It’s been a big year of change for me. My husband and I moved our three donkeys, three cats and two dogs 1900 miles, from Colorado to Vermont. I started a new job as testing advocate for mabl at the beginning of August, and executed our long-planned move three weeks later. We love our new home, quiet and beautiful yet close to everything we could want. We’ve made many new friends.
I’m extremely fortunate to get to work from home most of the time. It’s a relief to no longer commute more than an hour each way to work three days a week (I worked from home two days a week in my previous job). I get to be a country girl and hang out with my donkeys. I work with a great team of smart, passionate people, building an exciting product.
The rocky road of working remotely
Perfect, right? Well, it’s pretty awesome. But there’s a downside for me. I’d much rather work in an office where my teammates are physically present. I depend on continual feedback to know if I’m contributing the right value for my team and for our customers.
My team makes the extra effort to include me in meetings via video, and conversations go on all day in Slack. I can sit in on video calls with customers and prospective customers to learn about their testing challenges. My main job is helping people learn ways to overcome their testing challenges and continually build their organization’s quality culture. I do that mostly by writing, speaking, webinars and the like. I also participate in online and local communities of practitioners.
And yet, I often have the feeling that I’m working in a vacuum. I can get feedback, such as having someone review a blog post or brainstorm ideas for a webinar. But it’s not the same as asking the person sitting next to me if I can show them something on my screen, or getting a product owner and a developer together for a quick discussion about a feature. I find it difficult to work with a longer feedback loop than I’m used to.
Frantic for feedback
I confess that I’m something of an affirmation junkie. I love it when I come up with a question that makes someone say “Oh, great catch! We hadn’t thought that through.” It’s so rewarding to pair with someone and see them get excited about learning a new testing technique. Working remotely means I get fewer of those “high five moments”.
In a feedback void, I tend to start listening to my inner critic. My imposter syndrome fires up big-time. “Nobody commented on my latest blog post. Either they don’t even bother to read it, or they think it sucks.” “I reported that bug I found in the Slack bug channel, but nobody responded. Do they just think I’m an idiot using the product incorrectly? Or are they just ignoring me?” “I asked for help with getting analytics on my webinars, but nobody offered to help, they don’t care.”
This is my own doing, not on my teammates – my brain is totally making that stuff up. But sometimes, I can’t help it. I know I need to “keep it real” and get my confidence back. I know many techniques to banish my inner critic. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to other people, but I see people I admire who have a similar job to mine who appear fearless and full of amazing ideas – with the ability to implement them.
Reflecting on my self-doubt has made me realize that my accomplishments have come from being part of a team. I can collaborate with other people to come up with great ideas and deliver on them. When I try to work solo, the ideas don’t come, and I lack the mojo to try something daring. I lose my focus, and spend time on things that aren’t the best way for me to contribute value to my company and my community.
Asking for help
I work with terrific people. I need the courage to ask them for more help. With their help, I’ll be able to help more people in turn. I’m planning a trip to Boston so I can have some face time in the office. Not asking for help would lead to disaster, so I’m going to do the smart thing. Collaborating with colleagues, we’ll be able to try experiments and learn how I can best contribute.
This has also made me realize that feedback from the software community is a huge benefit for me. It’s so valuable when a workshop participant makes suggestions how I could make the workshop better. When comments show a blog post resonates with readers, I know that’s a topic I should explore further.
Dear readers, I’d love your help too. Those of you who work remotely, how do you engage with busy teammates who are colocated in the office? How do you get them to pair with you over video, especially if they aren’t used to pairing? What do you do when you can’t hear the people in the conference room in the video meeting? I need tips and tricks to really feel part of the team even when I’m 250 miles away. How can I get that fast feedback that I rely on?
I’d also love to know ways I can help you, since that’s really my job. I’m backed up by a company that wants to reach out to the community of people who are passionate about software quality and testing. I want to use my powers for good, and I need your suggestions to do that!