Friday, December 30, 2016

A Maze of Brick Walls

When talking to other testers, I love to hear where they come from and where they are heading to on their testing journeys. Listening to those personal stories I search for similarities I can related to, as well as contrasts I can learn from, getting to know the person better at the same time. In a couple of posts I want to share some milestones of my personal testing journey with you. See also the related previous post about My Roller Coaster Years.

When the final crisis hit my roller coaster company, our team had to be reduced once again and I had to leave. On my first day at home I received a phone call from a former colleague of a company where I had been working as a student. She told me that they noticed my professional network status change to "looking for job" and that they may have a perfect offer for me, now that I was into testing. I was stunned that the small network I was just building up already paid out!

But when I heard what the job would be about, I started to have misgivings: I should be the test manager for a customer's project, and start within the next few days.
  1. They wanted to have me as consultant. I never wanted to be outsourced and work on-site at a customer's place but to work for my own company at our own location. Not to be on my own in a foreign environment but to have a team around me I could bond with.
  2. It was about a project. I never strived for temporary projects, jumping from one to the other. I already experienced product development and loved the idea to improve a product for its lifetime. I looked for some sort of stability and consistency. (I'm still not really good with uncertainty but constantly learning how to embrace it.)
  3. The project and environment were not agile. I never would have looked for that. You know, I was just coming from a young startup, totally excited about this new way of working I discovered for myself, eager to learn more.
  4. The customer was a huge corporation. I never intended to work at a big company, I loved to take over responsibility and contribute to different areas and assumed this was rather feasible in small ones.
Nonetheless I decided to take the job, telling myself that this was too good a chance to lose. That it would be interesting to see a rather "traditional" way of software development, that I could surely share my agile experience, that it would be a challenge I just have to face. And it was a challenge.
  • It was an environment totally different from what I experienced so far. It was difficult to gather knowledge about the product in development, its history and the business value it should serve. It took me even more time to get to know all the people, titles, departments, bureaucratic processes, products, tools, abbreviations and "etiquette" of such a big company.
  • Suddenly I had to speak English in a multinational company. As you might have recognized I'm not a native speaker. Until then I read English texts at my university and wrote technical documentation in English in my first company, but the last time I spoke it was when I was in school.
  • I was deliberately separated from developers. Though I tried to change that, I hardly got a chance to talk to them. Also, most programmers would not provide me any intermediate state of an item to test before they were "done". Testing was seen as a separate phase in the development cycle, with feedback being delivered mostly only once a week. I was fortunate that there was a freelancer programmer on the project sitting right beside me with whom I had great pairing sessions and could implement quick feedback cycles.
  • I was asked when testing would be finished at a time when development was not even ready to provide a first version and nobody knew what lurked beneath the surface. What saved me was the great collaboration with another freelancer who was employed as project manager. Together we figured out a rough estimation to meet the demand.
  • Collaboration with business people was a tough job in the beginning. Lucky me, a new business owner was appointed with whom I could share my agile experiences. We closely worked together to provide value to our users who complained that what had been developed so far did not meet their requirements.
  • I managed several user acceptance tests. The invited power users came from all locations all over the world. Communication was hard due to varying English skills, cultural aspects, and heavily differing demands and intentions. At some points I ended up with about 100 (!) participants in virtual conference calls which made things even harder.
  • In general, communication often turned out to take place in a highly political context. Formulating emails became a tricky thing if you wanted to avoid email ping pong having more and more people being copied in. I got the impression of a culture of fear with people striving to cover their back and shift blame. Status reports often showed items as 80% done. When some delivery item was behind time so its status would become "yellow", it happened that it was communicated as a sort of "yellowish green"; which is still green after all, right?
Please be aware that this is meant to show my very personal interpretation of how I experienced things and cannot be considered as objective truth. But to be honest: After the first weeks I knew I did not fit in and had to get out of there. Still, I decided to adapt and learn. In the end I stayed for one year until I finally found my way out. What I learned?
  • People come from different backgrounds, experience different things to work or not and have different goals they want to achieve. This might seem quite obvious, but for me it was a real eye-opener. You can share experience, introduce new ideas, provide arguments, but you cannot change any minds without the people themselves. When you keep banging your head against a brick wall it might make more sense to step back and look for other ways.
  • I learned that change starts within myself and only I can change my situation. So I told my boss that if I had to stay in this customer project, I had to quit my job. Telling her frankly really took some courage, but I just had to make things transparent. She was shocked! But understanding. And tried to see if there could be any other place in our company where I would be happier. Fortunately, we both learned that one of our internal teams was about to try Scrum and I was thrilled to join this team. Still, my boss heavily appreciated my openness and honesty. Staying authentic paid off for me ever since.
  • By experiencing this totally different environment I learned that my original pain points listed above still apply today. This might change over time or not, we will see. (I'm actually not sure about the fourth point anymore as my current company is heavily growing but we still have a great deal of freedom and responsibility.)
Back then I made it a rule for myself to look ahead one year from now but not further. I can pretty much guess where I would stand then, but beyond I have no clue. If I don't see myself one year from now at my current company anymore, I know it's time to change my situation again.


  1. Loving your posts Lisi. Very true and thorough, a proper perspective of a journey through software testing.

    1. Thanks a lot Toyer! Though I decided to blog for myself, I guess I'm still kind of hoping that sharing my stories might provide value to others, and it's great to hear if they do or not ;)

  2. It's definitely beneficial, I also read your most recent one now on your journey as a scrum master and I definitely relate as I did have a similar experience too. It's nice to hear other viewpoints on a subject, interesting indeed.

    1. Greatly appreciating your feedback, as always! Would love to hear about your experience as well.

  3. Cool, will summarise and send to you as a comment here.