Being a Distributed Tester was hard



As a new father, being able to work a few days per week from home has been a great way to help adjust to our wonderful new addition and the demands that go along with him. Days in the office are great for face time and collaboration and days at home are for getting shit done and helping with the kid:

In the past I’ve worked for a few companies where the development teams were distributed across the US, India, Ireland, Vietnam and the Netherlands. I took advantage by working from locations all over the world. It was (and is) a very freeing experience.

Yet working in distributed environments (where everyone works remotely) is not without its challenges. As Alister Scott pointed out in his talk on “The future of testing is distributed” things like loneliness, lack of accountability, focus, and work/life balance all become more of an challenge in addition to the difficulties around communication. I was fairly successful at adjusting to most of those challenges except for the difficulties around communication.

Perhaps the problem was both companies I worked for were not fully dispersed, only the development teams were. We had tools to help alleviate communication problems like Slack, Skype and daily standup meetings through video (like Google Hangouts). They were important but only partially lessened the communication problems. In both cases the development and product information was shared disproportionately among team members. I usually felt like I last to know (except I wasn’t the only one.) Sometimes decisions were made by small groups without input from the larger team and without socializing the impact of those changes prior to. It was a guessing game as to when someone would share important or valuable news (perhaps after a bug was filed).

There were other less subtle communication costs like how little I got to know my coworkers. Imagine working together every day for six months and knowing next to nothing about them. While this might seem like a non-communication problem I’ve found the less I know someone the less context I’m able to apply to our online conversations. I’ve had a few coworkers over the years whose chat conversation style was often terse despite their very helpful demeanor in person. Knowing this helped me better know what boundaries were real and which ones were made up.

For our future (and my future self) I hope it’s possible to be in a distributed testing position and not have these barriers (or have them lessened). For Alister Scott’s organization, Automattic, it seems to be working well. In the meantime I’ll continue to fully enjoy working some days at home and some days in the office.

I’d like to think it’s possible to be in a distributed testing position and not have these barriers (or have them lessened).

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