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An Interview with Isabel Evans

  • 10/09/2009
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR

As a new addition to the EuroSTAR community, we will be interviewing prominent testers from across the globe – this is an interview with Isabel Evans from the UK.

– How did you get involved with testing initially?

I took my first role as a test specialist in the 1980’s at Metier Management Systems, after an interview and aptitude test; I’d had a few years out of the industry and was offered a test job rather than a programming job. Once I started, I realized how much more fun I was having than when programming.

– What have been the most challenging and exciting projects in your career to date?

The biggest challenges have been in business and infrastructure complexity, and in managing communication across organizations and time zones. People react so unpredictably. IT people make products that cause other people to have to change how they work and play; but are human so often dislike making changes to their own work and play behavior.

– What changes have you seen take place in testing over the past 5 – 10 years?

Many things that were seen as academic are becoming mainstream – when I took my computer science degree in the 1970’s we were taught about state transition and similar models but these were seen as academic and not of practical use, now of course they are taught to testers as foundational techniques. Much of what is seen as new in the industry has been around for years.  One change I have seen is testing becoming a separate discipline from the rest of IT over the last decades, but I wonder if it will remain so. I can see two thrusts for the discipline:  increasing closeness to the business and increasing need for technical knowledge. We will still need a pivot role to see both sides – but is that testing? I am not sure.

– Where do you feel testing as a profession is heading for in the future?

Are we a profession? Do we want to be? I think that is still up for debate. At present my own view is that we are not a profession yet, but that we should look at skills, development and roles needed around IT. We need to differentiate between an activity “testing” and the job title “testers”. Many people carry out testing; some people have the job title. We will always need testing, along with other QC and QA activities.  Will we need the job title?

– When you are not working, what do you do to relax and unwind?

I garden! Fruit and vegetables mainly. It has been a bumper year for fruit so I have been making preserves and pickles this summer.

– You have attended a number of EuroSTAR conferences, which was your favorite and why?

I’ve been inspired by something at every EuroSTAR conference I have attended – both keynote and track speakers. Something at every one I have attended has struck me as new, exciting or inspirational, as well as practical ideas and shared experiences. On a personal level, Barcelona was the first one at which I spoke so I have a soft spot for that one! I have always enjoyed speaking at EuroSTAR. I presented a tutorial in Manchester 2006 and then a keynote in Stockholm 2007; an honour to be chosen and tremendous fun to do.

– What specific areas of testing do you find yourself most attracted to?

Reviewing, test analysis and design, process improvement – these are all enjoyable!

– Who has been the greatest influence on your career? Why?

There have been many significant influences. Rick Keeble gave me my first testing job at Metier so got me into the whole testing and quality arena. Dot Graham has been an unfailing source of encouragement and inspiration since I first met her. Influence grows and changes over the years: the group in testing that influences me includes people like Neil Thompson, Graham Thomas, Stuart Reid; people I heard at conferences, debate with now and who I regard as friends as well as colleagues.

It’s a cliché to mention one’s parents in this context, but I have to; my father was a research scientist and my mother a teacher, and I observe patterns in my work behaviors inherited from both of them. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on the floor of my father’s laboratory playing with molecule models (I would be about 3) and listening in to “what if” discussions above my head. The idea of questions and experimentation was built in early on in my life.

– Where is your favorite holiday destination?

New Zealand and Cornwall are two favorites. Peace, quiet, fantastic coast line and countryside…

– If there was one piece of advice that you would give to an aspiring tester, what would it be?

I find myself incapable of suggesting just one piece of advice… Can I have several?

Learn to program. Learn to analyze. Learn to communicate well with others. Don’t be afraid to suggest ideas. Try to be positive.

– Who are your favorite bands? And what is your favorite song?

I don’t have a favorite band or favorite song, but I listen to a wide variety of music – it depends on my mood. Is it a clue if I say I prefer the Rolling Stones to the Beatles? I was given an ipod shuffle last year, and the juxtapositions are weird and amusing – blues, country and western, and rock interspersed with poems, requiems and opera.

– Last question, what qualities do you feel are important in order to become a talented test professional?

Someone I know – not in IT – said that one’s proper profession is the work one would do even if not paid for it, which gives pause for thought – that is one’s vocation I suppose. So a good question to ask is whether one’s chief motivation for testing is the financial reward or the pleasure of the work itself. I have enjoyed and learnt from the unpaid testing work I have done, for example with Stuart, Graham and others on testing standards.

I don’t think as an industry we have faced up to what is required to be a professional. For someone to be a talented test professional requires aptitude, education and experience over many years. Look for tolerance, an open mind, a good standard of literacy and numeracy, a questioning disposition but willingness to adopt new ideas, and excitement about one’s subject. Professionals undertake life-long study to improve their craft, have high personal standards of conduct, and take responsibility for their work. There is a duty to one’s clients, fellow professionals and to society at large. Not just doing what one has been asked to do according to the specification for the job, but questioning whether that is the right thing to do – for us, our team, our organization, our customers, society, and of course our families.

You know I could talk about this for some time – can I just refer to my EuroSTAR 2007 paper…? J

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