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Joining a startup as a QA Lead

Sep 1, 2018 · 5 min read
A Lego trooper with a Lego C-3PO standing behind

I want to tell you a story of joining a startup as a QA Lead.

I’m a software tester and I’ve recently joined Fiit — the third VC backed startup in my career. For the first time, however, I am the only QA in the company.

Before I started at Fiit, I had worked for two established startups, Base (acquired by Zendesk in 2018) and Onfido with engineering teams between 50 and 100 people. In each case, the QA team was already in place.

This time the game was different. There was nothing in place — it was a blank page. That meant no boundaries, but no safety net, too. At the same time, being the first one in a role was very exciting.

But let me start from the beginning.

Preparing for the QA Lead role

Back in my previous job at Onfido, I was doing just fine. In fact, I wasn’t really looking for a new job.

My role was wide — I led the QA process in an SDK team across Android, iOS and Web platforms. I switched between high-level thinking about the QA strategy, exploratory testing and automation. It was challenging but it was fun.

However, as I was getting more confident in my role, the ambition for having more responsibility started blooming inside me. At some point, I realised I wanted to lead the QA process at a company level. It was definitely out of my comfort zone but I knew it was the only way to go.

I understood that I had to start getting ready and all I could do was to prepare and wait for an opportunity to come either from the inside or the outside.

And I was right.

A couple of months later, the opportunity to take over the QA Lead role at Fiit revealed itself. And I took the chance.

It turned out that the key to that success was good preparation. You can read about my methods in the first part of this story where I tell you how to prepare for a QA Lead role.

Doing it wrong on the first day

Fast forward a few months and I was starting a new job.

Even though I’ve worked for 4 companies, I always made the same mistake on the first day. I rushed to get my head around literally everything at once, which — in effect — got me stressed.

This time I decided to analyse my mistakes and I learned three things that I should’ve done instead:

  1. Take it easy.
  2. Take notes.
  3. Take time.

To make that lesson even more vivid, I wrapped it in a quote: “On the first day, save yourself”.

It may sound surprising, but there’s a reason for that. I elaborate on this in the second part of this story about the 3 things I’ve learned the hard way about the first day in a new job.

Using the power of observation in the first week

Alright, the first day has passed.

The next day I wanted to start acting right away. But this time I held my horses.

I reminded myself what Einstein’s method of solving problems. When he had an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes thinking about that problem, and only 5 minutes about the solution. He was a smart guy so I decided to adopt his way of thinking.

So I stopped myself from acting — I observed how things worked instead. I stopped myself from talking, too — I asked around and listened to the answers.

And I’m glad I did because thanks to this I was able to quickly capture two very important things:

  1. The current status of the QA process focused on the biggest bottlenecks.
  2. The biggest business risks from the tech perspective.

This was the baseline. This was where I started. Thanks to this, I was able to prepare a short-term test plan.

However, the first week wasn’t only about that. The equally important thing, especially in the context of leadership role, was building relationships with the team.

To learn what I did, read about the first week as a QA Lead in a startup where I provide 5 detailed steps that can help you get started.

Focusing on execution in the first month

Once the first week passed, I felt that I was finally ready to go at full speed.

The easy part was to act on the short-term plan defined before. This was the main, but not the only, thing to do.

What were the other things? At some point, I got to the place where I realised that by doing things on my own I could only get so far. It didn’t scale.

The solution was to engage the whole team into thinking about quality and testing. To make that work, I had to make sure everyone was aligned with that vision and, most importantly, with my role.

Inspired by Modern Testing Principles, I started working on the QA culture within the team. However, it isn’t something that can be implemented right away. It’s an on-going process that we’ve been working on since.

There are a few more things that I did in the first month. The full list goes as follows:

  1. Define your role
  2. Work on the QA Culture
  3. Execute short-term, think long-term
  4. Support the team
  5. Delegate testing tasks
  6. Show your work

I wrote about each of them in detail in the fourth part about the first month as a QA Lead in a startup.

And frankly, if I was about to choose a must-read article from the series, it would be this one.

What I’ve learned after 30 days

After spending my first 30 days as a QA Lead in a startup, I learned powerful lessons as well as confirmed the ones that I had already known.

Here’s a list of the 5 most important ones:

  1. The best way to start is to start over.
  2. The first thing to take is to take ownership.
  3. The good way to ask is to ask for help.
  4. The wise thing to use is to use data.
  5. The important thing to mind is to mind your well-being.

If you want to know the story behind each of them, check out the last part of this series in an article about what I’ve learned after 30 days as a QA Lead in a startup.

And that’s it, so far.

To sum up, here are all 5 articles from the series of joining a startup as a QA Lead:

  1. How to prepare for a QA Lead role
  2. First day as a QA Lead — 3 things I learned the hard way
  3. First week as a QA Lead in a startup — 5 steps for 5 working days
  4. First month as a QA Lead in a startup — 6 pieces of advice
  5. Lessons learned as a QA Lead in a startup

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Dawid Dylowicz

Founder of More Than Testing