When I meet new people, they often ask, “what do you do?” The answer I give initially, and the one I hope to get away with is, “I work at Microsoft.”
It rarely works. They inevitably follow up with, “what do you do there?” – which, for better or for worse is a much more difficult question to answer. Depending on their technical knowledge (and my mood), I’ll say something between “I work on a team that does technical training, internal consulting and cross-company projects for engineers”, “I’m the Director of Test Excellence, and “I stop people from being stupid”. It was much a much easier question to answer when I worked on a product team, but I like the job, so I’ll deal with the moments of awkwardness.
I thought I’d write down a longer answer for those who are curious (or want to help me with a better definition).
The biggest thing I’m working on this year is helping engineers across the company have a common concept of software quality. This includes working with marketing on customer perception of quality and a lot of talking with people from around the company to see which practices are common, and discover some practices that should be shared more widely. It’s a hard problem to solve (and there are a lot more pieces to it), but it’s a fun challenge.
I’m also working on a variety of small projects to increase collaboration among testers and other engineers at the company. With nearly 10,000 testers, there’s not nearly enough sharing of ideas, practices or innovation among people solving problems that are likely much more similar than people realize. Every time I see a duplication of effort or the same question asked on a distribution list for the 3rd time in a month I’m reminded of how much more work there is to do in this area.
Edit: I forgot a big chunk worth adding
A reasonably sized chunk of our organization’s work is technical training for engineers at Microsoft. My team teaches some classes, but I work with vendors to teach and design a fair number of test related courses world-wide. I also own scheduling and prioritization of technical courses for what we call MSUS (shorthand for all MS engineers in the US outside of Redmond). It sort of a thankless job, but needs to be done and I don’t mind doing it.
The bulk of the rest of the time goes to what I call – “being Alan”. I organize and schedule meetings for our company-wide test leadership team and test architect group, and chair our quality and test experts community. I also function as chief-of-staff for my boss’s staff meetings (he attends the meeting alternate weeks, and I take care of the agenda and flow of the meetings every week). I participate in a few virtual teams / micro-communities (e.g. cross-company test code quality initiatives or symposiums on testability). I’m on the board for sasqag, and put in a few hours a month keeping things alive on the msdn tester center. I give talks to internal teams a few times a month and mentor half-a-dozen testers in various roles around the company. Finally (and most importantly), I manage a team of 6 people who work on similar projects, as well as teach testing courses. It helps a lot that the team is so smart and so motivated, because I’m most likely not the best manager in the world.
Beyond all that, I spend probably too much time staying connected with what’s going on in the testing world outside of MS. I blog a few times a week, speak at a few conferences a year, and tweet once in a while. It can be a balance problem some times, but I think it’s important enough to make a significant effort to keep up.
There’s probably more, but I think that covers most of it. Now you know.