Being part of a team of testers at work is fantastic. Everyone's working and learning together, moving towards the same goals. If you're having a rough day, someone inevitably cheers you up. Likewise, you can make someone's day much better. Being in proximity to bright and hard-working people is one of the great things we have at work.
Sadly, not everyone is fortunate to have this at their jobs. Some testers find themselves being the only tester on their projects. They might even be the only person doing any testing in the entire organization. Whether it's due to budgets lacking any room for QA or a general lack of understanding of why testing is essential, there are teams out there with a single, solitary person performing testing duties.
If you find yourself in this situation, don't panic. It doesn't have to be doom and gloom. You don't have to remain stuck in solitary confinement for the rest of your tenure at the organization. If you go about it the right way, it can be an excellent experience for you and your team.
Remember you're part of the team
The first thing you need to always keep in mind is that you are not alone. Even if you are the only person with a test-related job title in the entire organization, you still are part of a team.
We've all seen the comedic portrayals of the lone IT, sysadmin, or programmer in a company. They're usually loners in complete isolation, locked away in a dark room in the bowels of the building, shunning all human interaction.
Of course, television highly exaggerates these portrayals. However, if you think that because you're a lone wolf because you're the only tester, it's almost as if you think of yourself that same way. You might not be stuck in a poorly-lit office with no human visitors, but your mind won't know any different.
You can't fall into the trap of thinking "I am alone; therefore, I must remain alone." That's the quickest way to isolate yourself and have your teammates shun you. You need to ensure that you integrate with the rest of the team and become an integral part of the group.
The way you can do this is by making yourself visible. Here are a few ways to show others that you're an essential part of the crew:
- Be an active participant in work meetings: Don't be afraid of speaking up because you feel no one has your back. Voice your opinions and help others along the way.
- Work alongside other team members: Even if they don't do the same work you do, everyone benefits when knowledge is shared. Set up pair programming sessions with co-workers. Teach them what you do and learn what they do.
- Be a part of after-work team outings: Going out to lunch or drinks when the workday is over might not seem helpful for your situation. But connecting on a human level with your team makes your work as the lone tester smoother.
Communication with the rest of the team is key
As with any role, constant communication with the rest of your team is crucial. It's even more critical to ensure you're doing this when there's no other teammate in the same boat as you.
Your team should have a clear idea of the kind of work you do daily. In most instances, not many people in the organization know exactly what you do. It's not their fault, and in all honesty, it's not their job to know what you do. It is your job, though, to make sure you communicate about your work to others.
More importantly, your team needs to know how your skills can help their work. You'll have an easier time when you can be of service to others instead of someone in exile performing tasks on their own. When they see how your skills complement their work, they'll reciprocate and assist with your work in return.
It's up to you to demonstrate not only what you can do, but that your success equals their success. As a tester, you're in a unique position to directly impact the quality of everyone's work. You can help developers smoke out hidden bugs, point out gaps to product managers, and have your organization maintain happy customers.
Share the responsibility
Once the rest of your team knows your role and abilities, you can leverage that into seeking their help. There are a couple of ways of going about this, depending on their roles and desire to help.
For software developers, the best way to get them to help is to use their programming skills. You might show them the testing framework and how to write automated tests. Once they have an idea, you can help them build upon the test suite with the new features they're building.
However, you don't always have to seek technically inclined co-workers. Anyone can be a huge help when it comes to testing. If someone can't code, they can manually run tests for you on a development or staging environment. Scripted tests can guide them, or let them loose with exploratory testing. Non-technical people are surprisingly great at smoking out obscure bugs.
Don't use this opportunity to dump your least-favorite tasks to others, in any case. It's still your responsibility as the tester on the team to handle the bulk of the testing work. You're the expert of that domain.
You'll find that most of your team is glad to help you out if they have the time. Asking for help also has the bonus of building relationships quicker. Studies show that asking for favors makes the other person feel closer by merely being helpful when they can.
Even if you can handle all your responsibilities on your own, your life gets more relaxed when the team is involved.
Know that you'll have to wear many hats
Having help from others makes life as a sole tester simpler at your organization. But even with their help, chances are you'll still have a full plate at your hands.
Other co-workers may be assisting with some tasks, like developers doing some coding for automated tests. But most people on your team won't have your capacity to do the things you do. Your hands-on experience and direct knowledge of testing topics trump what anyone else with cursory knowledge knows.
Depending on the type of project you're working on, your testing workflow might require particular knowledge. For instance, if you have requirements to keep the application response time low, you need to execute performance testing. Projects handling sensitive data need strict security tests to ensure confidentiality. If accessibility is vital for your work, implementing accessibility testing is a must.
Chances are, no one else on your team is equipped at any given time to handle some of these techniques. It's up to you to wear all these different hats and juggle all the different testing tactics you need for a successful project.
On paper, it sounds overwhelming, and it usually is. But you'll also learn a lot along the way when you have to work in different areas. All this work guides you on a path to becoming a well-rounded tester capable of handling a broad area of testing - highly desirable in current times.
Know your limits
Most people over-estimate what they can handle at any given time. We've all dealt with stressful times when we keep piling more and more work until we can no more. When you're the only person capable of doing one thing well, you'll find yourself battling this problem regularly.
You cannot do it all. No one should expect you to, either. If you ever find yourself drowning in tasks and can't handle it, it's okay to seek other ways to deal with it.
As explained previously, find people within the organization that are able and willing to lend you a hand. Whether it's temporary or you want to have them involved more frequently, getting assistance from others alleviates most of the issues.
Once you catch your breath for a bit, you should also take the opportunity to search for improvements. Look around your workflow and the current test suite, and find spots that you can optimize for the project and yourself.
For instance, are there test cases that are checked manually and are time-consuming? Examine how you can automate those scenarios to free up your time. Or perhaps you have spent too much time on flaky tests. Take the necessary time up-front to isolate and fix the problems.
Another area to optimize is shining a light on your current workflow. Honestly assess how everything is running now, and see if you can find ways to improve. Maybe there are updates to some of the tools and libraries you're using that speed up test execution, or better continuous integration tools that do a better job at running your builds. There's often something that you can improve if you take the time to look, especially if it's been a long time since modifying your current workflow.
If it still feels overwhelming, there's always the possibility that you have too much work for one individual or team. In these cases, your organization should consider bringing in additional help to lighten the load. It can be temporary, like a consultant, or a more permanent fixture like another team member. Talk to your boss about it. You don't need to suffer from overwork for too long.
Summary: You don't have to go at it alone
If you find yourself working solo as a tester, there's no need to fret. Even if you're the only person with a specific role in the organization, you're still a vital part of that organization. Never feel alone just because of a job title or responsibilities.
Your team needs to know what you do and how everyone can help each other for their work. Projects aren't an individual endeavor. Everyone should strive towards the same goal, even if they all take different paths along the way.
You can ask your team for help with some of your tasks within their capabilities. If they have the time and mental bandwidth to assist, they'll often lend a helping hand.
Still, remember that you'll have to carry the bulk of the testing load. All roads related to quality and testing still go through you. Carry that responsibility with you at all times.
It might get overwhelming, so find ways to make your job easier. Check your current workflow and optimize areas that can save you time and effort for your day-to-day tasks.
If that doesn't do much to give you some breathing room, there's no shame in asking for help. Talk to someone who can assist with outside help if there's insufficient aid within the organization. Always remember, you don't have to go at it alone.
Are you the lone tester in an organization? What tips do you have for others in the same boat? Leave your advice in the comments below!