Shirley Tricker - CukeUp! AU Q&A

Theo EnglandSep 20, 2016

We're just under two months away from CukeUp! AU landing in Sydney on November 17th-18th. CukeUp! is a conference for developers, testers and product owners who seek answers to complex software problems. Two days of inspiring talks and workshops about BDD, collaboration, and progressive agile techniques. Learn more about CukeUp! AU here.

In the build up to the event, we are running a series of quick-fire interviews with our speakers. This week we spoke to Shirley Tricker, a test manager from New Zealand, who talks to us about her background as a BA, top testing anti-patterns, and clearing up misunderstandings as a test manager.

CukeUp!: Hey Shirley! Could you tell us a bit about your day job?

Shirley Tricker: For almost 2 years I’ve been running my business (elementum.co.nz) which provides mentoring and career advice to Tech professionals. I also work a few times a year as a contract Test Manager, and am active in the wider tech community where I help to organise the WeTest Auckland MeetUp and annual conference, and I speak to young people and community groups about careers in Tech.

I’m fascinated with the human side of working in Tech and with ways we can encourage and challenge ourselves and others to do work we’re proud of.

You're going to be speaking at CukeUp! this year about how people can manage their own careers. What sparked your interest in this topic?

The employment landscape has changed a great deal in the last few decades and will continue to do so. People used to work for just a few companies in their lifetime and would often follow a narrow career path, rising up the ranks of seniority. The reality now is that technology offers more opportunities than we had before - we can be employees, we can contract or freelance or create our own portfolio careers, and there are many new roles to choose from. These changes mean we can’t rely on our employers to guide our careers. We need to be in control for ourselves.

You're one of two New Zealanders on our line-up (alongside Katrina Clokie). There seems to be a growing software community in NZ with lots of meetups and conferences - some of which you're involved in! - how do you think it's evolved in the past few years?

In the past few years there’s been rapid growth in the number of software/Tech, and related, community groups. We no longer have only big-name conferences - there are meetups and conferences on a wide variety of topics, representing many different parts of the software community. It’s also become much more common for people to join these groups as they see the value they bring. Personally, I find my involvement with meetups, conferences and volunteer groups (whether it’s organising, presenting or attending) to be some of the most inspiring and rewarding work I do.

For those perhaps not involved in the community side of software, who perhaps want to, what do you get from being involved?

Becoming involved in the wider community had an immediate impact on me. It made a big difference to my career to have a ‘tribe’ of people outside of work who inspired me and introduced me to ways I could develop my skills. I’ve found that the community offers many opportunities to develop skills (such as leadership and influence) that weren’t always available in my day job. Aside from helping me personally it also allows me to do work that's meaningful and that helps others.

We recently discussed Cucumber anti-patterns on our podcast and as a team came up with quite a few. Are there any testing anti-patterns which are a regular pain that you witness?

Here are two anti-patterns I’ve noticed, and often it’s been me doing them!

Doing before thinking. Testers are keen to jump in and see how software works but we could often benefit from slowing down to consider things other than the physical act of testing. Spending a little time thinking about end users, acceptable risks, approaches etc could often speed up our testing in the long run.

How we talk about our testing. I hear testers say things like we “break” software, “test everything” and “ensure quality” (or Quality Assurance!) but none of these accurately describe testing. We don’t break software, we can’t test everything or guarantee quality. When testers say these things not only are we misrepresenting our craft, we aren’t describing the real value we bring to software development.

One of the biggest challenges in software seems to be around the communication gap between business and IT. How do you approach this problem in your day-to-day work?

As a Test Manager, much of my time is spent looking out for misunderstandings. It’s easy to miss the subtle cues that show when people aren’t on the same page so I try to help the communication process by listening actively, concentrating and clarifying for whoever is involved. I highlight any differences I notice or I bring the people together to work through the problem until they have a shared understanding.

I also work hard to build trust and to communicate openly and clearly so we can form a strong relationship. That's easier said than done.

You moved from a Business Analyst role to more of a test focused role. How did your experience as a BA impact your work as a tester and test manager?

Great question! I worked with someone who said that BA’s and testers have the same head but different hands. I thought that was a good way to describe that both roles share many skills - critical thinking and evaluation, communication, problem-solving - but the way we perform our job is different.

Coming from a BA role meant I was comfortable working with business stakeholders, I had facilitation and elicitation skills and I had an empathy for end-users. That experience, along with my previous roles in customer support, definitely helped me to be a better tester and test manager.

Thanks Shirley, cya at CukeUp! in November.

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