What’s in a team? We’ve all heard about testers and developers being placed in different teams (or silos), as opposed to having both roles and skillsets in the same team. But what about testers placed in the client-facing team? Being part of the team that deals with client onboarding, training and support, whilst not actually speaking with clients directly?
This is the situation I found myself in last year, after moving from a tech support role to the one known as “UX Ninja”. Just another marketing-happy name for Tester? Try all-encompassing umbrella term for “tester-product-owner-business-analyst-UX-type-web-scheduling-mock-up-crafting-person”. Not as catchy, is it?
Kicking it with Client Colleagues
When I first changed roles, it made sense to stay in the client-facing team. I’d still be acting with our users in mind, and would need to know about the product issues they were facing. Plus, I was already seen as the “product expert” by that point, and my client-facing colleagues found me to be a quick and helpful resource when the trickier queries came in.
However, although the team of developers was just a stone’s throw away in an open-plan office, this left a disconnect – conscious or not – between development and testing.
The physical “get up and walk over” routine, several times a day, made it more of a conscious decision to interrupt the person that you really did need to speak to. Over time, in my experience, this meant casual self-convincing that what you really needed to speak about wasn’t that important, and could wait. Or maybe a twelve-touch email chain over several hours would suffice, over a four minute conversation.
I was working much more closely with my colleagues in the technical team (we still did our best to collaborate) than those sitting next to me, and felt more and more out of place, surrounded by people constantly on the phone. The “headphones on” testing method was a must.
Teaming up with Techies
It took almost a year of testing before I finally joined the technical team. I felt the difference almost immediately.
The atmosphere, communication, collaboration, consultation – everything ran more smoothly than before. Suddenly, I felt more “available” to developers and they were asking for my input more frequently, and at earlier stages of development. It also became easier for me to turn around and ask for a technical perspective, or more information on how something had been implemented. Both are excellent and important improvements towards producing a stable and valuable product. All sides / roles of the job I do are feeling the benefit, after only two months in my new team.
Even a change in management has had an impact. It can be helpful or necessary to get the support of your manager when bringing forward an important issue, or proposing a change. But what if your manager (from their own admission) isn’t really sure what you do? Is it fair to expect that they support you, or fully understand what they’re supporting, or the potential impact? Although my new manager’s background is focused on development rather than testing, it’s still a lot closer to what I do than training clients. The disciplines are completely different.
Physically sitting with my technical colleagues also means that my relationships with them are better. By having even a little “non-shop” talk each day, we get to find out more about one another and our personalities, which helps to improve communication and ultimately benefits the product we’re all trying to make a success.
All this great stuff, and I still get the interaction needed with the client-facing team, as I’m still involved in their weekly meetings. Realistically, this is when we exchanged the most mutually relevant / beneficial information when I was in that team as well, so I haven’t seen any real loss from moving.
I’ve written previously about being the only tester in the business. How much could the benefits described above be amplified if there were other testers in the business for me to collaborate with and learn from? While I’m unsure that being in a tester-only team would be “better” than having testers and developers in the same team, I do increasingly find myself wondering how much more I could improve if there were other testers in the business.
To perform more tests is not to be more skilled; as to work longer is not to be more experienced.
I worry that without any “real” training or development, I’m not a “real” tester.
Am I much different from the familiar marketer / accountant / office manager / miscellaneous low-paid worker in the business who was also asked to test occasionally?
I try to immerse myself in the testing community, in the hopes that others’ expertise might rub off on me. Rattling around in my own thoughts isn’t as good as discussing things with testers online, which isn’t as good as talking things over in person, which isn’t as good as experiencing it for myself.
I suppose I’m still out of place as the “lonely tester” – I sometimes feel like the misfit in a high school cafeteria. I try to remind myself that it’s still early days, in the grand scheme of things. It feels a little wrong to reign in the enthusiastic, eager part of me that can’t wait to learn more, but I know that I can’t really afford to send myself on an RST course any time soon; I think that could really help me to learn the valuable skills and techniques I long for.
In the mean-time, I remind myself to be grateful for the team move and enjoy the positive impact it’s having.
I’d really like to hear your stories about moving teams, or being a lone tester. Please share your experiences in the comments!