Episode 42 – Can software testing be a good career for you?

What would you do if life throws a hurdle at you and you lose the only kind of job that you’ve ever know? It’s what you were trained to do. It’s where your skills lie. One moment, everything seems to be fine and the next minute you’re out the door with a pink slip in hand. That is one of the unfortunate moments in real life. It happens, but when it does, how you react to it can make a difference in the road ahead of you.

Our next guest experienced just that scenario, not once, but twice. Rather than diving back into a career field that, at the time, was in a decline, she chose a different path. She used her time between jobs to return to school and study tech. But, there is a twist to this tail: it doesn’t involve software development.

Meet Jennifer Cable, software manual tester extraordinaire. Jennifer came from a background blended in fine arts and graphic design in the newspaper field. With news now available online, Jennifer soon discovered that a change in career field was in order for her and her family to thrive financially. Listen in to episode 42 to find out more about Jennifer’s tale and the journey she took to get there.

Don’t forget to stop over on Twitter to say hello!

Jennifer Cable’s Bio:

Jennifer Cable is a Software Test Technician at CoverMyMeds in Columbus, Ohio. She works with a team of Software Developers and Test Engineers to deliver a quality product that meets standards for a reliable, consistent user experience.

Jennifer likes to help promote women and girls in the field of development by supporting Girl Develop It and Cool Tech Girls in Columbus. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter @jkcable.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Hi everyone. Today, my guest is Jennifer cable. Jennifer, how are you?

Jennifer: I’m good, thank you. How are you?

Arsalan: I’m fantastic. I’m so happy to have you on the podcast, especially because you are different from all the other guests that we’ve had so far. Also, there’s something very interesting. That has happened to you. You got laid off. You were working, and you are probably pretty happy, but you are not doing development. You’re doing something else. You are passionate about it and went to college for it and then you got laid off. Then, you resurrected your career a little bit. Tell us a little more about that moment when you were laid off. What led up to it, and how were you feeling about it?

Jennifer: I was working in graphic design for a newspaper for many years doing ad design. I was very content and what I was doing. I enjoyed it, and I did not think that I could lose my job to outsourcing, but I did. During that time I felt very disappointed and I was also shocked to learn that I would not have my job anymore. At that time I felt that it was time to look for a new opportunity.

Arsalan: Was at a time that was difficult for you and your family? Perhaps you had some questions about how you’re going to manage your finances. Is that something that you went through?

Jennifer: Yes, definitely. My husband and I worry two-income family. So, it definitely had an impact on our family finances. While I did receive unemployment, it was not 100% of what we were used to. So, there were a few years where we had to tighten up her budget and make ends meet until I found full-time employment again.

Arsalan: So, you did find full-time employment, but there was a gap between the time you found full-time employment and the time you were laid off. How long was that gap?

Jennifer: That gap was probably about three years.

Arsalan: That’s a long time to go without a job. In the meantime, while you were unemployed, what did you do?

Jennifer: I was fortunate enough to be able to go back to school. Because of the way my job was outsourced, there was a federal grant program that would help pay for education for people who got laid off due to outsourcing. So, I decided that since I wasn’t working at the time, I would take advantage of that opportunity and I went back to school at Columbus State to study web development.

Arsalan: I think this is going to be an inspiring story for a lot of people who might have been laid off or might fear being laid off because of outsourcing, automation, or various reasons. Outsourcing and losing your job are facts of life. Having to look for another job is something that we all have to deal with. Although it took you three years, you were able to overcome that. Then you got this new job. How long did you work there?

Jennifer: I have been at my current job for two years now.

Arsalan: Great. But, in between, there was another layoff.

Jennifer: Yes. What I’ve been telling you up till now is after the second layoff. The first layoff was before I had the opportunity to go back to school.

Arsalan: Okay, so there was a layoff that was unexpected. Then you got another job and were laid off again. But then you weren’t able to get a job right away, so you went back to college. You took advantage of the available time that you had and you were able to transform your career and get into a more technical role. But, you’re not a developer, exactly, even though you did take software development in college. What do you do?

Jennifer: I am a software test technician. My job title would be similar to what some people might know as a manual tester or a QA specialist, meaning quality assurance. I think that role is changing right now to become a little more technical. I do more technical things, but I also do more manual testing. I’m also in the process of learning to do a little more coding. Where I work now, they focus is on Ruby and Cucumber. So I do a little of that.

Arsalan: Okay, for people who don’t know what Ruby and Cucumber are, we are not talking about the gem and the vegetable. Ruby is a programming language that you can use to do wonderful things, especially automated testing. Cucumber is a framework that uses Ruby. But, cucumber and Ruby are not your only choices. You can use other languages and frameworks.

Arsalan: It’s so important for us to realize that people want to be in the tech industry and wants to be developers and some people who think that software development is a cool industry to be in. There are a lot of people in this industry. Not everyone writes software code and not everyone is a programmer. But, they all contribute to the development of a product. So, you are critical in your organization.

Arsalan: There are people who are writing software programs and then there are people like you who are testing and making sure that they were correct. We all have our roles. Some people may be really interested in software development, but they’re not skilled at coding, yet their very detail oriented and they do a very good job at assuring quality or to do testing. Testing can be done manually, like what you’re doing, and was going to get into how you’re doing that. But, it can also be done using automation and that automation usually entails some programming.

Arsalan: So, I know that in your industry. There are people who write in Ruby and use Cucumber and other frameworks, perhaps, and they do test using some automation. But you went the other way. Was there a reason for that? Did they ask you to do it like this? Is there a reason why you’re not in the automated testing area?

Jennifer: I do a little bit of automated testing. I help run some of the Cucumber features and I help run our Regression suite, which is a group of tests that we use to ensure that there are no bugs before code is deployed. So, I do a little automated as well.

Arsalan: Okay, now let’s circle back. I want to learn a little more about you. How do you describe yourself?

Jennifer: I feel that I am a detail oriented person and that helps me greatly when I do manual or exploratory testing to ensure that I find test cases that other people may not find. I also like to investigate and dig deeper into how things work.

Arsalan: Okay, so you mentioned a few things. You mentioned exploratory testing and some people in the audience may not know what that is. Can you explain a little about the different types of testing that you have to do?

Jennifer: Sure. I do manual testing which is similar to what our users would do. Our company produces software as a service. So, we have a website that’s available to our users. So I just go in as if I were a user and test to make sure that all the buttons, links, and everything like that are working as they should. I also do something called exploratory testing, where I just go to the website and click around and try and do things that a user would do that maybe people wouldn’t think of to try and find a problem or an issue. It’s basically just being like an explorer, trying out different things in different combinations of things. I also run the Cucumber tests and our Cucumber tests Regression suite. So, those are probably the three main ones.

Arsalan: Okay, you use the term “regression suite” and “regression testing.” How would you describe those terms?

Jennifer: I would describe regression testing as a set of tests that would cover all of the things that a user would normally do to operate our website. We keep those tests; and each time a developer right some code that would change the current function of the way our website runs, we run that code against our set of tests to ensure everything runs correctly. If a test should fail, we would look into it to see if the code is causing a failure that needs to be corrected and then makes sure that that code passes all the tests before it is deployed on the website.

Arsalan: That’s an excellent description. If I were to describe it, I would say that it is a big snowball that is rolling down the hill of this project. It collects more snow along its path and gets bigger and bigger. If you can imagine the snow being new features and product improvements, what can happen is that it hits a snag or hurdle along the way and we lose some of that snow. We regress. We go back to a place where we were before. So, something used to work, but now it’s not working anymore. That’s a regression. We don’t ever want to be in that situation.

Arsalan: Every iteration, every cycle and every release we want to improve or enhance the product. So, how would we know that we are not regressing? If you had a set of criteria that could evaluate the product on every release, then you would know if you are making forward progress or if you are going back. It’s important to know that you are moving in the right direction.

Arsalan: Manual testers are very, very important. A lot of companies that I know don’t do any manual testing. They don’t like manual testers because they find that inefficient. They would like everything to be automated instead. But there’s a problem with that. Regardless of how many automated tests you write, you are never going to have an intuitive and common sense test that covers common sense, normal user scenarios in all cases. It’s impossible to do without manual testing and an intelligent and conscientious qualified human being testing your product to make sure that it works appropriately for the user, you will probably always have a product that is kind of wonky. So, I really appreciate Jennifer and all the manual testers who are doing manual testing. Sometimes it’s a thankless job because a lot of times they don’t get appreciated as much.

Arsalan: let’s get your impression, Jennifer. What do you think? Do you think you get a lot of appreciation for the work that you do?

Jennifer: Probably not as much, but thank you for those words. I agree with you that you can’t have 100% automated testing. There are some things that you must manually test. I think that is something that gets forgotten along the process. It’s very important to have some hands on human eyes looking at something and clicking through it because there might be something that you’ve overlooked. So, yes, I agree with you.

Arsalan: I think that it’s always good. If you are a startup company or someone who’s starting a new project and you’re thinking about testing, I would advise you against automated or overly automated testing initially. Start with some manual tests and figure out what you need to test.

Arsalan: Decide on your criteria and a test plan. Maybe have some written down test cases if you need them. Create your regression suite. That’s something that should happen regardless. If you are doing driven development, which means that your code is being guided by tests, then go ahead and do that, but that doesn’t really correspond to automated testing.

Arsalan: The type of automated testing that I’m talking about is something that happens after the code is written. Even if you did test driven development, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need any more tests. You should, but first start with manual tests. Figure out what you really need and how your application behaves from a user’s point of view and then sometimes you can extract that manual test case and manual test plan and automate it. You can automate some of the redundant or repetitive tasks so that it makes it more interesting for manual testers. It allows manual testers to be a little more creative if you automate the noncreative part. That’s my recommendation to new projects. A lot of people struggle with it, though. What do you think about automated testing?

Jennifer: I think I agree with some of the things that you just said. I’ve read that it’s good to have automated tests for those simple, repetitive tasks because it does free up a manual tester to go on and explore some of those other areas that might be a little more complicated. That sounds like some good advice.

Arsalan: Now, I want to talk to you about your college experience because you got a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. You were not thinking about becoming a developer or a tester. You were thinking about becoming a graphic design artist or graphic designer. You did get a job doing that, but it didn’t quite work out for you. I think it was, perhaps, the education that you received was not geared towards getting a job. Do you think there is a way to be successful in the graphic design business and have a secure, good-paying job that I’m sure you were looking for? Or, is that an industry that is in decline?

Jennifer: At the time when I got my degree, there was a demand for graphic designers and I got a job in the newspaper industry. My experience and degree were very helpful and helped me get that job. My problem was with the newspaper industry that I was working in. As you and your listeners probably know, the newspaper industry has been in a big decline since a lot of people get their news from the Internet now.

Jennifer: Print production of newspapers has since decreased. That’s the reason I was laid off from my position. I think that people in graphic design today are learning more web design skills that they use to get jobs now. I think there probably is a bit of a decrease because of the reduction in print production today since more things are being done online. I think more graphic designers are learning those web design skills that they need. For me, though, I wanted to go back and learn more web skills and backend skills.

Arsalan: So, when you went back to college, you didn’t try to do a specialization in some part of graphic design. You went into web development. That was a two-year degree that you got. Tell me about your experience going to the community college for that two-year degree. Was it hard? Did you like it? Was it worth it?

Jennifer: I found it very challenging. I still find it challenging because I came from more of a creative side. The logic side, a programming was very new and different for me. It was a challenge and at first, I really struggled with it, and sometimes I still continue to struggle with it. But, I think it is something that you can overcome. I know that when I’ve told former graphic designers that I’ve worked with that I am now doing software testing, they say that they could never do that. I think you can do it if it’s something that you want to do and you put your mind to it.

Arsalan: I’m sure that quality assurance, which is a term that we’ve heard a lot and now people like to call them testers, they are underappreciated for sure. But software testing is sometimes considered overhead by a small team that has budgetary constraints. So they’d rather hire more developers to build new features and thus, testing becomes a necessary evil.

Arsalan: There’s another approach to this where you can look at software quality as an equal or maybe more so than actual development. What your users see when they interact with your product is what really matters. Software quality assurance people or testers need to ensure that they are not putting out substandard products that people don’t want to use. That’s especially true of the manual testers.

Arsalan: The problem with automatic testing and a suite where there’s no manual testing, a lot of the times the automated tests are written by the same developers that are writing the product. So, if they have a bias or a deficiency in their thinking and they’re not thinking about a particular part of the problem, then were going to end up building a product that is not good because we’re not getting enough perspective. Having outside people that are not developers and are not thinking like developers, they can be the representatives of the users, like you, Jennifer. They could come in and use the application like a user would. Maybe you would have an insight into some of the user ability problems. I just want to stress again that manual testing is very important and many of my listeners want to be developers, but perhaps some of them may be better suited to be testers.

Arsalan: Testing is a vast field. You need testers in almost every organization. You can start off being a manual tester with your analytical and organizational skills. Perhaps you will be very good at it and ensure that your team puts out high-quality software. I interviewed Chuck from some of the podcasts that you might have listened to like JavaScript Jabber and Ruby Rogues. He was a tester. He was a manual tester just like Jennifer. Later on, he got into development and now he’s a very accomplished software developer.

Arsalan: So, there are paths out of this if that’s not something that you want to do. But I would recommend not shying away from a testing job even if you want to be a developer. This could be a path to development or this could end up being your ideal career. What do you think about that, Jennifer? Do you think testing can be a long-term career for some people?

Jennifer: Definitely. My role is a test technician. But where I work at CoverMyMeds, we have another role of test engineer and a lot of our test engineers began as developers. So, I think test engineers and test technicians are not the kinds of roles that you aspire to. It’s more like something that just kind of develops into that. The people who were previously developers have a really good understanding and knowledge of how the development side works, but then they got interested in the testing side of it.

Arsalan: Okay, so let me ask you this. When I was looking at your profile and saw your degrees, I was thinking that you were obviously motivated enough to go to college and learn. You got an associate’s degree in web development, not web design. Is that right?

Jennifer: Correct.

Arsalan: Did you try to get a job as a developer, or was that something that you didn’t want to do?

Jennifer: I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my web development associate’s degree. Since an associate’s degree is a two-year degree, you get a little taste of a lot of different things. I learned some HTML. I learned a little bit of Java. I learned a low bit of systems networking. So it’s just kind of like a taste of a little bit of everything. I really wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a developer yet. What helped me was there’s an organization called Girl, Develop IT, which has a chapter in Columbus, Ohio. They gave me some direction and had some resources and mentorship that I used. I just kind of stumbled into the testing part of it just by starting to send out resumes. I was just looking for an intern type position or something like that where I could just get my feet wet, I get into a company, and just start taking it from there.

Arsalan: And you did get an intern position for a few months and after that, they like your work and offered you a full-time position.

Jennifer: Yes.

Arsalan: That’s a really good way for somebody to get into a full-time position. If you want to be a full-time software developer, a tester, a business analyst, or any of the various subfields within software development, you don’t necessarily have to be a programmer. One of the better ways of doing that is to become an intern because it’s low risk for the company and they generally higher lots of interns. They don’t have to pay you as much. They don’t have to give you benefits. So, they would probably hire you without scrutinizing you too much.

Arsalan: Once you’re there, you get to work as part of the team and you can show your dedication. They’ll probably give you a couple of little projects. If you do well and there is a need for a full-time developer or a tester, they will look at you. That’s a fantastic way of getting your foot in the door. How did you get that internship? Did you apply through a portal? Did you know somebody? What did you do?

Jennifer: I found out about CoverMyMeds through Girl, Develop IT. CoverMyMeds was a sponsor of Girl, Develop IT. When I went to the Girl, Develop IT meetings, I was wondering who CoverMyMeds were. So, I went to their website and saw that they had different positions. I took a chance and submitted my resume online. They contacted me and were interested. They actually created the internship position for me because they didn’t have anything in a test engineer or test technician position. So, I was very fortunate that they gave me the opportunity. I think it helped that I was a nontraditional student, a woman in the field who is changing careers. I had work experience also, but being an older intern with something new and different. It was a great experience and I’m very fortunate that they gave me the opportunity and help me out that way, which later led to a full-time position.

Arsalan: Are you the only person in that position within the organization?

Jennifer: Yes, I am.

Arsalan: Okay. Do you think this is working out for them and that they might be expanding? My guess is that if you’re doing a good job, then they might want to start a manual testing department.

Jennifer: Yes, I think that is definitely something that would grow. Our company is growing a lot and I could see that as a possibility in the future.

Arsalan: Let’s talk about when you started your first day at work as a manual tester, perhaps starting with your internship days. Was it hard for you to be accepted because you are a woman and a nontraditional tech person? You were a developer because you came from another field. In most companies, we have a heavy developer culture. Software developers and other demographics are placed above others, unfortunately. Did you struggle with that? Was it a transition for you? How was it?

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