A Tester Tested

It’s late November 2018 and the news is delivered that Locomote will no longer be developed in Australia and I, along with a bunch of colleagues, are about to be without employment. I wrote about that moment in time here and here and also about some of the things I decided to dive into.

It would be fair to say that not working in December was bearable. The break was nice, the redundancy payout was sufficient to keep the wolf from the door for a while and there was Christmas and New Year as a distraction. We also acquired a puppy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who provided a lot of fun and distraction. I’d also been invited for an interview and made it to second round. I was disappointed not to go further but I was encouraged by feedback from that process. I knew January was going to be slow, to really bare, month opportunity wise but by late that month I’d had my fill of not working with people. I was missing the satisfaction of solving important problems, finding new information and working with others to produce excellent software that made people happy.

I had maintained a focus on extending my skills, I figured it was a worthwhile way to spend time. I had developed a reasonable basic level understanding of Java. I can write basic code, debug it and even managed to think of ways to refactor what I had written (whether this made it superior to the original is questionable but it enabled me to practice). I stopped at a point where I felt I knew enough basics to engage in some other work. I did a bunch of exploring Postman features through a Pluralsight course. I know far more about Postman than I did. Using snippets and writing tests in Postman introduced me to Javascript. While I can’t write Javascript from scratch I can now read it, to a reasonable degree, and understand what it is trying to do. Within the context of Postman that gives me some options to “borrow” and amend. I even went and spent some time refreshing my SQL knowledge using mySQL and a Pluralsight course. I dove back into Alan Richardson’s book “Java for Testers”. The book made more sense to me now as I had some context I was missing before the Pluralsight course. I even started a course on Java and writing tests using Selenium. I also spent some time playing with the Selenium IDE and had a bit of a laugh. This is basically the modern day version of an in-house automation tool I used over a decade back. The problem is, that despite all the “busyness”, it was me, working alone, no deadlines, no one to deliver my work to, none of the usual external motivations. I also had a firm gaze on the job advertisements and the constant appearance of must be able to “write a framework and automation code” was starting to really grate. It had become pretty clear that doing either, well and with thought, was not an easy job. It seemed to me this skill set was more than a couple of courses and a book. I had a 30 year habit of working and wondered if I was actually relevant to the job market. Things, by that I mean my mood and outlook, got a little dark.

So let’s skip forwards to late February because things changed fast and the last sentence above pretty much describes the period to this point. I spent time contacting a number of job recruiting agents. At some point I reached out to Sun Kang at Opus Recruitment. Sun is located in Sydney but has a Melbourne portfolio. Sun did more than just talk about possible jobs, he took an interest in me as a person and kept in regular contact. Talking to Sun added some positive vibes to my day. Around the same time I contacted Jeremy King at Interface Recruitment. Jeremy is the Melbourne based version of Sun (or Sun is the Sydney based version of Jeremy). Jeremy is open, honest and has genuine empathy coupled with wanting to know his clients.Both Jeremy and Sun went, in my view, above and beyond and I genuinely like chatting to both. There are future coffees or beers planned with both. They both helped stoke my positive energy and kept me focused on moving forwards. If you’re reading this blog, and job hunting, contact these gentlemen, they are absolute gems.

I also need to mention Katie Peterson who works with Prima Careers. Prima Careers were engaged, by Travelport, to help people transition to a new role, and or career, outside of Locomote. Katie provided me with a lot of great advice, helped me remodel my CV and spoke to me about how to contact people that would help me find a job I wanted. One of her first questions in our first session was “do you want the first job you can get or do you want to find the job you want?” That was a great scene setting discussion. Beyond that, every time we spoke, she lifted my spirits and I left feeling really positive.

There is a saying that “it never rains, it pours”, and thus it unfolded. In the space of, maybe 10 days, I find myself at 3 final stage interviews, a firm offer on the table from one of them and turning down 2 companies requesting interviews. I’m still having trouble reconciling this, totally new territory for me. I also did something I have never done before, I turned down a job offer from a company that, under other circumstances I would have accepted on the spot. It’s not an entirely bad spot to find yourself.

So here’s the thing that interests me, I mean really interests me. In all my job applications, even those that went into the “apply now” black hole, I was entirely honest about my coding abilities. I was completely upfront about my history of involvement in automated regression testing and what that involvement entailed. The companies that interviewed me could deal with that. It interests me that all but one company I spoke to had automated script writing as a role requirement, in fact, listed right near the top of skill attributes. My lack of coding ability never became an issue or an impediment in interviews. Feedback from one potential employer, in terms of declaring my limited coding ability as part of completing a preset challenge, was “great to see people recognising and acknowledging their limitations”.

I had decided prior to these interviews that rather than dwell on what I didn’t have I would amplify the skills and abilities I did have. Show the companies that I could bring a level of thought and testing approach that would benefit them. I also focused on demonstrating skills that might not be traditionally associated with a tester (such as coaching, mentoring and process improvement to name a few). I wanted to convince my interviewers that I am genuinely happy to share this with others and look for ways to find “better” as a team. What came through in feedback from interviews is that I had a clear passion for testing and quality, I thought deeply about testing and had great critical thinking skills. I was told by more than one person that I “think and talk differently about testing compared to other testers”. As far as I can tell my passion, thinking and ability to clearly articulate how I would approach problems made me shine and stand out.

The good news, the news that really excites me, is that I have accepted an offer to work with HealthKit. This is a new sector for me, as was Locomote. While I didn’t like the way things finished up with Locomote it gave me two years of exposure to the travel sector and demonstrated to me that I could quickly learn what I needed to make a speedy start and then use that knowledge to perform excellent testing while also contributing product ideas and helping to build approaches that supported development and release of high quality software.

To close this out I really want to shout out to Lee Hawkins (https://therockertester.wordpress.com/about/) who spent a lot of time helping me through my first spell of unemployment in 30 years. I’ve told Lee I owe him plenty. I also owe my family a lot for their support. My wife and kids were just brilliant along with everyone in my extended family. I probably wasn’t the easiest person to live with for a while. Also a big wave to Janet Gregory. Janet is a mentor of mine and messages from Janet and some chats helped my mindset. James Barker (Test Practice Lead at Culture Amp), who I met in December 2018 (prior to bombing out in the second round of their interview process), was also great support. James is a special person. I see us having a lot of chats about testing and quality as we learn from each other. I haven’t mentioned everyone that enquired as to how I was going but rest assured I really do appreciate your friendship and efforts. I will also be forever grateful to those in the testing community that have helped me understand what excellent testing requires. Those people that helped me progress and improve my testing through many facets, not the least being the importance of developing an enquiring mind that leverages critical thinking. This helped me become “different” in good and valuable ways.

On the 25th of March I start my new role. I’m eager, I’m excited and, I guarantee you, I will never take a full time job for granted again. I’ll be back working with great people to solve important problems. I’ll be working with people to make software that makes our clients really happy. Most importantly I will be back doing what I want to do, what I love to do.




5 thoughts on “A Tester Tested

  1. Paul, Just what I expected from you – a roller coaster of a ride and sticking to the stuff of value.
    I may be the other side of the world, but passion, determination and staying the course has no boundaries.
    I’m so pleased for you.


  2. Your comments about prospective employers not being put off by your lack of a particular skill, and amplifying the unique insights you can bring to a role, rang very true with me. Two years ago, I was in a similar position, having been let go from a company whose owners had decided, in quick order, firstly to stop in-house development (and testing) and buy in proprietary software, and then to go one step further and buy the company that wrote that software.

    In my case, the agency that the company engaged to help those made redundant turned out to be little help and I was thrown onto the open jobs market. My skills set was a little unusual, in that I had no formal testing or coding qualifications, no coding skills, and due to an earlier spell of unemployment, few resources to fall back upon other than nearly 25 years’ testing experience in a number of different corporate environments.

    What I found was that being upfront about what I could or couldn’t do was the best policy. Those that were interested in what I had to offer, approached me; those who were not, didn’t. I was selective about the roles I applied for, only putting in an approach when I was certain I had a good chance of getting past the HR gatekeepers. This usually meant that I was putting in something like seven or so applications per day, and getting invited to at least a first stage interview (usually by telephone) at least twice a week.

    By pitching my CV to emphasise what I could do and what my unique selling features were (a wide range of corporate environments with different clients, and considerable business insight through in-depth involvement with a number of different testing situations), I found that I was mainly getting interviews with companies who were prepared to take a punt on a slightly ‘left-field’ candidate. (There were exceptions: there was one company who wanted me to learn C++ as a prelude to building physical test gear for use in the field, and who persisted in giving me encouraging noises despite my constantly asking “Are you really sure I’m who you’re looking for?” That one dragged on for about six weeks because members of the interview panel were unavailable for one reason or another, but in the end they chose someone else. In anther application, I got really enthusiastic mood music from the agency and [they said] from the head of IT; but when I got to the interview, the process was wholly run by the Head of HR who proceeded to deliver the worst interview I’ve ever been on the receiving end of, breaking all the accepted rules of interviewing technique and concentrating throughout on what I couldn’t do rather than what I could. I suspect there was bad feeling between the head of HR and the head of IT, as he was nowhere in sight throughout the process.)

    I eventually secured a role with a specialist software house who was filling a place in a team of six testers, and I was recruited despite my lack of technical ability precisely because they had five technical testers and saw my business experience as filling a gap in the skills available to the test team, especially as the company sells specifically into one sector (higher education) but I came from outside that specialism and so had different perspectives (utility regulation, medical equipment software, customer services and facilities management).

    My point being that my experience is like yours; you write about “… the importance of developing an enquiring mind that leverages critical thinking. This helped me become “different” in good and valuable ways”. Ultimately, that is perhaps the best Unique Selling Feature you can have, and it’s the one that stands the best chance of attracting an employer to you who will be looking for whatever you have to offer that is unique. All the rest, who are only looking for the cookie-cutter candidates, are probably companies who you wouldn’t have wanted to work for anyway. The best selection process is as much about your selecting who you want to work for, through the way you pitch yourself, as about them selecting you.


    1. Hi, thanks for sharing your story, I enjoyed reading about your experience. I think we all have unique abilities that can bring the right company value. Many of us can tend towards focusing on what we don’t have and becoming our harshest critic. Sometimes we just need to step back and realise that we have accumulated useful knowledge and our goal is to maximise what we have.

      Liked by 1 person

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