The Testing Show: Careers in Software Testing
The truth is, no one will care as much or be as interested in your developing testing career as you are. There are studies that say that Software Testing is one of the Happiest Jobs there is. Does that sound weird, or does that sound spot on?
In this episode of “The Testing Show” we welcome back Alex Schladebeck and welcome for the first time Qualitest’s Elle Gee to discuss software testing careers and how they differ or are similar depending on the organization in question. Regulars Perze Ababa and Justin Rohrman also riff along with Matt Heusser on the unique challenges in developing and sustaining a career in software testing.
Also, in our news segment, what happens when Automation and a software glitch makes it impossible to do a task we often take for granted? 900 Shell stations in Malaysia discovered exactly that, and we certainly have opinions about that, too.
- Computer glitch leaves 900 Shell stations unable to dispense fuel
- Automation helps us in many ways, but does it steal our sense of self?
- At CAST 2016, a case for the cautious use of automation
- IT Management: The Best Places to Work in IT
- No. 2 Happiest Job: Quality Assurance Engineer
- The Happiest Jobs In America
- Selection bias
- NYC Testers
- Agile 2017
- Agile Testing Days Call for Papers
- Where Do I Go From Here?
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Hello and welcome back to The Testing Show. We are glad you came. This week, we have an international bi-coast panel, gathered together to talk about careers in software testing. Little bit more diverse than usual. I’m excited about that. We do have our regular guests. Justin Rohrman, welcome back.
JUSTIN ROHRMAN: Good morning.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Perze Ababa.
PERZE ABABA: Hello everyone.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: We have a returning guest, Alex Schladebeck, dialing in from Germany… what time is it in Germany?
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: it is 20 to 6 in the evening.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: oh, that’s not that terrible. You’re just missing dinner.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: It’s OK. Yeah.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Thanks for coming, and we have Elle Gee, delivery manager at QualiTest for San Diego. Good Morning, Elle.
ELLE GEE: Good morning. Thanks for having me on your show.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: So we’ve got everything from San Diego to Germany. Elle is… Australian?
ELLE GEE: I might actually be Australian, yes.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: What bright you to the States?
ELLE GEE: I love Disneyland, and I’d been travelling here quite a lot, and there is so much to see, I finally decided it might be a good time to move over here to travel more cost-effectively, and coincidentally my partner was born and grew up in the USA, and he and I decided we’d move back to his homeland.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: And how did you find QualiTest?
ELLE GEE: Qualitest found me. I had applied for some jobs on the job boards and things. I have a rather unusual Visa status, so my segue into the US job market was made a little bit more difficult because of that. Along the way, I was approached by QualiTest, who found my resume on the job boards and said they would like to talk to me, and from there we progressed all the way through to interview, and my career story is even more interesting because originally they were targeting me for Test Manager role, but once they met me and got to know me they decided that they would create a new role for the company called a Delivery Manager, and that’s where the role of Delivery Manager came from.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: we are pleased that you could be on the show. Right now, though, it’s time for us to talk about the news in the world of test. I wanted to start with this gas pump problem with That Perze found. Nine hundred gas stations, Shell stations, in Malaysia couldn’t work because of a glitch. Perze, what’s up with that?
PERZE ABABA: The city that we are talking about is called Petaling Jaya, which is a city directly west of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. From the news article, it says “900 of its gas stations were unable to fill up their tanks”. There was a system update; you can swipe a Credit card, and the credit card would then connect to a service that says “ hey, this person can actually pump gas”. The problem is, the system that read the machine and for some reason the one that integrates the payment facility in the gas station stopped working, so nobody can fill up their gas. It’s not all bad tough, because there are still a few around the city that has these old systems that is not completely linked, so those are the ones that were able to dispense fuel. All these 900 across a city of 600,000 are not pumping gas.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: That’s kind of what… scares me is too strong a word. We’ve hit upon this a couple of times in the show already and this idea that, when you automate, you lose the ability to do it by hand. I have a 2013 Dodge Dart. It has electric gas cap and it has electric windows. If those break, I simply cannot get my windows down. There’s no little thing I could turn. The gas cap, I can’t get the gas cap out. I think, in theory, there’s a little switch in the trunk somewhere, but I don’t know where that is.
JUSTIN ROHRMAN: I actually had a similar problem with my Cooper a couple of years ago. There was a fuel/oxygen mixture problem, like the fuel plant wasn’t working right, it wasn’t mechanical; I had a go back the dealership, and they basically reprogrammed my car, and 30 minutes later I could start it again.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Pfhhhh!!! And did you get it towed?
JUSTIN ROHRMAN: Yeah, I had to get it towed to the dealership.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: This rhetoric of “we’re just going to press a button and it’s all going to be magic” is great, until it doesn’t work, and then we’re really in trouble. Actually, Justin and I had a consulting client that was concerned about that, to the point that they weren’t willing to write bash or batch scripts to automate updating the reinstalled software, the point of sale software. It needed to be installed or run or things like that for the new builds, and they wanted people to do all of the building and deploying manually because they were afraid of this loss of expertise. At the time that seems completely ridiculous; all of the things it has to do are in the batch file and you could just read it. There is some point at which it creates risk.
ELLE GEE: Absolutely!
PERZE ABABA: yeah, I mean, definitely. I mean these things are supposed to either help us boost our productivity, maybe even reduce labour costs and essentially avoid human error, but I think that giving 100% control to these things is definitely the problem. Do you remember during CAST 2016 when Nicholas Carr was talking about the challenges of a fully automated system, so instead of giving complete control over something into automation, it has to be a partnership between us humans and automatons so that we can solve newer problems together.
JUSTIN ROHRMAN: I wonder what their delivery model for those gas pumps is like. Were they doing weekly deliveries? Batches of software changes? Or were they doing continuous delivery, where were sending out changes just every couple of minutes and it’s heavily reliant on automated systems? Where are the humans in that system that didn’t notice this problem?
MATTHEW HEUSSER: That’s a great example, and my guess is it was big batch, at least once a month… probably more than that, probably slower than once a quarter, and that in some way the test environment what is not like a real gas pump. I’ll bet money on it.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: Heh heh.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Moving on, let’s talk about careers. Every year, there is a couple of different things that forms and Computerworld do, we’ll give you some links, but one is the Best Careers, and another one is the Happiest Careers, and software testers consistently are in the happiest top five careers rated by these surveys. Is that right, and why do you think that is?
JUSTIN ROHRMAN: I think these surveys are really interesting, and I am happy as a software tester, but I feel like in general there’s a huge problem with selection bias. The people who are going to fill out that survey and say “Yes, I am happy with my job” are probably biased towards doing that because they are happy with their job. They want to report the awesome stuff they are doing.
PERZE ABABA: I would love to find out what the definition of “happiness” is. I know they mention some metrics that kind of supports it. Happiness in itself seems like a really multi-dimensional aspect of this that they are boiling down into a single binary factor which is “yes” or “no”.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: Well, that’s easy to measure, right? [Laughter] Just one simple question. I can imagine that people working in quality, one the one hand, that they are happy because being able to solve problems and being able to find things out and learn new things, those are things that can really bring you on. On the other hand, I wonder if there’s a list of the most frustrating jobs and people who go home saying “why doesn’t nothing ever work?”, and I wonder if people working in quality are on that list, too, because I think that it could go both ways.
ELLE GEE: Alex, I so agree with you. I was having the same thought. Happiest and most frustrating; it’s the two sides of the equation.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: [Laughter]
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Well, there’s a lot of things going on there. One is there’s no such thing as a “QA Emergency”. “Oh no, Production is burning down! What are you going to do, Q.A.?”
ELLE GEE: Test it!
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Ah, well, we already know it’s broken. You want me to file a ticket? I can file a ticket. I’m going home. Call me when you have a fix. I know, you can argue that’s not a team player attitude, that’s not the right attitude in the modern whatever, but there is inherently less stress on the role. If we screw up and a bug gets through to production, so did someone else. It’s team effort. What I see now is a lot of the blamey, shamey tactics that were used in the ‘90s against testers don’t work anymore because their thinking has changed. The bad thing (which I think is getting better) it’s kind of demoralising when, as Elle points out, stuff is broken everywhere and you can’t do anything, can’t log in. There are used to be a very long delay, how much value are we really adding, where we go “can’t log in, file a ticket. I don’t know, pretend to be busy until I get a new build and it’s going to be three days.” That’s very demoralizing. You go home with “What did I just do today? I have to pretend to be busy, because I don’t want my boss to know that I’m not really working, and I’m not really working because I’m not…. [auuughh!!!] software’s busted. I internalise that and I feel bad about it, even though it’s not my fault. And now it’s more likely three hours, 30 minutes, and it doesn’t happen as much. We are just getting better at delivering software. Those times are happening less. Am I right about that?
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: I agree with you that, if a system has gone down, if it crashes in the wild, the first thing we do isn’t to say “hey, grab the tester”, but I think that even though the stress shouldn’t be there, there still can be a lots of stress leading up to releases. The idea that “we don’t have time to test everything, we are finding loads and loads of problems” and somebody at some point saying “yeah, but we’re releasing anyway” and having that stress of trying to find out as much as you can, trying to change people’s minds, I think that there can be pretty frustrating and stressful, which shouldn’t be the problem of the testers because it’s really not their fault, but I Think that they lot of people would carry that weight on their shoulders.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Yeah, it’s the internalising of the things beyond your control that kills us.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: Yeah.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Thanks to Agile, thanks to stories, thanks to velocity, I see less of that with the companies that I work with. I guess I’m seeing that stuff is getting better.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: I think it’s getting better. I have an example of one of my testers who was on a project where, when it came to a, just before release -it’s not an Agile project-but they’ve really internalised that testing is important and that these people running around testing things and talking to people that they are important. Project manager/project lead made it so that if the tester said “committing this bug fix or this last minute feature isn’t worth the risk that we would have with testing, that we would have with quality”, the project manager listened to him and said “okay, we won’t do that”. So he was having more say, not in the case of “okay, we are going to do this anyway and see how you deal with it”, he was the one calling a great deal of those shots.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: let’s talk about testing career paths. Specifically, is there a testing career path? What does that look like? What do you do when you been testing for three, four, five years, and you’re a senior? Where do you go from there? How do you go from there?
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: I can see a little bit about how my career went. Like a lot of other testers, I came in from something completely different. I did linguistics. Started the company to actually do some translation. The translation was for a piece of software. To find out how it worked, because there wasn’t anything to translate, I ended up basically testing it. My path has gone from testing in various projects to coordinating other people testing to consulting on it. Now, I head up the quality department at Bredex, but what we try and do is make sure that people who are out testers as well, that they get to, in one sense, that they get to specialize in some things. If you want to be more “I’m the Selenium guy” or “I’m the performance person” or “im the girl that knows about testing usability as well”, you can do a lot of specialization, or, and this is the point where you have to have the projects that will allow it, managing bigger teams of testers, consulting for other teams and other companies. We’ve had some people who have gone on to be project leads and project managers, product owners, delivery engineers or release engineers… I find that a bit of a shame sometimes because it tends to take the people out of testing, but I think that testing is a really good basis for doing those things. So we see people are going in quite a lot of directions. I don’t think that there’s one single path that people are likely to take or can take, even. I think it is very individual, depending on what you want to do, what’s available to you and what passion you have.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Yeah, I totally get you can sort of get an entry level testing gig and then manoeuvre that into a more specialized role within software delivery. Tends to work in a larger organization. A smaller organization isn’t going to have Delivery Manager as a role or Release Manager or Scrum Master. Michael Larsen is at a really small shop right now; I don’t know how many programmers Socialtext has now, but the whole technical staff is I’d guess ten people. He is a tester, and the build master, but it’s not a full-time job. Elle, what’s a career path look like for you or for QualiTest?
ELLE GEE: We think that there are three clear directions for our people. We like to encourage potential and growth. We like to build career plans to do that. We try to talk to our people and find out what direction they want to go. Not everyone wants to manage. Not everybody has the capability to be a subject matter expert. We develop career paths for our people that can gear hem towards a manager role, an I absolutely agree the point; not everyone can be a manager. Every company is a triangle. There’s only one person at the top and there’s a whole paperweight at the bottom, but along with that, we looked at ways that we could encourage our people to feel like they could have a path forward. That includes subject matter experts that could, much like Alex talked about, lead up project groups, be project managers, other types of roles in terms of helping out with training of our others, but we also have this entire stream which here is what we call a “well-rounded tester”, which is acknowledging those people who just want to test. They don’t want to manage. They don’t want to lead other people. They like getting in there and finding the problems and fixing it. We want to embrace that. We want those people to know that there’s a future for them.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: What do you do then/ Do you have Tester 1, 2, 3, 4, 5?
ELLE GEE: We don’t really have Tester 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. We do have, I guess, a banding, mostly to see where their pay scales are going to go. We have been developing a concept of “if I’m a well-rounded tester, in order to be able to take the next step in the pay band, with the lack of better words, here are the skills and abilities that we want to see demonstrated. If I’m a subject matter expert, we’ve done the same thing. We’ve set out a banding, a range o salary ranged that they can aspire to. We have clearly defined skills and abilities that we would like to see people achieve to progress through there. This enables us to be able to work with people, to identify what skills gaps they have to work towards it, and to create twelve month plans that see them progress towards their goals. The employee and employer can work together to achieve career advancement in whichever pathway best suits the individual.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: that’s pretty common, the 12 month annual goal cycle tied to skills, Time to some sort of banding for compensation. One thing I don’t particularly like is to get pigeonholed into “ I am the expert on this system, and then I get promoted because I am the expert on that system”, because that creates dependencies, if that person gets sick or the wins the library or gets hit by a better job offer, we’ve got a real problem in where they go from there? They just, they argue for more money. Consulting companies I think have it a little bit easier because we are on a new system every six months. If you’re on the same gig for a year as a consultant, that’s all long time.
PERZE ABABA: the challenge in building a career roadmap is that it’s very difficult for us, as managers, to be able to dig deeper in quantify some things that we define. The three streams that Elle mentioned, these are actually things that I’ve seen in larger corporations that I have worked with. For one of the media companies that I’ve worked with, right when I joined them, they were looking into “how do we improve the career paths of everybody in the engineering team” and then when you look at the testing team they only have essentially two bumps, which is from a junior analyst to a senior analyst, and then from a senior analyst into a test lead. There is no management track, there is no technical track or anything after that. There were a ton of conversations that led up to, if there are some people who are interested to be in the management track, they can go there, which gives you the ability to go from manager to director to VP or C level role. It really depends on how hungry you are. On the other side, we established technical tracks that can lead you up to an architect role or a senior architect role that gives you the same pay rate as if you’re a VP or a senior director, and of course you have the test analyst track, which gives you the ability to become a principal tester, which also has the same pay rate as a director or a senior director. It also gives you the ability to jump horizontally. If now you’re as manager in testing, and you realize that you really love development or you’ve gotten some skills in DevOps, they actually give you a path to jump horizontally. You won’t lose your seniority, you won’t lose your pay rate. In the past companies that I’ve worked at, that seems to be the more comprehensive one.
ELLE GEE: We have something similar with the flat structure as well. By having the three streams, and not limiting it just to testing or the testing abilities, it enables us in the career pathing to think about whether or not someone has an interest in a different area of the company, which has been really great because we’ve seen some of our marketing people become business managers. We’ve seen some of our recruiters become marketers. We’ve seen some of our testers move to HR. Some of those people come from other areas into testing. When we’re assessing people for career paths, we’re not fixated on a particular thing. We’re looking at an individual and what’s the best way forward for them.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: That’s good to hear that that happens in larger companies as well. The idea that just because you started here doesn’t mean that you can’t move to something else. Okay, you’ve maybe not done this yet, but we think that you can, and if you want to, then we’re willing to give this a try out, you know, with some mentoring and with some support. I don’t think I would be where I was today if that hadn’t been okay and allowed. This may be, especially in Germany, for some things you need… you’re not allowed to do this unless you have the certificate for it. Maybe not so much in IT, but there’s definitely that feeling, but giving people the chance to expand horizontally as well id s great way of getting people to find something that they are going to be passionate about long term, and not get bored where they are.
ELLE GEE: I couldn’t have gotten to where my position is now if that hadn’t existed in my career opportunities in the past, and I very much hope that myself and my company, that QualiTest, will give people the same opportunities. Testing is such a diverse group of people. I have a musician on my team. I’ve got an architect on my team, and these guys bring so much dimension to the testing capability. I, myself, didn’t come into testing with any IT background> I came in with a policy and legislation background. I think it’s fantastic that so many companies are embracing the skills of individuals without making it about a position that is specific. More about empowering individuals to be the best they can be.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: I think that is so true, and listening to you say what kind of people are on your team, I had to smile a bit. I always like to make the joke that we have a great deal of Doctors on our test team. We’ve got Doctors of Chemistry, Doctors of Biology. We’ve got people from Sociology, like I said I’m from linguistics, so we make a specific effort to find people who aren’t from IT. It’s about looking for potential, which is a bit difficult to do in an interview, but we think it’s worth doing, and training them to be testers, and that works so well, and just having that diversity on the team of people with a different background is really beneficial for the teams as well.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Careers are tough. I think we did not come up with any answer on this podcast [laughter], except for maybe specialization as “look out for where you can go next”. Because unless you’re really lucky, your company’s not going to be looking out for you. ‘Comfort is the road to obsolescence. It’s an old Jess Lancaster quote. Final thoughts from other folks? Perze?
PERZE ABABA: As always, NYC Testers is an organization that I’m part of, and we have regular meetups, so a shout out to my co-organizers Kate Falanga, Anna Royzman and Tony Gutierrez. So check us out if you’re in the area.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Justin?
JUSTIN ROHRMAN: I guess tying back to the career theme, real quick, my perspective on that is kind of radical. I tend to think of career paths at a software company as more of a control structure. It’s basically saying “if you want to work at this place, these are your options, otherwise you have to figure something else out”. When I think about career, I think more about what skills do I want to learn and where do I want to go for myself, and I think that’s highly shaded by the fact that I went independent a couple of years ago sol I can make these decisions, but that’s just a note on my thoughts on career paths. As for what’s happening, I’m still collecting CFP’s that will be in Nashville [Editor’s Note: CFP has closed, program for CAST 2017 to be announced soon. –Michael]
MATTHEW HEUSSER: There’s a tone of CFP’s are out right now. The Agile Conference CFP is out. The Agile Testing Days German conference CFP should be out soon.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: Test Automation Days Netherlands is another pretty cool conference that the CDP is open at the moment.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: I went to the Test Automation Days in Rotterdam a few years ago.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: Yep. That one.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Fun time. Bit of a stretch for a flight out all the way from the U.S.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: It’s only four hours by train for me [laughter].
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Elle, anything you want to tell us about?
ELLE GEE: I think that it’s been a great discussion and I thank you for inviting me to be a part of it today. I would encourage everybody to be the master of their own career, plus I’m very happy to be working for a company that wants to help our people grow their careers, and that supports people in growing their careers. I think that individuals have a responsibility to make wise decisions and to own their future and even whilst we are working with them, it will continue to be my preferred method to encourage individuals to be self-informed about what’s best for them in the future, and to make sure that they are responsible, because nobody else will ever look after your career as well as you can look after your own.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: that reminds me of a paper that I wrote, probably six years ago, called “Where do we Go From Here?” for Better Software magazine. It was about creating your own job description and getting yourself promoted, assuming that the system won’t do that for you. Create your new job, define your new job, and then stand it up and say “how much should this person be paid?”
ELLE GEE: That’s a great idea, and that’s something that definitely could happen in my company. At QualiTest, if somebody came along and said “Hey, there’s a place here to do this position or to do this” they would be so embraced. I’d love to read your article.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: My understanding is that the delivery manager is kind of like, they’ve rearranged the Tetris pieces to make sure that they’ve got the right people on the right projects and that when a project ends, you’ve got somewhere else to go to. Working with the recruiter, so that if you don’t have the people that you can find them, that sort of work.
ELLE GEE: Imagine a test manager on steroids. But yes, I love your Tetris description. I always call it a giant jig-saw puzzle. My picture’s never complete. I’m moving those little pieces around. I’m constantly thinking about that little piece of blue sky that better fit over here, or over there. It’s an amazing job. It’s very diverse. It is bringing the people together the people part of our organization or the HR part of our organization, the recruitment part of our organization with the testers, and I always say it’s delivering on the promise. When you work for a testing company that all it does, and you have sales people that are selling what we can do, somebody has to make sure that we actually deliver on the promise, and that’s what us delivery managers do.
MATTHEW HEUSSER: Great. Thanks Elle. All right, thanks for being on the show, everybody. We’re going to try to keep it tight so that we don’t take too much time of our audience, but we’ll schedule the next one. I think we have a half dozen ideas to kick around. Thank you.
ELLE GEE: Thank you.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: Thanks a lot.
PERZE ABABA: Thanks, Matt. Thank you Alex, Thank you, Elle. Thanks Justin.
JUSTIN ROHRMAN: Later.
ALEX SCHLADEBECK: Bye, guys.
ELLE GEE: Bye.