Panel Discussion: How to Succeed as a Sole Tester in Your Company with Moss Nye, Ardian Silvandianto and Aroha Merrilees

If you could give only one piece of advice to sole testers, what would it be?

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When there’s only one tester on a team, do you see that person fulfilling the “traditional” testing role or do you see them as more of a coach to the rest of the team about testing?

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How do you stay motivated to try and introduce change as a sole tester?

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As a sole tester, how do you know you’re doing a good job?

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How do you manage your time as a sole tester?

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As a sole tester I imagine there’s more work to do then you have time for. How do you encourage others to perform testing for you?

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Can you share a story of your greatest moment of influence?

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Sounds like a couple of you have switched back-and-forth from being at companies with a team of QAs to ones where you’re a sole tester.
Having never been at a company myself, where i’ve been the only tester…was it scary making the switch to being a sole tester? Any advice for people who move to a sole tester role for the first time?

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I note the term QA is quite common in our industry. I personally find that a little misleading since I don’t see it as our job to “assure” quality, but rather to test for it and report on it. How do you reconcile this in your role, especially when you’re the only one there?

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Being a sole tester comes with several challenges but also gives you great opportunity to learn and grow within your role and the company you work for. Looking back on your experience is there anything that you have reflected and learned from that you would now approach differently if you had the same opportunity?

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Do you agree software testing as a specialist role is slowly dying? (perhaps “morphing” is a more polite descriptor.) I see software teams relying less and less on dedicated QA teams and more on quality being built throughout the entire development cycle?

Do you see this as threat or an opportunity?

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Have you encountered the perception of “Developers are judged on their successes and the Tester is judged by their failures”?
If so, how did you navigate changing that perception?

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Good question Heather!
For me it’s a bit of both … it depends on the QA processes too, but you have to do some coaching to encourage others to help or improve the quality of the work that you end up testing.

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Hmmm for me I like goals, so in taking on my current job one of the goals was how can I make this product better. This can includes improving areas like the quality, functionality, QA processes, and relationships (but not limited to these areas).
If you enjoy what you do, it’s got to be motivating right?

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Hi Aine, I find remembering the bigger picture of where you are trying to navigate the team to is important. It will act as your anchor when things aren’t working/not going as planned. The process to get there might change but the end goal stays the same. This has kept sane for the past year.

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Heya Tony, I wouldn’t say that the role is dying, in fact, I believe it’s going the opposite where the role is diversifying. I see QA have more impact on the wider business and not just within the development cycle. Traditionally the role has been confined into two categories, manual and automation, that is no longer the case.

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If you could give only one piece of advice to sole testers, what would it be?

It takes a village to raise a software tester.
And being a tester involves a lot of interactional expertise.

Within your organisation, there would be no need for a professional software tester if there wasn’t new software being developed by or integrated into your organisation. As a solo tester you’ll be interacting with people with other roles and areas of expertise; when we say “sole tester” it doesn’t mean you’ll be alone.

And without your organisation; there’s an interesting selection bias in talking about role-base professional community outside the workplace via a role-based professional community outside the workplace. There’s nothing missing if as a sole tester you’re not connected to a software testing community; our role is deep, broad and connected to other disciplines enough that you can learn and grow your craft by being a part of almost anything.

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When there’s only one tester on a team, do you see that person fulfilling the “traditional” testing role or do you see them as more of a coach to the rest of the team about testing?

To be honest, I’m deep into my career as a professional software tester, and I still don’t understand what “traditional” means in terms of a role.

I also don’t see myself as a coach; there’s a lot of implied relationship dynamic by sports metaphor to unpack there. My main stumbling block with the metaphor overall is that a coach doesn’t play on the field during a game.

My approach to software testing is to be embedded in a team.

I pair with developers. I participate in code reviews, in architecture reviews and design, I do on-call and incident response.

I spend a lot of my time and effort being an active participant in software development.

I absolutely love the part of my role that involves context switching through different perspectives and layers.

It’s the praxis of the work that I enjoy; where theory and systems meet embodied practice; the differences between work-as-imagined, work-as-described and work-as-done (https://safetydifferently.com/the-varieties-of-human-work/ for more on these terms)

And so that’s how I see the solo testing role; as embedded in a team as an active participant in software development.

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How do you stay motivated to try and introduce change as a sole tester?

I’m going to talk about how I handled a loss of motivation to change an organisation.
It’s really simple; I left that organisation.

Because when we talk about “staying motivated”, it often leans towards internalising and only internal motivation. And it’s not just you. If you are trying to enact change in an organisation, that explicitly involves others. If it’s not working, it’s not necessarily you that has a motivation problem.

Obviously it takes time and effort to leave a company and find a new job. It can be risky, uncertain, it can endanger your livelihood, loved ones and/or immigration status.

When you go for (solo) testing roles, interview companies as to what they’re looking for. Testing and Quality roles I have thrived in are organisations that explicitly agree that testing and quality work requires agency of change and I am supported to enact changes.

My current job description is

As a Lead Quality Assurance Engineer you will be responsible for creating, maintaining, and monitoring all operations that affect quality < for your scoped team >.

I am highly motivated in my current role.

And, I wouldn’t be where I am today, wouldn’t have set the intention of finding a role I wanted, if two years ago I hadn’t overhead a developer on my team at a previous role tell a systems administrator “I don’t care about that <major issue I’m causing on your services>, I’m just an applications dev”

That moment sapped my motivation to work in that organisation, so I started work on removing my emotional investment and labour from there and working to find somewhere that would be motivating to me.

This isn’t to say that everything you’re feeling unmotivated it’s time to quit a job; it’s just important to reflect, every so often, especially when things aren’t working; is my emotional and labour investment here working for me?

If so, great, now you can look at what’s unmotivating about a particular change you’re trying to make in an organisation you’re in.

If not, well, it’s risky and it takes a lot, but moving organisations is a great way to enact change for yourself.

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As a sole tester, how do you know you’re doing a good job?

This question, to me, and being on this panel answering it was a joyous revelation.

So, thanks @dianadromey and @jamesespie for the opportunity,
And @rdn12 for the answer while I was reflecting “wait, how do I know that?”

Because the joy of being on a panel, is you can riff off of something someone else says;
And @rdn12 reminded me that,

I know I’m doing a good a job when I look in the rear view mirror.
When something comes along and you go “Oh, if this had happened 3 months ago, before we did X, Y or Z, it wouldn’t have gone so well”

For me, quality work is about improving; and my day to day is pretty much always at the edge of my knowledge and expertise; casting from familiar knowns to find unknown unknowns. And when you’re at that edge, it’s really easy to feel like if you were just a bit more, you could go further. It’s really easy to see what is lacking in front of you;

But that ignores the temporality of the job; what I can do today builds on my experience, knowledge, the relationships with my team, creating systems that help; the work that I have done before. What I have been seeing as lacking is much more where I am growing

So, thanks TestBash NZ 2020 for bringing me to clarity that, and I’ll let these gifs say it;

no idea doing well

I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know I’m doing it really, really well.

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