Sometimes those who are not in IT think that a QA engineer builds a career path according to the brief scheme: “a manual tester – a test automation engineer.” In reality, there is no such template pattern – a QA engineer can go into software development, project management, business analysis, or coaching. Let me tell you about another option for advancement – a Test Lead role. Maybe my experience will inspire you to move up and become a good QA Lead.
How I discovered my leadership skills
It is a commonly held opinion that almost anybody can push buttons to test an app, but this is not the case. When somebody dives into the IT environment, many things pop up that were not taken into account before. For example, to perform difficult tasks, you need to be tech-savvy. Scientists analyzed more than 400 job openings in 33 countries and confirmed that this skill is the second most required after the ability to perform testing. Then come soft skills and specific knowledge.
In addition to possessing the skills that an average tester has, Leads need to be able to present themselves effectively, take over decision-making, communicate knowledge to others, and help their colleagues.
A few years after I decided to try testing (despite having a non-tech education), a РМ on one of the projects started consulting with me, delegating managerial tasks to me, and asking me to establish certain processes. This gave me confidence that I know my field, my opinion is valid, and I succeed at what I do. So I realized what direction I should move toward.
Then, I began to develop automation on one of the projects. I completed a course on software development and decided to give the customer a pleasant surprise – I spent my free time automating regression tests in С#. The customer liked my work and created the position of a test automation engineer in his company. Currently, I’m a Resource Manager at an IT company, involved in test automation.
Test Leads: what are they like?
Experienced testers can become Test Leads or QA Managers. Depending on the context and the nature of work, each of these terms may refer either to different types of roles and responsibilities or to the same specialist.
QA Managers usually select specialists for a project. They have a vision of what qualities and knowledge the team members should have. These managers not only interview QA engineers but also take part in allocating tasks to testers. On the contrary, a Test Lead is more involved in the project workflow. In most cases, the lines between these two leaders are blurred, and the project only has a Test Lead who is responsible for:
- selecting and supervising the team members,
- developing testing strategy and plans,
- identifying the scope оf testing for each iteration or software development cycle,
- recording and reporting testing metrics,
- mitigating risks (when there is no time, resources, or money, when the requirements are too complex), and so on.
The focus is not on knowledge but on soft skills
Previously, it was believed that a good Test Lead must be tech-savvy, but now the emphasis is gradually shifting towards soft skills. I’ve experienced first-hand that the ability to present yourself is more important than technical knowledge. It is much easier to bridge the skill gap in engineering theory than learn how to get along with the team, take the initiative, and so on. About 79% of employers give consideration to interpersonal and business communication skills, and only then to analytical skills and the ability to deal with problems independently.
In my point of view, a perfect Test Lead is an energetic and strong person who’s not afraid to take on risks and sort out issues. When I was a QA engineer, my communication skills helped me during my first job interview with a customer. My English was fluent but I was so nervous that I couldn’t answer any questions. But fortunately, the customer and I switched to discussing books, so the conversation got back on track. Eventually, I got the job.
Communication skills and the ability to meet challenges independently helped me when I was new to the project and didn’t understand what to do. The developers (there were two of them) didn’t really delve into the project and simply developed features at the customer’s request. It was a Windows-98-like app that had symbols like “ABCD7845” on its pages.
I was frustrated but then I pulled myself together and started communicating with the customer. I made a list of questions to shed light on the things that were unclear, elaborate details, and suggest alternatives to improve the product. The customer liked my format of presenting the information.
Later, I told the developers what was wrong and how to implement features and backed up my words with evidence. That’s how the customer and my colleagues realized that my opinion on the project matters.
Similar situations helped me to improve my leadership skills. I felt that the others listened to me and it was me who decided what we would do next and how we would do it because I was the only person communicating with the customer.
Is a Test Lead fearless?
Test Leads will have to get used to being responsible for their colleagues’ work, as from now on, they represent the testing team when meeting with the customer. They’ll have to double-check the tests done by less experienced team members – after all Test Leads bear responsibility for all the bugs that penetrate the software environment and must stay informed about all the details of the product.
When you are a beginner QA Lead who has joined a project in this new role, it’s not easy to present yourself accordingly. Others are used to working in a certain manner and sometimes find it hard to accept your rules. I was afraid to make a mistake but, at the time, I needed to show that I had the expertise and my opinions were important.
A Test Lead: manager or tester?
A Test Lead’s scope of work depends on a project. If a manager has a team of necessary resources to streamline the process, their tasks are narrowed down to workflow management, QA supervising, and reporting.
However, there are projects where a Test Lead acts as a technical expert or an architect that performs the most complex tasks while junior specialists are involved in routine work. On some projects, a QA Lead performs testing, manages the team, communicates with the customer, and takes care of documentation – all at the same time.
There is no rule that Test Leads should spend, for example, 20% of their time testing, 30% managing, and 50% generating reports. Task distribution is defined by project peculiarities.
Finally, some words about the importance of constant development
Working in IT involves constant learning and self-improvement. You can’t disregard studying. When new QA engineers join our company, especially those from other areas where the work is static, I ask them: “Are you willing to constantly update your mind?”
Test Leads need to continue improving their technical expertise and follow popular techniques to supervise their colleagues. Today, lots of resources, online courses, articles, discussions, and communities are available. If the information from these sources is not enough for me, I attend courses on management, development, automation, and so on. Constantly improving my knowledge and skills helps me to do my work even more effectively.
This is what the career path of a QA engineer deciding to become a Test Lead might look like. The most important thing is to believe in yourself and not to be afraid to try.