So many, but as I’m now in my 20th year in testing (my 21st in tech, as I was Technical Support), I thought it a good idea to reflect on some things from earlier in my career that have shaped how I am a tester now, as well as some events that have lead to some deep reflection in recent years. Here’s the first.
Story 1 - Working with bullies!
I was working at a well known ISP, who had offices in Bristol. Yes, it’s the one that used to send out CD’s that could then be used as coasters, table props or bird scarers. You definitely didn’t want to install them on your computers.
My first experience of being part of a tech team wasn’t always a good one. Fresh out of university, new to software engineering, new to writing code and testing, I was promoted from the call centre to a tech department responsible for the tooling that the call centre used. This included CRM systems, tech support libraries and solutions, as well as some telephony equipment. I was nervous about my technical ability. Most of the people I was working with had significantly more experience than me, and many had computer science backgrounds. (I had trained as a primary school teacher).
My interim manager was lovely. Keen to allow me to learn new skills, and getting involved in projects as early as possible, and praised my interest in investigation of bugs and other issues I discovered. I also had another great mentor in the technical lead who invited me to apply for the role in the tech team. Both were wonderful early leaders for me in tech.
My next was not so good. The company hired a new project manager to head up the team I was going to be working on - some development, mostly testing and deployment support. I had not even heard the terms Agile, Waterfall, or ISTQB yet.
This particular manager did not take to me at all. I felt he didn’t understand me, my ways of working and learning. He arbitrarily rejected any request for formal learning, at least from my perspective. (I get a sense that budgets were particularly tight).
The office was largely a friendly one, but I found making friends difficult. I didn’t really relate to any one on my team, and that became apparent to me very quickly. This new manager would often exploit my lack of comfort, and take the opportunity to criticise me openly in front of other team members, so much so that I either didn’t know how to respond, or got upset.
If a bug was missed during testing, and something got into production, then it was usually me that was blamed, as I was the one doing most if not all the testing for the main English language version of the product. He didn’t tolerate any kind of failure, and did not see failure as a route to learning. Nor was I really given the opportunity to learn why something went wrong. He also encouraged and developed an atmosphere in the office that lead to practical jokes, workplace banter and so on. I was usually at the receiving end of it. I was often made fun of, and often reacted badly to it.
I guess he/they wanted to push my buttons for some reason, to provoke a reaction. I’m not sure why. I could see others feeling less than comfortable with it, but said nothing. Also, when I sought help I was told to toughen up. Hardly helpful advice. At times I dreaded going into work, as his attitude and behaviour made me feel awful. I was often sick, and frequently suffered from IBS. (I still do now)
The worst example of this was one morning in the early spring or summer of 2002. I was crossing a busy road in Bristol, close to my home. I witnessed a woman on a bicycle being crushed by a large articulated truck. The truck had pulled away, and stopped nearby after the accident. I rushed over, helped and supported the rider’s head and neck, and asked a nearby person to stop the traffic.
As the woman was on the floor, screaming, I realised very quickly that I would need to stay with her till the ambulance had arrived and the paramedics could take over. It was a 20-30 min walk to the office, and it was already getting on for 8.45 am at this point. The police had at this point turned up and was controlling the traffic, and shortly afterwards the ambulance arrived. I was given some support by the emergency services, and gave a brief statement to the police. I think they had arrested the truck driver at this point, or at least were detaining him. The police had at this point said they would likely need a more detailed statement from me later, so I gave them my mobile number, address and place of work.
This is where the real problems for me started. I was already late for work. It was a release day/week, and tensions were running high at the office, as we were rolling out our new CRM to the UK call centres. A lot of testing had been done at this point, as had a lot of work to deploy and train members of staff in its usage. I had been involved in most of it, but hadn’t been allowed at this point to support the roll out at the local call centres. I tried to call my manager to let them know what happened, but there was no answer, so I called the office manager to let them know. She was awesome and very supportive, and said they would pass on the news I would be late. At this point, I didn’t explain what had happened in detail. I was still processing it.
By the time I had arrived, my boss was livid that I was late, despite me taking a bus to speed things along. I got in almost 90mins late. I was called in for a ‘chat’ about my time keeping. I did not make a habit out of being late, but many people started early, or stayed late at night, for whatever arbitrary work/social reason they could think of. It was just part of the culture. I tended to work later, so I could co-ordinate with my counterparts in the USA - who I got on with far, far better. When the police arrived at the office, to take a detailed statement from me, this irritated my manager even more, and I was treated like a pariah for a few days. All this because I helped someone, terribly injured on the road. But it disrupted the office work environment.
I suppose if I talked to him now, he would probably say he was proud of me for getting to where I am now, and probably would say something like ‘I’ve taught him all I know’ etc. Some BS like that. Well, what you did teach me is how NOT to manage people, how not to belittle, tease, bully and control people because he didn’t get everything he needed immediately.
That wasn’t the sort of tester I wanted to be, nor the kind of manager I wanted to become.