Month 4 as an SDET: Lessons Learned

It's been 3 months so that means it's time for more knowledge sharing! (woohoo!) So at this point in my QA Automation role, I'm well past the setup & learning-the-ropes stage, and I felt at this point it might be good to share some wisdom that I've gathered from my teammates, my mistakes, and occasional epiphanies. These will extend beyond just technical observations, so I welcome you to view this as more of a holistic "how to get more out of working in tech" sort of article. Without further ado:

1. Your team == your client

If you want to ensure you're always delivering value on your team, you have to treat them like a customer. I come from a service & retail background, and oftentimes the best responses I got were a result of anticipating customer needs and exceeding their expectations of me. When you treat your team as your customer, the bare minimum becomes unacceptable, because why would you give anything less than excellent customer service? Some examples of how to do this:

  • Be kind. Be a good listener. Be an excellent human to your team.
  • Learn as much as possible about the systems and products they interact with. Increase your fluency so you can be empathetic to their needs and challenges.
  • Anticipate their needs by observing the problems they encounter day-to-day. Ask yourself if your skillset is capable of solving these problems.

2. PR Reviews are opportunities for free education and relationship building

I've gotten PRs with as many as 100 comments on them in my first few months pushing code, and you know what? I couldn't be happier! Now, obviously, it's better to provide value more quickly, aka, get your code merged ASAP so the team can benefit from your contribution more quickly. But if that's not possible, the best way to approach these 100-comment situations is with an eager student's mindset. Gobble up the lessons and see how it feels to implement the suggestions your team offers you.

Approach your team's commentary with enthusiasm and curiosity. Sometimes you'll need to do a large refactor, but you'll always learn something in the process that will make your PRs go more quickly in the future. Other times, you'll have the opportunity to engender goodwill with your team by clearing up some confusion, or showing your ability to be vulnerable and approachable. Basically, PR Reviews are a chance for you to learn from the team, and for you to build on your relationships with teammates. Comments are simply the conduit for this magic to occur.

3. Getting better at day-to-day life is necessary for getting better at work

I've spent time honing various skills over my short lifetime, and no matter what I was learning -- violin, coding, parkour, driving stick, etc. -- I always hit a point where I no longer could progress without making modifications to my lifestyle outside of the activity I was practicing. This is 1000% true for any role we're trying to crush at work, too.

Eventually, these things, if not managed properly, can make you less consistent and less reliable, or even less energetic:

  • Hygiene (brushing teeth, showering, etc)
  • Bedtime (going to bed/waking up at consistent times)
  • Relationship management (significant other(s), family, friends)
  • Housekeeping (cleaning, laundry, dishes, etc.)
  • Budgeting (cutting costs/slashing debt/boosting savings)
  • Diet & Exercise (eat less added sugar, eat more protein & veggies, 30 min. movement per day 5x per week, etc.)

Some of the things related to physical and mental health are pretty obvious, but I find that cleaning my home and workspace reduces work stress, and so does being on good terms with the people in my life. Anything that can create peripheral stress will affect productivity, so it's important to be cognizant of when you need a day off to sort some personal matters out, or when you have a thing in your day-to-day that consistently is getting in the way of your work time.

I could write a book on ways to optimize/automate away common day-to-day stressors, but for now, suffice to say, improve the ease/efficiency of your day-to-day outside of work, and you will have that energy to give at work and to your favorite people.

4. Meetings owe you value, but you don't owe meetings your time.

This will obviously be more or less applicable depending on your company culture, but I have found that when given the choice to attend or not attend meetings, it is far too easy to follow the herd. If most of your team goes to meetings, it's hard to be the 1 person throwing that "async stand-up thread" on the team Slack channel as a way to get that time back for yourself, even when you're 100% empowered to do so by management.

That's why it's important to do a continuous audit of the ROI you get from every meeting on your calendar and begin to exercise any rights you have to control your own time. This means declining meetings that don't add value to your day whenever possible. It can also mean suggesting to your team leaders that a certain meeting becomes async if you truly feel the entire team would benefit from the change.

The more I have exercised my freedom to not attend meetings I don't find valuable, the more I have seen others slowly start to join me. Most of the time, people just want someone else to go first, and that applies to everything in life. But there are a couple caveats to this advice:

  • Not all companies let you decide which meetings to attend/not attend
  • Sometimes you should still go to a no-value meeting if you're able to add value to it

5. Go first, all the time

Sometimes you might find yourself wondering why your team hasn't done XYZ thing because everyone's life would be so much easier if they had. Sometimes the reason is simply that nobody had the courage to be the one to do it and possibly get egg on their face if it didn't pan out.

Don't be afraid to fail publicly. If you see a problem and have a solution, meet your team at least 51% of the way with proposing it and implementing it, and own the results of the solution you offer, for better or worse.

The only thing scarier than going first is seeing opportunity after opportunity pass you by, knowing all along you could have created some value for you and other people.