Being Seen To Be Doing

It’s fair to say that I’ve neglected this blog a little – so it’s time to rectify that, and give a bit of an update on what’s going on in my world.

First things first – The SDET & Automation Network Meetup, hosted by Testing Circle in collaboration with Hotels.com & Expedia.com is undergoing a bit of a revamp. The plan is to relaunch in March, with a wider scope to cover all of software testing rather than just the SDET & Automation area. We’re still working on some finer details, and I’ll shout when we have something concrete to share. But we will be looking for speakers on all subjects connected with software testing to come and present to our audience.

Things are changing in my role as QA Evangelist too. I spent a decent part of the last year acting as… well, the best analogy I can come up with is that I’ve been kind of a roadie for the teams I work with. Staying out of the way, working out of sight to make sure that my charges can get on with what they do best with minimal disruption.

This, of course, is not the best course of action for a QA Evangelist. Mine is a role that requires active engagement, visibility, and promotion of what I’m doing, as well as providing support and sharing my knowledge and experience with my teams. While I’ve had good ideas about things I can be doing as an Evangelist, I haven’t really followed through on them, and as a result, I’ve got a lot of half-finished stuff floating around, and concepts that I haven’t fully fleshed out. So rather than concentrating solely on working behind the scenes to make my teams look good, this is to be a year of execution, and of visibility through achievement – and I’m already making moves in that direction.

First of all, I’ve also established a series of ‘Lead Amigos’ meetings with the Dev Managers and Scrum Masters in each of the teams I work directly with. This is a fortnightly series of 30-minute catch ups to discuss what’s happening in the teams, how we can support each other in our roles as technology managers and leaders. This will help keep lines of communication open with my teams, to get information about their achievements and milestones, and to pick up information and techniques that may be relevant to the rest of the company.

In terms of communication and presentations, I’ve now resurrected our Technology Podcast. This is published directly to the company’s internal blog, and is a series of sit-down talks with folks from all areas of our Tech Org to talk about their career path, their team and its function, the good stuff they’re doing, and whatever else comes to mind. The feedback for the first couple of episodes has been good, and I’ve already recorded a few more so I have a buffer in case I can’t get guests to sit down with me at any point. Speaking to folks on the record about their areas of technology has served to increase my knowledge about other areas of the business, and putting the podcasts out on an internal platform has both shared that knowledge, and helped to raise my profile within the business.

I currently have six presentations in the development stage, covering a number of skills and disciplines within software testing. My plan here is to get them finished, and deliver them as internal coaching sessions. I can also open up these sessions for other folks who want to refine talks they’re developing, and deliver them to a soft audience. And I’ll use the feedback from those sessions to further develop my talks to take them to external meetups and prepare them as conference submissions.

Oh, yes – Conferences and meetups. I don’t just intend to raise my profile internally (as important as that is) – I also plan to get out and about more, to speak at more events, and to meet other folks who I can bring in to speak at our company. The revamped Testing Meetup I mentioned before is going to be an important part of this – stay tuned!

And of course, this blog is going to be an important channel for me to float ideas, provoke thought and discussion of our discipline, and to generally get things noted down somewhere to keep myself honest in terms of actually getting things done.

While I’ve talked about raising my profile and being more visible in what I do, there’s an important caveat here – The difference between visibility through achievement, and making noise for the sake of making noise is very important. There are few things more annoying than someone who is always jumping up and down, demanding attention and yelling about everything they’re doing just for the sake of being heard. I have two young children, so I see plenty of that at home!

This is just the first batch of things I’m planning to work on in the coming year – I’m not treating this as an exhaustive, or indeed, concrete list. As priorities change and new ideas crop up, things may get added, improved, moved around, reprioritised etc. But this selection gives me a good base of useful projects that will benefit my company, and will improve my profile within it.

Just what an Evangelist should be doing.

What IS a QA Evangelist, anyway?

Short Answer: I am.
Longer Answer: Read on…

Short Answer: I am.

Longer Answer: Well, perhaps it’s better to start with the things that being a QA Evangelist DOESN’T mean.

Despite the name, my current position and title have no religious connotations. I don’t deliver my presentations from a pulpit, I don’t wear tech-branded vestments, I don’t swing incense about the place, and I don’t go door-to-door preaching the gospel according to software testing… at least, not in a way that makes people turn off the telly, hide behind the sofa, and pretend they’re not at home.

Certainly one of the best parts of having an unusual job title is that it’s a great ice-breaker and conversation starter when I go out and meet people. Believe me, when you tell anyone in the technology world that you’re a QA Evangelist, they immediately want to know more. So here’s the story of how my role came about, and exactly what it entails.

I first conceived the role about 18 months ago, as I felt it was something that should have existed in our company. A role that would fit my skills, make me more useful and valuable to the business, and would help to raise the profile of our company in the wider technology community. As a company, we knew we were (and indeed, still are) very good at what we did, we know we were at the cutting edge, and we knew were innovators. It was high time other people knew it too.

My idea involved taking the QA Manager role I was currently filling, and reinventing it. I didn’t want to just be responsible for the day-to-day management of software testing, as the folks we take on generally know what they’re doing, and don’t need someone standing over them the whole time. But of course, I have a great deal of knowledge around both our profession and our company, so I still wanted to be a point of reference and guidance, and I still wanted to be first line support for the QA team. I also wanted to retain my responsibilities for recruitment, mentoring new hires, and all the other good stuff that the traditional QA Manager role entails. It was, and still is, very important to me to keep an eye on the day-to-day stuff so I can make the most appropriate recommendations and offer the most relevant advice possible – but it’s no longer my single raison d’être.

I also wanted to take responsibility for showing our QA team that there’s a world outside their individual delivery team. I thought it was important to regularly share blog posts and industry articles to get the team thinking more about what they do and how they do it, and to encourage them to create and share their own work in this way. I wanted my teams to look at interesting conferences and webinars, drive engagement with other teams, other areas of the business, and even other companies to share ideas, strategies, and seek solutions to issues they’re encountering. And I wanted to encourage teams to get out and do this stuff themselves – to present at meetups and conferences, to trumpet their successes to the wider testing world, and to really build themselves testing communities that they can easily reach out to. All of which would also benefit the company by raising our profile in the wider technology world.

I, personally, also wanted to act as an advocate to other areas of the business, and to other companies – to tell the rest of our business about the value of proper testing and QA in software development, as well as getting guest speakers in for our teams, putting myself out there to speak at other companies, meetups and conferences. So in that respect, I guess I do sort of go door-to-door preaching the gospel of software testing.

I spent the best part of a year pitching the concept of the role to everyone who might be affected, refining it and tailoring it for our business, and doing the groundwork to establish myself in that position. All the while, I was nervously waiting to see if the Technology leadership understood the role and its value, if the new organisational structure created to accommodate the role would successfully navigate any red tape thrown up by our (excellent) HR department.

Finally, in March this year, I was promoted into the role, exactly as I’d conceived and pitched it, with very little in the way of enforced change from Tech Leadership and HR. And it’s no exaggeration to say that the conception and implementation of the QA Evangelist role, and my promotion into that role, is my proudest professional achievement.

Since taking on the role officially, I’ve attended a few conferences and delivered my learning back to my teams. I’ve launched an internal-only podcast, which I’m planning to put out to the big wide world once I’ve got the formula nailed, and I’m getting out there and doing more speaking about our profession. I’m busier, but more satisfied in my work than I’ve ever been.

I feel it’s a natural evolution of the QA Manager role in an industry that is moving towards expertise being prevalent at all levels, and towards iterative and / or continuous delivery as the norm. Being able to not just lead, but to influence and guide my teams, to get them to really communicate about what they do and how they do it, to demonstrate the value of our role in the delivery of quality products, and to share the stories of our success to the widest possible internal and external audiences is, to me, the wave of the future for software testing.

I’m proud to have nailed my colours to the mast in the first place, to have driven this change in the way we think about and execute our testing, and to have put our company in the position to be on the crest of that wave.