Interview-with-Jean-Ann-Harrison
Interview with Jean Ann Harrison

Jean Ann Harrison
Organization: Project Realms, Inc
Current Role/Designation: Quality Process Manager & Software Test Consultant
Location: Greater Boston Area, USA

Jean Ann has been in the Software Testing and Quality Assurance field for over 15 years including 7 years working within a Regulatory Environment and 8 years performing mobile software testing. Her niche is system integration testing with focus multi-tiered system environments involving client/server, web application, and standalone software applications. Mobile software testing includes mobile native apps, mobile hybrid apps, mobile web applications and mobile websites. Jean Ann is a consistent speaker at many software testing conferences, a Weekend Testing Americas facilitator as well as making guest appearances. She is currently a columnist in Software Magazine as well as conducting webinars on mobile software testing and writing for various publications. She is always looking to gain inspiration from fellow testers throughout the software testing community and continues to combine her practical experiences with interacting on software quality and testing forums, attending training classes and remaining active on social media sites. In her free time, Jean Ann enjoys watching and participating in various sports and in particular is a former competitive figure skater and working to gain back her skills to compete once again. Jean Ann loves participating in the fine arts including oil painting, attending symphonies, opera, music concerts and Broadway caliber theatre.

* Interviewed by Jay Philips

1. Tell us about your journey to becoming a software tester. How did it start and how this has been so far? Was it planned or by accident?
Like most software testers, I fell into testing by accident. My degree is in Political Science but I’ve often said that testing skills can come from any degree as long as you can separate the subject matter and apply the skills. I use exercises I had from my classes to help testers learn to think outside of the subject matter. As I took on various jobs, I learned from each one starting with administrative assistant outside of college. I was part of the very first IBM email test team. Remember those royal blue screens with yellow lettering? This is where I learned more about the discipline of testing and patience. Back then, using the telephone to connect to another computer was not instantaneous. Throughout the years I learned about how hardware worked and then through tech support, I learned more about how users expect software to behave. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who was generous with his time and since I am paying it forward. I try to share my experiences and knowledge with others.
My software testing journey has been one I would never want to change. Each step, each job, people I’ve met and worked with along the way have influenced me because I learned early on, I can get inspiration as long as I keep my eyes and ears open. Was my journey planned out? Not particularly software testing journey but definitely in making use of my skills was planned.

2. When did you realize your passion was software testing?
I started out in 1981, my second year in college with being teased with the ability to use some brand new computers in our lab in college. These two new computers were only for the use of Political Science students and not the typical Apple computers. These computers were Radio Shack’s TRS-80s and they were considered advanced from the other computers in the lab. I distinctly remember thinking “I can’t wait to get my hands on them” because they were special, because this was my first exposure to computers. I didn’t get to use them until my Junior Year but I was a goner at this point. I was in love. I knew computers were going to be a part of my career somehow.
When I first realized software testing was going to be THE career of choice, I had already been unofficially testing for more than 10 years. But I was doing tech support for an automated testing tool working for the most incredibly generous boss I have ever had who had been testing for years at that point. Learning about the skills of software testing while supporting this tool, I realized software testing justifies my need for challenges of investigative work I’ve always found fascinating. But what software testing offers me is the true satisfaction of something I’ve needed since I was a small child. I’ve often said I need “chaos within structure and structure within chaos” and software testing answers this deeply embedded need.

3. Do you regret being associated with software testing today? Given a chance would you move from testing to any other field in IT?
Absolutely not. Originally when I took my first programming classes 30 years ago, I thought I did want programming. It offered a creative option, deeply logical and very specific, machine like thinking. However, software testing offers these and more. I get great satisfaction out of helping and especially to make sure developers get the credit for the brilliant work they do produce. Finally I love finding buried treasure.

4. You just completed the Online Mobile Summit for Software Test Professionals. What topics were the most attended? Do you feel that there were any topics missed?
Yes, I just hosted the Mobile Online Summit where Software Test Professionals offers various mini-conferences which allow attendees to sign up and have an opportunity to learn from various speakers. It’s a great way to attend a conference without having to travel. Those who sign up, sign up for the entire Summit, and with sessions presented one at a time, the attendance is the same. We had a wonderful array of topics and speakers offering up their valuable experience and time. I think I would have liked a topic on creating a mobile testing lab and perhaps on automated mobile test design as well as mobile test design in general. I think software test design is not put in focus enough throughout training testers. There’s too much focus on “knowing the tool” which is useless if you’re not understanding how to design the tests for maximum test coverage. In the mobile test realm, project timelines are so short because mobile projects are thought to be “easy to test”, “not much to test”, “can automate everything”. Unfortunately the results prove to us the test coverage is minimal and more focus of combinatorial type testing, incorporating how hardware and operating system conditions affect software type tests, learn more about boundaries of mobile software. All of these tests take time, time not often given to mobile testing projects. More emphasis on test design and less emphasis on automation can help mobile testers cover more in those shorter time frames.

5. Will there be another online mobile summit? If so, when?
I hope there will be another one but nothing is scheduled at the moment. Any Online Summit put on by Software Test Professionals is so reasonably priced, it’s a great way to take advantage of the available training. But testers have to invest in themselves and there are many who do not take advantage. I do give away loads of free content, the “how” as well as ideas in critical thinking and give real examples. But there are so many other ways, so many other mobile testers who do the same. But testers have to be willing to make the effort to learn.

6. How do you define which mobile tests to automate?
The best tests in my experience to automate holds true to software testing in general: repeatable steps, repeatable tests which are easy to maintain, and saves time to conduct these tests. The types of tests are usually characterized as functional, performance, data validation tests. With Mobile Testing being in the toddler stage, perhaps up to pre-teen stage, the tools are getting better but not everything can or should be automated. There is still lots of information which needs to be fished out before we can automate 80 or 90% of our mobile tests. We don’t know what we don’t know and time to learn more about how conditions affect the software behavior.

7. In your career, what is the biggest or most influential testing lesson you had?
I often talk about a lesson I learned early in my testing career where the project I was assigned, the requirements were written by developers and communicated by the business users of the software. The testing team received the requirements at the same time as the first build. As I was reviewing the requirements assigned to me, one struck me. The requirement written was “phone number field is required.” I learned about how important testing requirements prior to design is vital to maintaining the project schedule. A couple of hours can save a week (and did) on meeting a project release deadline. I learned how important testers are to translating business language from developer’s language. I learned more about process from being a part of this project. And this lesson has shaped my approach to software testing as I strive to prevent bugs/issues/defects to occur before design. I strive to prevent the project having unnecessary delays

8. Do you have any advice for our readers on what to look for/out when implementing an automation framework for mobile testing?
First, plan out tests which you expect to be repeatable and not create an automation framework for the sake of implementing automation in a mobile testing project. I don’t think there is one right answer to this question but if first trying to implement automation in a mobile project, I would take the linear approach. Create a test framework where the most likely functional path would be taken by users. Of course this approach would mean testers or test designers must understand the type of users to test functional behavior. So automating what we can is important but those test types which would help the tester to reach the goal of solid test coverage has to be planned prior to testing. This approach will give a solid coverage for most common usages of the software application. The mobile software tester needs to take advantage of automation but understand this is not going to guarantee complete test coverage.

9. What is your next big idea?
Well, I have lots of ideas. But I am working on a series of presentation topics where I might create into webinars or I might create into conference presentations regarding the intangible skills a software tester needs, more focus on test design and mobile test design exercises. I also thought I would share an article idea on software test influencers and share exactly how a few have inspired me by sharing what the result was. I have some ideas which are in the works but I don’t want to share just yet, however there are plenty projects in the works for the next year.

10. According to you, what is lacking in today’s commercialized training industry, especially in Selenium Training?
I won’t comment on Selenium Training specifically because I’ve not used Selenium in any of my past projects and from what I know Selenium is an appropriate tool for web application testing.
With regards to the commercialized training industry, what I find is many commercialized programs constantly promote “best practices” and I do challenge these programs by asking “what criteria did you use to claim your program is the best? Did you test your program against others?” What bothers me most though is that test managers think testers must follow “best practices” when they don’t know for themselves do not consider what would work for their projects and company culture. One size does not fit all.
I like programs which teach skills and offer examples, challenge the testers with lessons on conceptual thinking and possibilities of application to the tester’s situation. Sometimes taking the subject matter out of the training program is the way to get testers to look at their training with a different perspective.

11. What qualities will you look for in a candidate when you want to recruit someone for software testing job?
For me, every tester I interview to be a part of my team must be able to think. I will pick up on a skill the tester claimed they have on their resume or CV and ask them questions how they can showcase that skill based on a situation I have known. The tester must prove to me then can figure out how they think by offering ideas utilizing that skill. There is no right or wrong answers, I just want to see if the candidate can think. This is how I know they are capable of performing to my expectations. I need to know if I give you an assignment, that you can perform the task on your own. I look for candidates who can share their own experiences with real examples rather than just quoting a training class, certification exam or some book. Every skill on a resume will be questioned and I don’t look for meaning. I look for experiences and examples. If you know you are going to be interviewed by me, come prepared with stories of experience and examples

12. What will you suggest to people who want to join IT industry as software testers?
One of the best ways to start and continue your education is to participate in monthly Weekend Testing Sessions offered in various time zones. You can find more about these free practical testing sessions at www.weekendtesting.com. This way you can participate in testing sessions to learn if you like doing the testing. I also suggest for interested testers to check out classes/webinars from Software Test Professionals as well as Association for Software Testing organizations. If able, check out the various software testing conferences. But online, get involved in the software testing community utilizing social media. There are so many wonderful conversations, pointers to very educational blogs, direct access to some of the most experienced testers to ask questions. These activities for the most part are free or small financial investments.
The best advice I think I can offer is: don’t ever take one person’s point of view as the only answer. Always look for lots of opinions based on experience. Then as you experience, formulate your own opinion.

13. Name few people you would like to thank, people who helped you directly or indirectly in your career as a software testing professional.
The first person I must personally recognize is my mentor, Joe Strazzerre who writes a blog called “All Things Quality”. He is one of the most patient trainers you will find and so generous with his time. I always admired his passion for software testing and learned more from his example than I did from our whiteboard one on one training sessions.
Others I wish to thank: Dawn Haynes who has always shown incredible generosity. We’ve spent so many hours discussing software testing philosophies, situations, gone through exercises. I’ve learned so much about software testing from Dawn. She’s opened up my mind to looking at a situation in a different way. She’s a sounding board where I like to “test out” ideas. Dawn is an excellent testing trainer and tester. I would highly recommend anyone to sign up for her classes. You get more than just the steps of software testing classes.
I wish to thank performance test engineers and performance engineers: Scott Barber, Mark Tomlinson, James Pulley, Eric Proegler, Dan Downing, Scott Moore and many others for helping me see things in a different way. Learning to assess performance in software testing applications has inspired me to see how performance permeates throughout all of software testing and inspired strong test cases and more complete test coverage. The opening of a new perspective in how I look at software testing is a special gift. I’ve learned so much from performance engineers as a whole and from each listed specifically.
I have to thank those who influenced me in mobile testing and in particular in the regulated environment: Griffin Jones, Ben Yaroch, Kent Allen, Jonathan Spurgin, Peter Nguyen, Mark McNabb, Todd Keitel, Dan Gill, Olivia George, Dr Phil Lew, Jon Hagar, Karen Johnson, Raj Submaranian were all directly influential in my mobile training journey. The conversations, the afterhours discussions, the humor, the patience all played strong roles in shaping my approach to mobile software testing.
Finally, I would like to thank the Software Testing Community as a whole. I’ve learned so much, the kindness shown to me when needed most. I have learned I’m not alone in my passion for my pursuit of learning more about software testing. I learned I’m not the crazy one in spending so much time on my own, learning new techniques. I learned there is a community willing to help as long as you know to ask for it. I learned as a software tester, I need to do the work, but I will get shown the path if I’m willing to commit to the work.

14. One last question – Do you read Testing Circus Magazine? If yes, what is your feedback to improve this magazine?
What about adding a small section on testing games you can teach your testing team? Share a strategy for a game. How about a snippet on skill you can share with your testing team with examples? For example: Exploratory Testing, explain definition and describe some ways to conduct ET sessions. Or a humorous section about testing. Dilbert is always good to share if you are allowed to distribute. You could do all these by inviting specific testers to share but keep it all varied so not one person is always committed to doing an entry.
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Twitter ID – @JA_Harrison

 

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