Women in Software Test - Women in Technology

The Women in Test Series

Women in Test is a series focused on women in the software testing world, and the ways they advocate for inclusivity and diversity in the discipline. The software industry has traditionally been a homogeneous field, but as we know, times are changing. Leadership and employees alike have begun to recognize the value of diversity, even as they often struggle to practice it. Speaking to an industry undergoing intense change in its makeup, our series participants share their stories, thoughts and advice as advocates for inclusion and diversity in test.

 

An Interview with Jenny Bramble

Jenny Bramble’s Twitter tagline says she “Tests code, pets cats, speaks at events, drinks coffee, goes to shows, wears boots, acts theatrical, does things.” This may be the understatement of the year, because as you’re about to read, Jenny does things…a LOT of things!

Jenny’s done it all, from support to DevOps to test. Currently, Jenny calls WillowTree Apps home where she’s a software test engineer specializing in Risk-Based Testing (RBT). Jenny is also a passionate advocate for diversity, both in test and in the world.

My introduction to Jenny’s work came while researching a piece on RBT. I found this YouTube video showcasing her knowledge of risk-based testing, her personality, and her cat Dante. It seems felines are the perfect creature to help illustrate risk-based thinking in software!

I spent a fun hour with Jenny and Dante (and Dante’s new kitten, Dax) via Hangout. We talked about RBT and the great things that happen when we include people who interface differently with the world in our software testing process.

The day before Jenny and I chatted the Twitter test community blew up over a DZone tweet. DZone, “one of the world’s largest online communities and leading publisher of knowledge resources for software developers.” (their words, not mine) had just tweeted a Top 10 list of ‘Test Influencers’ who were all men, and 90% white.

Jenny called them out, because she does things, right?

DZone’s response? “We missed some great people on this list, and we apologize for that. While we believe everyone in our original post is worthy of being on this list, we’d like to make this an opportunity to hear from technical experts like yourselves to build more inclusive lists in the future.”

Unfortunately, DZone’s response left me a little underwhelmed, so I decided to start our chat by getting Jenny’s take on their response.

 

QualityLogic: What’s up with DZone’s ‘Top Automated Testing Influencers’ list? What do you think of their response?

Jenny: Members of the Twitter test scene kicked the list around on Slack and realized no one could find a common thread pulling the ‘Top 10” together. Other than being men, these weren’t prolific speakers, writers, or tweeters. They were simply men in test.

“We were just talking about it on Slack and couldn’t figure out why they picked those humans. I am not sure anyone asked what they actually used to compile the list. Which, you know, goes to show these things are dang arbitrary anyway. Really, they had no good answer. If a respected voice in testing is going to put something like this on social media, then it needs to represent the true test world.”

Jenny told me she sees a huge amount of diversity in the audience at conferences like TestBash and AgileDays and wanted to make sure DZone recognized how their list promotes exclusion. She also pointed out that lists like these often represent the unconscious bias of the list maker.

 

QualityLogic: What does that mean, the unconscious bias of the list maker? And, how can we begin to identify our biases?

Jenny: We tend to seek out people we identify with. This feels true, right? We can be uncomfortable around people who are different than us, and usually feel more comfortable around people with similar interests, ideologies, and appearances. It’s part of being human.

Jenny bases her advocacy on this idea, that the trick to making diversity comfortable is to first understand we humans do this thing, then make a conscious effort to embrace the differences. Only then can we see the benefits of a non-homogenized world, especially in software testing.

 

QualityLogic: What value does diversity in test bring?

Jenny: “Users are all different, and we need to represent and evaluate from these differences to create successful products.”

Jenny pointed out that factors like socioeconomic status, education level, personal experience, brilliantly colored hair or a love of funky boots, in addition to skin hue, gender presentation or differently-abled bodies are all ways a person can be diverse. It’s up to the software tester to represent this spectrum.

Jenny leverages her work in risk-based testing to help her understand and advocate for the value of diversity.

“People see risk differently”, she said, “this is why diversity, the people who interface differently, are so important.”

In risk-based testing we need to leverage varied viewpoints to evaluate and prioritize software risks. If we do this, says Jenny, then we’re able to create products to “address the needs of the Silo of Humanity” rather than silos of user groups. (Side note: Jenny’s wit shines when she’s speaking to her passions. Silo of Humanity is prime Jenny, an impromptu phrase that prodded me to think about my unconscious bases!)

 

QualityLogic: So, diversity of ‘interface’ causes users to see risk differently? Why does this matter?

Jenny: Jenny offered an example of a music app she tested. For some reason, there were three different ways to download music, and this caused conflicts that broke the app. The thing was, no one realized the third way existed, until Jenny ran UX tests. Lo and behold, they found a user who took the road less traveled!

“You never know what path a user finds intuitive, but you have to anticipate the risk they’ll find a different path. What will that path mean for functionality? Evaluate it, does it matter? Yes? Then be like a cowboy.”

 

QualityLogic: Like a cowboy? Jenny, you’re going to have to explain this…

Jenny: Like a cowboy herding cattle.

“You’re not trying to get your users to walk single file, you’re trying to get the majority of them to head in the same direction.”

If you’ve ever seen a cattle drive you know Jenny speaks truth. Cattle aren’t hemmed in single file. Instead they’re all meandering in the same general direction and will eventually get where they’re going. Not that Jenny thinks users are cattle, oh no! Rather, it’s an apt metaphor for reducing the risk your user will find, and take, the path less traveled. That would be more like herding cats.

 

QualityLogic: What mentoring advice do you give underrepresented individuals?

Jenny: “One great way to know whether a company is giving lip service or truly practices diversity is to look at the interview panel. It is usually comprised of ‘genres’ of people they want to hire. Is there diversity in this organizational presentation? If not, it may mean they don’t understand the value of diverse thought. They may be seeking presentation related skills, rather than performance related.”

At one point, Jenny was the only female with non-traditional attire on a panel interviewing a developer. Afterwards, this person told Jenny she was the only reason they accepted the position. They had concerns that the homogeneity of the rest of the panel was representative of the company culture but decided that Jenny’s presence balanced the scales. A happy ending for the interviewee, and a great tip for judging company culture.

One thing Jenny wants to eliminate for underrepresented groups in software testing is imposter syndrome. We’ve all probably felt this before, but it can be a huge barrier for those who interface differently. Jenny suggests keeping a notebook on your desk and noting each time you have a growth interaction, did a new thing, mentored someone or got mentored, asked an insightful question, got or gave constructive feedback, or had a positive social interaction.

Keeping a journal detailing personal growth moments and social interactions will help “build an accurate picture of how others see you. Neither your picture or their picture are actually accurate–the truth is somewhere in the middle. But, by seeing their picture and your picture, you can often find a common ground that is more true than either separately.

Jenny pointed out an added benefit of keeping a growth journal, they’re handy tools when it’s time to “articulate your value and your skills to others and be a means to clarify your worth to yourself. Then, you can act with confidence!”