Talk Testing with Gem Hill, Test Engineer at BBC!
First things first, please introduce yourself and explain how you came to be a Test Engineer?
My name is Gem, and I’ve been a tester for about 5 years. Before that I worked in customer support for a digital agency. I fell into testing from customer support when the sole tester’s workload got too big for them, so I started helping out. I really enjoyed testing, started looking for the community, fell in love with it, and I’ve been happily here ever since.
You are an active member of the local Test Community, why did it feel important for you to look at Testing as more than just a 9-5 job?
I was learning testing and the role as I went along so I started looking to the community in order to improve my skills. I found the community to be vibrant and enthusiastic and helpful and it seemed natural to hang out there. Everything else just kind of followed: I’d always wanted to do a podcast, so doing a testing one made sense, and really going to meetups is just like meeting up with friends.
As an advocate for Mental Health awareness in all walks of life including in a technical job, what do you think is the biggest barrier stopping people being open about their Mental Health?
I’m gonna cheat and say two: Stigma and ignorance.
Firstly the stigma of mental ill-health* itself – that it’s a sign of weakness, or something to be ashamed of. For the more serious illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, there is still fear from people that people with these illness will be violent or untrustworthy, or incapable of holding down a job (none of which are true!) I know people who have lost jobs or people from their lives when they disclosed their illness.
Secondly there’s the fear of an awkward conversation. People don’t know how to react to mental ill-health or illness and so even if they don’t react badly, the conversation could be massively awkward! There often feels like there’s never a good time to bring it up in conversation, so it becomes A Thing.
* We all suffer from mental ill-health at times – being stressed, bereaved, or any other big life change can lead to short term symptoms of mental illness. These often clear up when the situation we are in improves. Mental illness is a diagnosed or diagnosable, chronic state of mental ill-health.
What impact can this have on their work life?
Stress, constant fear of being ‘found out’, constant fear of how people will react if their illness or ill-health gets to the point of needing accommodations from work. The power dynamics at work and asking for help for any kind of invisible illness is tough, but especially if your boss or colleagues will think your mental ill-health or illness will mean you’re a worse employee and will try to use it against you.
Hiding therapy, or medication, dealing with people using the words ‘insane’ or ‘schizophrenic’ to describe things that are neither means you end up biting your tongue, or feeling like you have to be extra vigilant, which is exhausting! (Pet peeve, while I’m here: schizophrenia does not mean multiple personalities, please 1. stop using it anyway and 2. if you are going to use it, use it correctly!)
On top of all that you need to actually deal with the stress of managing a mental illness, which can be a full time job in and of itself, and so it can be really damaging to people to have to do even more work just to get through a work day.
In your opinion what more can we all be doing as employers and employees to combat this?
I would love it if workplaces did stuff about mental health and wellness all year round, not just when there’s a day or week or awareness. Don’t use it as marketing, do it all year round.
We currently have a positivity wall at work – one part of a wall in our kitchen has some post it notes next to it, and people write down something they’re grateful for, or that they do for self care, and stick it to the wall. It’s small, but its a nice spot of good that’s constantly there.
My dream is to have a Mental Health First Aider in all companies, along with a physical First Aider. Put some money into training people to spot and offer proper help with mental ill-health.
The Mental Health Foundation website has some guides, resources, and tips on how to look at mental health and wellbeing in a workplace.
You talk a lot about dealing with mental health and coping mechanisms, what are some of your top tips?
Find what feels good! Find one thing that you do that makes you feel great – whether that’s watching reality tv, doing something physical, or something crafty – and do it regularly. The reason I always say this first is that during times of mental ill-health (stress, bereavement, upheaval of any kind), it’s these activities that we tend to drop and neglect. These activities and what they stand for – being kind to yourself, and doing something you enjoy primarily because you enjoy it – is really important for our day to day wellbeing. It’s hard to deal with mental ill-health when we stop doing these things, and once you stop them, it’s really hard to get back on doing those things.
Make sure you have a support network, someone you don’t have to hide from. You don’t have to be constantly talking about your troubles, but knowing you can talk to someone if you need to is massively helpful.
Track things. If you’re struggling then try tracking things to see what’s causing you to struggle and what makes it better. Keep a journal (in whatever form you prefer) just keeping track of achievements, things that are getting you down, things that made you uncomfortable, whatever feels meaningful even if you’re not sure why. No one else has to see it, so be honest. Once you’ve got an idea of what’s causing you trouble, you can then try to figure out how to approach it, whether through changes you can make yourself, accommodations you can ask for at work, or working with a therapist.
How have you as somebody who is open about their struggle with anxiety in turn dealt with you own mental health whilst aiding others?
I still find this hard sometimes! I’ve been lucky enough that people have generally been very understanding if I’ve been struggling while they’re struggling, and I try to point them to other resources where people will listen (There is now a mental health channel on the testers.io slack where people can talk openly and be supported, for example). I am highly aware that I can’t help others if I’m barely getting through the day, so looking after myself is a big priority for many reasons.
And you don’t have to make yourself available to everyone all the time. Set boundaries around time that belongs to you and take full advantage of that as much as you can.
Last but not least, if you were not a Tester what would you love to be doing?
I would love to be a podcaster and mental health advocate full time!
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