Working for an IT company like Red Gate Software Ltd presents both opportunities and challenges. Robin Anderson talks us through his role as a Test Engineer.
Causing problems is something most people avoid. Test engineers on the other hand, get paid to make a science of it.
It’s not just mindless button-bashing; to be effective requires an academic approach to analysing the software you’re working on.
Testers will need to employ lateral thinking as well as traditional logic, as it’s more than just programming. You’ll be working against the mind-set of the software developer, trying to catch him out and challenge his assumptions.
It’s a rewarding career for a technical individual with plenty of opportunity to learn a great deal.
What do tester engineers do?
Testers examine software for any type of defect. This is our core role and involves writing programs and creating environments to simulate the load and abuse that real users will place on the product.
However, the job invariably involves considerably more than just finding bugs. Modern development practices mean that all members of the development team are involved in project planning, specification and other related discussions.
How did you get your job at Red Gate Software?
I found out about the company through a friend and submitted my CV and a covering letter online. At Red Gate, candidates normally go through a two stage interview process that covers technical ability and team fit.
What is a typical day like for you?
The day starts with a quick stand-up meeting with my immediate colleagues. We brief each other on yesterday’s work and mention what today’s work will be. Throughout the rest of the day, project work will fit in-between lunch and meetings. Interruptions can be frequent. These could be support cases that have been escalated to the development team, marketing campaigns or internal projects that require IT work – or any other ad hoc technical work as testers generally double up as excellent IT personnel.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Being able to play with computers all day and learning from the people around me.
What are the most stressful parts of the job?
A tester can never be completely sure that a product is defect free.
Taking responsibility for saying “yes, we can ship this product” means working very hard when the release date is close – a time when developers will stop work and allow testers to work on a single version. It’s a time when testers are particularly valuable, but also when they’re least amenable to distractions and side projects.
What would you like to achieve in the future?
Within a few years I would like to run my own project team and manage a new product. This is possible for anyone with the potential, as the job exposes you to all aspects of product development and management.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Get a numerate degree, 2.1 or First; maths, science, computer science and engineering are the usual backgrounds of tester candidates. However, experience trumps qualifications – so related work that demonstrates intelligence and technical ability will get you an interview.
What was the interview process like?
The interview process was designed to be as stress free as possible. There were two interviewers: one person I would ultimately be working with and the other is a manager who was previously a tester.
The second interview was less technical and more personal and conducted by two people (in rare cases a candidate may be rejected if they wouldn’t fit into the company culture, or the second interview can be used for more technical questions). I was contacted within a day or so with a confirmation.
The whole process was quick and efficient and having now conducted many interviews myself, know how much effort goes in to make the process as quick and pain-free as possible.
Any advice for the interview process?
Read through your own CV carefully as you’ll almost certainly be asked to elaborate on any claims you make. If you know that the company you’re applying to uses particular technologies or programming languages, spend a few evenings or so brushing up on the fundamentals, as this can make any worked examples more relevant.
Is there a work/life balance?
Definitely. On rare occasions you may be responsible for something out of usual office hours, but with flexitime and a relaxed office atmosphere you can work around your other interests in life. For example, many people at Red Gate play sports during lunch and work later to compensate. Some work only four days to give them more time with their families.
What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome these?
Learning about the necessary technologies used at Red Gate was the first challenge. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information online to aid learning and new starters are given inductions by experienced colleagues who they can later quiz if required. This helped me become a valuable team member more quickly.
What ‘soft skills’ have you found useful?
Being able to work efficiently with a variety of personalities requires good communication skills.
In general, interpersonal skills are vital in any job where you are relied upon by others. Tester engineers will find themselves working closely with developers, designers, technical authors, managers and customers.
Another important ‘soft skill’ that can dramatically affect productivity relates to the fact that technical workers work best with large contiguous blocks of time that they can use to really focus on a particular task. However, managers are very fond of meetings and other things which interrupt the workers preferred schedule.
Discussions with other colleagues will also disrupt someone who’s ‘in the zone’. Understanding how you work best and managing time accordingly makes a big difference.