Friday, April 23, 2010

Stepping Away to Step Back In

A few years ago, I made up my mind that I wanted to branch out of testing. I felt it was an endeavor that was poorly understood, and it was one that many people had too many mis-conceptions about. Because of that, I felt it might be time, after several years experience, to see what other avenues I could venture into.

My first example of this was to try Application Engineering. However, I found out that, if you ask ten different people what an Application Engineer did, you would get ten different answers. Some felt it was a fancy way of saying “tech support”, while others had visions of a process expert that retooled production lines and made sure that the processes were accurate and efficient. One thing became clear, the nebulous nature made it a difficult fit for me.

After I went back to school in 2003, I went to work as a tester again (hey, back to what I know) but after a short period of time actively testing, I was asked to do support while new projects percolated up. Several months later, I was still doing support while most of the testers were put onto other projects. I inquired as to why I wasn’t being given another testing project (had I done something wrong?). the answer was, no I hadn’t done anything wrong, but that I was doing something very right; they felt that they could get any number of people to test, but getting someone who could do quality technical support consistently was like striking gold! The fact that I could test and do good technical support put me in an interesting position, one where I could be very effective and get to really understand the User Experience issues that many of the testers and project managers were either not addressing or hadn’t determined what to do.

When I finished school, there was a lull in the Q.A. jobs being offered at the time, but quite a few opportunities in technical support. Since I’d spent the previous two years sharing time between test and tech support, I figured I’d give it a go. MY time as a dedicated support rep would be short lived, though, because as soon as I came into the organization, the development team was sharing their frustrations that they had little in the way of a dedicated Quality Assurance group, and I opened my mouth that, hey, I’m a tester (or I was, in any event). This resulted in a shared arrangement for a year, where I split my time 50/50 between support and testing, with the net result that I was asked to climb back into the QA arena full time again.

It’s been three years since that time, and I am happy to be back in the QA saddle again. What changed? When I look back at where I was in 2000, I had done several years of testing, but there was little structure or understanding behind it. I did it because it was needed. After my forays into Application Engineering and Technical Support, I had a much better appreciation of the value of the User Experience, and really getting a feel for what customers really wanted their products to do. This allowed me to set a whole new expectation for testing, and that new expectation energized me and gave me motivation to focus on ways to make sure that I was thinking of what the customer would see, and making that the paradigm that drove my testing. It had a big effect to getting me to get back to my love of testing and giving a new purpose to my efforts.

Sometimes stepping away from what you are doing is the perfect thing to help you get clarity on what you really want to do and why. Here’s hoping that, if anyone else wants to do this, it doesn’t take them seven years to get that clarity. Sometimes I wonder where I could be today and what I could be doing had I had that epiphany back in 2000, but the good news is, I’ve had it, and it’s what drives me today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings :).
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