Yevheniia Hlovatska and Ekaterina Chernikova are part of a QA team that was working remotely long before the pandemic.
They collaborated across distances in a lot of new ways and used a lot of the new tools we all now use as part of our Covid-19 routine. They did it not because they had to, but because they found great advantage in doing so.
Listen to them tell the story of how this setup helps not just debug code of other engineers and ensure quality for millions of Wix users, but do much, much more.
Hi, I’m Ran Levi, welcome to the Wix Engineering Podcast.
March was crazy, right?
Think back to how weird and scary those first few weeks and months were. Businesses went remote, or shut down entirely. Confusion ensued, and layoffs came by the millions. The stock market crashed then picked right back up, but revenues in entire industries never quite recovered. All this, of course, is to say nothing of the toll to human life.
I think it was around summer when we all kind of got used to living in a pandemic. It’s weird to say--“used to a pandemic”--but it’s true. Wearing masks became second nature, as did having all of our meetings over Zoom. We even rearranged our rooms so that our bookshelves, filled with impressive books we never actually read, were in the background of the frame.
At the same time, getting “used to” a pandemic didn’t mean that everything was okay. From a business perspective, Zoom calls and Slack chats are adequate but poor stand-ins for actual in-person collaboration. And the rising class of productivity software--shared digital workspaces or, God forbid, that spyware that allows managers to track their employees’ activity--are merely band-aids, not actual cures to the problem of remote work.
Until we get out of this rough patch, there’s one concern looming over just about every company in the world: is it possible to have effective collaboration when everyone’s apart?
Maybe these are things you’ve had to consider recently in your job. But for some people, it’s not a new problem. Our episode today is about a team that was doing remote work long before the pandemic. They collaborated across distances, in a lot of the same ways and using a lot of the same tools we’re using now. They did it not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Because it made them work better.
Maybe they have the answers to help us work better, too.
INTRO TO WIX QA
Kate: Hi everyone, my name is Kate.
Yevheniia: Hey guys. My name is Yevheniia.
Kate and Yevheniia are guild masters in Wix’s quality assurance or “QA” division.
Kate: I’ve been working as QA for 8 years already, and enjoy it a lot.
Yevheniia: I’m also providing certifications for people around the world in agile testing as the Agile Authorized Instructor and starting from this year, I’m also a founder of Alpha IT School in Ukraine where we educate QAs at different levels.
QA’s job is to test code written by developers--to edit and make sure it’s good enough for release. But, to hear them tell it, it’s not quite that simple.
Kate: QA is about being the experienced and mature person to provide the experiences to the teams and to the user base eventually.
Yevheniia: It’s not just you – you know, look for some bad stuff like bugs to prevent their users from seeing it. It’s more about productivity, about every process to be good and mature, about good communication.
Kate: It is about being open-minded. It is about asking challenging questions. It is about searching for areas to improve. It is also about being able to listen to your teammates, to users, user-wise, and of course it’s about being a part of your team, being a part of your family, to create an outstanding piece of product which will be something our users love.
Yevheniia: It is not just an activity, you know? It is more like a mindset, like a culture. It’s not something that you do once. You should have quality everywhere.
To be effective at QA, you need two things. The first is to be an expert in the kinds of products you’re working with.
Yevheniia: Every engineer that we have is like a super expert in the domain he works with.
For example if you are working with stores, then you must be definitely very good at commerce. If you are working with something like marketing tools, you must be definitely good at something like Google Analytics or Facebook advertising.
You can’t quality-assure a product you don’t understand through and through. Equally important to the job, though, is an ability to communicate--with the consumers who use these products, and the developers who write them.
Which made things difficult when, you know...pandemic...
Kate: For sure it was a surprise and some negative story from the very beginning to everyone.
Yevheniia: I can only agree with Kate and say that also it was kind of psychologically hard a bit to know that you have such limitations and that you cannot come to the office, talk to people, hug people.
Like any other company, adjustments had to be made.
Kate: On one side, there was quite a lot of technical preparations taken on the side of our IT and infrastructure. Some were wifi preparations, some were equipment preparation for people to be able to get used to working from home, to have everything they need at their desks in apartments. But at the same time, it is about communication. Explain everything and talk to each other.
Yevheniia: Wix helped our engineers, our company, but also helped our users because the corona situation actually made our users – it really forced our users to move online and we try to be there as much as possible to help them, to make it as smooth as possible and as easy as possible.
1500 MILES APART
The difference between how Kate and Yevheniia adjusted to COVID, and how the rest of us did it, is that they were already, basically, remote. Kate and Yevheniia live and work in Dnipro, in the east of Ukraine.
Yevheniia: Yes, we’re based in Ukraine and we have a lot of QAs in Ukraine and actually we have a pretty distributed team, pretty distributed structure.
Kate: There are developers in Ukraine and also in Tel-Aviv and in many other locations. And it works the same way for all the other areas like product management, BI, analytics, QA in particular.
Some of the developers they test for are also in Dnipro, but most of them are in Tel Aviv. 1500 miles away.
Kate: Now working in a distributed setup is not something new to everyone in the world because of the current situation. But it has never been something new to us. We used to work in such space.
All of the challenges you’ve been facing these last few months, trying to work remotely? They’re an everyday thing to Wix QA. They’ve been through it and back, so they know all the pitfalls and the ways of getting out.
Like, here’s one thing some of you may have noticed lately: when you’re remote, normal business hours sort of fade away. People are writing to you at strange hours. And if you don’t have a meeting at 9:00 in the morning, by God you’re sleeping in.
Yevheniia: You know, like your day work is kind of unlimited. You have your laptop next to you all the time – which is not very good because you can have over hours, you might get tired, and it can also be a good trick to limit your working hours once you’re working remotely because otherwise, it will be kind of hard.
That’s a minor annoyance, but serious problems also arise when we can’t work together in the same rooms. The speed and effectiveness of basic communications among team members can really suffer.
Yevheniia: I must say that the distances and working remotely actually shows if you have any process issues. So like the typical example is that if you are sitting next to somebody, it is super easy to ask a question and you get an answer to it in one second. But if this is somebody who is working remotely and you need to text and this person might not answer that fast and you need to have this answer, it makes a bit of – like of a difficulty in the way you communicate.
It’s something we took for granted before--that we could just slide over to somebody a couple desks over if there was something to talk about. Or we could all hop into a conference room, put our heads together and come up with ideas. You lose a lot when you lose those shared spaces.
Kate: A well-known side effect of remote work in the world is something which we lose in creativity, in brainstorming, in some collaboration when we meet in one room and resolve some task efficiently just because we’re sitting together, talking to each other, seeing each other’s faces.
For years now, Wix QA has been dealing with, working around and solving the problem of how to effectively collaborate at distance. It’s made people like Kate and Yevheniia incidental experts in pandemic productivity.
For example, there’s video conferencing. A lot of us didn’t even have Zoom installed before March. Then we realized our WiFi wasn’t good enough to stream video in good quality. And we kept talking over one another because of those one-second signal lags.
Yevheniia: We had the Zoom meetings or such, like online conversations, because this is something we did all the time.
The key to good Zooming is organization.
Yevheniia: I would definitely say that once you’re working remotely and you have calls, it is really, really very important to facilitate the meeting, to give an agenda, to assign a person that is going to facilitate, is going to say, “Guys, we’re out of this topic. Let’s get back to the topic. Let’s get back to the agenda,” and we’ll make sure that we have everything covered, that we have meeting notes.
Kate: To help people to talk more, to help people to talk more about what they want and need to discuss. Focus but at the same time to bring ideas, to gather the most out of the talk and to formulate the summary.
Yevheniia: Another thing I see in remote work, not sure if it’s good or bad, but once you’re working remotely you don’t have something like work hours.
Kate: So better meetings preparation and facilitation help to deal a little bit with the need to not see each other face to face.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT
There’s one big thing missing from this way of looking at things. Because you could have great organization, and a process that everyone follows to a T, but does anybody really want to work in such a robotic, confined way? As important as it is to be organized in remote communications, it’s just as important to let loose a little. To spend some time chatting, not working. Water cooler talk, not board room talk.
Kate: If there is a possibility for you to ask your colleague, your teammate how they do, what is the situation in their family, if there are kids at home and bother them and they cannot work because of this - they are always occupied with a kid for instance or if they have some issue with parents. Something is going on around there.
So it would influence your way of approaching the person if you know the background from the personal side. I suggest that in such quite – this time of quite a high pressure on everyone and families - we remember about the most important part of our lives, people we love and the people who we live with.
Sure, you have to replicate all those formal things--meetings, workflow, productivity--but don’t get lost in all that. We also have to maintain those intangibles like connecting with coworkers, and being healthy and happy at work.
Yevheniia: And of course stay healthy. Eat vitamins, do some sports at home because this is something that really brings you better productivity when you don’t get some, you know, like emotions from seeing people in the office.
Kate: Vitamins for sure. In addition to preparation on the technical and process side and also to healthy food and active way of life as much as we can of course in such situation.
Yevheniia: Definitely limit your work time once you’ve working from home, so you will have energy to work long term like this.
[. . .]
It is also very important to keep enjoying your work and to keep being fun while working, to do some small stuff that you usually did when you were in the office.
For example we started to do online birthday parties for guys once it has moved to complete remote working and we started to celebrate. We do some, you know, like quizzes or some, I don’t know, questionnaires for people who have birthdays and we require them to answer in order to get their like prize for birthdays. So it makes the work not that remote. It makes it feel like you’re sitting next to each other and even some small presentations or daily updates or weekly update meetings can be also somehow cute and fun. You can bring some funny, I don’t know, some funny gifts to presentations and it already makes it feel like it is not that distributed. You feel like people are close. So this is the idea.
It doesn’t matter where you are or what you do. If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll be able to maintain a healthy work environment with effective collaboration in a remote setup.
Kate: It’s not about “change everything from scratch in one minute”. But if people just talk to each other and discuss what they want to achieve, it can be done pretty fast and people can adjust and adapt to changes pretty fast if they need to.
Yevheniia: if you get prepared for this, if you build your process pretty well, if you analyze it all the time, then I think it shouldn’t be such a big change if you ask people to work from home.
REMOTE CAN BE GOOD
One of the more unexpected developments of COVID-19 remote work has, actually, been just how effective it has turned out to be for those who handle it well. As evidence to the point, this past Spring, Pew Research polled executives at a variety of companies. In their result, just as many (28%) said productivity had gone up since the pandemic hit as said it’d gone down (29%). Rather than become demoralized, these executives are now planning for increased remote work even after the pandemic ends. A full 55% of executives surveyed anticipate that “most” of their workforce will be remote for at least one day per week, even after COVID-19 is long past.
The benefits of remote is not news to Wix QA.
Yevheniia: It might sound a bit weird and hard to work remotely from your developers. But at the same time, it gives you a huge advantage of improving your process of doing better your job and in our case, we really have a lot of teams who are far away from their QAs and – but still they love their QAs and they don’t feel this distributed difference and it really gives them still a feeling that they are a team.
Years before COVID-19, Wix QA wasn’t remote because it had to be. It was remote because it chose to be; there were benefits to having developers and testers in different countries, coming to the table with their unique backgrounds, skills and experiences.
Kate: So it’s rather a possibility to gather diversity of different opinions, different people from different countries to bring the most value of what they do, what they know, how they live. Since building products, it’s not to do something for a single person, for us at least. We are building a worldwide user-facing product, which needs to feed many, many needs and many, many specifics of our user base geographically as well.
So basically combining people from different locations is a nice match for us to find representatives in how do you think, how do we create things and how do we approach business tasks, et cetera.
Yevheniia: It brings a lot of fun. Like to me to be honest, it brings a lot of joy around it because it is – it’s so fun when somebody from Israel comes to us and says “Dobryy ranok!”, which is “Good morning!” in Ukrainian and we learn from each other. We learn some cultural differences and it really brings us a lot of different side views to the product.
From our perspective, from the perspective of our Ukrainian market of specifics of tech market in Ukraine, and the same comes from the Israel side, the same comes from the Lithuanian side, it’s very interesting to add different angles of some specific products into one team.
To make QA work, you need to be open-minded. You need to be able to come at software with fresh eyes and good questions. It helps, then, to have to work with people not exactly like yourself. To have two different perspectives, two sets of eyes on the same product. It leads to a final product that works better for everyone.
When Kate and Yevheniia assure code written by developers in Israel, they offer something that QA testers in Israel couldn’t. But it would be an oversimplification to say that all the benefits of diversity are in their nationality and background. To have a truly complete team, you need people with different kinds of personalities, interests and methods.
Kate: I think the diversity in this case is something which is brought not only by geographical isolation. For sure it does because we are very different. Like quite emotional and tempered Israeli people and a little more calm people from Lithuania. Of course it brings a little difference. But the most and the biggest difference is – in diversity is something which is brought by us being professionally experienced and mature and also being people who are open-minded and have quite a lot of other interests in their lives. Because if only you can talk to any employee of our company, they always have tons of ideas to do in their lives, to apply their hobbies or to share with their friends.
So this is about being Wix, being people at Wix. Somebody who joins us is just a great person and this is the secret of diversity.
The key to remote work was never what software you were using, or what rules you put in place. It’s all about having the right people--the kind of people who can get hit in a pandemic, and land right back on their feet. People who care about their work, and about the other people around them. Who feel like a team, and can work towards a shared goal. Who each bring something different to the table, and instead of getting hung up on those differences, instead use them to their advantage.
With a diverse group of motivated people, there’s no amount of distance or video lag that can really make an impact. You’ve got everything you need.
Kate: We are just people who love what they do, people who love products they produce and maybe this is the difference for us as well as the mindset. When one joins Wix, they for sure know what is the culture of relationships inside the company and also the culture of the development itself. It’s always a person who evaluates and values very highly personal qualities and also technically everyone who I had already a chance to work at Wix is a high level tech professional. Everyone brings new ideas, always can find an area to improve. There are constant triggers for being better, doing better, becoming a better version of ourselves.
Yevheniia: I want to very much agree with Kate because once I joined Wix a few years ago, this is the first thing that I noticed. I had experience before working with other Israeli companies. But people in Wix are different.
[. . .]
All people who work in Wix are super focused on building the best product in the world. It is kind of like a culture for everyone and that’s why once we are working together, it is about helping each other at every place that you can. It’s not only about doing your own responsibilities and looking from your own end goal.
You always learn from other people. You always become a T-shaped engineer. You always learn a bit from the product manager, you always learn a bit from a developer. And that it kills this border between you, like, between different roles or between different locations, because you are kind of learning from each other and it allows really to build the best product in the world.
That’s it for this episode - Thanks for listening. For a full list of our previous episodes - visit wix.engineering/podacst. The Wix Engineering Podcast is produced by PI Media - written by Nate Nelson, produced by Guy Bin Noun and narrated and edited by me, Ran Levi. Special thanks to Moard Stern from Wix. See you again next episode, bye bye.
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