Tester’s Diary: Reluctant Leadership, Part 1

This is a guest posting by Carol Brands.

I’ve never thought of myself as a leader. I don’t like telling people what to do. I don’t like feeling responsible for other people’s actions. I don’t like being put in a position where someone might treat my opinion like it matters more than someone else’s. The social dynamics that come along with leadership are uncomfortable to me.

But I’m going to have to get used to being uncomfortable, because I was just asked to be the test team lead.

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Thoughts on Becoming Test Team Lead

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My company hasn’t talked a lot about what being the test team lead really means, partly because the definition still needs to be finalized by a few levels of corporate decision-making, but I know a few of my future responsibilities. I’ll work with the other testers to set our annual goals, both individually and as a team. I’ll also review their progress against those goals and conduct performance evaluations at the end of the year. I’ll work closely with the support and QA manager to develop our overall test strategy and make sure we meet our team goals over the course of the year.

Generally speaking, I feel capable and excited to carry out all the new tasks I’m being asked to perform. Thinking about our team’s capabilities and figuring out what goals might help us meet our current and future needs are some of my favorite parts of working on a team. And creating test strategies and adjusting them as the project develops is intellectually stimulating and keeps my job interesting.

In theory, the things I’m being asked to do are things I already do on a regular basis as a team member, and they are things that I actively want to work on.

However, despite seeming like an appropriate next step in my career, I have a lot of worries about what being the test team lead means for my relationship with my coworkers.

My biggest worry is that the other testers will be dismayed by the news. There are two other testers on my team, and they were hired a year or two before me. They’re both great testers, but they haven’t shown the same interest in attending conferences and seeking new ideas to bring to the team that I have. They’ve been generally supportive when I ask to conduct experiments and try new ways of working, but I’m worried that they will feel slighted to hear that they will be reporting to me rather than just helping me try something new.

I worry that I’ll have to navigate this transition very carefully. What if I’m not up to the challenge of making sure they feel as respected and heard as team members? What if there’s nothing I can do to keep them from feeling like they’ve been looked over? One team member in particular has asked before what he needs to do to get ahead, although it’s been hard to determine whether he was really asking about raises, promotions or something else. I’m scared that I won’t be able to do a good job as a leader because my coworkers may not want to be led by me.

My other relationship worry is about how other leaders will treat me. I already have a reputation that brings people to my desk to ask me for help solving problems. It makes it harder to get my testing work done, and I’ve tried to help people understand that in most cases, any of the testers on the team could help them. I’m also already being asked to participate in project meetings in lieu of my manager, who has been away from the office for personal reasons lately.

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Finding a Balance

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It’s going to take a lot of work to figure out how to balance the requests on my time for leadership activities against the time I need to perform testing activities. I may need to figure out how I can ask the other testers to participate in these leadership tasks, both so they can feel they are valued and have input to offer, and so that I have fewer things on my plate that take away from my testing time. I’m just not sure what that balance looks like.

Overall, I’m more excited than scared of my new leadership position. I know that what I’m being asked to do is basically what I’ve already done for the past couple of years. But it’s hard to know how my coworkers will react and how our relationships will change, until it happens.

For now, I’ll hope for the best and do as much as I can to prepare for my new role.

This is a guest posting by Carol Brands. Carol is a Software Tester at DNV GL Software. Originally from New Orleans, she is now based in Oregon and has lived there for about 13 years. Carol is also a volunteer at the Association for Software Testing.

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