Talking Testing with Maaret Pyhäjärvi

Our Software Testing specialist Gabbi Trotter caught up with Maaret Pyhäjärvi as part of her blog series: Talking Testing! Check it out below:

Hi Maaret, can you please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your current role?

I have a lot of roles. My day job at F-Secure is about being an Engineering manager for a team of 12 and hang out with some lovely individuals creating Windows Endpoint Security clients, and a lot of me hanging out is testing with the team rather than what people would associate with management. On the side, I hold many roles towards the global testing community: I speak in meetups and conferences, I organize European Testing Conference as platform to experiment with creating best contents and bridges between testers and developers, and I volunteer with SpeakEasy to lead co-creation of wonderful future speakers. I identify as a feedback fairy, meaning I’m a tester and a polyglot programmer who cares deeply about feedback as a means to making people awesome.

Where can we find you?

I crawl out of my work cave regularly to show up at conferences, but also to write books, blogs and articles to share what I’ve been learning. Generally, I’m always available on Women in Testing slack (but you’d have to be not-man to find me there) and twitter is a good way of reaching out. I love pairing with people for learning activities, and pinging me somewhere often results in a video call to share experiences or do an exercise together.

I can see you used to work for F-Secure back in 2008, what drew you back to this company?

People and what we do. I love creating software in a low hierarchy culture where you feel you can make an impact with the work you’re doing and are not limited to what is agreed, but encouraged to aspire for greatness. I have colleagues who build ideas forth so that we are better together, and there is never a dull day.

You’ve been with your current company F-Secure for a couple of years now, and more recently moved into a Management role, how have you found that transition? Has there been any particular challenges along the way?

The switch from Lead Quality Engineer to Senior Manager is a fairly recent one, and I’ve been really curious to see if anything changes. I find that with my team, there is surprisingly little that changes with that role switch. Obviously now I see people’s salaries, before I only knew them because I would ask and others would tell. I need to maintain some company official records about people who work with me, and it shows as needing to mindlessly click an approve button – work I never needed to do as tester, clicking anything mindlessly. I find that the main difference in the transition is that I have a little bit more confidence in my opinions, but also newfound carefulness with people’s inherent desire to follow orders from managers.

I’ve needed to find my style of being a manager, that my teammates labeled Genie Management. Like the lamp genie, I appear when called but tend to not hover over anyone but mind my own business in collaboration with others as we focus on delivering frequently. I continue to hold space for discussions in the team, usually with pen and whiteboard and phone camera at hand.

Did you always know you wanted to become a Manager or is it something that just happened organically?

I still don’t want to be a manager, I just don’t want our team to have a bad manager and I find me volunteering for this is a good way of keeping all of us safe. For two years, we worked so that we had a manager with so many direct reports that we really didn’t have one, and found great ways to collaborate within the team. That two years included removal of product owner who people felt they needed to report to and introducing team empowerment on product decisions. I found we had so much to lose if the wrong kind of person would become the manager. So after an intensive discussion of someone wanting a manager for giving a clear decision on something, I volunteered as one that would always get the clear decision from the team instead of doing one myself. I applied, my team interviewed me and I got the job. Same way as we hire anyone into positions – team decides in the end.

If you were looking to hire a Software Tester for your team – what characteristics would you look for?

My team has three kinds of software testers:

The first group of them identifies as application programmers, and do clearly a majority of testing that happens in the team. They are usually team players, care about creating software that works and are well versed in the language of application and scraping together skills in a second language for system test automation purposes.

The second group is test automation specialists, who in my team are well versed in the language we use for system test automation. Their core characteristic is that they have inhuman patience on fixing and figuring out test brittleness, and they work well with others on picking up ideas from everyone and sharing the implementation efforts with the application programmers.

The third group is exploratory testers and I am not the only one of those. Our main characteristic is that we’re persistent and observant, and can build empirical perspectives others would miss. We’re creative, hearing the faint whispers from software as our external imagination when we systematically make sure we know the most important feedback as we are building the applications.

What I look for is people who learn and want to learn, together in the team. We’re an adaptive puzzle as a team, and to work well we need basic understanding, but particularly picking up new stuff. None of us knows some of the stuff we get to build, but we are learning as we do it, very intentionally.

You are an amazing advocate for the Testing Community, do you dedicate specific time out of each day to your blogging and community involvement?

Actually, I don’t. I follow my energies, and track what happened. If I find my energies take me away from what I want to be doing for e.g. my work, it is easy to steer to an idea of a budget as losing a day is meaningless in the scale of a year – or life. Community involvement in energizing activity, and twitter is my way of taking public notes. Blogging is just longer notes. I write for myself mostly and still get surprised that there is over half million hits to my blog.

How do you find the motivation after a long day at work to dedicate your own time to giving back to the community?

This is a trick question, right? How would I have the motivation for my long days at work, if the community wasn’t continuously energizing me and giving me ideas of how to make my work more awesome?

I look at time as something budgeted. Like I have promised to give on average 37.5 hours for my work, which has a lot of flexibility of what is included in it. Conferences belong to my work, I was hired with a dual value promise of my existence, where one is the contributions (both productive and generative) in the software process, but the other is people finding us as potential colleagues. I don’t recruit actively, but being connected with great people is the best way I know to find great colleagues. But I also want to do stuff that don’t fit into those hours that resemble work. And I do that as long as I enjoy it.

As well as blogging you are also a regular attendee and speak at various conference, when looking for a job, how important is it to you to find a company who will support you in this?

Generally very important. However, I find that many companies are smart in understanding the benefits of me being away: I come back energized, with ideas that I implement where I work. To be away, I make sure I don’t become a bottleneck and collaborate better. I love my work in creating software more than I love conferences, and personally adjust the right ratio of being available and away.

Here’s the thing I need to be able to explain. Learning wins over everything. Hiring a great person is great, but if the person isn’t learning, this industry will brutally make you left behind – new technologies, new features, new customers, new expectations, new environments, you name it! Learning is so powerful that if you use an hour every day to get 1% better – that is 4 minutes faster for same value – you’re on par with results after only 28 days. We need to take time to learn.

For any amateur or “Wanna be” speakers out there who are perhaps too intimidated to submit a talk, or put themselves out there, what would you key advice be to them?

You are not alone and you don’t need to do this alone. We all have great ideas and experiences to contribute, and our uniqueness means there is no one better to tell your story than you. To make it easier to follow for audiences, you can leverage people’s experiences who have done this before you. There is a lovely community initiative SpeakEasy (speaking-easy.com) where you can register for getting a mentor to help you.

When you aren’t at work, giving back to the community or speaking at a event, what do you like to do in your own time?

There is nothing better than hanging out with my two kids and receiving continuous flow of hugs and compliments on how I am the best mom in the whole world. I love swimming as a way of drowning my sorrows, and dancing as the way of finding joy.

Finally, if you hadn’t ever got into Testing what job do you think you’d be doing now?

I always thought I would be a chemical engineer. I have no idea what I would do as work, but I’ve always imagined something in the pharmaceutical industry. And if I have a bad day, I’m always saying I will go work at McDonalds. All work is great when you find your own twist to doing it.

You can follow Maaret Pyhäjärvi on LinkedIn and Twitter. Make sure to also check out her website for more great testing content!

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