After working in English speaking countries in IT for over a decade, I was presented with a great opportunity to work abroad. As such in 2011, I took a 3 year break from my role with Planit to pursue a career in Switzerland. The role would expand my knowledge and build my senior-level project experience on the global stage, but not without some pleasant surprises.
Having returned to Planit after spending 3 years of my career in Switzerland, what lessons have I learnt?
Working in foreign lands is an experience not to be missed. The world has so much to offer in broadening your horizons, exploring your international career pathways is something I cannot recommend more highly.
‘Herzlich Wilkommen’ yodelled the lady on the airport train speakers. Welcome to Switzerland, the land of the Alps, Chocolate and Cheese – and yes, there is more than one type and no they don’t all have holes!
Moving to a foreign city, in this case Zurich in the German speaking part of Switzerland, is daunting enough. However when you don’t speak the First, Second, Third or Fourth national Language, I knew it was going to be tough. I was a little lucky though as English is the Swiss’ unofficial 5th language!!
On arrival I immediately became absorbed and intrigued by the huge cultural melting pot that surrounded me. With around 30% of the population coming to Switzerland from a variety of other countries, with dozens of languages and traditions, calling Switzerland ‘diverse’ is an understatement.
So with this mish-mash of culture and experience, what then were the implications on the Software Development Lifecycle and the role of testing?
Coming into a project based in Mainland Europe, I assumed they would be light years ahead of what I had previously experienced in Australia. To my shock, I was instantly greeted by what I perceived to be a total lack of testing maturity. Retrospectively, however, while their processes may not have been on the pedestal I had expected, this judgement was certainly premature and incorrect in many ways.
The first amazing thing I noticed about the Swiss is that if they don’t know something they will listen first, think about it, and then implement a better version of that initial idea. This is the total opposite to a lack of maturity. This is engineering at its best.
For example, I introduced the simple concept of story points for agile estimation; ‘we’ then went on to enhance the concept and also implement project points allowing us to compare relative performance and profitability of projects at the end of each year.
Secondly, the Swiss take responsibility for everything they do. For instance, if a person is swimming where the ferries cross, the water police will come out and say ‘You shouldn’t swim here, the ferries are crossing, it’s dangerous, would you like a lift to somewhere safer? No? OK, well here is a swimming cap so hopefully they can see you better. Good Luck!’ Now that’s taking responsibility for your own actions.
Likely like myself, you too have experienced the ‘Teflon shoulder’ of responsibility and of course this wasn’t really an IT Testing or QA specific example, but in reality it does highlight best practice which we should apply in our everyday careers. Unfortunately, I see a growing trend in many countries in the opposite direction in both business and personal levels.
The third most valuable experience was how cultural understanding is critical for effective communication. In fact, I quickly learnt that a simple word can mean polar opposite things to different people … we were, after all, Poles apart!
I give you the word ‘Engineer’. To me, if I heard the term Test Engineer in Australia, England, New Zealand or the US, I would and did assume it was the first step above graduate. In Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the huge principality of Lichtenstein, the term Engineer actually means an expert.
Hence my title of Quality Assurance Engineer, which I initially thought was a poor description for the strategic role in which I was operating, was actually more than apt considering cultural interpretations.
There are many things I took away from my time abroad, and these are just three of the lessons that I apply in my day-to-day role – implement a better version, take responsibility, and communicate effectively. Perhaps you too can learn from the Swiss?