Joe Strazzere is a longtime software tester and test manager, blogger, an active member of the online testing community, a sports fan, and a recent grandparent. Here, Alan Page chats with Joe about his love of testing, his career in test, and his philosophies of test management.
Alan Page: Most testers have an interesting story about how they found the profession. What's your story?
Joe Strazzere: I do have a story. I'll let others judge how interesting it is.
My first career was in mainframe IT. I started as a programmer/analyst and worked my way up to management. A few jobs later, I was laid off and joined my family's fast-food business with hopes of helping them develop more restaurants. That didn't quite work out.
I gave a referral for a DBA who had previously worked for me. She was applying for a QA job at a rapidly growing startup. During the referral phone call, the recruiter asked if I'd be interested in a position with the company as well. I interviewed there and landed a job as QA lab manager. While I knew very little about QA and had never been a tester, I was able to capitalize on my domain knowledge in their field, my overall background, and my management experience. It turns out that I love testing and QA!
So, basically, I went directly from making sandwiches and salads on a Friday to managing in a QA department on a Monday.
Alan Page: You’ve been managing testers for a long time. What’s your philosophy on test management?
Joe Strazzere: I just looked it up. I’ve been managing testers for twenty-three years—yikes, time flies!
I guess my philosophy is something like "Find out what is really important to your stakeholders, then find a way to deliver." Oh, and "Never forget that you are managing people, not resources!"
Alan Page: I love that you seem to find a balance between management, leadership, and hands-on testing. How important is this balance for test managers (or managers of any sort)?
Joe Strazzere: I love it, too! But I’m not actually sure this same balance is important for all test managers.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are many roads to achieving your goals. I've worked for and with lots of managers who don't get to do any hands-on work and are still very effective. It’s important that managers understand what’s going on with the members of their team, what they are seeing, what obstacles are in the way of their success, and what might help make them more effective.
I've mostly worked at smaller startups. That sometimes affords me the freedom to get my hands into an application under test and see for myself what it looks like. I think it helps me when I talk with the folks on my team. I think it helps them, too. Plus, it’s fun!
Alan Page: What three things do you think every test manager should try to master?
Joe Strazzere: First, management. It sounds silly, but a manager's job is to manage people. That's sometimes hard for a new test manager. An individual contributor can often succeed alone, but a manager can only succeed through his or her team.
Second, business. It's easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of testing, but it’s vital to understand what your company really needs from you as a test manager.
Third, compromise. Most companies don’t want QA to be gatekeepers. Instead, they want to ship products and make money. Test managers need to learn to balance the need for quality against the need for getting products shipped. That involves a lot of compromises and can be a significant challenge.
Alan Page: Are there any good books you can recommend for current or aspiring test managers?
Joe Strazzere: I love to read, and I’ve found several that are particularly useful as a test manager.
Lessons Learned in Software Testing by Cem Kaner, James Bach, and Brett Pettichord is a book with terrific tips and insight. I've given a copy to everyone on my test team, and we use it as the basis for some of our learning sessions. Perfect Software and Other Illusions About Testing by Gerald Weinberg is a wonderful book exploring some of the "whys" behind what we do. And, Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations by Robert Austin is a powerful study on how performance is impacted both positively and negatively by some of the measurement systems we tend to use.
Alan Page: I love reading the "Perhaps they should have tested more …" series on your blog. How did you get started with these posts? Do you have a favorite post in this series?
Joe Strazzere: Thanks! At the time, I had been reading about how some folks were preparing for presentations and asking about “famous bugs in history.” It seemed to me that there were plenty of publicly mentioned bugs in the present day, so I decided to start writing about a few I encountered. I’m often struck by how casually the media treats these issues, using terms like “glitch,” and seemingly dismissing them as “just the way things are—there’s nothing can you do about it.”
I’m not a Microsoft basher, but my favorite was my article about the Zune bug—a leap year bug!
Alan Page: You're one of the few test managers I see participating actively in online communities, and you're heavily involved at SQAForums. What value do you (or your company) get from this participation, and how do you find time to participate?
Joe Strazzere: The most important thing I get from participating in online communities is the ability to keep in touch with what others are thinking, saying, and reading about testing, QA, and technology in general. I've received many answers to specific questions I've had and picked up a ton of tips and techniques. Hopefully, along the way I’ve helped a few others as well.
I don’t get as much time to participate as I might like, but I do try to spend a few minutes here and there, reading and sometimes answering questions. I’m an early riser, so I can spend a few minutes in the morning. And, while others might pop outside for a smoke, have a snack, or take a walk during the day, I check in with online communities.
Alan Page: Meta-question: What other question should I have asked you?
Joe Strazzere: Perhaps you should have asked me, “What do you wish testers knew about test managers?”
And, I would have answered, "Test managers really want to help their testers succeed in their assigned tasks and in their career as well."
So often, I see someone post a question in an online community that indicates to me that they aren't talking with their managers. Perhaps they are afraid to talk with their managers. Perhaps they think it will make them appear weak. This makes me sad. Talk with your manager! Tell her what confuses you, what obstacles are in your way, and what help you need. Ask her to talk about anything that isn't clear to you. Discuss ways in which you can grow as a tester. That way, you can both succeed.