Erika Chesnut of Calendly on Giving Quality Engineering Teams a Seat at the Table

Written by: Kiley Nichols

It’s hard to find anyone more passionate about software quality than Erika Chestnut. As head of Quality Assurance at Calendly, a popular automated scheduling app, she is committed to instilling quality practices throughout the company’s software lifecycle. “We're engineering quality and building it into the delivery life cycle, from analysis all the way through maintenance,” she told us during a recent episode DevOps Radio.

Erika’s love of quality began early in her career. After starting as a help desk analyst, she moved to deskside support and eventually wound up at an advertising agency called Moxy, where she began leading software development squads. “I started to talk about quality and be more concerned about the lack of quality in some areas,” she says. The company’s founder agreed, eventually coaxing Erika into opening a quality engineering department at the company. “I fell in love with it,” she recalls. “I found my passion in it.”

By the time she landed at Calendly, Erika’s quality engineering team had a head start in some respects. “Developers were doing test automation,” she says. “But there were a number of things that made it more difficult for testing and more difficult to move the needle.”

Test automation isn’t enough, she says. “You need to drill down deeper into who’s writing the test and its underlying strategy,” she says. “What are the standards we want to have?” But even more than that, Erika’s team was looking for somebody to help improve the “quality culture” of the organization. 

Quality Engineering Culture

Erika stepped in as an advocate for her teams and their culture. “It's about getting the right people in those rooms and in those conversations to talk about key issues, like do we have enough testers? Are they overworked? Are we sacrificing our ability to test?”  

The key is “to look at process and structure and how to connect people,” she says. “That’s how you cultivate a good quality culture in an organization.” And that’s why one of Erika’s top priorities is empowering her teams so “they have a voice at the table.” That’s important because too often quality engineering teams feel like they don't have a voice. 

“A lot of times quality engineers are dismissed,” she says. “They’re treated like, ‘oh, you’re just QA. You're just testing. I don't expect you to understand this conversation.” By instilling confidence in her quality teams, Erika hopes to change that conversation for the better.

Holistic quality

For Erika, software quality is something that needs to happen throughout the product life cycle. Yet too often quality activities get pushed to the very end of the cycle when development schedules get tight. This is when teams start to take shortcuts, she says, and quality is sacrificed. 

“We can't expect to produce high quality when we're cutting corners at the end of a life cycle,” she says. “You have to move that conversation earlier up. There should be pairing between Dev and QA even before development starts.” 

Ultimately, when it comes to quality, Erika wants everybody to adopt a holistic mindset. More than just checking off the right QA and validation tasks, she wants to embed quality into the software’s design, analysis, and architecture. She’s constantly asking: “What are the things that we can do that improve and create opportunities to improve quality?” 

Adjusting to agile

The shift to agile and continuous delivery can be a culture shock for traditional quality engineering teams. “I remember it being a very big shift for the QA team,” Erika recalls. “We went from sitting together as a team and having our own culture to breaking apart and sitting with developers and being the only QA person in a given squad.” 

But Erika is okay with the move to agile. “We make it work,” she says. “One of our core values at Calendly is ‘find a way’ and we talk about it in our day-to-day conversations.” 

Indeed, Erika’s willingness to embrace change is one her favorite mantras. “My big one is ‘grace and patience,’” she says. “When you try to give people grace in their interactions it's always going to allow good relationships to develop, which is the only way that you can be successful.”

Listen to more of Erika’s story on Episode 96 of DevOps Radio.

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