Talking Testing with Trish Khoo

As part of Gabbi Trotter’s talking Testing blog series she recently caught up with Trish Khoo, experienced software and test engineer who has worked for companies including Microsoft and Google before setting up her own consulting business in Brisbane, Australia in 2016.

Please can you introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your path into Testing….
I actually trained as a software developer but I was dissuaded from it early in my career and encouraged to be a tester instead. That sounds sad, but I ended up finding a passion for it and it led me to places I never dreamed of going in my career.

Looking over your LinkedIn you have had a varied and impressive career thus far, I can see back at Microsoft you first made transition from a being a Dev to a Tester, why did you decided to make this move?
My first job after graduating university with an honours degree in computer science was as a software developer with Microsoft. It was a graduate role just for one year in Sydney. I had a really tough time there for many reasons – I’d just moved to Sydney which can be a tough city to move to, I was having medical problems, and there were rumours at work that I’d only been hired because I was a “young, pretty, Asian girl”. To top it off, at the end of my contract my boss gently took me aside and said that he thought I didn’t really belong in software development, and I seemed like someone who would be better off in marketing or something. I really took this to heart, believing I wasn’t good enough to be a software developer even though I love programming. When I said I wanted to stay in tech, the boss encouraged me to try a job in testing which was also in Microsoft through a consultancy, so I took that job next. I learned a lot about test automation through that job and found my confidence in that profession but it took me a long time to rebuild my confidence as a software developer.

You have worked for some BIG name companies, where has been your favourite place to work and why?
I absolutely loved working at Google, although being part of an acquired company was a bit of a rollercoaster at times. But I think in my 15+ year career my favourite places to work have been the mid-sized startups like Wildfire and Campaign Monitor. Those places felt more like a family than a company, and I loved that we had the freedom to just focus on getting stuff done instead of worrying about politics and process.

Your now Self-Employed running Trish Khoo Consulting, why did this feel like the natural next step, and was it a scary decision to make?

When I left Google, I was going through the toughest time in my life. I’d just been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the daily symptoms were so bad for me that it became a life-or-death decision to leave work and get treatment. I was living in California at the time and I felt that it was safest to move back home to Australia to be in the care of my family. After about a year of treatment I felt well enough to return to work but I didn’t want to live in the US again or Sydney, so I moved to Brisbane.

One of the hard things about leaving Google to move to Brisbane was discovering that I was massively overqualified for every technical role, but it was hard to explain to people outside the Bay Area what kind of role I might actually be qualified for instead. So charging by the day seemed like a no-brainer to me, otherwise I’d never get paid what I’m worth in the testing space. I’ve faced scarier things in my life, so taking chances with my career seems pretty easy by comparison.

Recently I have been transitioning more towards training rather than consulting because there seems to be such a huge need right now for test automation training in Australia. I like teaching and mentoring so I’m looking forward to it.

As a recruiter I have noticed the recent spike in demand for Automation skills, what do you think has prompted this?
I think this is just a matter of testing keeping up with technology. Software is becoming more complex all the time, and testing has to evolve as well. To be honest, I think we will see a trend towards hiring testers with automation skills, then a trend in hiring developers with testing skills instead, then maybe a trend of machine behavioural trainers will turn up because of the rise of artificial intelligence at which point the “classic” testing skills might be hot again.

What advice would you give to a budding tester wanting to improve their automation skills, or wanting to learn automation from scratch? 
Take one of my training courses! I’m working on them right now, so keep an eye on my website and Twitter feed.

I hear a lot of testers talk about which tool they should learn or use and I’m designing my courses to be independent of that. With the right skills, the tools shouldn’t matter at all. Tools come and go every week in this industry so it pays to be adaptable in the long term. Learn programming and test automation core concepts and you will be ready for anything.

You recently expressed that in your opinion that all Tester should take the time to learn to code, why is this?

There are many good reasons, but the main one is that software testers work in the software industry. Even people outside of the software industry are starting to have to learn to code as part of their jobs, so it just seems crazy that anyone working within the software industry would think it’s optional for their career. Bottom line is that kids as young as 5 years old are learning to code, so what’s your excuse?

I don’t offer this as my demand for all testers, I offer it as sincere career advice because I don’t want to see good people lose their jobs!

You regularly partake in events and conferences, a hot topic at the moment is diversity. In your opinion are we being diverse enough at these events, and if not what is stopping this?
I think we’re getting better but there is still so much work to do. There are a lot of obstacles and I will probably do the whole movement a disservice if I name just one. I talk to a lot of men in the industry who recognise this as a problem but they just don’t know what to do about it. I think a good place to start is just by doing some hard work and researching stuff. Too often it gets thrown to the women in IT to solve this problem ourselves, and we already have enough on our plates trying to navigate the industry ourselves. As much as I feel very strongly about the issue, I don’t have the energy to spare becoming a diversity champion for the masses, and I really appreciate the male allies who help us out on this front.

We all know how important role models are, and how key representation is in general for #womenintech . I’d love to hear about the female #rolemodels who have played a part in your #tech career, and why having those people was important to you.
Two role models come immediately to mind. They are both senior engineering managers at Google who won awards for their management skills there.

I met Sibley Bacon when I was in San Francisco for a conference, and looking for jobs. A recruiter contacted me about a job at a startup called Lookout and I declined, but he suggested I meet their CTO for a chat anyway. So I met with Sibley, the CTO there and she was just such a fascinating and impressive person. She told me all about her experiences and research on being a woman in Silicon Valley and I left that meeting feeling very inspired. Just a year later, I ran into her at the bus stop on Google campus and it turned out we had both been hired by Google! Clearly it was fate. We kept meeting regularly after that and I learned so much from her about being a strong, confident manager. I think my favourite advice from her was when I asked how she goes about establishing her technical credibility with a new crowd and she said “F*** them, I don’t need to prove myself to anybody”. I stick by that now.

Peisun Wu was my manager when I worked for Google Maps in California. I was so lucky to learn from her on the job. She taught me how to be a very effective manager while still being very empathetic and calm. My favourite advice from her is “move boulders, and let the pebbles fall through the cracks”. It means that instead of responding to every issue that comes your way as a manager, keep your focus on the big problems because they are the ones that matter. You only have so much capacity, so channel your energy into the right problems and don’t be afraid to let the less important ones go.

When you are not consulting, talking at conferences, or blogging what does Trish Khoo like to do in her down time?

All sorts of things! I do a lot of artwork – last year it was acrylic on canvas and this year it’s mainly been gouache on paper. I play a lot of video games but I’m trying to make Pokemon Go the main one so that at least I go outside. I love to play complicated board games with my friends. I also host a dungeons & dragons game once a week as a game master for a campaign that I’ve written myself. And I sing all the time – mostly broadway songs but my brother and I are working on a Muse cover band for fun.

Last but not least your tweets about your cat brighten up my day and I am sure many others, can you tell us a bit more about him?

Aw, I’m glad he brightens your day as much as mine! I adopted this Tonkinese kitten a few months ago and he brings so much joy to my life. His name is Elias Phineas Gilderoy, but I call him Eli for short. Tonkinese are popular for their playful personality and this guy has that in spades. He’s also very affectionate – he gets excited when I come home and meows at me for cuddles. I get the same reaction when I wake up in the morning. Also about every 20 minutes when I’m trying to work at the computer. 🙂 Lately he’s been bringing me his favourite toy (a plush yellow Pikmin doll) as a present and dropping it on my lap, so I’m seeing if I can train him to fetch it and bring it back.

He’s getting pretty good at rolling a 20-sided die during our D&D games.

You can follow Trish Khoo on Twitter here! To stay updated on Gabbi’s Talking Testing blog series please follow her on Twitter or check out the latest posts here.

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