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!


  1. Amazing read Lisi. What a massive achievement.

  2. Amazing what you've achieved, I look forward to seeing further achievements from you!

    1. Thank you for the opportunity to do so in the first place and your ongoing support!