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Joining a startup as the first QA

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 the first QA.

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 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 the most exciting thing.

But let me start from the beginning.

Before I even joined

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 QA strategy, exploratory testing and automation. It was challenging and 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 on a company level. It was definitely out of my comfort zone but I knew it was the only way forward.

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.

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

It turned out that the key to that success was preparation. That’s why in the first part of this story I wrote about how to prepare for a leadership role.

Doing it wrong on the first day

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

Even though I’ve worked for 4 companies, I’ve 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 quite 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 empathic, I wrapped it in a quote: “On the first day, save yourself”.

It sounds uneasy, but there’s a reason for that. I elaborate on this in the second part of this story about 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

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 said if 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. Status of where we were with QA process and what were the biggest roadblocks.
  2. What the biggest risks from business perspective were.

This was the baseline. This was where we started. Basing on these two outcomes, 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 context of leadership role, was building relationships with the team.

I talk more about this in the third part about the first week as QA Lead in a startup where I provided 5 detailed steps on what to do.

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 QA culture within the team. Obviously, it isn’t something that can be implemented very quickly. It’s a process that lasts and we’ve been working on it since.

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

  1. Define your role
  2. Work on 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 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 QA Lead in a startup, I’ve learned new 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 health.

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 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 the first QA:

  1. How to prepare for a leadership role
  2. First day in a new job — 3 things I learned the hard way
  3. First week as QA Lead in a startup — 5 steps for 5 working days
  4. First month as QA Lead in a startup — 6 pieces of advice
  5. What I’ve learned after 30 days as QA Lead in a startup

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Author's profile picture

Dawid Dylowicz

Founder of More Than Testing