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Taking My New Job By The Balls, Part 1 (The Pain and Gain of Edward Bear)

On July 27, 2014, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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In April 2014 I accepted an offer and in June I left the company I’d been with for the past 6.5 years (4 years as tester/team lead), and started my new job as a senior testing specialist at another company. These notes/remarks/observations in the upcoming series of blog posts are based on my first 2.5 weeks on the new job. Orderly notes and thoughts are not guaranteed. Also, a lot of the things here may seem very obvious to you (they already start looking very obvious to myself as well…) but that’s OK. I mostly want to share my journey and I want to have at least semi-digested notes for my future self because I have come to appreciate the value of introspection more and more, and the valuable learning I get out of it. And… I’m also seeking the comments and remarks of other testers who recognize the questions I’m trying to answer and the problems I’m trying to tackle.

Some background

Since I’ll be writing a few blog posts about the balls of my new job, I expect most of the details of context and background to emerge from several posts instead of one lengthy intro. However, for the sake of a little clarity, here are some notable details:

  • then: used to test a product 30+ years on the market, 2000+ customers; now: beginning stages of a software project for a single customer
  • then: built a team of testers, 2 of them coached and trained by me as newbies; now: 2 testers plus me on the project team, both have previous experience but have been “lone testers” on projects up until now
  • then: no specs, no business analysts, various people partially filling that role (including testers); now: business analysts and specs and all that jazz
  • then: different in-house teams of programmers specialized in a domain; now: testers, programmers, BAs on one team focusing on the same thing together
  • then: cowboy development; now: planned and organized sprints
  • then: geographically distributed teams across 3 continents; now: everybody’s in the same country but there a few different companies developing parts of the software for the customer

I think this could give some idea about the change I was about to undergo… Add to it the fact that now I’ll be testing a web app which I’ve never done before and you’ll get the picture.

Getting into the zone

So… I step into the office on my first day not sure what is going to happen next. Oh, was I nervous… What really happened was that I got to learn a lot of new stuff. And this. Is. Awesome. I did know something about the project context from the time I was first approached by the company. However, a couple of months had passed, so I figured I wasn’t up-to-date anymore. Well, that hunch got confirmed on the first day.

I had been preparing myself mentally for the context where I was going to do a lot of learning. I’m not very sure how to describe it… I kept having internal monologues about focusing on learning, jumping right in and tackling whatever got thrown at me. I was recycling the learning and thoughts from Rikard Edgren’s tutorial on Test Strategy that I attended at Nordic Testing Days. Somehow it made me feel like I had solid ground under my feet.

I also had quite a few internal conversations/introspections about what I had learned at my previous job, the mistakes I’d made and how I thought about them; what kind of things I’d learned and why I’d learned them (I don’t think all potential lessons stick… or that I’d notice every lesson I could learn); what were my personal goals on the new job; what were the things I’d wanted to try but couldn’t at my old job. I went over the reasons I’d accepted the offer: to learn new things, to push myself out of the comfort zone once again, challenge myself. There were moments were some part of me was thinking “oh shit… how am I going to do this… will I fail?…” but that’s when I told myself this: “Helena, remember what happened the last time you plunged in head first into the unknown 4 years ago? You had no fucking clue what you were going to do but remember the trust you had in your ability to figure things out. If it’s the potential discomfort that makes you edgy, then just lean into it as you have done before. Push through the discomfort as you’ve done before: you know well enough that discomfort is exactly what will make you think of a solution. After all, nothing changes if you’re comfortable. And didn’t you want to purposefully make yourself uncomfortable so that you’d learn new things?”. Or something like this…

Maybe I’m slightly crazy for preparing mentally like this. Maybe. For me it seemed necessary to get really focused, keep my head straight, and “sharpen” my mental state. In hindsight I believe it paid off (and surprised some of my new colleagues :)).

I used to play volleyball as competitive sport back in the day. What I was doing back then before a game and what I was doing recently felt quite similar. You collect your thoughts. You try to identify and tune out the noise (or silence certain damning internal monologues). You try to will your feet move quickly. You observe how the other team warms up, start figuring out strategies… You get ready to do your best!

When I started as tester/team lead 4 years ago, I did no such thing. But then I really had no idea of what was in store for me. Now I had an inkling and I used that as an heuristic to do something differently this time.

The Vast Opportunities for Learning. Great! But…

I believe I’ve been able to establish that I was going to do a lot of learning of different kinds (technical, managerial), on different levels (personal, project-related, professional…). During the first couple of days I observed a few key questions/issues surface. Or rather, these questions had a floodlight pointed at them for me…

Firstly, how to best deal with information in general? How to deal with the information I was given on a daily basis (meetings, discussions, briefs, documents, specs…) or that just landed on my plate? Getting hosed down with a lot of different things from different sources  – how not to lose my head?

Secondly and more specifically, what to learn now and what to learn later? E.g. what kind of information to actively seek myself, what to delegate, what to disregard.

Thirdly, what kind of action to take now and what to postpone?

While untangling the questions from each other and clarifying my thinking, I had these brief deja vu moments. These came about in the form of “oh, this line of thoughts sounds familiar” and “I think I’ve read about/discussed this several times but that’s just been theory so far”. Funnily enough, even though I’ve never been on such a project before and I’ve never had hands on initiating a whole new software project, I almost felt as if I had. There were thoughts and ideas gushing out from the back of my head about how to start tackling these questions. I know I was applying heuristics that I’d “accumulated” over the past years but this library needs to get more organized. To be honest, it was more like a flurry of ideas… which is exactly why I’m now putting myself through the paces and going through the exercise of identifying and thinking about the heuristics I already used during the first days to do the things I did.

The questions I highlighted have formed the trinity I’ve kept revisiting and that I will look at more closely in the following blog posts.

 

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