As a part of my Testing series, I caught up with Neil Findlay, Test Manager at BJSS, An Award-Winning IT focused consultancy. Read on to hear about his route into Software Testing, his current position and his future career plans. Follow Neil on LinkedIn here!
1. Hi Neil, please introduce yourself and give me a brief overview of your route into the world of Software Testing?
1996, the year that brought you New Labour, the Spice Girls and amidst my tears of Take That splitting up (for the first time) – my adventure into testing was born. I left university with a funky degree after studying in France, Ireland and Huddersfield ready to start my career for a software house that was making inroads into electronic banking in the Mecca of the north – Runcorn. Looking back, I don’t think they knew what to do with me. I started as a c++ developer who keenly would inform anyone that would listen that “this was not the way to do programming” or “why can’t I fix the code if it’s obviously wrong”. Obviously ahead of my time with such controversial (aka quality assurance) terminology. In my first year, I gravitated more towards Visual Basic and around about this time, the company was looking at growing the testing function, and perhaps some of the innovations of Test Automation.
With a strong sense of right and wrong (but no foundation in testing), I started on a tool called Automator QA, which then become QA Run. So, before I knew it was a thing I was writing tests, I had a plan and some loose good practices (2018 – automation framework). With a good grounding my career flourished, I found myself working on a large Euro Triangulation project, before Year 2000 afforded me none of the riches that others may tell their grandchildren stories of. Testing was in my blood, and still is to this day.
2. What would be your one piece of advice be to a budding software tester, early in their career?
Testing, as a lot of areas of IT, is constantly changing. To flourish in this environment my advice would be to keep adapting, keep learning. Open yourself to new opportunities and these will present a chance to learn new things. Indeed, some of my views around testing and subjects of many a whiteboard session, have come from areas outside of testing or even IT. The most interesting speakers around testing James Bach, Michael Bolton, Rob Lambert are full of stories and anecdotes from life experiences – it’s these that tend to have stuck in my memory more than any testing pyramid.
3. As a Test Manager you need to wear many hats, do you have any tips for soon to be managers on how to get the best out of their team?
I’m a big fan of practice what you preach. We hear that testing is an art, a craft, or a science, but it is most definitely a hands-on task that needs skill, talent and creativity. This needs to be maintained, developed and renewed.
By keeping grounded you will always make decisions or offer advice from a position of informed experience. I have found when working with testers having that common ground has been key. Test Managers don’t be afraid to roll up the sleeves and get testing – I promise you’ll learn spades! I also find it useful to know what makes people tick, what are their motivations and what are the enablers that will allow them to do the best they can in the situation, at times this may involve removing blockers or hurdles. I’m firmly of the mind that the Test Manager serves the testers, rather than the other way around! I’ve seen real value when that can happen. Lastly be authentic!
4. For the non-technical among us, can you give a quick description of what being a Functional Tester entails?
A functional tester is a common used term in our industry for a member of the project that looks to validate that the customer’s functional requirements of the system under test are being met. They measure the quality of the application to verify that the system does what it should, but they also serve as a check upon the requirements themselves – checking that they are the correct requirements. I feel that we shouldn’t just be ringfencing Testers as Functional Testers, we need to understand that Testers can test more than just how the system functions. Historically the perception is a Functional Tester is limited to only consider the functional aspects. This is both untrue, and a little sad.
5. As a Recruiter I have definitely noticed a huge demand lately for Automation Testers, why do you think this is?
In my career this is the 2nd wave of automation that I’ve witnessed. This wave is particularly exciting as the tools and technologies are more in pace with the appetite for automation. I believe organisations have more of a measured view of automation now, the market/talent is more mature and has learnt the lessons from the days of Silver Bullets, brittle automation and Return On Investment slides.
Additionally, I think substantial improvements have been made in the integration of automation into the CI and CD processes that organisations are now adopting. Previously I don’t think it was there, when I started up we had “the Automation PC”, sat in the corner and that’s where the scripts would run. Manually triggered (yep manual automation scripts), and far from integrated into any builds or releases. I can still picture the setup now!
For me demand will shift to ToolSmiths, rather than Automation Testers. I see the need to automate not just the functional checks, but also to provide automation packs around performance, application security, accessibility. The need to integrate and adopt with test tools, or CI/CD tools will grow.
6. I know you are keen to emphasise the need for strong functional testers as well, why do you think these people are being overlooked?
It could be this pigeonholing I mention above. Of only perceiving a functional tester as being able to perform functional validation. If this is what we think of these guys, we’re missing a huge trick. Indeed, the best Testers I’ve worked for tend to be absent of title or just as confused about their title as an industry who finds it necessary to apply one. I feel that strong Testers are worth their weight. Testing is a saturated market, and perhaps that is diluting some of the value that these key people are perceived to add. One thing we are asked to lookout for in our recruitment is “would you want this person working in your team”, anyone involved in recruitment need to make sure we are doing that, and not just ticking off skills and experience.
7. And how do they help to add balance and value to a Test Team?
I would extend this point to include the project as a whole. Firstly, for a testing function, functional testers are the core. A strong view of testing is a requirement for any test team, and without this you will hit issues as you look to grow this team.
Project wise, I like the idea of tester’s being the quality barometer, I also get a real buzz where I see agile projects with 3 amigos sessions in play, I see 3 people pulling together each tapping to each other’s key skills and being better for it, I envy that for all those I see engaged in it. It’s widely acknowledged that Testers are no longer the “owners of quality” or “just break it” but are a key authority within the project.
Testers need to be able to demonstrate to the test team, project and indeed themselves, where they add value. For me this is a key evolution of the role. Before projects “had to have Testers”, now more and more I’m hearing “we need to have a Tester on this”. I’m a happy man!
8. Your company BJSS are just one of many companies in Leeds trying to recruit Testers at the moment, how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?
Perhaps if I could answer a different question, why did I join BJSS, why did I think they stand out? Throughout my career I have worked in Testing, often with people that perhaps didn’t understand the value of testing. For a long time, my “groove” was join a company, setup a function, do awesome testing stuff, and then perhaps plateau, before another opportunity arose. I’ve enjoyed a rich range of content through the testing community both in the UK and more recently as it has grown in the North West or North East. I recall going to EuroStars, TestBashes, TestManagementForums all motivated and full of ideas of how testing could improve.
I struggled to have the traction to adopt these motivations internally. I enjoyed more and more this sense of test community, finding myself yearning that more and more. For me BJSS has that sense of community in testing, but within the company. I have found that to be rare but see other organisations that value testing now doing this. Throughout my career I’ve always had to the answer the “why do we need testers?” or “testers are just an overhead”. For the last 3 years, I’ve never had these questions. I am facing “next level” questions now which is really making me question some of my views around testing.
I’ve always enjoyed working with other Testers, and as the roles have become more senior, coaching and mentoring Testers. At BJSS I get the opportunity to do this across all levels of testing, from placement students and apprentices through our Academy scheme to other peer Test Managers. To boot, my manager is a Tester – that’s a first for me!
So, to come back to your question, for me it’s the testing community that we have at BJSS and the opportunity to work with some exceptionally great talent in and around testing, (and not to be asked “why do we need testers!”)
9. Last but not least if you were not a Tester what career path would you have liked to go down?
I always wanted to be a helicopter pilot, I would like to think Testing is stopping me become one, but I know that’s just not the case. If it weren’t for IT, I would have loved to have worked in the Police – bowing to my cast iron sense of right and wrong.
Thankyou for the opportunity of writing this. It’s been very enjoyable and entertaining how often I put things in quotes!!
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