Women Who Test: STARWEST 2015 Interview with Alison Wade


In this interview, TechWell speaks to the founder of Women Who Test, Alison Wade. She is also the program chair for the Mobile Dev + Test Conference. Alison speaks about her new summit that celebrates female testers.

Jennifer Bonine: All right. We are back with our virtual interviews. I have Alison with me. Alison, I'm so glad you're here.

Alison Wade: Thank you, Jennifer. I'm so glad to be here with you.

Jennifer Bonine: It's a pleasure to get a chance to talk to you. For those that are virtual: You, this morning, talked about something that's very exciting here and new this year.

Alison Wade: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: We should give a little bit of background to the folks who are virtual that maybe didn't see that piece or are just tuning in this afternoon on what's happening on Friday.

Alison Wade: Definitely. This Friday, at the end of the conference, we have a day that is dedicated to women software testers, and it will be a free day on Friday for anybody who wants to come. If you're local and you haven't registered for the conference, you can still come attend Women Who Test. It's a day primarily to bring people together. We're coming together, first as women, and second as testers, for a couple of reasons: One, to talk about the career challenges that are unique to women. Two, to talk about testing and the career challenges that we have in testing. I think when women get together and discuss these things, it's really helpful to know your peers and your friends, and have a community.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. There's such a great network of women at these events. Having a forum for all of them to get together and have that voice, so to speak, is phenomenal.

Alison Wade: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: It being new this year, for those of you out there, there's a lot of buzz around it. A lot of people are talking about it and how they're excited that this is here. How did this come about? How did you get the idea that this would be a good thing?

Alison Wade: One of the things I've seen over the years that's always missing, that people love when they come to the conferences, is that personal side. You can learn tangible skills that improve your testing, but how do I learn more about my career, how do I fit in where I fit in? I think women are particularly quiet in this area. Men tend to be much better about talking about their careers and promoting themselves, and promoting the things that they've done. Women—naturally, not all of them, but some of them—sit back, and they're much more shy about talking about these things.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Alison Wade: I actually went to a conference that was for developers. I saw how much was going on in the development community for women. There was nothing, really, in the testing community.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Alison Wade: I wanted to do something, and being involved as a program chair and working on the conferences, there are so few women that apply to speak. As a percentage, the numbers don't make sense. There are a lot more women in testing versus the number of people that submit. I began thinking, "Why is this? Why aren't women submitting?" I think there's many reasons, but I think some of it has to do with the fact that they're just not comfortable out there speaking.

This day is for them. It's about all those things. It's about empowering them as individuals. It's about learning some skills. Jennifer, you're going to do a talk at the end. I'm branding, which is fantastic, because your career is really who you are. It's your life and your career, and you have to take charge.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. I think that's a great point, too. In my career, I've interviewed a lot of people and gotten people prepared for interviews. It's so interesting when I would meet with a lot of the women and say, "Sell yourself. Sell yourself to me. Tell me about what you've done and all of the things you've done in your accomplishments." I would say the same thing to one of the males that I was interviewing, and they have no problem.

Alison Wade: Yes.

Jennifer Bonine: The women would struggle with, they're always wanting to not over-promote or be boisterous about what they've done and raise their hand. It's great to see a forum where, hopefully, people can start to feel comfortable standing up and saying, "Wow. I did this and I'm really proud of it." It's okay to be proud of that. It's not bragging. It's great.

Alison Wade: Right. It also encourages other women, because, let's face it, we're role models for the next group that's coming up. On Friday, there will be several talks. Jaimee Newberry, who's a software designer, she's using software design techniques to talk about a time in her life when she was burned out and fried out from all of the different things that she did, as a mom, as a woman in her career ... how she used those techniques to redesign her life. Then, Melissa Benua is going to talk about being the lone female tester in the room. You can be the lone tester in the room, period, but being the lone female tester is another equation, and how she deals with that.

Jennifer Bonine: I'm sure a lot of us have felt that, just in technology in general, being the lone female in a male room.

Alison Wade: Absolutely. Definitely.

The other talk is going to be a time for ... We want to hear from women, too. We don't just want to run the day, so there's going to be a lot of interaction.

Jennifer Bonine: Which is great.

Alison Wade: Talking about issues that they want to talk about. We're going to do a panel on career superpowers, asking, "What are the superpowers that women need to have?" We have a list of them, but I want to hear from them and see the things that they learned that we can pass on to other people.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, which is great. What I love about this, too ... Again, for those of you that are out there that are local, that maybe didn't come to the conference, they have an opportunity to come and participate. Also, there's a website—

Alison Wade: Correct.

Jennifer Bonine: —where they can get involved. Why don't you tell them about how they can do that?

Alison Wade: Sure. I've created a website, www.womenwhotest.com. Basically, it's a website that I hope people will go to to create a profile. They can post thoughts right now. I'd like people to be involved. It's a way for you to find other people in your area. It's just started, so there's not many people there, so I'm looking to build it up. The idea is, really, to start a forum of communication. If that's not the method that people choose, then, so be it, we'll do something else. We also have a group on LinkedIn. You can also follow along at womenwhotest.com.

Jennifer Bonine: Then, Twitter, do you also have a Twitter?

Alison Wade: Yes, @womenwhotest.

Jennifer Bonine: They'll be able to get that, so you can follow it there, however you do that. For the men in our audience who are watching, obviously some of you are leaders and know of other women in testing, so it's absolutely good for you to recommend to them. This is a forum for them to be able to have ...

Alison Wade: I can honestly say that men have been incredibly supportive. When, for this conference, I was working with Lee Copeland, and we were searching for women to come and apply to speak, I asked for the help of a few good men who were high up in organizations. I said, "Can you help me find women?" and they were like, "Absolutely." They went to a lot of trouble to find women. I think there's definitely people out there who are incredibly supportive.

Jennifer Bonine: That's great to hear, too, right? Like you said, for those of you out there that haven't ever applied to come to the conference or to speak, that's another avenue for people to get involved, too.

Alison Wade: Absolutely. Definitely.

Jennifer Bonine: Not being afraid to do that.

Alison Wade: Yes. It's hard. I don't like speaking. Jennifer will tell you. I was nervous to come speak here. It's not fun for some people, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you get, and the easier it is. It is an important part of leadership. It's an important part of being a leader in your company, is being comfortable speaking. You can do it baby step by baby step.

Jennifer Bonine: Like you said, the small steps. It's a very warm and welcoming environment for people, too. A lot of people, I think, get overwhelmed by, "Am I going to be in a room with six hundred people and they're all going to be staring at me?" A lot of the concurrent sessions that go on are smaller rooms, and you're not going to have as many people. It's a good way. You're with your peers who care about the same types of topics as you do, so it's a friendly forum to make that start.

Alison Wade: Right. That was one of the things that I wanted for Women Who Test, for that day, for that to be a place where women can just speak up and say what they want without feeling intimidated. Just a bunch of girls getting together and having a chat.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. Exactly, and feeling comfortable doing that in a safe space. One of the ... I know you talked about this this morning, and there were some questions people out there that are virtual had around some topics. One of them was, "I really would like to hire more women in testing. I'm just not seeing the resumes come through. I'm just seeing more men applying to the positions and not as many women." Any thoughts on that, or seeing any of those things for yourself, in terms of ...

Alison Wade: I don't know about that particularly, but I feel like logically, there's obviously a much lower proportion of women in software testing, so that's got to be it there. Again, it could have to do with the fact that women get in a job and they feel comfortable, or they feel loyal, and they don't want to expand and go somewhere else.

Jennifer Bonine: Right.

Alison Wade: It's definitely a numbers game, but there's probably a little bit of some of those other factors in there. Women need to be actively searching and making changes in their careers, and going for the things that they want as well.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. I think that's a good point. For folks out there, I always say … No matter who it is, sometimes we'll get comfortable, but you never know what's going to happen. You don't know what'll happen with the organization. You don't know what'll happen with the leadership. Actively make sure you're networking and you're updating that resume. I talk to so many people that say, "I haven't even looked at it in five or ten years." By that time, it's hard to even get into the mode of, "How do I do that?"

Alison Wade: That's, I think, going to you. That's what you're going to be talking about on Friday, which is awesome, because I think people need to know. They need to think of themselves as a business, like Inc., and how I'm going to operate, and how I'm going to brand myself. Especially now, because times have changed a lot. The days when you set in a job forever, and set with a company forever, is ... Business is moving fast. Everything's moving much faster. People need to keep up, not only on their work skills, with their personal skills. Keep going out there and learning new things and changing, and doing new things and going to new places.

Jennifer Bonine: Oh, yeah. It's a good way to test your value in the market space, too. If you've been in a role a long time, a lot of times it shows you may not have gotten the increases or the pay that matches where your skills are now. It's a good way to test the waters, even. There's nothing saying you have to move or leave, but get out there and get some more exposure to what's being offered, even.

Alison Wade: Right. Part of having those conversations with other women is learning things like that. "How do I ask for a raise? How do I ask for more money, because it's not being offered to me? I'm sitting here waiting for it. How do I value myself in the market?" It's great to be able to go and ask other women, "How do you value yourself?"

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Alison Wade: It's really helpful.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah. That is another common theme I hear from women, too, is, "I'm doing a really good job, and I'm just waiting. It'll happen." What they don't realize is their counterparts are going out there saying, "Hey, guys, I'm doing a great job. Here's the ten things I did, and here's why I deserve the promotion and the raise."

Alison Wade: Absolutely.

Jennifer Bonine: Being comfortable asking, as opposed to waiting and thinking it'll just happen if we do all the right things.

Alison Wade: Absolutely. I think that's a classic female behavior—that is, "I've done the right thing, so they will do the right thing back."

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah.

Alison Wade: That's not always true. I think you have to really ... It's hard for women, because a lot of them are givers, and they're giving. You have to think about yourself, and you have to think about that you're in charge of your life. There's a fantastic quote that I think really affected me, that is now on the tagline on the bottom of all of my emails, that says, "The woman who doesn't require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet." That really resonated with me, I said, not because I want to be feared, but because it tells me I'm in charge of my own life, and I'm in charge of my own destiny. If I can self-validate myself, and decide what I want to do with my life and I want to do with my career, that's much more empowering.

Jennifer Bonine: Yeah, you're in the driver's seat, right? You drive, versus letting other people drive for you.

Alison Wade: Correct.

Jennifer Bonine: This went so fast. We're already done.

Alison Wade: All right. That's easy.

Jennifer Bonine: It's painless. For all of you out there who want more information, go to the website. Check out womenwhotest.com. If you're local, remember to come and join us on Friday. We'd love to see you. Thanks.

Alison Wade: Thank you very much, everybody.

Alison WadeAlison Wade is an accomplished executive dedicated to the business of software. For the past fifteen years, she has worked with industry leaders developing programs for software development and testing professionals.  She is the Program Chair for the Mobile Dev + Test Conference, and she plays a pivotal role in the development of the Better Software, Agile Development Practices, DevOps, and STAR Conferences. She also directs Software Quality Engineering’s highly respected training curriculum and programs. Alison strives to increase awareness of diversity in the software industry concerning both the workforce and the role of software beyond commercial products and IT departments. In 2015, Alison launched Women Who Test, a day dedicated to women in software testing, happening in conjunction with the STARWEST conference. You can find her at @awadesqe or @womenwhotest.

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