Ten years in a field of work I love, it felt as good a time as any to reflect on what brought me to this point. I still remember that feeling the day I finished my last exam at University in May 2006 and realised I needed to try and do something with the knowledge I had spent the last 3 years accumulating. I was adamant then that I didn’t feel I would make a good developer, University is a dangerous place for comparing your abilities to your peers and there are always those genuises who seem to know how to do all the tasks that take you hours or days to complete. I genuinely didn’t know what I wanted to do, but felt that the development route may be the best one.
To start with, the University has it’s own in-house development company called Seed Software where graduates could work for 6 months on commercial projects, so I joined there and started work on a .Net project for the Fire Brigade. Less than a few weeks into that, a position came up as a researcher in the University, researching Computer Crime. The project was called Cyberprofiling and was all about identifying ways to create a profile of criminals based on their activities online. I spent time learning Linux, setting up Honeypots and wrote a research paper which can be found here. This lead to my first public speaking slot at the E-Crime and Computer Evidence conference in Nottingham.
The funding ran out in the January and I was out of work. Going on Job-seekers was demoralising, but i found work as a Bingo Caller in a local club and ended up designing a member database for them which I believe was used long after I left. They certainly got value for their £5 per hour salary!
Eventually, after months of interviewing for Computer Forensic roles and graduate roles, I eventually was successful at the McAfee graduate scheme interview. For the next 6 months, I spent my time split between 3 teams in McAfee, one team was a C++ development role for the core Anti-Malware technology, one team was testing the Gateway Appliance hardware and one was doing Anti-Spam research. Out of the 3 roles, I enjoyed working in the development team, but even then, I enjoyed the testing work more. I even asked if there was an option of doing testing for the development team, and there, my interest in testing was born…
I joined the Anti-Malware development team as a junior C++ developer. C++ was the one language taught at University which I said I would avoid like the plague, it was a struggle to feel like I was getting anywhere with it. I could get the simple coding tasks done, but the whole pointers thing really screwed with my head and I beat myself up comparing myself to the team of developers who all had 10+ years experience. I learned a lot from them all and had some great mentors, but something wasn’t clicking for me
The team were using Scrum, so I very quickly became familiar with the process and started championing the agile practices, eventually becoming a Scrum Master for the team. It was at that point, I was told I was different to the others in the team and definitely had more of a people focus than the rest of the team. I took this and ran with it, did the Scrum Master course and worked 50-50 between scrum mastering and picking up dev tasks in the sprints. I then started learning more about the QA process and started helping out with test tasks to keep the sprints on track. I also ended up in our build room (yep an actual server room with a dozen different OS servers), I got to learn Perl/Python as I worked to improve the scripts used to build the software and burn it to discs for distribution). Again, here, I spent time testing the scripts and learning how to improve the scripts in any way i could.
Deciding to Make the Move to Testing
Eventually, in early 2010, in one of my performance reviews, I was asked what I wanted to do, and by this time, I’d built up great friendships with several in the QA team, that they had shared stuff with me. I told my boss that I wanted to move to QA and from there, I started transitioning over to the QA team.
My first testing project was our URL reputation scanning technology and I spent my time writing python test scripts plugged into our automation framework while learning and developing my skills both from a testing and also python perspective.
Over the next 2-3 years, I moved between teams in QA and worked on multiple different projects, eventually moving into a lead position where I coordinated the testing efforts across our globally distributed team. It was here, that I started to really have confidence in my ability to challenge and question features from a testing perspective and helped build a team to do this too. We became a well-oiled machine and helped deliver high quality software with a huge regression automation framework running thousands of tests across dozens of operating systems.
By 2014, I moved teams again and went back to being a QA Engineer working with a team that didn’t have a QA team apart from an architect and myself. Together we defined an automation framework in Robot Framework, hired some great team members and pushed the development cycle to new dimensions with CI and even getting QA involved in code reviews (I wrote about this here). It was around this time that I attended my first Testbash in 2015 and it really pushed me to start loving my career. I set up the Aylesbury Tester meetup on the back of this and started sharing my passion with others.
I found my voice, people started looking to me as the voice of quality, I had a place at the table of discussions for new features, new projects and process improvements too. The team had the respect to make decisions around quality and I started coaching and mentoring the team to push the boundaries and improve the deliverables and influence the end to end operations process.
In 2017, I became the Manager for the local team and a second team in Ireland and found a new passion for leading and coaching my teams. Building a whole team from scratch, using my principles written about in my #makeatester blogs and conference talks, while also nurturing the existing team who were set in their ways and trying to push them forward.
By the mid of 2018, McAfee was changing it’s focus and I felt i needed to look at something different, I jumped to try a more senior position as a Program Test Manager at the National Lottery. While the company was very set in it’s traditional ways around software, I enjoyed changing the culture and helping give QA a place at the table for discussions and not just be a team which executed 100s of tests at the end of a cycle. I was hellbent on raising the awareness of quality and ensuring a focus of testability and automation across all workstreams. It was an enjoyable year in a lot of ways, but i didn’t feel like i fully fit and needed to find somewhere where I felt I could be myself 100%.
This lead me to where I am today, leading the Core QA team at EasyJet, where my focus is on building a centre of excellence for testing which then works to assist the delivery teams across all areas of easyjet with automation and good testing practices.
Who knows where the next 10 years will take me, but I’m confident that I have found my niche and will be pushing ways to improve the focus on quality through coaching and culture changes for years to come.
I couldn’t have done a lot of this without a huge list of mentors and supporters over the years. Far too many to mention here, but I hope they all know how much it meant to me. I will continue to do my bit by paying forward advice and coaching to peers, team members and the wider community.
Feel free to reach out if you want to discuss how I could support you in you testing or leadership adventures!
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