Things that can make or break you as a tester. Interview with Rob Lambert

Rob is an advocate for many important social causes, is obsessed with technology in society, and has written a number of books about testing, customer excellence, and community building.
29 January 2015
The article by a1qa

Rob Lambert is the author of “Remaining Relevant”, a book about remaining relevant and employable in today’s testing world. It’s published on LeanPub. Rob’s mission is to inspire testers to achieve great things in their careers and to take control of their own learning and self development. Rob Lambert is a veteran Engineering Manager building a forward thinking, creative and awesome team at NewVoiceMedia.

He’s is a serial blogger about all testing things.He’s on twitter at @rob_lambert.

Rob is an advocate for many important social causes, is obsessed with technology in society and has written a number of books about testing, customer excellence and community building. Rob’s also written a number of other test related content such as The Blazingly Simple Guide To Web Testing, The Problems With Testing, The Diary of a Test Manager and many others. You can find them on his blog. He is married with three kids and lives in historic Winchester, UK.

1. Do you believe coding is an essential skill for testers?

I don’t believe coding is an essential skill for testers, but it could be a valuable skill. Being able to code opens up new possibilities for testers – such as automating repetitive tasks, creating test data or using code to interrogate a database. Learning to code can also be a great personal challenge.

In a collaborative environment, where testers are working closely with programmers, it can also be helpful if the tester understands code, or can at least read it. The same is true if the programmer understands how to do good testing.

The job market is also becoming populated with testers who can code. Whether we like it or not, many hiring managers are looking for testers who can do other activities as well as testing, such as coding. This makes these candidates more appealing.

That’s not to say we should all run out and learn to code, but it’s important to understand how your peers and the market are moving.

Coding is like any other skill, it can be useful, or not. You could also learn how to become a manager, or how to write good technical documents or about systems thinking or DevOps. These are all valuable too.

If coding will help you become a better tester, or help your company achieve its goals, or it’s interesting to you – then go for it. If it won’t help you or your company and it’s not interesting then learn something else.

The important point is that you need to keep learning; it is the learners who are standing out no matter what topic they are choosing to learn.

2. Why do you think the product under test can break a person as a tester?

I don’t choose to work on products I don’t enjoy and don’t have some affinity to. If I don’t believe in the product I’m not likely to bring the best of myself to the job.

When I meet testers who “hate” testing, and I meet a lot of them, I ask them what their favourite software product or service is. I then ask them to imagine what it would be like to help build and test that product or service.

It’s at this point that most people realise that it’s not the act of software testing that they “hate”. It may be the product or service they are testing and often the company they are working for.

If you find a service you believe in and a company you want to see succeed then you’ll ride out the highs and the lows that come with any job.

I love nothing more than helping people find the best aspects of their current role – or helping them leave that role to find something altogether more fulfilling.

Usually this more fulfilling role is a testing role working on a service or product they enjoy using and have an affinity towards.

The product or service you are helping to build really can influence the way you feel about software testing.

3. Lately, you are blogging a lot about recruitment. So there goes a question how to hire a good tester when you get a tone of CVs?

I’ve been blogging about recruitment as it’s a passion I have and it’s a great challenge to take on. Growing a team is an epic challenge and you learn a lot about yourself. It also provides deep insights in to what really makes someone a good fit for your team.

In the early days of recruiting I used adverts on job boards. This resulted in a massive influx of CVs, most of which weren’t relevant to the advertised position. It was painful and ineffective. It also showed how little effort most people put in to their job application. It’s this experience that inspired me to write Remaining Relevant and Employable; my book about getting hired.

I no longer advertise testing roles on job boards and instead use my network and a trusted recruiter to find the right people.

The job markets and recruitment processes are changing rapidly. Social media and communication tools have helped greatly in helping people to connect easily.

Remote working has meant that hiring managers can now find the best candidate, rather than the best candidate that lives within commuting distance of the office.

Recruiters and hiring managers are now approaching out-standing candidates directly. This is the approach I prefer.

But how do you become a standout candidate? In a nutshell keep building your network, learn skills that are valuable to the market place, communicate your skills and keep job-hunting.

Gone are the days of reviewing 100+ CVs for an open position. Now I approach standout individuals and hope to attract them to work with us. Another positive side effect of this is that standout people want to come and work with standout people. And this means recruiting becomes a whole lot more effective.

4. You help companies to make transition from waterfall to agile. What is the most difficult part in this process?

The transition from Waterfall to Agile is fraught with many challenges. Some of these challenges will be unique to that company, but there are three common challenges that most companies face.

The first challenge is understanding, and then communicating, the reasons why the company is moving to agile.

Agile is not an end goal in itself; it’s a mechanism for solving other problems such as rapid delivery to production, spiking new products or services etc.

Those who adopt agile “because everyone else is” will likely fail. Understanding the real purpose for bringing in agile is the key to a successful roll out. Remembering this purpose throughout the transition is also important, as there will likely be setbacks and hardship.

The second challenge is shortening the feedback loops between coding something and that code being used in production. This is hard and often involves organisational restructuring (such as DevOps), new technology and a new way of thinking about software development.

The third aspect is about providing the right coaching, training and communication to the business. There will be resistance and there will likely be political uprisings. Change of an epic nature is hard and it pushes people to resist. Coaching, training and strong leadership are essential to making it happen. Good management, a strong sense of purpose and clear communication can help to mitigate this but expect the ride to be bumpy.

If you have a genuine business reason to adopt agile, a vision, some goals, the right people and strong leadership then it’s entirely possible to make the move to agile relatively smoothly.

5. Do you expect any software tendencies to intensify in 2015?

I think the trend in 2015 will be the continued need for many companies to shorten their release cycles to remain competitive. Market conditions are forcing many companies to improve the speed in which they deliver value to their customers through new features, bug fixes and new platform support.

Software as a Service (SaaS) business models are appearing in almost every industry and with this model comes increasing pressure to retain customers through great service delivery. In SaaS models unhappy customers often find it easier to leave and move to the competition.

This change will probably lead companies down the road to agile development approaches. This will include shorter release cycles and a more collaborative approach to building software.

We’ll likely hear a lot more about continuous delivery, agile and DevOps and how testing fits within these models. This, I believe, will be a good thing for the test industry, but it will pose many new challenges we’ve yet to uncover.

Rob, thank you for sharing your viewpoint and ideas. We hope to talk to you again and cover a few more interesting issues.

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