Loading through Diversity


I work for a small German company that develops standard software for insurances. We are doing successful test automation since 2001 and I’m convinced that our major advantage compared to other companies is the diversity of our work force. Our roughly hundred employees live all around Germany and of these only about 70% are native Germans (but don’t forget that Germans from the north and the south or from the west and the east can also be quite different). The rest comes from all over Europe and some even from China. The genders are similarly mixed, 62% men to 38% women.

Why does diversity help? Different cultures tackle problems differently and that has helped us find the best solutions for our test automation.

If you come from a culture used to follow the rules you will be the best insurance against ad-hoc automation: you will help establish and enact standards and processes that will keep your automation running for a long time. The “Germans” on our team are the guardians of the test automation! Beware though that after a time the rules and processes don’t become so strict and complicated that any new automation effort gets strangled at birth!

On the other hand if you are accustomed to having to get by somehow, you will come up with new ideas to solve problems that would otherwise send your automation to the shelf. That is where people that come from places like Italy (that’s me) have a clear advantage: we are used to break the rules, because generally that’s the only way to get things done. When for example your developers have a knack for “cool” new components that the test tool doesn’t recognise and are not willing to change them (“the application has already been delivered to the customers and they love it!”) then you have to come up with some innovative script that bypasses the problem. Here also caution: if you give your “creative” heads too long a leash they will happily ignore rules, documentation and standards!

Another thing I experienced: men are willing to search the internet for hours at a time to find some solution. Women are more practical: if they cannot find the solution themselves in a relatively short time, they are not above asking someone else for help (that’s me again). Having both approaches on the team makes you definitely better! If you only have one kind then you might get nowhere either because your automators spend all their time trying to solve some exotic problem all by themselves or because they on the contrary cannot find someone to help them.

For diversity to work you must first of all ensure that all team members recognize that the different cultures are not antagonists, but on the contrary enhance each other. Another important prerequisite is for management to keep the cultural differences under control so that possible negative effects are minimized (like the ones I warned about above). I noticed though that after a while the team itself works as a control unit and doesn’t let extremes get the overhand.

In my company at first diversity happened by chance, but we quickly recognized the advantages and now we deliberately try to enhance it in the teams (and not only for test automation!).

So, yes, diversity and its sister, integration are not always a given, one must work for them, but the results are definitely worth the effort.

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