Talking Testing with Beth Marshall

As part of her Talking Testing blog series, Gabbi Trotter recently caught up with Beth Marshall, a Software Tester with 10 years’ experience in the industry about her experiences:

Hey Beth, can you introduce yourself and give us all a brief idea of how you became a Tester in the first place…
I can indeed. My name is Beth Marshall and I’m a Software Tester, working predominantly in Leeds but previously as far afield as Southend (which is about as glamorous as it sounds) and New York – (sadly nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds!). As with so many others, I fell into testing. I was working as a Project Administrator for the award-winning software consultancy BJSS.

I was asked if I’d like to re-write some existing badly structured test scripts (basically because I was good to work with and could string a sentence together!). I said yes and went from there, moving over time into Test Management, particularly in the Foreign Exchange and Commodities trading sectors. At the time I was the first in the company’s history to move from a non-billable into a billable role, so a bit of good fortune, a great mentor and a lot of hard work paid off, and I’ve never looked back!

You’ve been a contractor for the past few years now, how hard was it making that leap, and did you have any moments of doubt?
Although I loved being a “permie”, and had the best training ground to learn how to be a good tester at BJSS, I have to say that contracting was not the scary world I thought it would be. I had some great advice from colleagues on where to start and now find contracting really liberating. I love meeting new teams and not knowing what job I’ll be doing in 12 months is exciting to me. Seeing other testing colleagues struggling to find their next contract has made me a little nervous at times, but I’ve been lucky that most of the roles I’ve secured have been through personal recommendation so I haven’t needed to get into that panic mindset – touch wood!

You interact a lot with your local test community via LinkedIn and Twitter, how important has it been to you to have that community alongside you?
It’s massive – not only as a support network and a source of inspiration but also genuine advice I have used in my day job, particularly when working in an “omega” test team e.g. just me! For example – after reaching out on LinkedIn, Gabbi put me in touch with a local automation guru (you know who you are) who, for the price of a few coffees, was able to review the Selenium Webdriver/NUnit framework I’d put together. Luckily he gave my design the thumbs up and recommended a few tweaks I was able to implement immediately – the client liked it so much they are rolling it out to other products in their business, and the reassurance I got from this was immeasurable.

As a contractor you need to adapt and learn quickly, how do you deal with learning new tools on the job?
I always expect that its going to take some out of work time to get on top of things. Also, I know its OK not to know everything straight away. Anyone that expects this of you just because you’re a contractor isn’t being reasonable – the important thing is to know the right people to ask and to get the information you need without endlessly badgering them, as recognising people are likely to have more important priorities than knowledge transfer to a newbie helps ingratiate you into a new team. I have a rule where I try not to ask same question twice – instead I note down everything or record the conversation using software such as Snagit so I can absorb it in my own time.

In your opinion do you need to be a highly experienced Automation Tester to be successful as a contractor?
Well, I’m living proof that’s not true! In the sorts of places I work, I’m usually not the most technically gifted person in the room. It has taken me a long time to overcome my Imposter Syndrome and accept that I can still have a successful career regardless of that fact. Great testers do a lot more than automate testing, which in my experience is rarely the silver bullet it is hoped to be.

However, that isn’t to say that automation isn’t important, and its definitely something I’m working hard on, but I’ll never stop trying to think like an end user, and be an advocate for their needs. My aim isn’t to be a dev-in-test type specialist, it’s to remain a generalist who can continue to turn their hand to automation if it adds business value – there is definitely space in the market for more contractors like me, as well as the specialists.

When meeting with a new potential client how do you explain/convince them of the value a Tester can bring?
Although James Bach has an interesting take on this, as a pragmatist I feel it is important to know the value you can add – the reality is any contractor is a large overhead and they need to pull their weight. I like to understand what problem a client wants to bring in testers to solve. I also try to look for extra opportunities to justify my salary – one contract saw me giving product demos to hundreds of end users, producing training videos and in some cases acting as first line support, another saw me creating customer journeys, attending user research sessions and interviewing candidates. I’ll turn my hand to whatever helps the business succeed and fundamentally I think this is how you keep your foot in the door.

You’ve worked for some of the biggest names in Tech across the Yorkshire area. What do you like about working in Yorkshire?
That’s very nice of you to say so. I love working in the North, compared to other places I’ve worked I find the people to be straightforward and a good laugh. It also has great consultancies which work for global names, as well as massive public sector employers such as the DWP and NHSDigital, so you won’t have to keep it local if you don’t want to. I’m lucky there is more than enough work to sustain a career in and around the tech hub that is Leeds, as experience has taught me that being close to family, friends and importantly my own bed is more appealing to me than being on the road.

Over the last 10 years’  you’ve been a Tester how have you seen the Yorkshire tech scene change?
It has professionalised a lot more, and like-minded people are creating more opportunities to network and get together. For example, the adult coding tuition and support group CodeUp has recently created a Leeds chapter. I’m a big fan of the work done by Northcoders (a Manchester-based coding bootcamp) and feel the time is right for a similar operation in Leeds too. But there is more to do. Neither of the above are focused on testers or automation in particular, and I still feel there is a missing space where inexperienced automation testers can skill up, because I know plenty looking to add this string to their bow – if anyone reading this wants my help to make this happen get in touch!

Keep an eye out for more blogs in Gabbi’s Talking Testing series, or follow Gabbi on Twitter for more updates!

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