Creating a skills-matrix for t-shaped testers

I believe the expression “jack of all trades, master of none” is a misnomer, as I’ve mentioned previously. Being good at two or more complimentary skills is better than being excellent at just one, in my opinion.

But what about being excellent at one skill, and still being good at two or more? Why can’t we be both?

Jason Yip describes a T-shaped person and the benefits that having t-shaped people on teams brings:

A T-shaped person is capable in many things and expert in, at least, one.
As opposed to an expert in one thing (I-shaped) or a “jack of all trades, master of none” generalist, a “t-shaped person” is an expert in at least one thing but also somewhat capable in many other things. An alternate phrase for “t-shaped” is “generalizing specialist”.

jason yip
image by Jason Yip

Ideally we’d like to have a team of t-shaped testers in Flow Patrol at Automattic. But how do we get to this end goal?

I recently embarked on an exercise to measure and benchmark our skills and do just this with our team. Here’s the steps we took.

Step One – Devise Desired Team Skills

The first thing we did was come up with a list of skills that we have in the team and would like to have in the team. These can be ‘hard’ skills like a specific programming languages and ‘soft’ skills like triaging bugs. In a standard co-located team this would be as easy as conducting a brainstorming session and using affinity grouping to discover these skills. In a distributed environment I wrote a blog post to my team’s channel and had individual members comment with a list of skills they thought appropriate, and then I did the grouping and came up with a draft list of skills and groups.

Step Two – Self-assess against a team skills matrix

Once I had a final list of skills and groups (see below for full list), I put together a matrix (in a Google Spreadsheet) that listed team members on the x-axis, and the skills on the y-axis, and came up with a skill level rating. Our internal systems use a three level scale (Newbie, Comfortable, Expert) which we didn’t think was broad enough so we decided upon five levels:

1. Limited
2. Basic
3. Good
4. Strong
5. Expert

 

skills_matrix
Team Skills Matrix

I hadn’t seen Jason yip’s visual representation at that point in time, otherwise I may have used something like that, which has five similar levels:

matrix jason yip
Image by Jason Yip

Step Three – Publish results and cross-skill

Once we had the self assessments done we could then publish the data within our organisation and use the benchmark to cross-skill people in the team. In a co-located environment this could involve pair programming, in a distributed one it could involve mentoring and reviewing other team member’s work.

Have you done a skills matrix for your team? How did you do it? What did you discover?


Full List of Skills and Skill Groups for Flow Patrol at Automattic

Automattic Product Knowledge
WordPress Core
WordPress.com Simple Sites
WordPress.com Atomic Sites
Jetpack
Woocommerce
Simplenote
Mobile Apps
Human Software Testing
Flow Mapping
Bug Triage & Prioritization
Exploratory Testing (pre-release)
Dogfooding
Cross-browser Cross-device Testing
Facilitating Beta/Community Testing
Facilitating User Testing
Usability Testing
Accessibility Testing
Automated Testing
Automated End-to-end Browser Testing
Automated API/Integration Testing
Automated Unit Testing
Automated Visual Regression Testing
Android Automated Testing
iOS Automated Testing
Programming Languages
JavaScript
PHP
Shell Scripting
Objective C
Swift
Android/Kotlin
Testing Tools/Frameworks
Mocha
WebDriverJS
Git/Github
CircleCI
TravisCI
Team City (CI)
Mailosaur
Applitools
VIP Go
Docker
Other
i18n Testing
Performance Testing
Security Testing
User advocacy – empathy and compassion
Mentoring/onboarding
Project Management
Product Management
Product Development 
Calypso
Jetpack
WP.com API PHP
Woocommerce
iOS App
Android App

 

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is a Software Quality Engineer for Automattic.

5 thoughts on “Creating a skills-matrix for t-shaped testers”

  1. Man, you keep on bringing great content, thank you. I have been crazy obsessed for T-shaped people for years, I even spoke about it in 2014-15, but you are bringing this to an area I didn’t think could be applied to, remote workers. Thank you for sharing, I really like it and will definitely try it as soon as I get the chance

  2. I like the visual representation you show for demonstrating someone’s progression in understanding of a /thing/. We have used a similar skills matrix to to your Google sheet to look at technical and tool knowledge and then comparing the output with the core needs of the Engineering team so we can identify training needs (e.g. Kubernetes, Docker are fashionable right now).

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