Interviewing a Testing Expert - Elisabeth Hendrickson [Part-1]

I know, it has been a really long time since I published any of my testing interviews with a software testing expert from around the globe. So here I'm again; and this time I'll be interviewing Elisabeth Hendrickson from Test Obsessed. [Feel free to visit her blog to know more about what she has been doing and about all the interesting testing stuffs she has been carrying out of late; of course  after you've finished reading this interview here first :)]

For those who haven't known her, she is one of those rare breeds of experienced testers who have been in the software development for past 3 decades. She has held positions as a tester, developer, manager, and quality engineering director in a variety of companies ranging from small start-ups to multi-national enterprises and today I'll be interviewing her here on Software Testing Tricks.

Since this interview grew bit lengthier, for the sake of easy readability I have decided to present it in 2 parts. So, here is what Elisabeth has to say:

Debasis: What led you to become a software tester? And what was the topmost reason that attracted you to the field of testing?

Elisabeth: I became a software tester entirely by accident. Back in the early 1990's I accepted a 4 week contract to help a QA group automate their test configuration setup. I had the UNIX scripting and database skills they needed. In my first week onsite, I realized that I'd found home. Testing enabled me to leverage my odd combination of technical skills, communication skills, and analysis skills in creative ways that I had not been able to in other roles (including programmer, technical writer, and 2nd level support). The 4 week gig turned into 4 years of employment.

Debasis: Did you try testing anything other than software before diving into software testing?

Elisabeth: Not intentionally. In retrospect, I can see that I was destined to be a tester however. I was one of those kids who took apart mechanical clocks and old electronics to see how they worked, and then couldn't get them back together or working again.

Debasis: Tell me 5 unknown/least-known facts about you.

Elisabeth: 1. I had not traveled outside North America before 2001. (I've now visited 19 countries and consider international travel to be one of the great benefits of my work.)

2. I find it much, much easier to learn new computer languages than human languages.

3. I collect folk music from all over the world. My current favorite: Finnish folk.

4. I have a white belt in Nia, a movement form that combines dance arts, martial arts, and yoga. ( See )

5. I tried waiting tables in college and was terrible. They would have fired me but I quit first. I admire anyone who's good at waiting tables; it's really hard.

Debasis: What was the hardest challenge that you found in your career as a tester?

Elisabeth: I found it most challenging when I was a QA manager in an organization that had severe quality problems and an executive team who didn't want to hear bad news. It was so hard to tell the truth in that environment. There were times when I just wanted to pretend I had not seen a bug so I wouldn't have to fight with the executives or the developers about it. While I never did pretend not to see a bug, I am sure my testing was not as good as it should have been because I unconsciously wanted to avoid discovering bad news.

Ultimately, I quit because I could see that I would not be able to contribute effectively. Four months after I left, the company was dead. My team (jokingly) accused me of having inside knowledge of the company's imminent demise. But truly, I had no idea the company was about to fail. All I knew was that I had no idea how to help.

That experience reinforced two critical lessons:
1. Always always always tell the truth.

2. When you realize there is nothing that you can do to help your project, team, or organization, it's time to leave.

Debasis: Tell me about the most satisfying moment in your testing career.

Elisabeth: There has not been just one most satisfying moment; there have been many. I derive great satisfaction from helping teams and individuals, participating on successful projects, and creating things that stand the test of time.

But let me choose one moment to tell you about: deploying software that just plain worked.

It was 2pm on a Friday afternoon, the day we were scheduled to go live with It's a website for taking charitable contributions for specific projects, so while it's not safety-critical, it is financially critical. I was a member of the implementation team at Pivotal Labs, where we built that first release. We decided to start the deployment process at 2pm so that we would have a full 3 hours to resolve any issues before the end of the day.

We deployed. We checked the deployment. I used my own personal credit card to make a donation to a worthy cause. And by 2:15pm we were all looking at each other saying, "OK, it's live. Now what?"

Deploying the first live release was a complete non-event. And that made me grin from ear-to-ear.

Drew McManus, one of the founders of Bring Light, Inc. and the person who played the role of Product Owner (PO) on the project, has given me permission to talk about it publicly. And he deserves a lot of credit for its success. As the PO, Drew had a clear vision of what he wanted us to build and was able to make good decisions about what was in-scope and out-of-scope.

As a team, we worked really well together. And we applied sound engineering practices including Test Driven Development (TDD), automated end-to-end acceptance tests, Continuous Integration (CI), and Paired Programming. We succeeded because we tested throughout, and had fast feedback. As a result, we minimized the number of late-stage surprises. So the project released on time with high quality, and Drew was delighted with the results.

In fact, there was only one bug in the first several months of use that required a quick-turnaround-bug-fix. And that issue was something that other organizations I'd worked with in the past would have considered a low priority, customer-education issue.

That was one of the best projects of my whole career. And that Friday, at 2:15pm, I knew it was a huge success, and something that I was really proud to be a part of.

Debasis: Tell me of any situation when you had wished you were NOT a tester!

Elisabeth: I've never wished that I were not a tester. I have, however, wished to have more influence over quality than being an end-of-the-development-cycle tester usually affords. I really hate it when all I can do is point out the bugs, and there are too many to address in a tight timeframe. That's why I'm so drawn to Agile teams where everyone tests and testing activities move to the forefront.

I hope all of you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. I will be posting the final part of this interview soon. So stay tuned. Happy Testing...
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About Debasis Pradhan

Debasis has over a decade worth of exclusive experience in the field of Software Quality Assurance, Software Development and Testing. He writes here to share some of his interesting experiences with fellow testers.


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