015 and lots of good things happened there for me over the years. And still, for me it stands: it's the people. And as the conference is indeed focusing on the people and their needs, it's becoming a whole magical atmosphere that's continuously improving each year (huge kudos this time for introducing pronouns on badges as well as all gender toilets!). The people alone make me return each and every year.

It was extremely special to see people again I haven't seen in person for at least two years. It was very special to get to know new people. I was very surprised that I didn't run out of energy - even though I'm very introverted and in previous months any bigger groups than four or maximum ten persons, as well as being out in public really drained me. So yes, this event was magical for me.

Another part I've learned about myself once more this year, is that I've grown personally over the years. This year especially I felt I can just fully be myself among all these people, if we knew each other before or not - I am welcomed. In previous years, I've realized a part of this when I wasn't judged for not wearing a costume to the party and still just being welcomed. This year, I've realized I wasn't anxious in workshops anymore, not even when asked to take over an important part of a role play - something I would have either chickened out of or be totally scared about in earlier years. I personally thrive in safe environments, the safer they are the better. All that being said: I am well aware of the privilege I have and a lot of it enables me to feel safe here. Hence this is what I am working on myself over the years: contributing to the space being safe, for everyone. It really pays off.

I loved the fun time together and I am really grateful for all the deep conversations we had on difficult topics. On what underrepresented and marginalized people have to go through, on how we can use privilege to make it better, on how not to support the status quo but take action to change this to a better place. To all those people: you know who you are and I deeply appreciate you.


What I've Experienced

Saturday

This year I arrived already on Saturday in order to meet a dear friend and colleague before the conference. Fun fact: my train to Berlin stopped in the middle of nowhere. When we heard about the reason why, I had to laugh even though it meant a huge delay and inconvenience. The train itself was perfectly fine, yet due to a software problem (who would have thought), we were not allowed to continue on the current track. They had to signal that the train was about to go on this fast-track part of the route, and just couldn't get the software to work with them. Rebooting the respective computer and so on, all troubleshooting did not help - we were not allowed to continue and had to go back to the previous station, get off the train and board a new one. Well - it didn't stop me from meeting said friend in the evening, even though we had less time than expected together. It was amazing seeing them again in person after two years!


Sunday

I decided to sleep in and gather as much energy as I could before seeing people. A great idea in hindsight! In the afternoon, I was finally ready to meet people and spent some amazing time together with Simon Berner. We've been in the same learning group for years, paired a lot together, facilitated workshops together - and never saw each other in person. Finally, this was our chance! Loved it.

In the evening, more and more people arrived and we could celebrate a few happy reunions. For example with Alex Schladebeck, Dragan SpiridonovElizabeth Zagroba and Joep Schuurkes. Sunday evening also meant going for dinner! This year I had a lovely group of five, just small enough to get used to the upcoming bigger numbers of people. Many thanks to Thomas Rinke, Mario Specht, Gerald MΓΌcke and Simon Berner!

Usually, evenings end up in the hotel bar or lobby, having a few more drinks. Non-alcoholic ones for me; I chose not to drink any alcohol from here on during the whole week as it both makes me really tired and it weakens my immune system. I rather wanted to have more energy to just be with people. More and more joined in the bar, more reunions! And finally meeting Samuel Nitsche as well whom I've only seen online so far! And also meeting some new people already, being at this conference for the first time. For example, Thomas Spengler - it was great experiencing this conference together with you!


Monday

Originally, I was meant to give a tutorial on this day together with Toyer Mamoojee. Unfortunately, we had to cancel it due to the given Covid-19 situation and related official regulations, which also meant that Toyer could not join us despite being vaccinated. I dearly missed him not being there and heard a lot of people feel the same. Next year, Toyer! Let's hope for the best.

For this day as well, I had decided to opt for the "be kind to yourself"-option and not join one of the other tutorials. It was hard to let go, and still a good decision. This way I could once more sleep in, fill up my energy reserves, practice for my workshop taking place the next day, and then start the day in the afternoon just being with people in the hotel lobby. More reunions! For example with Lena Wiberg, Kris Corbus, Gem Hill, JoΓ£o ProenΓ§a and Michael Kutz. Also, the first time meeting Bruce Hughes in person! And Sophie KΓΌster, and Veerle Verhagen, and so many more. Well, just loved being there and taking this all in.

I had planned to go to the first keynote of the event by Huib Schoots and Paul Holland. In the end, I didn't and instead opted for supporting my friends JoΓ£o ProenΓ§a and Michael Kutz, sitting in the dry run of their paired talk. Loved it and was already looking forward to hearing the actual version the next day.

Then it was time for speakers dinner. Each and every year the conference organizers have planned a nice get-together for all speakers with a tasty meal and great atmosphere. This year once more, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had even further great talks.

Tuesday

First official conference day! Here are the sessions I've attended.
At the end of the day, the Agile, Testing & Rock'n'Roll MIATPP Award Night took place! This time with an additional new format, the Keynote eXtreme that everyone could volunteer for and get the stage - on an unknown topic. The ceremony for the MIATPP was traditionally included as well, this year the award went to Raj Subrameyer, congrats! Oh, and we had a lovely meal where I especially enjoyed the variety of desserts. Yet the best part, as always: late night conversations on everything with people I am grateful to call my friends.

    Wednesday
      Another conference day, further sessions! Looking back, this was the day with the best sessions for me, with both the most valuable insights and the best delivery.
      • Keynote: Agile Comes with a Responsibility for Sustainability by Jutta Eckstein. Very thought-provoking keynote! Lots of new insights on sustainability and how it's everyone's responsibility to advocate for it in everyday life. And how to do it with very concrete question examples! Awesome that Jutta is leading by example as well! Can't wait to read her upcoming book.
      • Workshop: And now for something completely different! by Huib SchootsBart Knaack and Paul Holland. Absolutely loved it! Didn't regret one bit that I joined this workshop. I expected having to go completely out of my comfort zone and was surprised that it still was within my comfort zone - recognizing my own growth. We had lots of valuable conversations and insights in the various groups. It felt like a structured open space! Great job stepping back as facilitators and creating the safe space for it to happen, thank you! Also, wonderful idea to build on for own workshops.
      • Keynote: Limitless within our boundaries by JoΓ£o ProenΓ§a. Amazing delivery on a really important and thought-provoking topic! I now keep thinking about options and the paradox of choice that comes along with it, as well as how we can use constraints in a beneficial way. Can't believe it was the first keynote for JoΓ£o, hope it was the start for many more! Wonderful performance, very well deserved. Also: best slides I've seen for a long time!
      • Workshop: Resistance is futile by Anne Colder and Jantien van der Meer. What an amazing workshop! The presented models on the four basic fears and the elephant and the rider are extremely valuable and relevant. They are instantly applicable in any context where we want to overcome resistance and initiate change and provide us with the language and structure needed. Loved the pace and hands-on exercises, and felt very safe doing them, even during role play - this safety allowed vulnerable conversations. Also: so much appreciated the Star Trek theme!
      • Keynote: How to be an Ally to Non-binary Folk in Tech by Bruce Hughes. Legendary. Just legendary! The extremely important messages stuck and triggered lots of valuable follow-up conversations on these important topics with people. We really needed this, especially as not too many people were aware of how we contribute to a bad status quo and what we can do to actively work against the current system, for change. And all this, while it being the first conference talk ever for Bruce, and a keynote on a big stage right away. My mind is blown. What stage presence and storytelling! What amazing usage of entertainment to deliver a such important serious message and make it stick. A real stage talent and I bet there's lots of effort in there as well. Kudos!
      • The Friends & Allies - Human Space by Gitte Klitgaard. Thank you so much for creating and holding this space and making it safe for vulnerable conversations to happen. It's not taken for granted and very much appreciated. I'm learning a lot about myself each year joining these sessions, just as this time as well. The exchange with others on these topics really make me think and provide inspiration on how I can do better. In any case it helps to know that I'm not alone and we can make this better together.
      One more thing that totally made this day for me: the pact that resulted from the learning partnership between Mor Korem and Thomas Rinke created in Toyer's and my workshop from 2018, got fulfilled with Mor's talk this year! Congrats to both of you!


      Thursday

      The last conference day! Here's what I experienced.
      And then... it was over. Well, not quite yet! Still so many great conversations took place this evening. It even took time just to get out of the conference room! I've decided to take a break and have dinner with my friends Michael Kutz and JoΓ£o ProenΓ§a, digest things in a smaller setting. Just what I needed after everything. Then returning to the hotel, where again we found lots of people still enjoying the Agile Games Night or just being together in the hotel lobby and bar. Lots of great conversations again, with a special thanks to Anne ColderVincent Wijnen, Emna Ayadi, Markus MΓΌller and Christian Baumann.


      Friday

      Well... not exactly a conference day anymore. Rather the time to say final goodbyes and travel home. The day that the post-conference blues starts to kick in and I could start digest what I've experienced. To feel that this last week actually happened. It's still incredible in hindsight and I'm ever so grateful.

      What Comes Next

      After Agile Testing Days, I usually take at least a week of free days to rest and relax. It's usually closing the conference year for me and I still don't regret I've kept it this way also this year, despite having further opportunities. I'll keep the memories from this one close to my heart, try to do nothing much the next week, and then gather energy for my new challenge, joining a new company. This also means I will focus fully on this opportunity during the next months, before speaking at the next events again. Some things are already in the making, though! I've already arranged a few new and old sessions, pairing with others - well, more to share when the time is ripe. And who knows what else I'm going to learn on my further journey and what inspiration I can take from that.

      For now, I've done all the things I've wanted to do to follow-up on this conference. Providing session ratings, feedback for the conference, consolidating my notes and more - including this post. So now it's properly Agile Resting Days as Vernon indicated. Until next year!

      Tuesday, November 9, 2021

      Six Years of Learning and Contributing

      Today was my last day at the company that I've spent half of my career on. Time to reminisce and reflect! As I won't be able to put down everything that happened in the last six years, I'll focus on the kind of impact this time and place had on me. Well, or at least take note of the things that were prominent in my mind these days.


      Where It Started

      In my last job before joining Flix, I've learned a bunch of things, yet had less and less opportunities to test and grow my career. As a previous colleague reached out to me about this new opening, I was uncertain if they were really looking for someone like me, but eager to listen. The more I heard about it, the more I wanted to join. So I applied and got in, thanks to my colleague's referral. That was six years ago and in hindsight it was one of the best decisions I've made so far.

      I entered the company as the second tester overall. Most people had never worked with a tester or other quality professional before. Thanks to the sponsorship of my previous colleague, my new team was ready to give it a try and figure out what that means on the way.


      What I Have Achieved

      After having practiced seeing my achievements for what they are over many years, there's probably a lot of things I could acknowledge as achievements, small and big. The following things, however, do stick out in my point of view.

      Living a whole team approach to testing and quality. Let's start with my team. I've stayed on the same product team for six years. It never got boring and I really enjoy evolving a product also on longer term. In addition, there was lots of opportunity to grow in the team as well as on organizational level. My product team was my home base to operate from. The team constellation changed a lot over the six years and we continuously evolved our testing and quality culture. It might have taken me six years and a lot of experiments, yet this year I've finally seen the team actually living the whole team approach to testing and quality. They understand the value, they are enabled, they really feel responsible. I thought I've achieved this a few times before (especially with the team where we ensembled a lot), yet only now I realize the difference. Also, it is surely not the end and I really hope they continue this way on their further journey. (Have I mentioned I was fortunate to work with amazing humans here? Not my achievement, yet still a fact; and definitely helping me achieve this.)

      Creating and running a testing community of interest. Now let's look beyond team boundaries. I was hired not only to test hands-on in the product team but also to evolve the company's quality culture. Me and the only other tester started a monthly sync, brainstorming what we can do, like educating people and hiring more testers. The other one soon left the company, yet over time, we created a testing community as an internal expert network, fostering knowledge exchange, inspiration, and collaboration across teams. I'm very curious what will become of it now that I made space for people and for new things to happen.

      Bringing the first company tech conference to live. This was the company-wide initiative that was instrumental for my promotion to principal: I've made the first company tech conference happen, from concept to post-production, to nurture knowledge sharing across teams and companies. Unfortunately, it stayed with one FlixTechSummit only so far. I had to move on to my next initiative and handed things over, yet the next installment did not take place anymore as planned.

      Enabling teams to experiment to grow a quality culture. I've designed and ran a series of experiments with multiple teams that improved their continuous learning, testing, and quality practices. This was a huge endeavor that also resulted in a whole conference talk on growing an experiment-driven quality culture. Our initiative group had a lot of impact with this experiment, and yet there was also impact we hoped for but didn't have. What we learned went into further experimentation.

      Building the foundation for quality through leadership workshops. I've co-created and co-facilitated a series of six leadership workshops together with our amazing coach Shiva Krishnan. Shiva had initiated the series before, I've been on the previous cohort myself which had a huge impact on me, and I'm ever grateful he agreed to pair with me on the next one. We both learned so much from this experience! As part of leadership, our workshops raised people's awareness on identity and impact, and contributed to growing the company culture. The next cohort is currently running. Sadly without me this time, yet Shiva found another wonderful co-conspirator for the season afterwards.

      Receiving feedback close to my values. Finally, a personal achievement I need to remind my future self about when I'm reading this again. In my last weeks, I've asked my current team for personal feedback, especially regarding the impact I had on them and what I could do differently next time. Admittedly, I really had a wonderful team with awesome humans for the last ten months. The feedback they shared with me (which I'm absolutely grateful for) validated what I've worked on a lot over the last years. I've always wanted to be considerate of other people and include them from the start, value their perspectives; and still my actions and the actual perception told a different story. It seems indeed that I managed to turn the points I've received as pointers to change over the years into appreciations now. And they are really aligned with my personal values. My heart was so full when receiving such feedback! I can only hope to continue living up to it and learn some more.


      What I Would Do Differently

      I've achieved a lot, and at the same time I also see things that I've done and that I would do differently nowadays. Or at least try to.

      Focus on enabling. In most of the six years I've focused on doing things myself. Yes, I wanted to focus on sharing knowledge and enabling everyone, yet to be honest with myself, I still fell back into the habit of taking over, volunteering, driving things, advocating, catching balls, and preventing fires again and again. Only this year, I've indeed spent the majority of my time - okay, not the majority either - yet way more of my time on actually enabling others. I definitely want to do this more. I learned it still doesn't stop me from contributing hands-on myself in various ways. This applies to my work in the team just as much as to my work in the community or on other initiatives. The goal should be that they run just as well without me. This applies to specific activities related to core expertise just as much as to glue work. Everyone should be enabled to see, appreciate, and take over glue work as it needs. With my last team I've seen proof that this is indeed feasible.

      Give feedback as soon as you have it and address conflicts as they arise. I am so much a people pleaser that I'm often seeking harmony over addressing a conflict. I'd rather avoid conflict if I could. In the last years I had a challenging team situation that originated (and got worse) from not putting things on the table early on, not speaking up and not raising concerns. It came from trying to be gentle and it ended up in avoiding difficult conversations. I did learn that being nice is not helping at all, and the kind thing to do would be to speak up instead. This is again something I think I've done a lot better this year. Giving constructive feedback as soon as I have it, no matter how difficult it might be, and managing a conflict instead of avoiding it. Interestingly, this also led me to give way more positive feedback as soon as I had it - and people appreciated this a lot. This is a huge topic where Shiva and our leadership workshops series had a lot of impact on me personally.

      Be clear and transparent on what you work on and why. As I've not only been working embedded in a product team yet also had to split my capacity and energy with organizational topics, and I was also speaking at conferences hence spent time away from the team, it was always a challenge what of my work to share with the team and what not to. Sometimes people struggled with the level of detail I shared, sometimes with me not sharing enough, and mostly I realized they needed to be able to understand why I set my priorities as I do. I often felt the need to justify myself and apologize - even though this was actually part of my job. People came to me suggesting I drop this or focus on that, yet they contradicted each other and also what I wanted to work and have impact on. Now I learned it's all about me having a strategy plus being clear and transparent on the why and what people can expect so we can find a solution that works for everyone.

      Make initiatives and communities visible and well known. I've started the testing community and ran a lot of different cross-team initiatives, and yet most of them were not seen in the tech department. When people wanted to know or learn something, they still asked their network instead of our experts or making use of our offers. I thought I've been very vocal on these things, yet now I've learned I wasn't enough and the word did not spread. Next time I need to come up with a better strategy, probably more advertisement, and having people experience the benefits so much they talk themselves about it.

      Sponsor more people. I've received a lot of sponsorship myself which really helped me succeed; see also the next section on what I'm grateful for. Only the last years, I've started to sponsor other people myself more intentionally, making them visible, granting access to knowledge, referring them for opportunities, and so on. This is definitely something I want to do more from the start.

      Take better care of myself. I nearly missed this one, and only now added this looking at my recent feedback and my previous blog post. I've been doing a lot better over the years when it comes to listening to my needs and communicating them, managing expectations and setting boundaries, saying "no" more often and also giving myself more time. That's still something to continue doing better. If I can take better care of myself, then I can also take better care of others. Only if.


      What I Am Grateful For

      Not everything was shiny over the last six years and some challenges could not be overcome. There are, however, so many things I'm grateful for. Like the following on the top of my mind.

      The people and long lasting relationships we've built. I'm extremely grateful for all the wonderful people I've worked with. That was one of the biggest reasons to stay for six years - the amazing people. People who helped each other grow, people who got inspired and inspired others, people who paved the way, people who really cared for what we did and how we did it together.

      My managers having my back, always. I am super fortunate to have had the two best managers I've ever had - and I did have great ones before. Both these two were exactly the right ones for me and for where I was on my journey. The first one, John Webber, confirmed my belonging within the first two weeks on the job and gave me the safety to fly. He actively supported my journey giving back to the outside community by blogging and speaking at conferences. He even helped me improve my posts and also sat front row in one of my first conference talks, holding up his mobile phone the whole time so he could get a recording for me. I've met him a few days ago and thanked him again for letting me fly. The second manager, Chris Vestrini, took over from John and instantly cheered me on on my speaking journey as well. How many times we've laughed when I asked yet again if I could take up yet another speaking opportunity I've received! Chris was always having a kind and open ear, nudged me with his questions in tricky situations and provided gentle advice. I'm ever so grateful for these two having my back inside and outside the company that allowed me to grow so much over the years.

      Sponsorship gave me the chance to fly. Now I've said before, I've received lots of sponsorship in this company. I wouldn't even be there if not my previous colleague had vouched for me. I received two promotions, one to senior right after starting out, and one to principal three years later - despite other people trying to actively hinder it. I very well know I've only received this opportunity to prove myself because of these two amazing managers and them actively and loudly advocating for me. This is how I ended up as the only principal who differed heavily from everyone else, despite all my privilege: the only woman, the only tester, the only one not having a STEM background. I know we have lots of other great people who are not yet made seen and supported as much as I was, and I can only hope for more people in powerful positions sponsoring them. Thanks to me being made visible from the start, I've also received lots of other opportunities. Just some examples: I was referred to a talent program I've joined and could build a network from. I was asked to be a mentor. I received personal coaching that really helped me further. I could continue, yet I guess you get the point.

      Being safe to dare and taking courage. When I recently thanked John for the safety and sponsorship he provided, he shared with me that he was impressed with me daring, having the courage to take responsibility and follow through. For example, my pact with Toyer Mamoojee to take up conference speaking really impressed him. The last six years, I've indeed used a lot of courage to move things within the company and also outside in our global community. That reminded me of the agile testing principles I've learned through Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory already a decade ago, that explicitly include courage and influenced me from the start. I'm very grateful to have learned that courage can be worth it, that at times it's about rather asking forgiveness than permission. And it also reminded me of the "dare to lead" approach of BrenΓ© Brown (I just love the related podcast series) as well as of my own privilege that added to the safety I've received. What made me fly was safety plus privilege plus sponsorship plus courage. Then I could put in the effort, and it paid off. And I'm grateful for it.


      What I Have Learned As a Tester

      Phew, so many things. My mindset and approach continuously changed and evolved over the years. Also here, a few things stand out for me.

      It's all about the people, interactions and systems. In the end, it's boiling down to foundations like communication and collaboration. That's usually where quality can emerge or is hindered by. A lot of my work was focused on finding better ways working together. Another major aspect is the system we're operating in - actively shaping it can make a huge difference. For example, think about which behavior gets rewarded in which ways?

      Enabling others for resilience and the freedom to grow your expertise. I've already mentioned above, this time I've managed to have the whole team feel both enabled and also responsible for testing and quality. When I'm off, the whole team knows what to do and how to learn themselves. When I'm there, we can learn together and also I have more capacity and energy to bring in new topics and expertise, hence growing the whole team again. I really had to learn how to step back and let others do the job, though.

      Experimenting for the win! It's all about the context and we have to figure out what practice works and what not. Again and again, it became clear that the contexts of our manifold product teams clearly differ. Not only slightly, yet heavily. In a larger sense some good practices might work well in a lot of them, like unit testing or pairing, yet there was also a lot of different settings and needs. Having the teams experiment for their specific context is key. This environment provided me and the teams the freedom to experiment with a lot of different approaches and we learned so much from it.

      Testing and quality are holistic in nature. Personally, I identify as a specialized generalist. Over the years, I've realized just how much I thrive on learning more about all kinds of aspects of software development and how all these bits and pieces help me do a better job with testing and quality. This also means I can free up others from time to time, jumping in on tasks that are not my core expertise - and also add to the team's resilience this way.

      Growing competencies through first time experiences. There were so many of them in the last six years! There was the first time I finally tested continuously, from idea to production. My first time testing all kinds of things, like ideas, mockups, requirements, infrastructure, data, and more. The first time I was set up and enabled to run the application locally myself, seeing the code changes, joining reviews, writing automated tests, and more. My first time giving talks and workshops internally. My first time trying out ensemble programming and moving to pairing heavily as ways to reduce feedback loops, waiting time, cycle time and increase the quality of the outcome. My first time exploring APIs without a frontend. My first time fixing issues myself and contributing to our infrastructure. My first time trying out different ways of reporting my findings. My first time testing for quality aspects like security and accessibility - and also advocating for building them in. My first time joining architecture discussions and doing domain modeling. My first time being active part of refactoring conversations. Already a long list and I could go on.

      The more tools in my toolbox, the more options at hand. I've got in touch with so many technologies that I haven't had the opportunity to work with before. Just to name a few: Groovy, Typescript, Angular, Stencil, Jest, Serenity BDD, Cypress, REST APIs, Websockets, GraphQL, Kafka, MongoDB, Docker, Kubernetes, Bamboo, Jenkins, Gitlab. So many more tools and tips and tricks allowing me to do my work smarter and more effective, and also share that knowledge with other people.


      Where Things Are Now

      I am ever so happy that my mentee joined my last team as a dedicated tester who can drive things further and bring in the quality expertise. At the same time the people are fully enabled to own testing and quality as part of product development. I know they got this, and this is a great feeling. It's both sad to leave now and exactly the best moment to leave. Things are in good hands.

      People shared with me that I've changed their way of thinking about testing and testers, which makes me really happy. More teams got inspired to improve their practices and make their first steps in integrating new approaches and figuring out what works for them, even if they don't have dedicated testers in their team. More teams understood how holistic testing and quality are in nature and that it's  encompassing way more than automation. More teams even decided to hire experts for their teams to learn from. I'm curious to see where their future leads them.


      What I'm Looking Forward To

      Very soon I'm visiting Agile Testing Days again. This event is meaningful to me, as exactly six years ago, just before starting at Flix, this was my first conference ever. From this community I've received a lot of sponsorship and support - hence I'm doing what I can to give back and pay forward.

      Soon afterwards, my next opportunity at Ada Health is waiting for me. It's a chance to start fresh, continue building on the impact I've achieved, and do some things differently that I wished I would have done earlier. I'm very much looking forward to first observing, focusing on understanding the new context, making things transparent - and then experimenting to see what works in this context.

      Most of all, I'm looking forward to getting to know great new people and to work together with them on a very purposeful product. Over and over, I've seen that I can learn so much from each and every one. I'm eager to see what I can learn from all these new people, and what I can contribute for them so we all help each other forward.

      To the past six years, to now, and to the future!