Community Stories: The Upbeat Lone Tester

By Victoria Stephenson & Melissa Eaden

Testers all have stories about where they are in life, in their careers, or progress towards goals. They all have those moments that are crystallised into something a bit life-changing. Vicky Stephenson is a lone tester. This is her story.

The Transition To Testing

“I had been with my company a few years already in a supportive role before being offered the mantle of “Software Tester.” I won’t lie to you, I was slightly unsure of what a Software Tester actually was, and hoped the title was self-explanatory- lucky me... I was also feeling a little intimidated at being the only Tester in a new department, aptly named the “Testing Department”. I was thrust onto a Software Testing foundation course to try and get me caught up on the basics, and was, and still am, mentored by our company Test Manager, who also wears a few other hats,” said Stephenson.

Stephenson has an interesting nickname for her test manager. She calls them “Boss Five Hats.” Her boss seems like the busy type, wearing a lot of hats (with many roles and responsibilities within the business). Testers seem to be well suited for a multi-tasked role.

The Leap To Remote Work

When Stephenson started travelling down the software tester road, learning and engaging with the community, she probably didn’t realise she was going to be a remote tester at first. While it’s challenging to be in an office environment, it can be more challenging to stay engaged and focused at home.

“Whilst in the office environment, I found I had access to the dev team, half of them anyway, and support, advice, and a close working environment from those guys was on tap… perfect! But, then came the day I had to move and work from home,” said Stephenson.

At first, it can seem easier, but then you realise, you’re in an isolated environment day in and day out. People don’t reach out as often as they might if you were in the office. Communication narrows down to business instead of the occasional chit-chat. You start missing office events and socialising. Whether working from home is temporary or permanent, it can get pretty lonely.

“It seems you have to be a completely different kind of animal to work from home.

I hadn’t thought myself particularly “sociable,” but it quickly became apparent that working from home was a lonely affair (even the dog ignored me) and I quickly started to miss “speaking” and “the company of others”. My housing situation changed from “enough space for living” to “pokey and dark,” and proximity to civilisation changed dramatically, so easy access to a city or large town was greatly diminished. Throw a lentil on a paving slab, and that gives you an idea of my position on a map,” said Stephenson.

Remote work isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a dedicated, focused person to understand the nature of their job and do it without supervision or a great deal of oversight. Testers need strong communication skills to make remote work last for longer than a day. Stephenson realised this and kept several self-made principles in mind whilst working remotely.

Keys To Successful Remote Working

Stephenson’s self-made principles are communication, socialising, and making yourself known to your colleagues lest they forget that you exist. Vicky keeps that in mind when she is communicating with her teammates and taking trips to the office. Communication is very central to a remote tester’s job. Seeing someone you speak with, face-to-face, every so often, only to catch up can be priceless.

“This is something that will not be new to any of you, but boy does it come into play for Lone Testers... Communication. Ya, this here is the key to everything that could measure success for me in my job role. This has increased dramatically. You have to find a way to reach those colleagues who are sat in the office, or across the pond in the US.

“Skype IM and Outlook emails are the main forms of communication, but visits to the office once a month seem like a Jolly! No feeling of dread at driving into the office each day and meandering through office politics and sharing in tea making duties; the lone tester looks forward to meeting colleagues and speaking to people. Taking full advantage of these trips into the office is doubly important, as here I get to have meetings face-to-face with those I work with,” said Stephenson.

Becoming An Upbeat Tester

How does one stay upbeat when it seems like you are isolated from a great majority of things happening at the office? Vicky has a few tips for this as well.

“Working from home, you’ve no-one to speak to, no real need to move from your desk, so it should be no surprise then that before I know it I have spent a full three hours at my computer screen before thinking about getting a drink, something to eat, getting up to walk around, and peel my eyes away from the computer screens... woops.

“This is where you have to get creative. I am yet to get an alarm system in place to eject me from my chair on the hour, but if you’re slightly neurotic like me, you may after a while find yourself staring at the pile of washing dumped on the table, or the dust layered on the furniture and start to imagine a world where you had time to adjust these annoyances... and I have,” said Stephenson.

Here are a few creative ideas to break up the monotony of a long remote day while getting household chores done.

Take Breaks

“A five-minute cigarette break is putting a load of washing on. Making a round of tea might [actually] be folding up a mountain of messy washing. If you’re less neurotic than I am, and household chores don’t have the same appeal, then reading a book for ten minutes could replace conferring with colleagues on an issue, throwing a ball for your dog or going for a walk can get you some much needed fresh air and release you from the four walls of your home. Get creative, and if you’re worried about running over your allotted break time, then set an alarm to ensure punctuality” said Stephenson.

Mini-breaks throughout the day, while working remotely isn’t much different than declaring to your team that you are going to get coffee. Coffee breaks, “smoke” breaks, walking breaks, or just getting out of your chair for five to ten minutes should be an important part of your daily work routine.

Other ideas you could use for working remotely and taking those much needed five to fifteen breaks:

  • Read a chapter of a book
  • Play a quick computer game (set a timer if you have to)
  • Work on a puzzle in progress
  • Move locations to your favourite coffee shop or cafe
  • Play with pets
  • Call a friend or family member for a short chat
  • Watch some music or quick how-to videos

Taking a break of any kind could seem like you are cheating the system. Guilt could manifest around the idea that you aren’t staying glued to your seat all eight hours of the workday. Stephenson addresses that too. Thankfully, she has a really supportive boss.

Work-From-Home Guilt

“I felt guilty at first, thinking that I wasn’t working hard enough, that I had to prove that I was doing as much, if not more work than my colleagues in the office, and I took my concerns to “Boss Five Hats”, admitting to her the flaws in my working ethic, and was surprised to find that I was instead supported, and encouraged to be more relaxed about my seemingly lax approach to my work. Instead, I was emboldened and found I was more optimistic about being able to stick to the job I was finding hard to do. It takes a lot to change a lifetime of working in a certain way, and to feel like working from home is the easy option,” said Stephenson.

Guilt can be a hard one to shake at times. If you’ve worked a certain way for a long time, working from home can seem more like a prison sentence than the hoped-for and dreamed about relaxed environment you would prefer. Vicky realised that she needed to take her routine even further and ease up on the guilt she had about taking breaks. This let her be more upbeat about her work and her life.

The Journey To Upbeat

Stephenson has a great attitude and a positive outlook with the support of “Boss Five Hats”. It’s that kind of support which allows testers to be awesome and realise their potential no matter where they work. Vicky received some great advice from her boss.

“So, my eventual and very short journey from “Lone Tester” to “Upbeat Lone Tester” had a lot to do with the support I got from my current mentor “Boss Five Hats”, who allowed me to find a way to work that gave me the power to control my working day and sculpt it to work for me. I found that I was better able to concentrate on the work I had, plan my day and reach my targets. I still have days where I stare off into space and feel like a nanna nap is just up the stairs and no-one would be the wiser, but those are few and far between, and I have found a way to banish those feelings from my working day, and instead inject a little positivity into my day by hanging the washing out on the line or throwing the ball for my dog in the garden,” said Stephenson.

Not everyone has a “Boss Five Hats” to help them with their goals and understand their personal needs. Sometimes we have to look outside of the workplace for individuals and organisations which can help us and give us the support we need to become upbeat, whether we are lone testers or not.

“If you lack a solid support network around you from your employer, then perhaps employing some of these methods, or coming up with your own “Upbeat solutions” could help you climb out of the Bog of eternal Loneliness, into the sunny and positive sandy beach of the Upbeat Lone Tester,” said Stephenson.

Authors Bios

Vicky Stephenson is a married mother of one, and a Software Tester for a practice management software company. She has an ISTQB foundation certificate in Software Testing and attended the University of Hard Knocks (Life). She has worked with her current employer for six years, though only roughly two of those in a Testing role.

Stephenson’s main interests are horse riding, going to the movies and eating stuff she shouldn’t (the diet always starts on Monday). She also dabbles in gym classes, and enjoys walks with her dog and socialising.

Melissa Eaden has worked for more than a decade with tech companies and currently enjoys working for ThoughtWorks, in Dallas, Texas. Melissa’s previous career in mass media continues to lend itself to her current career endeavors. She enjoys being EditorBoss for Ministry of Testing, supporting their community mission for software testers globally. She can be found on Twitter and Slack @melthetester.