How to build a standing desk for £16

There’s growing research that suggests that sitting down all day is bad for you so in a bid to live longer and see my sons growing up I’ve started using a standup desk at work. A few others here at NewVoiceMedia are also using standing desks.

A vari desk standing desk
A vari desk standing desk

I also thought I’d have a go at building a standing desk at home. I was amazed at how cheap and simple it was to build.

What follows is how to build a standing desk for £16. The following standing desk though, does assume that you already have a normal desk in place. Read on for more.

How a standing desk has helped me

Since using standing desks at work I’ve seen most of my back pain disappear. I tend to sit slouched with my back sloping in places it probably shouldn’t which causes me back pain, sometimes crippling. Since using a standing desk I’ve seen none of my usual back pains.

Standing all day though comes with it’s own set of aches and pains, so I’ve tried to seek a balance. My legs and feet tend to ache after a couple of hours but thankfully the Varidesks we use mean I can switch between standing and sitting.

How to build a standing desk using a coffee table!

I created this standing desk by simply buying a coffee table from Ikea and standing it on my current desk. Sounds too good to be true right? But it worked for me and it actually looks OK.

I got the inspiration for a standing desk from this blog about using an Ikea coffee table. Their solution is a little bit fancier than mine though.

I used the Lack Coffee Table from Ikea.

The desk the coffee table is stood on is a length of kitchen worktop that I re-used when I stripped out our kitchen a few years back.

I simply built the flat-packed coffee table following the useful IKEA instructions and then stood it on my desk. Hey presto – a standing desk.

Standing Desk Coffee Table
Standing Desk Coffee Table

Getting the right height

The right height for me has my hands just below my elbows when typing. This means my hands aren’t pointing up as I type – a sure fire way to get pins and needles.

As it happened the coffee table on the desk was pretty much perfect out of the box. If it’s not for you then either cut some length off the coffee table legs, or add some extra length to it with surplus wood. Remember though – measure twice and cut once.

Your desk means you can’t sit down though….as you are aren’t using a laptop

The keen eyed amongst you will notice that on my standing desk I have a MacMini and that the desk is permanent (i.e. not adjustable).

This does indeed mean that I cannot sit down to work at home using the MacMini without a lot of hassle. Thankfully I also have a laptop from work and cloud computing makes it easy to share between the MacMini and my Macbook using Dropbox, Confluence and Evernote so it’s not really an issue.

In the future I may take the plunge and invest in a Varidesk (Amazon affiliate link) which is what I use at work.

It’s expensive but it means I can adjust between sitting and standing simply.

If you don’t have much of a budget and want to experiment with a standing desk then a coffee table from IKEA might just solve your standing desk problems.

This post contains affiliate links – for more on affiliate links see my Cookie Policy page.

How to help your recruiters create a great first impression

FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER poster

At some point during your recruitment drive you’ll likely use recruiters. The problem is that some recruiters are creating a bad first impression of your company.

Your recruiters are often the first point of contact a potential hire has with your company.

Here are some ideas on how to help your recruiters create a great first impression.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER poster
FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER

 

I like to use recruiters to help me to find the right people. They are invaluable and a good one is worth their weight in gold.

Some recruiters though don’t think twice about focusing on short term wins at the expense of a long term relationship.

This leads to many problems but the one I’ll focus on in this post is that it often creates a poor first impression about your company in the mind of a candidate.

The reality is that your job advert and the initial call to, or from, the recruiter is often the first time someone has a connection with your company. You need to make sure it’s a positive experience and not one soured with lies, miscommunication and frustration.

I have dealt with recruiters from both sides of the recruitment process and I can tell you that first impressions really do matter.

One recruiter I was working with lied to me and sent me to an interview for a developer role. The job spec and the detailed discussions all suggested this was a tester role. He changed my CV without telling me nor the hiring manager and both sides were left utterly disappointed. I have never used that recruiter again.

Many times I’ve had recruiters who don’t even know what testing is. Many others who have lied about the salary. And of course, a great deal more who never get back to you. If you want a laugh check out The Problems With Testing (PDF Direct Download) – there is a chapter in there about recruitment.

In my experience for every great recruiter out there, there are several unprofessional ones. And these people create bad experiences for your potential employees.

It’s your job as a hiring manager to make sure, where possible, that the first contact a candidate has with your recruitment agent is a positive one.

Your recruiter is an advert for your company and for you. It can be hard to recover a candidate from a poor initial experience.

As you cannot control people it will be impossible for you to guarantee your recruiter creates a positive first experience, but what follows are some ideas to help improve the chance of a positive first experience.

Pick your recruiter with care

If you have a choice then you need to choose your recruiter with care. Choose one who also cares about first impressions. I’ve written about working with recruiters before and the advice remains the same – find someone you trust. I’d suggest you read that post as it outlines more about this in further detail.

Find out how they recruit and work with them to fine tune this process

The search and contact process that your recruiter has in place is an important factor in creating a good first impression. Don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter what their process is.

If they want to work with you and build a relationship then transparency (where practical) is essential. The better you know their process the better placed you will be to help them to improve it when working with you.

It’s important that you feel comfortable with the recruitment process they have in place. If you have any doubts ask for clarity. If they refuse to change the way they work, or are hesitant to even share their process then consider walking away if it’s not right for you. I’m not suggesting you get involved with any of their internal business processes – but if they approach candidates and manage them through their system in a way that is not congruent with your values – then have that discussion with them.

There are lots of recruiters out there and if you’re not comfortable with any one of them then consider switching.

Listen to their feedback about your process

Just as the recruiters process won’t be perfect, neither will yours. So listen to their feedback and action it where practical. Don’t be defensive and assume you have it nailed – you probably don’t.

The process of contacting a candidate and that candidate making their way through to an offer/rejection should be as seamless as possible. So it’s important that both parties work on improving together.

Invite them to see your company and understand your team culture

A recruiter who knows you, your company process and your company culture will be much better placed to create a good impression.

Be wary of recruiters who don’t want to find out more. Why would they not want to?

Get feedback from candidates about your recruiter

  • Ask every single person who comes through from your recruiter for feedback.
  • How smooth was the process?
  • How accurate was the information?
  • What was the first impression like?
  • Would you feel happy applying for another job through this recruiter again?

Give feedback to your recruiter and drop them if they don’t shape up

Take the above candidate feedback and use it to improve the process. Provide constructive feedback for your recruiters so that they can fine tune their process.

A good recruiter will welcome feedback and an opportunity to improve.

If the recruiter dismisses the feedback and is defensive then consider how effective your on-going relationship with them can be.

Be cautious though about taking all feedback as an immediate problem. Some candidates are conditioned to look for problems and struggle to spot positives. It is easy to point out problems, it’s much harder to acknowledge and give praise. But you’ll know whether you’re starting to see a pattern in the feedback.

Give your recruiters a media pack

Providing your recruiters with a media pack makes it easier for them to communicate a consistent message. A media pack should contain links, data, information and contact details. Some recruiters won’t need this but in the early days it can be helpful in setting expectations.

It may also be worth providing the recruiter with a series of questions to ask the candidate. These questions (technical, culture, career goals etc) can help to create consistency in the process.

The above are some ideas on how to help your recruitment team create a great first impression. I would also like to outline something you should never do.

Don’t do this

Never pretend to be a candidate and apply for one of your own jobs to assess your recruiter. I’ve known lots of people try this and it has one massive downside. It undermines the trust you should have in your recruiter. Trust is important. Trust that they will do their job and that you will do yours. If you don’t trust them why are you working with them to find great talent?

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It’s your job as a hiring manager to put in place processes and activities that ensure you’re not turning people away at the first hurdle. Working with your recruiter to create a great first impression is a good starting point.

How do you try to ensure a positive first impression when working with recruiters?

Have you had a bad experience with a recruiter – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

How to create effective adverts for recruiting software testers

Impossible tester job spec

When recruiting software testers many hiring managers often look for the impossible candidate who can do everything.

These people don’t exist yet many hiring managers continue to place job adverts that seek out these candidates.

An impossible job spec used for recruiting software testers
An impossible job spec used for recruiting software testers

 

What follows are 5 ways that will help you to create effective adverts for recruiting software testers

When I was early in my hiring career I created the usual generic and weak job adverts that swamp the usual jobs boards.

I listed so many responsibilities, expectations and skills that most candidates didn’t apply. I was seeking the impossible candidate. I was seeking someone who could do everything.

If you do a quick search for testing jobs online you may notice that most of them fall in to two distinct categories.

The first group of adverts are seeking the impossible tester. More on the pitfalls of this later in this post.

The second are somewhat different and aim to seek the niche tester. These adverts are so specific that only a small percentage of testers would fit the bill.

For example they would be asking for “ability to raise a defect using work-flow X in tool Y” and “must be able to use Z best practice” etc. They are so specific that many people will move on to other adverts before considering applying for your job.

Neither style of advert is particularly helpful at getting great applicants. Don’t get me wrong – you will receive applications. There are lots of people applying for every job out there. I’m also sure that some of these styles of advert do work in certain contexts, but it’s my belief that to get great testers you need to do something different.

I believe it’s important to focus on the values of the person and the results that you expect.

The following 5 points may help you to create a different, and effective job advert. Included at the bottom is a sample job advert format.

1. Focus on your team’s values

Hiring someone who doesn’t meet your team’s values will have a corrosive effect on your culture.

It’s my belief that team fit is more important than technical ability.

If you have your values right then most candidates who share these values will learn, adapt and grow as your business does.

If you don’t have your values articulated then spending some time to write them down is helpful. I’ll be writing more about values (and behaviour) in the future as they are key to growing an effective team.

2. Understand the problem you are trying to solve

It’s pointless just to keep recruiting software testers without understanding the problems you are trying to solve. I’ve written about this before here.

It is important to understand the problems your next hire is going to help you solve. This will help you to create a more focused job advert and ensure you’re interviewing for the right software tester. It will also give the applicant a deeper understanding of what the expectations of them are.

3. Don’t always copy what the masses are doing

When we started creating different styles of adverts at NewVoiceMedia many people were skeptical. As it happens the job adverts have worked well.

We often receive feedback stating our advert stands out for two reasons.

Reason number 1 is because they focus on the person as well as the skills. Reason number 2 is because they look and feels different; they are brief and succinct and promote our culture well.

Sometimes standing out from the masses is not helpful though. There may be a reason why the masses do something a certain way. But experiment, be brave and try something new. You can always change it based on feedback.

4. Stop using mandatory and optional sections in your advert

In my opinion most job adverts in the software testing industry contain two sections that I feel are not useful.

These are the “mandatory” and “optional” sections of skills and experience.

The view seems to be that anything in the mandatory is, as expected, a mandatory skill or ability or experience. Anything in the “optional” is , as expected, optional.

The problem with this is that it says little about the actual person and their approach to their work. It also doesn’t cater for those who have the ability to learn new skills and gain new experiences.

These sections can deter good testers who don’t feel they meet the required expectations.

I know I struggled to even articulate the tangible experiences and skills I wanted in someone, let alone which section they should be in.

What would happen if an outstanding candidate applied but they didn’t meet one or two of the mandatory?

What would happen if an underwhelming candidate applied but could put a tick against all the mandatory items?

What would happen if someone met all the mandatory but none of the optional? Or all the optional but none of the mandatory? Or a decent mix of both?

I’m getting confused now but you get the point?

People use these sections in adverts as a filter mechanism and this may be OK if you just want bums on seats but not if you want great testers.

Instead it pays to focus on the person and keep the skills and technologies generic. This sounds counter intuitive but the right person will pick up the skills they need.

So don’t put great testers off with a poor advert.

Job adverts can be filters but I prefer to look at them for what they are; adverts.

A job advert should attract and persuade someone to take a course of action – that’s the basics of advertising. It should draw people in to find out more, not repel them away.

That does not mean lying – far from it – but it does mean using the advert to attract people in.

5. Focus on selling your amazing working environment

You do have an amazing working environment right?

An advert is a chance to sell this environment and attract the right candidates.

Your advert may be the first contact a candidate has with your company. Your job is to inspire them to find out more and communicate to them why your company rocks.

Trust me, to get the best testers you’ll face some stiff competition. Your advert should advertise why a candidate should choose your role (and company) over another. Don’t forget though – your advert should be truthful.

Over to you

I’d love to hear how you stop searching for the impossible tester when recruiting software testers?
And what style of job specs have proven successful for you?


Sample job advert format

Title

A clear succinct industry recognised title works fine.

Feel free to use terms that represent your brand and culture, like Rock Star etc. Be clear in your title about what the role is as this will likely be listed on websites, jobs boards and included prominently in communications from recruiters.

Your Goal

This is where you list the solutions and objectives the person will need to fulfill.

Are they building a test infrastructure, managing people, expected to do awesome exploratory testing or will they be working in the performance engineering function?

Working Here

List here the types of work you do and what the candidate can expect to work on.

Is it a cloud based multi-tenant platform?

Is it software as a service?

Is it telephony based or an accounting package or security software?

What scale are you working at?

How often do you release?

These should all be selling points. If they aren’t you’ll have to work hard to make them appealing.

This section is also an opportunity to explain a little about the activities and culture of your company. Do you run hack-athons and learning events? Why is it cool to work at your company?

Values and Processes

This section allows you to list your values. What core values do you promote?

These values should guide your recruitment and inform the way you lead the team.

If your values are good enough you’ll attract the people who share these values, or want to work in an environment that promotes these values.

This is also a chance to explain some underlying process choices your company have made.

Are you agile?

Do you do pair programming?

Are you doing Test Driven Development (TDD) and Behaviour Driven Development (BDD)?

Tools

In this section you have a chance to talk briefly about the kind of tooling being used.

Try not to be too prescriptive in this section. I find a simple list is all that is required.

It gives people a flavour of whether they could work in this environment.

Remember, this section should not be a “You MUST use X, Y and Z”.

Good people will up-skill and retool.

 

At the time of writing this post there is an open position at NewVoiceMedia for a Software Engineer– the link may cease to work when the advert is pulled from the site.

 

Your Competency Matrix May Not Match Reality

I’ve just posted over on my LinkedIn profile about how a competency matrix may not be helpful in working out your teams competencies.

An example competency matrix
An example competency matrix

In the article I outline 4 problems with a competency matrix and a simple solution to all of them – focus on behaviours and results. Here are the four identified problems.

  1. The matrix is often put together based on opinion rather than observed behaviours and results.
  2. When asked how competent someone is they usually claim to be more or less competent than they are.
  3. The skills and experiences in a matrix tend to focus on technology and process skills and not soft skills or learning ethos.
  4. It’s common when compiling a competency matrix to focus on high level skills categories only – this misses some of the gaps within these high level competencies.

If you’re interested in reading more then check out the article on LinkedIn.

8 Lessons Learned From Building A Team

Building a successful test team is hard work.

I’ve outlined 8 lessons learned from building a team in an article titled “The Blazingly Simple Guide To Growing A Test Team”.

It has been published in the October edition of Testing Trapeze.

Testing Trapeze October Front Cover
Testing Trapeze October Front Cover

8 Lessons Learned From Building A Team

The article sits along great articles from Erin Donnell, Richard Robinson, Margaret Dineen and Dave Robinson.

Testing Trapeze is a bi-monthly magazine edited by Katrina Clokie and put together with an amazing team.

The 8 lessons I learned from building and growing a test team are:

  1. Appreciate it will take time
  2. Understand the purpose of the testing team
  3. Appreciate that certifications don’t make someone a great tester
  4. Automation specialists don’t kill the need for testers
  5. Find people with a passion for testing
  6. The recruitment process is key to your success
  7. Interviewing is about selling yourself and solving your problem
  8. Quality is not just the responsibility of testing

You can read more in the October edition of Testing Trapeze.