When I reflect back over my career and who I reported to, it has been defined by a lack of test managers.
My first two jobs were for large finance organizations: insurance and banking. In both orgs I reported to a "QA" Manager. I never saw a career ladder but testers could progress into management. I remember testers holding roles up to the VP level.
The only other time I saw a test manager in my career was at my fourth job. My small startup was acquired by a big telecom company. Shortly after we got acquired I flew to India for several weeks to train the testing team on our product. The test teams in India were large and they had several test managers.
That was it. The rest of my jobs have been at startups where I was usually the only tester. To date, this equates to 25% of my career where I’ve had a direct manager with experience in my discipline. (Technically I also reported to a manager who started his career in testing and that was nice. He had lots of insights and practical understanding of testing).
From what I can tell there have been two challenges to this:
- I’ve had to look outside my organizations to develop my testing skills
- I’ve never seen an exemplar test manager
Looking outside of my organizations to learn turned out to be a good. I found online testing communities. They led me to conferences, blogs, books and training programs like BBST and RST. Lots to learn from and challenge myself with. Most testers don't have any testing education and I avoided that trap.
A few years ago as the startup Promenade was growing, I built a few test teams and became a test manager. Having never seen an exemplar test manager, I was a bit lost. I did some research online and tried things and reflected back on the good managers I'd had.
I created a Community of Practice, built a career ladder and pushed my people to learn more about their craft. I spent time 1:1 talking and working on their problems. I emulated the good managers I knew and got coaching from my current manager. I also started reading books and blogs about management with the hope of taking some courses in the near future.
Good managers give us shortcuts. They help us understand bigger problems and grow in our positions. Despite the lack of reporting to test managers I've found good managers that supported, challenged and helped me grow. That's what I look for and recommend others do to.