QA skills besides testing

Figure out who you are
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test is useful. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you handle stress? Are you a pattern-noticing person? Are you a visual, tactile, textual, or auditory person? Try a DiSC test.

Figure out how you learn
QA is a career that requires continual learning. Find out what works for you (books, video classes, working through problems, pairing with someone who knows the skill you want to develop). Experiment with different learning methods. How did your favourite teacher work?

How do you transmit information
Others learn and process information in different ways to you. Find out the ways to simply and clearly convey ideas to groups of others. Teach something to a person that does not learn the same way as you do.

How to take notes that will be helpful to you later
You’re not going to remember everything. Use flashcards, coloured sticky notes, diagrams, doodles, sketchnotes, a notebook, Evernote, Google Drive, find some way of storing data to find it later. If you use a notebook, consider indexing it (add page numbers, make a spreadsheet of topics). In six months time, you will have lost the context you currently have on your project, so find a way to record that information and get it to the people who will need it.

How to talk to difficult people
People who have done customer service or tech support have developed skills for dealing with that one customer that is furious with everyone and taking it out on you. You learn how to steer people towards an answer, how to stay calm under pressure, how to think on your feet, and how to say no. These skills are invaluable.

How to be a good part of a team
Quality Advocates are part of two teams: their product team, and the team of Quality Advocates across offices. Other QAs have a wealth of knowledge and information and they are happy to share it with you.

How to ask questions
Sometimes we ask questions we know the answer to, in order to help someone else get to the same answer. A well placed “can you help me understand X?” can uncover a hole in someone’s thinking. You learn by teaching to others, and by getting someone else to teach you, you help them know the subject better. And you learn something too.

How to listen
Listen so you can reply and add to the conversation. Don’t listen for a break so you can say the bit you were thinking about while they were talking to you. Pay attention when people are speaking.

Sharpen your observational skills
Who just got a haircut? Who looks like they didn’t sleep well last night? Who looks happy, or sad, or angry? Play ‘find the typo’ with every email you get. Learn to see visual bugs in apps, use a sticky note as a straight edge to check if things line up.

Know when and how to argue
Always fight fair. No manipulation, no passive-aggressive behaviour. Speak clearly and with precision (say “four days this week” instead of “all the time”). Don’t talk over people.

Drive your own career
You are responsible for your own growth and learning. If you need help, ask for it. If you don’t take the advice of people trying to help you, that is your choice and the consequences of your choices are on you. If you see something you want to learn, go learn it, you don’t need permission.

Practice ‘recreational QA’
Find bugs in the wild, and try to figure out how you would test so that bug did not get past you. Proofread books as you read, look for typos and wrong grammar. Try and figure out what game designers were thinking when they made your favourite game.

Talk in front of groups
In Agile retrospectives, team stand-up meetings, and other meetings, you will need to address groups. Put the points you want to cover on an index card and use it as a prompt when you get nervous. Everyone is not staring at you, they will not throw rotten fruit. Take a prop with you to hold if it makes you feel better.

Find out what resets you from stressful situations
Try a short walk, a cup of tea, a quick stretching exercise, a few minutes of silence and meditation. You will be in situations that poke your sore spots, reacting emotionally will not make things better. Recognise your emotional state and take the steps you need to return to a calm center, without freezing off or bottling up your reactions.

Figure out your blind spots
If you’re a lifelong iPhone user, find out how to test Android phones, and vice-versa. Web app people can look into iPad apps, Windows people can get a Linux VM on their machine to explore. Ask people you work with to tell you what your weaker skills are, and listen to them.

Figure out what you’re trying to improve
You improve with deliberate practice on your weak spots in an environment where it is OK to make mistakes and not be perfect. If you only operate in your strengths, you don’t improve over time. Keep your focus on the skill you want to improve and act in ways that will force that growth. Then focus on another area to improve.
From Anna Z: Always know what your short term and long term professional goals are, use SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).

Now, 22 April 2017

Thinking about
Distraction. I turned off all the notifications on my phone except texts, it feels like I have less pressure to poke at my phone at all times.

Also thinking a lot about how you lead a team across multiple cities, especially ones you can’t just drive to. How do you maintain a relationship with people over WebEx sessions, phone calls, Slack and email?

Stimuli and input
Listened to the Audible version of Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and I’m going to be reading it with a colleague at work. Finished Thanks for the Feedback and it was good. Annoyingly, “why didn’t I think of that” good.

Craft and unnecessary creating
I want to finish spinning some sea green Polwarth silk fibre into yarn and spin something else. I’m knitting asymmetric triangle/curve scarves and liking the look of the finished piece but still unsure how to wear them without looking awkward.

Drawing and doodling has fallen to the wayside, I want to figure out how to bring that back. I have some visual learners at work who need to see a picture or a diagram before something will click.

Exercise and health
As an experiment, I signed up with YogaGlo so I would have some exercise to do while on a business trip, and I’m keeping the subscription. A half-hour of yoga first thing in the morning seems like a good habit to have in my life.

St. Louis Techies Project

The St. Louis Techies Project aims to highlight people in tech in the St. Louis area. This year, for International Women’s Day, the global Women Techmakers group has the theme of “telling our story.” We want to tell your story!

This is my story, also available on the St Louis Techies website

How many years have you been in tech?
Since 2005, so 12 years now.

Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?
I was the science and maths nerd at school, did a physics degree because I loved the subject, and got into coding there via Fortran77 and then Visual Basic 4 and 5. My husband and I are British, we immigrated to the US in 1998 and got US citizenship in 2009.

How were you exposed to tech?
I had a Commodore VIC-20 as a small child and spent many happy hours typing stuff in, watching it run, and playing games. At University studying physics, we got access to Unix machines and Windows boxes. I married a programmer and taught myself Java so we could converse at dinner, then HTML, CSS, and other useful acronyms. After years of listening to him tell me about working with bad QAs, I got a job in that field so I could do better, and because it sounded fun.

What is your current role?
Director of Quality Advocacy for Asynchrony Labs. I serve nearly fifty quality advocates in two states, spread across three cities.

What is your proudest accomplishment?
Introducing the idea of a QA apprenticeship to the company. I took a candidate with no development background and trained him to be a QA automation engineer on one of our larger teams. After less than three years as a QA, his work is outstanding and contributes to a high-performing team responsible for multiple applications. We are currently training apprentices seven, eight, and nine.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Tell us about a time that this applied to you.
When I arrived at Asynchrony in 2013, I was one of nine QAs for about two hundred developers. Many teams did not have a QA person, and the QAs worked in isolation. I wanted to change that, despite being told that “Test-driven development means we don’t need a QA.”

I implemented automated tests on my team, learned C# from my team lead. I started a weekly QA stand-up to connect the QA team, asked for and got a free month of Codeschool.com for QA people to continue learning, and drove hard to be the best QA automation engineer my team had ever seen.

Now the QAs are a team of nearly fifty for four hundred developers. Teams request a QA on startup, the QA team meets every other week to share knowledge, and we are continually training each other, pairing with QAs and developers, and having fun.

What are you learning right now?
The Elixir language. Current goal is to write myself a web server that will return a correctly formed HTCPCP 418 error, see https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2324 for details of the spec I’m working from.

Describe a time where you solved a problem in a creative way. For example, did something in your personal life trigger a solution to a problem at work?
I was trying to coordinate QA activities while being a full time QA on my team, and we hadn’t been able to hire a replacement for me. I asked for and got permission to hire an apprentice, thinking of my father’s experience when he was apprenticed to a local carpenter as a teen. His apprenticeship changed the course of his life, I wanted to give someone else that chance. It was a risk, my apprentice took a huge leap of faith and we muddled through a three month boot-camp until he was ready to start flying solo. I’ve continued to meet with him to advise and encourage and hear his successes and experiments, I’m so proud of what he has become.

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?
Speaking in front of groups of strangers has always been terrifying for me. My mentor challenged me to visit the CoderGirl meetup and talk about software QA. I prepared a speech, got myself a green laser pointer and did it. I felt horribly nervous but people liked the talk. I have taken on part of the new hire orientation presentations at work, so I speak in front of a group every month and over time it has become easier. It’s still scary though.

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this, that something is ‘too technical’ for you to understand, that your role and discipline is a second class citizen. March forth and be awesome!

What are your hobbies?
I’m a 1st degree black belt in Chinese Kenpo, which took over eight years of training. I knit, I spin yarn from fleece, and I write a novel every year with National Novel Writing Month.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?
The people here are friendly, the weather is constantly changing and the summers are glorious. The town is big enough to get band concerts but not so large it feels like a New York or London. I have history here, my favourite bread shop and coffee place knows my name and my order, and I feel like I belong here.

Who inspires you?
The people in my life who struggle with mental illness and refuse to give up against often overwhelming difficulties. Walking forwards against a depression hurricane is a struggle I share with them.

What tags would you use to describe yourself?
Android, C#, cat-herder, English, immigrant, Java, kenpo student, knitter, leader, lifelong student, manager, muppet-wrangler, QA, QA engineer, tester, wife.

Where are the unknown unknowns?

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Quote from then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in answer to a question at a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) news briefing on February 12, 2002.

I love this quote, because in software testing, we are always hunting the "unknown unknowns," that bug we believe exists but haven’t caught up to yet, that new technique for a different kind of test we haven’t tried before, and the hunt for the pernicious but tiny flaws that grow over time into horrible ugly nastiness.

2016 in review

I drove a race car around a Nascar circuit in March for my 41st birthday, reaching 106mph! It was an awesome birthday gift from my husband.

I was promoted to 1st degree black belt, on Friday 13th May, by Ben Pratt of Tracy’s Karate West. Started this journey in December 2008 with Karen Luesse as my instructor, switched to Ben after Karen went out for surgery late December 2013.

We visited Washington DC for our 21st wedding anniversary, saw Phantom of the Opera at the Kennedy Center, and went to the White House and the Smithsonian.

I read thirty-five books in 2016, two were re-reads. I started but did not finish nine additional books, I’m getting comfortable with not finishing a book that does not hold my attention. This was the year I started using highlighter pencils and writing in books, starting with Ryan Holiday’s "The Obstacle is the Way" in October.

In 2016 I knit twenty-six projects, fourteen of which were gifted to people. Older projects were also gifted, I’ve given over a hundred and twenty knitted projects away over the eight years I’ve been tracking projects on Ravelry.

I wrote 50,000 words of a passable novel in November (still in progress), my eleventh novel from thirteen years doing NaNoWriMo. I believe I may have a great novel in me, and I’m eleven novels closer to that manuscript than when I started writing in 2004. My lifetime NaNoWriMo word count is 589,088 words.

Now, January 2017

Thinking about
What habits do I want to install in my life? I’m learning the Elixir language with a tutorial and book from Big Machine, Taking Off With Elixir. It’s the first functional programming tutorial that hasn’t made me feel like I’m being hit over the head with a heavy mathematics textbook by someone yelling at me that I’m stupid (Haskell and Scala, this means you).

Stimuli and input
I started using highlighter pencils in books I was reading (only ones I own), it makes flipping back through them a lot faster. Started a questions log, to capture questions that get stuck in my head, an idea from Todd Henry’s book Die Empty. Planning to use the back of that notebook to record things I’ve learned, got that idea from an article by Tré Wee, 52 key learnings in 52 weeks of 2016.

Craft and unnecessary creating
Daily doodling will return after my National Novel Writing Month novel is complete. There are three chapters to go and it seems like a decent story. I have a couple of Kickstarter books on drawing, one on figures and one on cartoon character design, that should arrive soon.

Exercise and health
I got my black belt this year, so what’s next? Thinking about a personal push-up challenge. I would like to weigh less and have more endurance.