Friday, April 12, 2013

Onboarding the "New Tester"

Our little team is growing! What started as a single person covering all of software testing has grown into a small team of senior software testers, with additional support from contractors and interns. Additionally, we also had another Senior QA Engineer come on board last week. I was asked to shadow him and be his pair and mentor so that we get everything up to speed.

Having gone through a lot of these situations myself, and having taken copious notes, I figured we'd be on Easy Street in no time. I'd just show him where I stubbed my toes, and show him how to avoid them.

We always say that we will make it smooth for the "new tester" because we've already walked the path, and we'll show them the way. The problem is, we know the path, and we've laid out what we believe to be good trail markers, but in many ways, the path we have laid out is really only good for us. As I complained earlier about the "implicit knowledge" the team has, unless I'm going to spell out to the very most intimate minutiae of what needs to be done, yes, there's a lot of implicit knowledge that I'm expecting people to have and understand.

Just because I know backwards and forwards the steps to a process doesn't mean that the obvious things to me are going to be obvious to them. Sure enough, after a few fits and starts, we ironed out the issues, and we got everything set up and finally running. The process taught me that things that I know are important, and are plain and obvious guide markers to me, may be totally missed by someone else, not because they aren't smart or accomplished at what they do, but because their expectations and experiences might be slightly different than mine.

When we get the chance to bring someone new on board, let's try to resist the temptation to give the bare basics and then let them fend for themselves. Instead, let's walk them through areas we discovered pitfalls, and explain why they are pitfalls. We need to be clear as to exactly what areas might cause problems or be difficult to get set up correctly. We need to let them know that big complex systems require a lot of knowledge of their moving parts, and that there's no way they're going to absorb it all in a week or two. Heck, I've been here almost five months and I still have areas that I am exploring, mapping and trying to understand. Remember how it feels to be the new tester on the team... then act accordingly. It will save them heartache and it will also save your sanity.


Unknown said...

Great Topical post, I'm bringing on three new testers this month.

Julie said...

I'm 3 weeks into a new job, even with a lot of testing experience it's still very hard to come into a new job.

I'm being given small amounts of information then lots of time to figure it out myself. That's how I like to work/learn... but others might not.

Michael Larsen said...

Julie, I agree, there's a lot of benefit to walking a system and discovering what it can do for yourself. At the same time, for complex systems, I think it's important that we not have everyone reinvent the wheel every time. IF there are key things that we need to make sure we know and are working, then steps to get us there can be a big help. Beyond that, though, I agree, I don't want to spoon feed everything.