Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lessons learned from Dodgeball

What a difference a week makes. Last week this time I was nervously awaiting the start of my next adventure at @Task. This week, I am wondering if someone got the license plate of the trunk that ran me over (being metaphorical here...).

I think that the most apt analogy for what working at @Task in the IT Operations team is like is the game of dodgeball that I participated in last Monday. It was the tenth birthday of @Task, and what does one do on their tenth birthday? Yes, you are correct, you throw inflatable balls at one another.

As the week moved on, I realized that I would be well served to remember the lessons learned in the dodgeball game:

1 - The best defense is a good offense
2 - Do not take your eye off the ball
3 - There are those who will try to deceive you into thinking that they are not armed. Be ready for anything.
4 - Your team is the most important asset you have. Put your trust in them to protect your blind spots.

The first week at a new company is always stressful and surreal. You are an outsider, and everyone you meet has the same "who the Hell are you" look when first introduced. You also have this strange halo effect which causes people to think that you are smarter than you really are. Actually, this halo effect has a half life of about six weeks, but starts to decay after about four.

Adding to the first week bizarreness, my boss was out for the last couple of days, so I had to jump into the deep end of the pool, grab an anchor and start swimming. I actually would not have it any other way, but it is still unsettling to take that leap.

I am still getting my bearings and will be gathering copious amounts of data over the upcoming weeks, but the good news here is that I have been here before and know these waters well. In fact, this opportunity fits perfectly within my sweet spot and I will be able to use all the clubs in my bag.

I am very glad that this weekend was relatively tranquil as I needed it to decompress and gird myself for the upcoming week.

I find myself thinking more and about the lessons learned from Dodgeball and I am nervously awaiting the whistle blow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What is it with QA these days?

Here is a sad fact for you; the last time I worked for a company with a strong, independent and respected QA dept was over six years ago. That company was LowerMyBills, and they had a killer QA department which contributed greatly to the overall success of the product and company.

So what is it with QA these days and why are good QA people so hard to find and retain?

Some thoughts are that once a company has found a QA tester worth his/her salt, they hide them away and keep them captive with "golden handcuffs" so they will not be tempted to seek out greener pastures.

Another thought is that QA is often used as the incubator from which development is fed so you have a perpetual cycle of brain drain. Still another theory is that QA testers are not born, they are developed and that takes both time and effort, both of which are in often times in short supply in a fast moving company.

Regardless of what is truth and what is fiction, one thing is for certain, when you have a strong, independent and respected QA department within your organization, your company is able to accomplish amazing things. Without out one, your organization will be in perpetual firefighting mode as defects leak out into production and your clients unknowingly become your beta testers.

As a leader of an Operations team, I am repeatedly reminded of the pricelessness of a QA team who are not beholden to engineering or operations, and are free to be an unbiased proving ground for your product. The sad truth is that often organizations place QA under the direction of engineering, which frankly is just incestuous, or under the direction of operations, which is almost as bad.

What is worse, I have often times observed QA being hobbled either by misalignment within the organization, poor staffing or insufficient experience, pillaging from other departments and/or an unclear mandate regarding the importance of quality within the organization.

In my opinion (and the opinion of many others I have spoken with) QA must be free and independent and should report directly to a "C" level executive like a COO or CIO (not CTO) and should be held to stringent standards. Additionally, they should be given the ability to "pull the cord" and halt production in the event egregious quality issues are identified. Without these qualities, your QA department is at best little more than a rubber stamp and at worst, a scapegoat for all of your organization's ills.

I am interested to hear what others have experienced and what they have done to help solve this problem. I am also interested to hear your thoughts about how we, as IT professionals, can help guide young people into becoming QA tester and engineers instead of code jockeys.

In the end, QA may not be the sexiest job in IT, but I think you will agree that it is arguably the most important link in the chain and should be celebrated as such.