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Q and A with Maryam Umar

Q) What is your educational background and how did you come to be in the testing profession?

I did two degrees in Software Engineering.

Since school, I was always inclined towards computers and really enjoyed ‘thinking in pseudo-code’. During my Master’s degree, I had a module in software testing and I found my calling. My professor, Mark Harman, was really inspiring and I found my love for ensuring that the products created are always of top quality. I found my first job as a software tester and have never looked back since.

Q) What is it about this testing community that helps you and others thrive?

It’s always great to vent and discuss challenges with a wider community. Sadly, QA is still seen as an afterthought, and it’s good to learn how various people have tackled the same challenge differently around their teams.

Q) Why is it necessary to be a part of a community around us? Please state any pros and cons?

As I discussed above, the stronger the community the more you will learn about how to tackle the same problems. It’s about coming together for the common good of how we help deliver software for customers like ourselves.

Q) Why volunteering is more than necessary in today’s tech world?

The tech world today is very busy. New technologies and programming languages keep cropping up every day and it becomes very easy to lose sight of individuals who are entering the industry and how we can help them.

In recent years, I have found that being mentored and volunteering have played a huge part in my professional growth. When I have been stuck for ideas or direction, my mentors (Daniel Terhorst-North, Lisa Crispin, Isabel Evans, Jez Humble) have helped me think differently and in a more positive light. Volunteering for organizations like AnitaB.org has given me a greater sense of purpose and a strong sense of needing to give back to the industry which has so much to offer for young talent. It has also helped to go the extra mile to help provide options and opportunities to those who wouldn’t have a network otherwise.

Q) Imagine that there was no testing community, how would it be different for professionals then?

I don’t think society today has come to exist without communities. 

If there was none for software testing, most of us would continue to reinvent the wheel without having the opportunity to use multiple open source frameworks which make the lives of our engineers easier. Because of these, they can then concentrate more on the real value products provide to the end-users and how we can better improve them.

Q) You are in a flourishing conferring phase; what factors help you to continue to confer?

I don’t think I am in a flourishing conferring phase yet 😉 It’s a long road and a bit of a bumpy one too.

For the places I do speak at, I think these factors contribute hugely to delivering successful talks:

  • Originality
  • Authenticity
  • Real-world examples

Q) How do you make time for work, travel, confer, volunteer and be active in the community?

It’s not easy at all. A friend of mine said I have 3 jobs in total. My day job, public speaking, and volunteering.

It has taken some discipline, but I try not to let the other 2 interfere during my day job. I make a list of conferences every few months and make sure I keep track of them. I add volunteering days and meetings in my personal calendar and make sure I get reminders in time.

A few tips:

  • I have merged all my calendars in one so I can see my week in one view. Use color coding!
  • I check my twitter feed regularly every morning during my commute as well as non-work slack channels. I revisit these during lunch hour and just before bed as well.
  • I try to read. Books, articles or write. I try to do this at least twice a week.
  • Inform your manager in time for conferences and volunteering days.
  • Talk about your passion with work peers as well. You may accidentally inspire someone else as well 🙂
  • Every 3-4 months, I try to go on holiday.

Q) How do you unwind on a non-working day, any tips to our readers on activities that they can do to rejuvenate and be prepared for the next working day?

Listen to Music that makes you happy. Gardening. Read. Watch a couple of series (I don’t binge-watch). Laugh with my best friends. Make sure you make time for personal care. I also like to shop 🙂

On a Sunday, I try to plan my week. 

  • Sort out what I am going to wear during the week. 
  • Review my calendar
  • Decide on my dinner menu for the week
  • Sort out any lunches I need to arrange
  • If I am hosting in the upcoming weeks, I try to organize everything at least 10 days in advance. It helps me plan my weeks up to the event better.

Q) What are some of the ways in which professionals who are working from home get active and contribute to this testing community?

Use Twitter. Follow the people who have written some of the best books in our industry. Seek to have a conversation with them.

Watch conference talks. Most of the talks are now recorded and posted.

Write. A lot of people now write blogs on LinkedIn, Medium, etc. Ministry of Testing is also another great place to contribute.

Initially, you may feel that no one is reading my stuff. Don’t let that stop you. Ask people to review your content and share it with their network. Trust me. It does work and you’ll be surprised by the power of writing.

Q) What is/was the biggest challenge in your professional work and how did you seek help from the community around you to solve it?

It’s still very difficult to get buy-in for automated testing and quality becoming everyone’s responsibility in engineering teams. It frustrates me incredibly that QA professionals are brought in when the customer starts complaining. And not at the inception of the SDLC.

Every time I face these issues, I reach out to my mentors. I also reach out to the Women in Testing group and fortunately, I get a few options that I can explore to help solve the above issues.

All I will say is, you must not be afraid to ask. Don’t let hesitation stop you from reaching out for help.

Q) What is your message to those who have the belief that changing jobs is not easy or isn’t a viable option for their career and mostly feel stuck at the same job/workplace?

I always say, if you wake up in the morning and don’t feel like going to the office, it’s time for a change. Workplaces should be a source of joy and drive as that’s where you spend at least 40 hours every week. It’s the same choice we should make like we did when going to school and seeking higher education.

When changing jobs, again, reach out to your network to understand if you are stepping into yet another workplace which may cause you the same frustration. Use Glassdoor reviews. Do your homework for salaries. Reach out to recruiters who you have been successful with before. Always negotiate. And don’t make it look like you are running away from a problem.

You are valuable and you must always work in an organization which values you.

About the author

My entire thirteen-year career has been about assuring quality in products ranging from mobile to online restaurant to travel services. Currently, I work as a QA manager with a special focus on sustainable delivery practices. I have found that creating teams which work well together is more challenging than the projects to be delivered by them. I pay special attention to team dynamics and ensure engineers are in roles which give them a sense of purpose. I also work with them to put systems in place which help teams optimize flow and deliver high-quality products.

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