Software Test Engineer | 16 Jan 17

Growing up I wanted to be a horse trainer, to which my mom said “that’s a great hobby; what do you really want to do?”

What do you do?

I’m a Senior Software Test Engineer.

What led you to your current role?

I went to school for Computer Engineering at Iowa State. I’m originally from Minnesota, part of the medical device world. Out of college, I got a job as a software test automation engineer for a small contracting company that worked on neural stimulators. Unfortunately, that company went under after one project, so I took a contracting job with the company they were supporting, migrating one of their systems from IBM to OSX and to Windows.

When my contract ended, I took on another project as a firmware test engineer. I was ahead of schedule, so I started working on their website testing as well. This got me into the world of web testing.

I decided to take a two-year leave from the medical industry to try something else; I got my MBA and moved down to Florida, where I worked for a student information system. Having a passion for quality, I discovered that it was really not this group’s focus. When I arrived, they told me that they had a release the next day that contained 1,500 known defects. It got to the point where schools were relying on defective code, and wanting to enhance defective code. After those two years, I decided to go back to Minnesota and get back to the medical device industry.

While I was there, I got a cold call from Disney. I moved to Seattle to work on some of their projects up there, then moved down to the LA area where I worked as a Software Development Engineer in Test. After a couple of years there, I moved to my current group to lead their quality efforts.

What did you want to be growing up?

I wanted to be a horse trainer, to which my mom said “that’s a great hobby; what do you really want to do?” I decided maybe a veterinarian. It seemed reasonable; both my grandparents went to Iowa State, which has a great veterinary program. I got to school and was a pre-vet major for two weeks. The program had a handful of residency policies, and I soon realized that I would be competing for 250 non-resident spots in their veterinary program. I’d always been interested in computers, and my mom, again said “why not be able to afford your horses?” So computer engineering it was.

What hobbies do you have that are unrelated to your current field?

I own horses and dogs. My dogs do agility and I’m active with animal rescues. Since I don’t do that in my day job, I think that’s a way to give back and fulfill that passion for animals in my spare time.

What is your first memory of being intrigued by technology?

My first memory of being in love with technology was in high school, when I got to write my first Visual Basic program. I was so excited to program my first video game, which of course revolved around a horse. It was a little pony that moved by itself, and the ground moved underneath it. It was a way for me to blend my love of animals with technology.

My first computer class was in fourh grade; they taught typing, and we played Oregon Trail. Our first computer at home was a little terminal that my mom had set up for work; we had the big fat yellow pages index of websites. It was a DOS-based system; shortly after that, we got our first IBM.

Do you remember feeling encouraged or discouraged about going into technology?

I was extremely fortunate to have parents who are very science-oriented. My mom was a nurse and an administrator for family practice clinics. My dad was a biologist and manager for the water division of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

When my sister was eight years old, she proudly announced that she wanted to be a molecular biologist on the space station; my family has always been very science-oriented. I finished all of my high school science courses by sophomore year, so I tutored my junior and senior years.

My family has always been supportive, and I had some amazing teachers in school who were incredibly supportive. I never once felt like I couldn’t do it.

What motivates you?

Right now, especially in my current job, I love making people happy. I love the magic of Disney. I remember going to Disney World as a child, and taking my nephew there just this past year and seeing the wonder on his face.

Working with medical companies, I saved lives. Every sixty seconds, our device saved a life. I get motivated by big things. I have a passion towards quality and making people happy, and that’s where testing comes in. We’re that final check.

Have you had mentors or champions along the way?

I’ve been blessed when it comes to mentorships. My mother is a phenomenal example of somebody who grew up on a farm, her dad gave her $25 and said “go to college.” Worked her way through college, got a nursing degree. She started out as a nurse, and saw a manager position open. Applied for it and happened to get it; when she retired, she was administering six different family practice clinics, doing union negotiations and finances for one of the largest HMOs in Minnesota.

My dad started out as a biologist, worked his way up to a manager. By the time he retired, he was not only managing but also sponsoring bills for water quality and making appearances in the legislature. So I have two very driven parents.

I am not a shy person, so I’ve been blessed with getting meetings with VPs and CTOs who have been helpful in giving me advice. I have a VP mentor who is phenomenal. His number one rule is “don’t work for a bad boss.” He’s helped me put in perspective that you have to be happy at your job. I have another mentor who kicks me in my butt. He always challenges me to go further.

When it comes to not being afraid to ask for meetings with VPs and executives in the company, I usually pick two or three technology topics that I’m an expert in. When I go talk to people, I can say “here is my expertise, here is what I can do.” You can go in and say “let me tell you about myself.” Highlight what you’re good at. If you’re passionate about something, they’ll want to know more.

What are your favorite or most-used tools?

Google Apps have changed my world, I have to say. For automated testing, I’ve found the Cucumber framework to be fabulous. I use a number of the JetBrains IDEs: IntelliJ, WebStorm. For test management, I’ve been using QTest.

What do you want to learn next?

I constantly learn. One of my biggest flaws is that I try to learn a little bit of everything; Jack of all trades, master of… some. I’ve come pretty far in the software quality world; I’ve presented at conferences, I’ve championed and led quality efforts. If I stay in quality, I’d like to move into a manager role where I can start mentoring. If I don’t do that, I’m looking at different areas of technology to pivot to. Systems engineering is interesting, as is program and project management. I enjoy learning, so whatever is available, I’m excited to learn.

What advice do you have?

Don’t stop being curious, and don’t let other people’s ideas and thoughts hold you down. Network, and talk to people. Remember that there is nothing wrong with being a woman in technology; you don’t have to be ruthless, you don’t have to try to compete. I’m domestic; I bring in cookies, I bring in crafty little things. Be yourself, and find something you’re good at, where your passion is. Follow that, and don’t be afraid to market yourself.