For my first blog post I want to write about a topic that has been on my mind for a number of years. As somebody that now works in technology but doesn’t come from a technical background I am often faced with the same question; “Oh, you’re in tech? So you must’ve done computing at university then right?” People are often surprised when I tell them that I didn’t and furthermore that I believe that whilst getting a degree in software engineering or computer science may put you on the right path, it isn’t the be all and end all of working in tech.
“You assume that everybody working in tech has a degree in computer science.”
The tech industry is rife with people that have gone from mandatory education to further education to employment in the tech sector. I have worked with (and continue to work with) some truly incredible developers, testers and other technical people who either studied computer science or another technology related degree at University. That being said, I have also worked with (and continue to work with) some truly incredible developers, testers and other technical people who are either self taught with absolutely no formal qualifications, or have gone on to study technical fields from non-technical backgrounds. These people exist, but as a non-techie you don’t see them. You assume that everybody working in tech has a degree in computer science. They don’t.
Growing up I was the kid that got the red ring of death on his Xbox 360 and wanted to know why it was broken, going down the rabbit hole of buying a self-repair kit from eBay and fixing it. I was the kid that wanted to know why his Mum’s PC ran so slowly when he tried to play The Sims, begged her to order more RAM and installed it for her. Begrudgingly, I’m still the one that gets asked to fix anything computer-related at my family home when it doesn’t work properly. I do so for a love of technology and an innate curiosity, something that I later realised is what makes me a good tester.
Thinking back to secondary school, my memories of ICT conjure up memories of spreadsheets, access databases and the Microsoft suite. All pretty boring stuff. When I was offered the opportunity to study more of that at A Level I couldn’t run fast enough in the opposite direction. I decided to focus on what I was good at (Business Studies) and decided to study it at University. Ironically I decided to pair this with something that I had absolutely no experience in (Accounting), quickly decided that it wasn’t for me and decided to return to pure Business Studies. This led me to a final year module that focussed on the rise and fall of trade unions in the UK, something that later led me into HR.
“I was constantly worrying about being ‘found out’ and that somebody would ask me what the hell I was doing.”
In 2016 after a brief stint as a HR Administrator at Jet2 I applied to Sky Betting & Gaming (SBG), desperate to get my spark back and to work for a company that I could get passionate about. Knowing very little about the company other than the fact that they had a gambling app, I was relieved to be given the job starting as a HR Administrator within the People team. During the year and a half that I spent as a HR Administrator I studied for my first CIPD qualification, keen to learn more about my craft and how to move up the ranks. It was during this period that I got my first taste of HR Advisor responsibilities, something that quickly led to me deciding that the employee relations side of HR probably isn’t for me.
SBG adopted Workday as a HR & Payroll system shortly after I started in 2016. As an administrator I got to know the system very well, often talking at lengths to the Workday project team and developers about what we could do to improve the various HR administration workflows. After speaking to the tester on their team, Liz Harrison, she asked me a question that I still remember word-for-word over 5 years later. “Have you ever thought about going into testing? You look like you might have a bit of a natural talent for it”. “Nah” I replied, “You need to have a degree in computing to do that don’t you?”. “I don’t” replied Liz, “I used to work in bloody recruitment!”
The light bulb switched on in my brain and I became hungry again; could this really be an opportunity to work in tech, without a technical degree, without knowing how to code and actually be good at it? I decided to seek out a mentor, someone within the business who could teach me a bit about testing and point me in the right direction. I spent a few months meeting up with Stephen Leigh and learning about the craft before Si Garnett gave me the opportunity to join a web development team in the Bet tribe as a junior tester and the rest, as they say, is history.
I worked in the Sports team in the Bet tribe for just over two years and it taught me so many fundamentals of working in tech. I learned to be pragmatic, that we don’t have to test absolutely everything to the nth degree, not to get angry at my team for being crap at admin (it’s a running theme in tech), not to try to learn absolutely everything at once (you definitely will get overwhelmed) and to just jump in at the deep end. If you don’t know how to do something just have a go, what’s the worst that could happen, you get it wrong? At least then you know not to make that mistake again.
“I’ve been a tester long enough to know when I’m being too harsh on myself.”
I’m now in my second role as a Test Engineer, learning automation, understanding the conversations that the developers are having at stand-up and still genuinely enjoying ‘going’ to work (cheers Covid). Writing this post has forced me to remember about how terrifying it was going into tech from a non technical background; I was constantly worrying about being ‘found out’ and that somebody would ask me what the hell I was doing, thinking I needed to be able to read the code I was testing and understand it immediately, panicking when something went wrong in Git (which is an almost daily occurrence), thinking that bugs being found in production were my fault because I was ‘new’. It’s all totally normal for a new role, tech or otherwise, and you can overcome it. These thoughts still enter my head today, the only difference is now I’ve been a tester long enough to know when I’m being too harsh on myself.
So what have I learned along the way? If I could boil this post down to five bullet points to take away they would probably look something like this;
- Not all careers are linear. It’s incredibly rare to study for a job, qualify for that job and do that job forever. Trying something and deciding that it isn’t for you isn’t failing, it’s learning.
- Anybody can go into tech, I really mean that. If you have a genuine interest and a drive to learn more, you’re perfect for it.
- Try to focus on learning one thing at a time. Coming into tech from a non-tech background you quickly realise that there’s a shit load of very confusing stuff out there. Don’t try and learn it all.
- Testing is important, but not everybody will have that view of it. Don’t get defensive. Educate, don’t argue.
- Automated testing is awesome. It’s becoming a more and more in demand skill but it will make you want to lose the will to live, especially if you’re not from a coding background. Persevere.
I hope that you got something out of reading this post. If you made it to the end then thank you. If you’re considering a career in testing and want somebody to fire questions at please don’t hesitate to get in touch.