Three strategies for speaking up for introverts

Interview with Angela Riggs, QE Manager at The Zebra
March 2, 2022
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Angela Riggs is a QE Manager at The Zebra with 7 years of experience in tech. She loves the variety of experiences that come with being in the QE field, including launching Vacasa's incident response program and building a QE department from the ground up at Instrument. The hiker’s mindset “leave it better than you found it” inspires her approach at work - whether it’s people, processes, or the organization as a whole. Angela enjoys her job the most when she gets to take on challenges that allow her to learn and grow, and when she's supporting people and teams to do their best work.

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How can engineers think about risk?

Understanding risk and cultivating a risk-aware mindset are really important skills, but they can also get overlooked or only implicitly addressed. 

One of the first ways to think about risk is acknowledging there can be "gotchas'' that you can't explicitly plan for - those unknown unknowns. Since you can't create a proactive plan of action around those things, addressing this type of risk is having the flexibility to adapt your plan once they make themselves known. 

It's also useful to think about where risk can come from: 

  • changing priorities from the client or stakeholder, which can also result in adjusted deadlines
  • understanding how your deliverables might impact or depend on another team's work
  • factoring in vacation time
  • someone getting sick or even quitting

Thinking about risk is also thinking about ways to mitigate it: 

  • checking your assumptions and asking questions about the way things work 
  • setting up logging and observability tooling so you can see how your users interact with your site or product
  • making sure your team is educated about security practices
  • creating and maintaining relevant testing strategies
  • ongoing communication with your team so that people speak up when they see a risk somewhere

What are some strategies for speaking up?

Speaking up is hard. It can be a really personal choice, and it can take a lot of courage. Whether it's sharing constructive feedback with a peer or having a serious discussion about something consequential, I still get really anxious even though it's something that I've done before. 

One thing that's been really helpful is writing out the things I want to say so I can organize my thoughts into cohesive messaging. 

I also recommend practicing with a friend or trusted colleague - they can give you feedback on delivery and it also just helps get the nerves out a bit, like a dress rehearsal. During the actual conversation, I use physical grounding techniques to keep myself focused so I don't get distracted by nerves. I tend to pay attention to the feel of my arms on my chair's armrests, but you can also try holding something heavy or directing awareness to your feet on the ground.

It can be really tough to speak up when you don't have experience doing it, but you can't get that experience unless you do it! Getting started and getting comfortable is hard, but I wrote about my experiences last year to help other people learn how to prepare and have those hard conversations successfully. 

How do you stay organized?

My main organization tool is a Trello board for my tasks and work - I prioritize using columns for Now, Soon, and Someday, and I label things that are In Progress so I don't lose track of them. I also schedule a wrap-up block near the end of each day where I transfer action items to my Trello board, prioritize the Now column, make sure my 1:1 agendas are set, prep for the next day's meetings, and reply to any emails I may have missed earlier. 

The most impactful practice I do around staying organized is to do it often in small amounts instead of letting it pile up! Making it a consistent habit has helped me stay on top of things and follow through, even though my attention and work is spread over multiple people and areas. 

How can leaders think about inclusive hiring?

One of the most important things we can do as leaders is talk to other leaders and find out how they do things! This doesn't mean just adopting someone else's process without examining it - it means expanding your perspective beyond your own finite set of experiences to see where you can improve. I've really enjoyed having these discussions in Rands Leadership Slack, and it's been awesome to learn from other people's successes and experiences with cultivating inclusive hiring practices. 

Many people see interviews as a test to get the best candidate. Instead of using interviews to see who does well under pressure, they should be opportunities to try and evaluate which candidates would be good employees at your company, on your team, in a particular role. 

I've written about some of the iterations I've made over the last year in an attempt to create a more inclusive process. Hiring processes should strive to be a reflection of the working environment and culture. At The Zebra, we pride ourselves on our culture of collaboration, inclusion, accountability. Our interviews should not only be a reflection of those values, they should be a leading example of them. 

Tell us about your transition to a people management role.

My first role as a QA manager actually started with no QA department and no people to manage! A friend of mine worked at an agency that was looking to get started with its own internal QA department - he and his manager thought I'd be a great fit for the job and I thought it sounded like a really interesting challenge. 

I started with a listening tour where I talked with people in different roles across the company to find out what quality meant to them, understand what they wanted it to mean for their work and the company, and what past experiences with QA might be holding them back. Then I did a proof-of-concept by acting as a QA engineer for an ongoing project. This helped me understand how teams worked and what they needed, and also gave folks a chance to see internal QA in action. The embedded QA on that project was really successful, which meant that I had more people advocating for internal QA. A few months later I hired my first QA engineer, who did a fantastic job continuing to win over hearts and minds through their own excellent work. 

Overall, it was a really great career experience for me. I got to take on the process and people change management (which I love) while learning what it means to own and implement a vision and strategy for quality engineering across an entire company. 

Read more from Angela on her blog!

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