Strategies for Building Inspired Teams
We spoke with Chris Armstrong, a Product Quality Strategy Manager at Provar, co-host of the Testing Peers podcast and a married father with two young boys living on the U.K. coast in Wales.
During this interview, Chris talked about the benefits of building diverse teams and the most underrated skill to look for when hiring for software roles.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your professional experience.
Currently, I’m the Product Quality Strategy Manager at Provar. Our company specializes in helping organizations automate the testing of their Salesforce orgs. The inherent risk with any piece of software is that when you make changes, those changes can introduce defects and Provar is designed to help teams build automated tests to find and fix bugs much more quickly.
Q: You’re a strong advocate for building diverse teams. Why is that particularly important in the software industry?
So, when you think about end users for any piece of software, the way that they are going to see it, interact with it and experience that software is going to be vastly different. Everyone brings with them their own perspective in terms of how they use software. People experience things differently.
If you are in a role to test that software, you need to keep in mind all of those different users and their perspectives so you can test all of those scenarios. While you can’t predict the behavior of every user, the goal of a tester is to cover as many different use cases as possible.
Given that, it’s advantageous to build teams that are diverse – you need to build teams where individuals may have different professional experiences, different educational backgrounds and different skills. Because, if your job as a tester is to test all of the potential use cases, it’s invaluable to have team members working together who may approach the project in ways that others may not consider.
To meet the needs and to advocate for customers, we need better representation of those customers and we need to ask ourselves – are the teams building and testing the software a reflection of the end user?
Hiring a new person that’s just a carbon copy of your existing team puts you at a disadvantage. That’s why I hire for culture add and not culture fit.
Q: How do you approach the interviewing process?
When I’m in a position to hire new team members, I look for different strengths that individuals bring to the table and how that can collectively build a stronger team. To use a sports analogy, a coach doesn’t want a team of 11 quarterbacks. You need offensive linemen, running backs, etc. Each player on the field specializes in something different.
Q: If you were going to interview someone tomorrow, what would you want to cover?
Firstly, I want to learn how they can describe situations. One of the most important aspects of being a software tester is being able to communicate your findings with others. So one way I might go about that is to give a candidate a theoretical test to work through. But the point here is that it wouldn’t be anything incredibly complex or intimidating – I would listen to how they would approach it, and more importantly, I would gauge how well they can communicate things as they are working throughout the test.
I would also look to see how they demonstrate their curiosity and critical thinking. I think giving candidates practice scenarios to work through in the interviewing process is certainly valid to evaluate their skill set – to answer the question – can they functionally do the job. But, I think these types of tests during the interview process are even more valuable to better understand intangible skills like curiosity and communication.
Q: What are some less traditional methods of interviewing that you find useful?
One way to better understand what someone is focused on – without asking them directly is to simply listen. If you give them an open-ended question, what do they naturally talk about?
For example, if I’m interviewing someone and they only talk about technical documentation and requirements, and not people, to me that would signal that they are perhaps less interested in people and collaboration. And for me, that is a red flag because I believe that software development is a team sport and the whole point of being in an agile environment is continuous communication.
Q: If you were building a team of software testers, what would you be looking for?
I would be looking for curiosity, critical thinking and communication skills. And the reason why I am looking for those over your classical technical skills, is that I believe that it’s a lot easier to teach technical skills in comparison to those soft skills. You can’t really teach intuition. You can’t teach curiosity. I would also use this as an opportunity to look at the skill set of the current team and identify what new team members could additionally bring to the table.
Q: What is the ideal team dynamic that you want to create?
First and foremost, I want to create an environment where people can be their authentic selves. Because if you don’t bring yourself, your authentic self to work, I can’t imagine that you’re going to enjoy your work.
When individuals feel comfortable and accepted in the workplace, that’s where creativity and collaboration thrive.
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