“I have a Customer Support staff. Can she be transformed into a software tester?”
I was assessing the overall team composition for a client. They plan to form a small software testing team as part of the company’s growth. The common concerns were on the skillset, resources, hiring budget and consistency of the software quality.
That question brings me back to over a decade ago. I was 18. I only had one thing in mind; to be a cognitive psychologist. It was my childhood dream. I thought it was the right time to embark on the journey during tertiary education. However, I ended up becoming an IT graduate after a few conflicting decisions. But at least I’m no longer pursuing the science stream and enduring the same struggle I had before.
“Do I have to do all these?”, I ask my supervisor after submitting my final revised report.
I felt exhausted from months of intense business requirements gathering with the customers, coding and debugging, testing, and writing a user manual – all by myself for this individual project.
“You’re still a student. That is normal for you to learn the whole Software Development Life Cycle. But once you enter the industry, you can choose which role you want to be and focus your skill into that area”, she explains. Calm and convincing.
I paused to digest. I visualised myself being an ASP.NET developer since that is the programming language I used to develop my final year project.
“Are you proud of what you’ve achieved?”, the supervisor asks while rating the software I built and my final presentation.
“I never thought I could complete this. It was surreal!”, I can’t hide this Duchenne smile.
However, a few months post-graduation, I was too afraid to apply for a job. I had no confidence, no guide, no mentor. One day, I saw a newspaper advertisement. I did not hesitate and took up a short course. There, I learn more programming languages and tools. From PHP to MySQL, Linux and many others. I was then sent for 3-months on the job training as a ColdFusion developer. After the course ended, I almost made it to the .NET role but, it did not happen due to a pre-arranged offer.
At the age of 23, I became a Technical Support. I handled an ERP application. My first official role with salary.
“I want you to learn one new stuff, every day”, advise the COO on day one.
That’s how I started picking up my pen and paper to jot down information.
My day to day task was simple. I make and answer phone calls daily, I speak in broken English with customers. I also write the support log in broken grammar. I learn how to adapt to remote developers’ accents. It was a very routined task. I explored the basics I needed – listening, speaking, reading, writing.
The struggle comes about when I try to troubleshoot an issue before reporting it as valid bugs. I have no idea how to replicate properly as sometimes customers’ phone explanations are as-is. I have lots of blind spots. I do not know how the system works from the back-end. I have to reverse-engineered how I think.
For example, I have to use the 5W1H questions technique to stimulate my brain to figure out how to set the debit/credit configuration before generating the invoice with the right amount.
Once, I was sent by bus to a remote area with bad reception to do a mass on-site installation. The installation was unsuccessful due to viruses on the network. Nevertheless, I returned home safely past midnight. It was indeed my first and the last day trip job.
After six months as a Technical Support, I returned to a ColdFusion developer role with the company I went to for on-the-job training. The opportunity happened by accident. Hence, I took it thinking it would be a chance to reexplore .NET with a software house company. I worked on the same module I helped enhance previously. Also, I discover how to prioritise and manage production issues and what SQL script to prepare. Generally, the immediate resolution was a production patch to reduce the turnaround time. I record the production issues into the system and proceed with bug fixing and unit tests.
It was a short stint before I was offered an IT Consultant role within the same company at age 24.
“Can you talk with customers?”, asked the director while assessing my potential.
“Yes! I have prior experience communicating with customers via phone and face to face.”
I was brimming with confidence, knowing I could offer and contribute despite just six months of relevant experience. Little that I know that was an early sign of my future turning point in becoming a software tester.
“I want you to write an email every day of what you’ve learned”, remind the director.
There I was, a young IT Consultant. Each day, I will send a summary of “Today I Learned” to the director. My broken grammar gets better. I could form context-driven sentences and throw in questions – smooth like butter.
As I grew into this role, it was undoubtedly hectic. But, I get the most freedom to coordinate things my way; conducting the kick-off meeting, writing minutes of the meetings and Business Requirement Specification. It becomes handy as I can coin my coding experience into building the dynamic prototype and sometimes static mockups to fulfil the paperwork and POC demo. I learned new things like writing test cases with specific Excel templates and how to organise them in a centralised location. I explored how to execute SIT with relevant test data. I speak to myself a lot during this phase because there is no other software tester to discuss. Plus, I was isolated from any community.
I learn how to conduct UAT and mimic real-life scenarios with customer-centric data, estimate and execute the effort within timeline and manage end-users expectations. I picked up some dodging tricks when the codebase was fragile, yet the UAT must go on before things get stickier during signed-off. Besides, I learn how to write a user manual, plus training the end-user on how to use the system. I eventually wear my Technical Support hat when the production issue arises.
Five years in, I run my solo shows with trust and support from the company. This role was the solid st foundation I’ve ever built to prepare me for the challenges. I negotiate better with people. I’m comfortable saying no, and I feel confident to articulate my view. During this period, I managed to further my studies and graduated again after three years, where I took part-time coursework on software testing. Later on, I stumbled upon the opportunity to be an ISTQB certified tester at the foundation level. That learning experience becomes so relatable to all testing work that I’ve worked on before. Finally, I get to use the correct terminology, applying code of ethics and best practice to describe a software testing process besides others. All of these have subtly shifted my prior interest in becoming a .NET developer.
It was not long before I felt I had hit the ceiling. I realised I needed to go deeper into software testing, and that requires a new focus. I started researching for potential companies where I could learn all the tricks. I had a specific company name in mind for the transition. A year later, my dream came true. It took one person to understand my career aspiration and another person to see my potential. They are the recruiter and the hiring manager.
I finally joined the multinational company for the first time despite it being a contract role. The team has over 70 dedicated software testers who have been testing since the beginning of their career. I learn how to optimise my work using better enterprise tools, and I have like-minded colleagues to discuss various topics. Although I’m excited about the new environment, I am struggling in my first month. I was not running at a similar speed with those who onboarded the same batch as me.
Back then, I was always on the move and moving in a fast-paced. I have access to first-hand input from directors and customers. Now, I’m involved with SIT activities, and I do not have the luxury to reach out to the stakeholders directly. I had to learn, unlearn and relearn. I must adapt to the organisation’s way of work. I decided to discuss my concern with the manager on two things – how to balance my pace and how to narrow down my learning curve faster so I could remove these blind spots.
I was then paired with a few people to learn how to carry myself as an audience during product briefing, how to do mobile testing, how to use the defect tracking tool and test case management tool. Slowly, I get assigned to my solo project, more solo projects in a shorter time, and eventually leading projects with dedicated resources year after year.
“Do you believe you can change the world? It starts with you”, my hiring manager breaks the silence.
At this juncture, I am thankful for all the transferable skills I gained. Whenever I feel stuck, I see many things I have done in the past on a replay. I took a step back, slowly picked them up, and applied them to my new role while setting my footprint into this niche.
With all that I have experienced, where I could go next?
Options are aplenty. It could branch out into Project Management, Product Management or pursuing a Test Architect role focusing on the depth and breadth of software testing. Likewise, I could venture into consulting line offering Testing As A Service or building a software testing company of my own which is scarce in Malaysia. In this instance, I want to stay active as a community builder and continue sharing my knowledge.
“Do what you think is right.”
It was an honest view from someone who nurtured me when I was an IT Consultant. We were carpooling to the client site when the director candidly told me while discussing some project matters. Since then, it has become one of my favourite mantras to date. It gives me the confidence to decide how I should move forward in life.
So, I followed through and deliberately became a software tester. I am enjoying every life lesson that comes with it.
Know Our Writer
Safinah Mohd Zin
QA Lead at Digi-X
Safinah discovers her calling for writing when she struggles to express certain ideas and opinions in words. She loves bringing her audience on a journey through delicate storytelling weaving words into scenes. Still searching for her signature style she believes writing is a great medium to share meaningful insights and spread love and kindness.