Test Engineers: Understand your impact
As testing is at the end of each project, it’s often seen as a non-value-added necessity that just needs to be done. This is why Test Engineers often feel overlooked and undervalued. Previously, we explained why Engineering Managers should value their Test Engineers, and told them how to get the most out of their teams. Today we’ll explore how Test Engineers can learn to understand their impact and raise their visibility themselves. We will begin by looking at how you can change your perspective, to change your role. We will focus on four key areas to help understand your impact. They are; self-confidence, set your tests up for success, raise your visibility, and continuous professional development.
As a Test Engineer, you may find that you work in a silo, exclusively focused on your projects. You may not always consider how you fit into the team or overall business. Many Test Engineers are used to being overlooked and simply accept it. Test Engineers need to check-in on their self-esteem and figure out how they rate themselves. If your self-esteem and confidence levels are high, great. If they’re on the lower end, then you need to work on it.
Engineering Management expert and yieldHUB’s Yield Management Specialist, Carl Moore says “When someone starts to realize the impact they have on production and profitability, there is often an immediate shift in attitude. Test Engineers who know how important they are, tend to be more confident and happier in their roles. This comes across in every task they complete. They have an air about them”. (LinkedIn)
For some people, the change in perspective happens immediately, for others, it takes longer.
Carl believes in training so-called soft-skills as well as technical ability. “Throughout my career, I’ve seen many people who are technically brilliant but can’t always get their points across. I’ve also seen people who are less skilled but have good communication skills rise to the top. The ability to work well with people complements an individual’s technical ability. People like to work with people. It’s often the communicator, who draws out solutions from a technical person, that ends up solving the problem and leading the team. Some of the best engineers have a strong technical foundation and indispensable communication skills.”
If you find it challenging to get your point across, or feel misunderstood; develop soft skills. Some people like to read self-development books, watch videos, invest in training or get a mentor. Carl recommends areas such as persuasion, negotiation, leadership and general communication skills. If you’re feeling brave, improv and amateur drama are life-changing ways to break out of your comfort zone.
The second point on this is self-validation. Many Test Engineers feel undervalued. Often your manager is too busy to tell you that you are doing a great job. If you’re waiting for a thank you, you could be waiting a long time. You need to realize the value of your work and feel pride in the job you’re doing. Carl highlights that “Test Engineers routinely save companies thousands of dollars. For example, when they help Design Engineers design for test, it has a very tangible benefit on production and often saves time on each test. In high-volume manufacturing, this usually saves the company thousands of dollars each week. As a Test Engineer, you need to learn to appreciate your work and incredible achievements. Take a few moments to reflect on your success. Your employer shows their appreciation in your paycheck each month!”
In all areas of life, competence increases confidence. When you practice anything, you get better at it. Then you get more confident in your ability. For example, when you started driving, you were probably nervous. As you took lessons, you increased your ability to drive. When you were able to handle the car, you became more confident about driving. Similarly in work, if you get more technical expertise through experience or training, you could well find that your confidence soars.
Understand where you fit in
The next step is to understand your role in the business unit. Carl notes that “Many Test Engineers forget that they are in business to make money for the company. I’ve seen Test Engineers develop unique programs because they thought they were cool, but they resulted in higher maintenance in production. When you become mindful of your role in the company, you become better at managing your time efficiently.”
Set your tests up for success in each project
Now we will look at ways to help you prepare for tests, so you have a head-start.
When time is lost through the new product development cycle, it often falls on Test Engineers to make up for this time, somehow, to meet the delivery schedule. This isn’t fair and it’s not your fault, but it’s your responsibility. Carl says “As it’s the nature of the industry, it’s best to just accept it. It sounds simple, but I’ve coached many Test Engineers who, when they understood this fact and accepted it, found their roles far more far more enjoyable”. Accepting it makes it easier on yourself. One way of accepting it is to see it as a challenge, or a problem that only you can solve.
Small changes to the structure of the team or department often have a huge impact on performance and production. For example, when the Test Engineers are part of the business unit, you tend to feel more part of the team. You may find you’re more comfortable telling people your ideas and collaborating with Design Engineers on DfT (Design for Test).
Take the pressure off
Do all you can to prepare for an incoming project, ahead of time. Prepare the test foundation in advance. Look at data from previous, similar projects to help you. Review similar circuit blocks. Write the test program to give you a head start. It is good to have the test program ready for the new silicon when it arrives. This is where yield management systems shine, as they save all of the data for you. You can get a broad overview and unique insights at the touch of a button.
Upgrade your analysis system
During the test analysis, use a YMS instead of Excel, it makes everything run a lot faster. It means you have a structure in place. Carl says: “I have seen cases where it took two weeks to complete Gage R&R analysis with PC tools. It takes a lot of time to organize and format the data, write the scripts, output results etc. When they implemented a yield management system, the Gage R&R analysis was reduced from weeks to a few hours!” When the manual data collection is gone, you can focus on analysis and solving problems rather than gathering and sorting data.
Raise your visibility
Now that you’ve set yourself and the test up for success, let’s focus on raising your visibility to your manager and team.
Reports and charts
As discussed earlier, the people you report to may not be as technical as you are, so you need to learn to speak their language. Details can sometimes be distracting. Instead, present a high-level overview of your achievements, and then drill down to details as needed. Showing your achievements in graph and chart form will showcase your successes. Where possible, show how your initiatives saved money, and state how much money you saved. For example, suppose you edited a test program, and saved milliseconds off of a test. This results in a reduction of the time it takes to test each wafer. You calculate how much time it saved the company, and how much this would have cost, and discover that you saved $500,000. Share this information with your manager. It’s what they want to know.
When should you share this?
You can share this during regular one-to-one meetings with your manager if you have them. If you don’t, it might be helpful to set up a regular one-to-one. Your manager may need to see things at a higher level than you’re used to. They could have a different way of seeing things. Some managers are detail-oriented, some aren’t. Some are process-driven, others aren’t. By understanding their communication style, you will find it easier to work with them. This will make your working relationship easier and better. Your visibility rises in tandem with increased lines of communication.
Some companies have weekly product reviews and updates. Include your achievements or key points there. It’s an easy way to get your work seen by those around you, and it could trigger great ideas from others on the team.
Continuous development and growth
So, you’ve realized your impact, set your test up for success, and your team is starting to see the results, now what? To keep growing and developing, networking is invaluable. You can network both externally and within your company.
You can do this when you by attending events and conferences, to meet new people in your field. Connect with friends who work in your industry, and stay in touch with colleagues who move onto different roles. There are tangible benefits to this type of networking. Carl: “I’ve seen many instances where engineers networked out of the company and this triggered many new ideas.”
Networking internally is even more important. Don’t just sit at your desk. Have coffee or lunch with your colleagues, attend sports and social events. In small companies, well-functioning teams make a huge difference. In large companies, there are often many test teams, and they can learn a lot from each other and share knowledge.
Online bulletin boards
In larger companies, online communication portals (e.g. Yammer, Confluence, Jira) help teams to communicate technical learnings and expertise, ask questions, share company milestones, and even company party and vacation pictures.
By managing the relationships with your suppliers, you develop a unique skill. You could be seen as the go-to guy for any questions about the tester. You will learn more about their services and get free on-the-job training and the supplier will learn even more about the company’s needs.
When you fully understand your impact, it benefits you and those you work with. By focusing on the key areas of self-confidence, setting your tests up for success, raising your visibility and continuous growth, you will ensure that the remainder of your career is fulfilling, rewarding and very enjoyable.