Today (2nd August 2019) marks twenty years since I first sat down at a desk at Quest Software in Melbourne as a “Senior Tester”.
I’d migrated from the UK just a few weeks earlier and arrived in Australia in the middle of the late 90s tech boom. The local broadsheet newspaper, The Age, had a separate section once a week which was a hefty tome and packed full of IT jobs. I sent my CV to many different recruitment companies advertising in the newspaper and started to get some interest. My scatter gun approach was a response to the lack of opportunities for LISP developers (my previous skill from three years as a developer back in the UK, working on expert systems for IBM) but I did focus a little on openings for technical writers, believing I could string words together pretty well and had a decent grasp of technology.
One of the first interviews I secured for such a technical writing position was for a company I’d never heard of, Quest Software out in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne (Ashburton, at that time). After some hasty company research, I remember catching a train there and following the recruiter’s directions to “take the staircase next to the bottle shop” to locate the Quest office (actually, one of two offices in the same street due to recent expansion). My interview would be with the head of the technical writing team and we started off with a chat over coffee in the kitchen. I didn’t even realize this was the interview, it was so relaxed and welcoming! At the end of the coffee/interview, he asked whether I’d also like to chat with the head of the testing team as she was looking for people too, so of course I took the opportunity to do so. This was again a very informal chat and I left the office with a technical writing task to complete. After completing the task, I was soon contacted to return to the Quest office to further my application for a software testing position, but not the technical writing one. A test case writing task formed part of this next slightly more formal interview, my first attempt at writing such a document! It was very shortly afterwards that the recruiter let me know I had an offer of a role as a “Senior Tester” and I couldn’t return the required paperwork fast enough – I’d found my first job in Australia!
I considered myself very fortunate to have secured a position so quickly after arriving into Australia. I was certainly lucky to find a great recruiter, Keith Phillips from Natural Solutions, and I recall visiting him in person for the first time after the deal was done with Quest, down at his office in South Melbourne. It turned out we had a common connection to the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, where I studied for both my undergraduate and doctoral degrees. We also studied in the same department (Mathematics) and, although Keith’s studies were some years before mine, many of the same department staff were still around during my time there as well. I believe Keith is still in the recruitment industry and I have fond memories of his kind, professional and unhurried approach to his work, something not common during my experiences with recruiters back then.
Back to 2nd August, 1999, then and my first day at the Quest office in Ashburton. Amidst the dotcom madness, Quest were growing rapidly and I was just one of many new starters coming through the door every week. We were sitting two to a desk for a while until we moved to bigger new digs in Camberwell, about three months after I joined. We grew rapidly and I enjoyed my time as a tester, slotting in well to a couple of different development teams and learning the ropes from other testers in the office. Being new to the testing game, I didn’t realize that we had a very “traditional” approach to testing in Quest at that time – I was part of an independent testing team under a Test Manager and spent a lot of my time writing and executing test cases, and producing lots of documentation (thanks, Rational Unified Process).
I was also learning the ropes of living in a new country and I’m indebted to my colleagues at the time for their patience and help in many aspects of me settling into a Melbourne life!
I worked across a few teams in my role as a “Senior Tester” from 1999 until 2004 when I was promoted to a “Test Team Lead” and given people management responsibility for the first time, leading a small group of testers as well as retaining hands-on testing commitments. I realize now that I was a classic “process cop” and quality gate fanatic, persisting with the very traditional ideas around testing and test management. This was an interesting and challenging time for me and, while I enjoyed some aspects of managing people, it was also not the most enjoyable aspect of my job.
It was during my time as test lead that Quest ran the Rapid Software Testing course in-house with Michael Bolton, in our Ottawa office in 2007. It was a very long way to travel to attend this course, but it was truly career-changing for me and opened my eyes to a new world of what testing was for and how it could be done differently. I returned to work in Melbourne inspired to change the way we thought about testing at Quest and took every chance I could to spread the word about the great new ideas I’d been exposed to. Looking back on it now, I banged this drum pretty hard and was probably quite annoying – but challenging the status quo seemed like the right thing to do.
During a shift to adopting Scrum within some of the Melbourne teams and a move away from the independent test team, I really saw an opportunity to bring in new testing ideas from Rapid Software Testing and so, in 2008, a new position was created to enable me to focus on doing so, viz. “Test Architect”. Evangelizing the new ideas and approaches across the Melbourne teams was the main job here and the removal of people management responsibility gave me a welcome chance to focus on effecting change in our testing approach. I enjoyed this new role very much over the next five years, during which time we moved to Southbank and Quest Software was acquired by Dell to form part of their new Software business.
My role expanded in 2013 to provide test architectural guidance across all of the worldwide Information Management group as “Principal Test Architect”. One of the great benefits of this promotion was the chance to work closely with colleagues in other parts of the world and I became a very regular visitor to our office in China, helping the talented and enthusiastic young testers there. I also started my conference presentation journey in 2014, a massive step outside my comfort zone! While attending a testing peer conference in Sydney in 2013, I was fortunate to meet Rob Sabourin (who was acting as content owner for the event) and he encouraged me to share my story (of implementing session-based exploratory testing with the teams in China) to a much wider audience, leading to my first conference talk at Let’s Test in Sweden the following year. This started a journey of giving conference talks all over the world, another great set of experiences and I appreciate the support I’ve had from Quest along the way in expanding the reach of my messages.
Dell sold off its software business in late 2016 and so I was again working for Quest but this time under its new owners, Francisco Partners.
My last promotion came in 2018, becoming “Director of Software Craft” to work across all of the Information Management business in helping to improve the way we develop, build and test our software. This continues to be both a challenging and rewarding role, in which I’m fortunate to work alongside supportive peers at the Director level as we strive for continuous improvement, not just in the way we test but the way we do software development.
My thanks go to the many great colleagues I’ve shared this journey with, some have gone onto other things, but a surprising number are still here with 20+ years of service. The chance to work with many of my colleagues on the ground across the world has been – and continues to be – a highlight of my job.
I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the support and encouragement of some excellent managers too, allowing me the freedom to grow, contribute to the testing community outside of Quest, and ultimately expand my purview across all of the Information Management business unit in my capacity as Director of Software Craft.
Little did I think on 2nd August 1999 that my first job in Australia would be the only one I’d know some twenty years later, but I consider myself very lucky to have found Quest and I’ve enjoyed learning & growing both personally & professionally alongside the company. My thanks to everyone along the way who’s made this two decade-long journey so memorable!