Testing Digest with Mike Smith!

Next Instalment of Testing Digest with Mike Smith – Principal Software Engineer at Ideagen Software. We talk his track into Management, His Trials and Tribulations & Advice to Junior Testers.

Introduce yourself! How did you get into Software Testing?
Hey there, my name is Mike Smith; I’m the Principal Software Test Engineer for Ideagen Software; I’ve been in the Software Testing industry since 2011. I got into it almost by accident, which is a common thing I hear at conferences. I used to work on the Support Desk for a previous company and after working my way up to the Tech Support Team I was asked if I would like to apply for the job on Testing. I wasn’t even aware that Testing was a discipline within IT but at that point in my career a change was exactly what I needed so I applied (spoiler, I got the job).

Did you see yourself in a Principal Test role when you first pursued Testing? Was this always the end goal?
No actually, my career goals had always been focussed on the management track. I was hired as the Test Team Leader back in 2015 at Ideagen and was keen to become the Test Manager as it seemed like a natural progression for my career. I attended management training courses and even achieved my ISTQB Advanced Test Manager certification, I also started learning more and more technical skills in parallel to this and after we hired an external Test Manager my role started to shift towards that of Principal Test Engineer.

What are your goals after this role, where might you go from here?
I’m not sure I’d want to move away from the role of Principal Software Test Engineer; it’s a role that offers me even more autonomy than Ideagen already offer to their employees. There is already a lot of trust at Ideagen which means more freedom to do the best job you can by using and leveraging whatever tools and technology you feel necessary. As far as ‘where I might go’ I haven’t given it much thought really; Ideagen are building their reputation as a destination employer which makes working here really beneficial. I feel I have a lot of creative freedom to research new technology and to create skunkworks sessions with others from our technology group like developers, architects and other testers.

What advice would you give to Junior Testers entering the sector?
Wow that’s a long list! I guess if I had to keep this as concise as possible I’d say…

Focus on the hard graft first; if you’re very new to the industry it’s easy to get lost in the theoretical chatter on social media about software testing. There are some very influential people who are definitely saying the right things but when you’re surrounded by Thinkers in the technology world it’s easy to forget that Software Testing is akin to scientific experimentation; it requires procedure, process and practice. I’d suggest learning the ‘manual labour’ of software testing (how to test a text field, how to test a file upload function etc) before starting to ponder the mysteries of the technological universe with your peers.

Push your boundaries; This is something I’d recommend most recently due to personal experiences. I was recently on a project that forced me to learn technologies and skills that I never had before (docker, AWS, infrastructure as code)  and it was only by stepping out of my comfort zone that I realised that I really liked these tools – having found myself in that position in the past I’d definitely recommend putting yourself in new situations and getting exposure to new tools and technologies every now and then.

Be kind (enough); it’s all too easy to fall into the ‘us and them’ attitude with Software Developers in a team. I’ve been on teams in the past where you weren’t allowed to even speak to the Devs before everything was assigned to Testing or you could ask only two questions a day to the Dev team. Conversely I’ve worked with Testers who would bound up to a developer like a kid at Christmas and exclaim ‘You’re code is rubbish, I found six bugs in it’ complete with wide eyes and toothy grin. This is not how Teamwork works. Software Testing is one part engineering, one part diplomat; I’m not saying that you should be a ‘yes person’ to your developers but rather keep in the back of your mind that you’re a team, all trying to achieve the same goal; usable, working software.

Have fun; a spiritual mentor of mine, Alan Richardson, once said that the only people sat around the Sprint Planning table making jokes are the Testers and I think that’s mostly true. There is a certain dissonance between Testers and everybody else that goes beyond the obvious. A Testers calling is to find the unknown, to root out things that should not be and to help people make these issues go away. Once you have fun doing that you’ve found yourself a career for life!

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt as a tester? And what would you have done differently during your career?

The biggest lesson has to be that Testing is Important; I think it’s really easy for companies to either ignore testing as an afterthought or to treat Testers as second class citizens of the software creation process and if you’re brand new to the field then it’s really easy to simply sit there and accept that. I’ve done it! I did it for years before having the confidence to challenge team members and managers about the aspects of testing. I mentioned earlier that the job of partially diplomatic in nature and that is true with regards to the wider company. I’ve had to change the way companies think in regards to testing and that’s never easy.

On doing anything differently; It took me a long time to believe in myself at a Tester; there were so many times I’d ask myself ‘am I doing the right thing?’ ‘what if they find out I’m not very good’ all those kind of self doubting questions that plagued me during my formative years in Testing. I think that partially helped me to stay conscious of any over confidence but also there were times when I was happy not asking questions about tech or code, not asking developers for help when I could have. I’d like to go back and tell past me that it’s okay to ask those questions.

Also I’d have probably started a proper testing blog when I first started my journey into it. I’m at the point in my career where I want to start giving something back to the career that has given me so much and it’s hard to find time to document all of the lessons, skills and funny anecdotes from my career in a concise way right now.

Finally what’s next for you? What are your goals after this role and where might you go from here?

I’m not sure I’d want to move away from the role of Principal Software Test Engineer; it’s a role that offers me even more autonomy than Ideagen already offer to their employees. There is already a lot of trust at Ideagen which means more freedom to do the best job you can by using and leveraging whatever tools and technology you feel necessary. As far as ‘where I might go’ I haven’t given it much thought really; Ideagen are building their reputation as a destination employer which makes working here really beneficial. I feel I have a lot of creative freedom to research new technology and to create skunkworks sessions with others from our technology group like developers, architects and other testers.

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