From Test Cases to Team Leader: A QA's Journey to Management
by Seven Peaks on Dec 12, 2023 9:15:43 AM
Though I'm relatively new to Seven Peaks, I bring over 16 years of extensive experience in QA or Quality Assurance to the team, and I'm excited to share my journey and insights with you.
Fate played a hand in my becoming a QA. During my studies at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang's Department of Computer Science, a company came recruiting for two positions: developer and QA. While they required Java for the developer role, my skills at the time weren't quite up to par. So, I opted for the QA exam instead, and to my surprise, I landed the job.
After graduation, I continued working as a QA for two years before pursuing a Master's degree in Business IT in Scotland. Upon returning, I rejoined my previous company, further reinforcing my career path in the QA field.
After a while, I realized that QA perfectly matched my personality. I have an excellent attention to detail and get easily frustrated by buggy or poorly designed apps. Whenever I encounter one I think to myself, "How could they release such an app? What were the QA and testers doing?" This nature translates to my work as well.
“I strive for perfection in everything I do, and I take immense satisfaction when clients praise my work for its accuracy and stability.”
Seeing the app function seamlessly and users express their satisfaction with it fills me with a deep sense of fulfillment. It's not just about completing tasks; it's about the impact my work has on real people.
This dedication to precision aligns perfectly with the core qualities of a QA professional. The positive feedback I received further validated my choice, and I continued pursuing this path with unwavering enthusiasm. Today, I'm proud to stand as the Head of QA at Seven Peaks, a testament to my passion for quality and the positive impact it can create.
While I'd say I'm proficient in various QA disciplines, it's hard to pinpoint my single strongest area. Before delving into that, let's explore the differences between QA and a tester.
Testers focus on identifying bugs, reporting them to developers, and ensuring their fixes fully address the issues. Their job revolves around reactive bug detection for a satisfied customer experience.
QA, on the other hand, takes a proactive approach to preventing bugs in the first place. We work closely with developers, strategizing optimal code construction. This is crucial because developers often aren't aware of which code sections will be tested. However, QA also involves manual testing, which entails writing test cases and running them to identify any anomalies after a product's release. This framework represents how I initially honed my QA skills.
Within manual testing lies a specialized branch called automation testing. Imagine you're developing a new feature for a long-running banking app. A key software development principle states that new features shouldn't break existing ones. Therefore, older features need regression testing, which can take about five days and require a large team.
Another discipline is performance testing. Simply put, if an app takes more than ten seconds to load, users will likely switch to a faster alternative. This discipline ensures websites and apps meet responsiveness standards.
These disciplines constitute the technical side of QA, learned and honed by QA professionals throughout their careers.
Senior QA engineers typically choose between management and technical paths. I initially chose the technical side. However, my previous company lacked an individual who could bridge both sides, leading me to assist with people management. My career trajectory ended up balancing both aspects.
While I enjoy both, automation testing holds a special place in my heart. Currently, as Head of QA, Return on Investment (ROI) is a major focus. Having team members perform tasks manually can become excessively costly in the long run. Automation testing eliminates the need for three-day testing sessions, requiring only a single night for execution.
Organizations seeking rapid growth should prioritize automation testing. Since joining Seven Peaks, I've been actively promoting the development of automation testing skills within my team.
How Automation Testing Disrupts QA
Will automation testing completely replace testers? Absolutely not. Human oversight will always be crucial, and manual testers will gradually evolve by adding automation skills to their repertoire. Those solely reliant on manual testing are the ones facing disruption. As the industry shifts towards automation, manual testing roles will gradually shrink.
“While writing automation scripts isn't mandatory, the ability to run them or make minor adjustments is essential.”
Forward-thinking companies are implementing a "test-first" approach, where automation tests are written before manual testing or are even integrated within the code itself. This is known as BDD or behavior-driven development, which is a contrast to the traditional "code-first, test-later" methodology.
Despite this evolution, manual testing isn’t going anywhere. Many organizations still consider automation testing a high-cost, low-return solution. For instance, a single QA professional might efficiently handle testing for four developers. However, automation complicates the process. After completing manual testing, they need to perform automation testing as well, potentially requiring a second manpower.
Some companies even outsource large teams of manual testers, solely focused on regression testing guided by existing test cases. They log bugs they find, viewing this approach as more cost-effective. Only when they find it unsustainable will they consider transitioning to automation.
Future of QA
“The future of QA demands professionals who transcend mere testing and actively contribute to team value by ensuring quality throughout the entire development cycle.”
Gone are the days of isolated QA efforts. Instead, forward-thinking QA professionals will actively engage from the outset, meticulously reviewing initial business requirements. This proactive involvement ensures no critical elements are overlooked and that proposed ideas align seamlessly with client needs before transforming into technical requirements.
Directly converting business requirements to code is almost always impossible. Developers rely on QA's expertise to translate these requirements into actionable technical specifications, subsequently broken down into manageable batches for efficient coding.
This shift necessitates a deeper understanding of the business landscape for QA professionals. By assuming greater responsibility in the business requirements phase, QA can significantly enhance sprint efficiency.
The traditional developer-centric workflow will also undergo a significant shift. Developers will be expected to take greater ownership of code quality, potentially adhering to predefined test cases with QA offering the final polish. This collaborative approach departs from the outdated model where developers simply deliver code for subsequent QA testing.
“The Head of QA's crucial responsibility lies in providing clear direction for the QA department, steering it towards strategic objectives, and aligning it with the organization's goals.”
This leadership role extends beyond the QA department's boundaries. Effective collaboration with other teams, particularly the product team, is essential for fostering a unified vision and ensuring a cohesive workflow.
To navigate the department toward success, the Head of QA must possess a deep understanding of its goals, the milestones that mark the path forward, and the individuals entrusted with achieving them. Proactive identification of skill gaps and resource limitations empowers the Head of QA to address them through targeted training, strategic hiring, or leveraging resources like SDETs (Software Development Engineers in Test) for specialized tasks.
Imagine a QA team lacking expertise in automation testing. Implementing an SDET into the team can significantly boost efficiency. By handling technical aspects like code installation and framework configuration, the SDET frees the QA team to focus on their core competency - application-level testing. This ultimately enables QA to perform both automation and performance testing seamlessly.
Finally, beyond managing the team, the Head of QA wears a mentor's hat to guide and support individuals through training, coaching, and regular involvement in their work.
Scalability has been the biggest hurdle I've faced. Imagine releasing a new product version to consumers. While I could meticulously test it alone, maintaining that level of control would not scale. With 15 products under my care, spending 15 times the effort on each is simply impossible. So, how do I empower the team to handle this efficiently?
The solution lies in a fundamental mindset shift. We must move beyond the belief that this is a one-person show.
“Trusting our team's capabilities and equipping them with the necessary skills is paramount.”
By providing support and fostering an environment where they can confidently tackle challenges, we empower them to thrive. I constantly remind them that they have a dedicated support system in me, always ready to assist. This necessitates a smarter approach. We cannot simply rely on brute force and endless hours.
My development as a professional has been shaped by two distinct groups of individuals. The first group comprises those who actively mentor me, like my manager. During our regular 1-on-1 meetings, my manager, who acts as my direct mentor, identifies my areas of weakness and implements strategies to help me improve.
For example, I once faced the daunting task of presenting to a group of over 30 international clients, carrying the company's reputation on my shoulders. Despite my expertise in the subject matter, I struggled to communicate effectively, conveying only a fraction of my knowledge. Recognizing this weakness, my manager provided valuable guidance and coaching. He then assigned me the responsibility of presenting different topics to my team almost every week.
This practice served a dual purpose: allowing me to delve deeper into various subjects and hone my presentation skills. Ultimately, these efforts have transformed me into a confident presenter. Recently, I had the opportunity to present at the company's Engineering Hours event, speaking comfortably before almost a hundred attendees. Now, presenting to clients is a task I can readily embrace.
The second group consists of individuals from whom I learn through observation and proactive inquiry. I don’t hesitate to ask questions, even of my younger colleagues. Recognizing that today's youth possesses superior access to learning resources, I embrace a mutually beneficial learning relationship. While they may learn from my experience, I actively seek to learn from their novel knowledge. Their willingness to share their insights fosters a collaborative learning environment that benefits us all.
Key Takeaway from Experience
I firmly believe that soft skills, particularly interpersonal skills, are crucial in our field. We don't operate in isolation or within a single team. In QA, effective communication with product managers, scrum masters, developers, and other stakeholders is paramount.
Building strong relationships isn't about forging the best friendships. It's about fostering a collaborative environment built on trust and open communication. A simple conversation can often expedite progress significantly. If misalignment arises, bringing the involved parties together for a face-to-face discussion is highly effective. Clarifying expectations and workflows through direct communication can quickly resolve issues and ensure smooth progress.
“The significance of interpersonal skills extends far beyond the QA realm. They are fundamental to success in any business environment.”
Keeping Up with Professional Growth
Previously, I gravitated towards technical roles due to my limited communication skills. However, transitioning into management opened my eyes to the difficulties of mediating conflicting opinions from different teams. Compromise often proved exhausting and unsustainable.
This realization shifted my perspective. Regardless of the role, collaboration is inevitable. By way of example, after mastering a complex technical skill, I must then teach it to others, requiring planning and project management expertise.
Furthermore, mentoring my team involves more than simply offering assistance and resolving issues. It encompasses performance evaluations and career path guidance. When a team member expresses a desire to grow in a specific direction, I need to explore ways to support their development, identify areas for improvement, and devise a strategic approach. These endeavors demand different planning skills and present unique challenges.
“Recognizing that successful work hinges on effective interpersonal relationships, I have embraced the challenges and rewards of management.”
The Seven Peaks Experience
Transitioning to my new company has been quite a change, largely due to the contrasting business models. While my old company revolves around its own products, Seven Peaks thrives on fulfilling diverse client needs. This presents a unique and exciting challenge: establishing a core standard that can be adapted to a vast range of projects. Although no solution will be universally applicable, creating a foundational standard is crucial.
Another aspect I particularly appreciate is the company's open-mindedness towards innovation. Here, anyone can walk up to a manager and pitch a new idea. If you can demonstrate the potential value and have prepared thoroughly, they're readily supportive. This open approach fosters an environment conducive to growth and creativity.
Transitioning from Technical Tasks to Management
Don't let fear hold you back from connecting with others. Openness opens doors to support and collaboration. Be clear about your needs, plan, team member roles, and desired assistance. Define the scope and timeline of your project, utilizing the project management triangle as a framework. When you present a well-defined plan, others are more likely to offer their help and expertise.
I understand that technical professionals often prefer solitary work. Negotiating with colleagues or management can be intimidating, especially without a clear plan. This fear can lead some to avoid management roles, believing them to be overly complex. However, the perceived difficulty often stems from inadequate preparation.
“While you may not know where to start initially, consistent research and planning will gradually simplify the process. Familiarity with the required format will build your confidence and guide you through the challenges.”
For the Aspiring QA
The outdated perception of QA professionals as those afraid of coding is no longer accurate. In today's rapidly evolving landscape, such beliefs invite disruption. Automation is steadily gaining ground in the business world, shrinking the space for manual testing and diminishing its effectiveness in comparison with its automated counterpart. Artificial Intelligence further adds to this disruption, potentially displacing those unwilling to embrace coding skills.
Conquer your fear of code and open your mind to its possibilities. With numerous tools and resources available to assist you, learning to code is not as daunting as it may seem. Many organizations even employ SDETs specifically to provide technical support to QA teams. By embracing this shift and honing your coding skills, you can significantly broaden your career path.
Pattanapong (Hill) Srisucharncharoen, Head of QA at Seven Peaks
Hill's extensive 16-year career in QA, coupled with his venture into DevOps, has equipped him with a comprehensive understanding of all facets of QA. His experience and skill sets allow him to grasp client needs and provide solutions with remarkable accuracy, and when you add his understanding of interpersonal communication and cross-team collaboration – Hill has become a valuable member of our management team.