For this new interview, we have the pleasure of introducing
you a very specific profile, Stephen Janaway.
Stephen evolved from various testing-focused roles, such as
test manager or test coach, to different positions whose testing is only a part of the iceberg, such as delivery manager.
‘Leaving’ testing if you move towards a different role ?
At least, not exactly. Stephen shares his vision with us.
Who are you, what are you doing, where are you working?
I’m Stephen, I’m VP Engineering at Bloom & Wild, a startup based in London. We’re changing the way people send flowers and hopefully spreading some joy in the world as a result.
Your current role is ‘VP Engineering’ : could you describe in a few lines what it is about?
It’s Engineer whispering mostly 🙂 Well to be more serious, I lead a team of really talented developers and testers who help to make Bloom & Wild the success that it is. I do a lot of recruitment, team building and management, and sometimes even get my hands dirty in code or testing. Basically everything that helps us deliver to our commitments and “keep the trains running on time”.
How would you define your ‘relationship’ between your current position and testing?
Once a tester, always a tester 🙂 When I’m involved then it’s more in acceptance of stories now rather than leading testing efforts earlier in the lifecycle, and it’s more the exception that I get involved, but when I do I really still enjoy it. As a manager of testers, as well as developers, then I get to pass on some of my experience as well.
If I had to put a score to how involved I am now, it’s a 3. I’m as involved with development, running teams and hiring and people management as anything else. But as a small company then almost everyone gets involved when required.
You also previously worked in testing-related roles ; Could you quickly describe those different roles?
My career is fairly typical I’d say, I started off as a developer, realised I liked testing more then moved into Test Lead, Test Manager and Senior Test Manager roles at various different companies. I ended up heading up a large Quality group in Nokia for some years which was more about managing the Test Managers and more about the conference calls and meetings than the testing. So I chose my next testing role in a different industry, luxury fashion, and went back to managing testers across various different teams. My final role in testing was as a Test Coach, working across a 250 person Technology team.
Amongst those testing roles, which one did you prefer? Could you also give us a few reasons why?
Good question. All of them had their good and bad points; if I had to pick one then the last Test Manager role was the most different. The tools and techniques were similar but the industry was so very different and exciting, and the company was much smaller than I’d previously been used to (although far larger than Bloom & Wild) and so every day was more of an adventure.
What was your first role which was not solely focused on the testing activity?
After a brief period as a Test Coach I moved into a Delivery Manager role; this meant managing a whole development team, and acting as their scrum master as well. There was lots of cross-over from my previous roles so the move felt like a natural one to take.
Why did you take that curve and how did you feel about ‘leaving’ a testing-focused role?
I could see the end for Test Management as a role – as teams moved over to be cross functional and use Agile methodologies then the role of a Test Manager seemed obsolete. Functional management, whether development or testing, just doesn’t fit with cross functional teams and that results in either frustration, or makes it really hard to support the testers, who are spread across teams and therefore don’t have the day-to-day touchpoints with their manager.
Also, if you do the same thing, which in my case was the management of testers, for years then it felt like a good time to push myself and try something new. It also helped that the project that the team was working on was very exciting and new.
Would you recommend to try this different point of view in a career?
I’ve found it fulfilling and haven’t regretted it so in that sense I would recommend it. I think that it’s also very important that those of us who have a good grounding in testing get ourselves out into teams to influence and show people what good, context-driven, testing is. Far too many people working in technology just don’t know what good testing looks like.
I think it’s also worth pushing your boundaries and trying something new, rarely does life turn out worse as a result.
Within your current position, could you give us a precise example of reactions you have which are conditioned by your testing background?
I’m always aware of the Michael Bolton quote “Is there a problem here?” and I find that in my head in so many different circumstances. Whether it’s working with the team to plan and prioritise a backlog or testing/ accepting a story then I always find that my testing background helps me. I think testers also have a greater understanding of the products that they work on than most others involved, and so my testing background has really helped me to understand why, and how, I can keep a whole product view.
A lot of my role involves working with people and some of the skills I’ve needed as a tester, such as building and maintaining relationships and being able to explain what some people could perceive as negative, have really helped. There’s not an awful lot that’s different between explaining a bug to someone who really doesn’t want to listen, and getting them on board, to needing to explain deadline changes or team issues to stakeholders.
What challenges do you think the test teams at Bloom&Wild face within the software product team? Do you help overcoming them?
We don’t have a test team as such, our two testers work across our three development teams. So that means there’s a bit of task switching sometimes and we have to be really careful that we’re not overloading them. We try as much as possible to make testing and quality a team activity and that means we aren’t reliant on our testers for everything that’s released but can instead make risk based decisions on what needs testing and why.
What drives you crazy in the common misconceptions about testing?
That testing is just pushing buttons and takes place once code is written. Getting involved as early as possible and helping teams own quality is what good testers do. I also get slightly irritated by the term ‘manual tester’, after all I don’t see automated development so I guess most of my team are ‘manual developers’.
Tell us an anecdote while you had a testing-focused role (good or bad time, incredibly hard bug to reproduce or analyse …)
I used to test the phonebook application on Nokia feature phones (the sort that used to sell in millions in the 2000’s, were indestructible and had Snake). One of our test automation suites was using one of my friends phone books as test data and we were calling his Mum up twice a day by mistake! This carried on for months. The lesson I learnt here – never use any old data you have as test data.
If you were to recruit a tester in the team, what would you look for in a candidate for this role?
I look for curiosity and an ability to learn. If a tester can explain to me what good testing is, and they talk about how they design and run software experiments or ask questions of the software then I’m really happy. Just don’t mention writing lots of test cases upfront and then running them once you’ve got the software to test.
If you were to start again in a test-focused role, what advice would you give to juniors?
Find the external test community and conferences as soon as you can. You’ll find friends, mentors and realise how much good testing there is out there. It took me 10 years to find the test community and it really opened my eyes to how my approaches weren’t good enough and how I could improve. I also made some great friends and had a lot of fun too.
Do you have models, people inspiring you (testers or not)?
I’m heavily inspired by Jerry Weinberg and it was so sad when he died in 2018. His work, both on testing, software and systems thinking, and people in general have really resonated with me over my career. My testing approach owes a lot to the context driven school of testing and the work of James Bach, Michael Bolton and Cem Kaner.
What revolution should the testers be prepared for?
I see more and more teams and companies that think that they don’t need testers but the testing industry seems really badly prepared in it’s response. In a way it does not surprise me, testers can get much better at explaining the value that they bring. I think that we are going to end up in place in the future where there are less testers, but good testers shouldn’t be worried. If you take an adaptive approach, get involved as early as possible in the software lifecycle, and remember that testing is much more than just testing the software then you’ll demonstrate your value.
Good testers help teams own quality and that’s something that we should all remember.