In a bid to encourage more people to choose a path in IT, Software testing firm, Edge Testing Solutions, is working with colleges and universities across Scotland to inspire people to join this diverse and rewarding field. Sharon Hamilton, MD of Edge Testing Solutions reveals why she believes this is such an important area to focus on as well, as what the company is doing in its push to recruit a more diverse range of candidates.
Why is software testing so important today?
We are surrounded by software and in today’s modern society, rely on it for what we do; online banking, using our satnavs, doing our work even running the dishwasher. It is embedded in the world around us and therefore it is crucial that it works as we expect. We test to make sure that it works as designed and provides confidence and reassurance to those using it.
Why are you trying to encourage more young people to get into software testing?
Perhaps more than ever, young people today have grown up in the information and technology age and therefore, have a greater understanding of it. With so much technology available to them, they should be afforded the opportunity to continue to be a part of that growth, not just as consumers but also as part of the generation that can help shape what is to come. By encouraging young people to get into software testing, we can demonstrate to them just how important testing is. Testing has evolved from a ‘nice to have’ at the end of development to being an integral part of any software/application project. It is also important to Edge for all ages and backgrounds to join us.
What are you doing to encourage young people to enter this field?
Our Testing Academy has been running for 6 years with many of those who joined it, still with us and now building very successful careers. We offer work experience to schools as well has having sessions for schools to come and visit us. We have a Graduate and Modern apprenticeship programme which sits alongside our academy which gives young people a fantastic opportunity to learn as they earn. We consider all channels available including e-placements. We have close links with various schools and universities across the country to ensure we spreading the testing word!
Software testing has been described by one of your students as a ‘dynamic career choice’, why do you feel this is the case?
With the advent of Agile and DevOps methodologies, projects have evolved so that testers now work with and alongside the software architects, designers and developers and as a result, the boundaries between these disciplines is becoming increasingly blurred which offers testers a varied and exciting career choice. When I discuss my job with my teenage children I can say with experience that my job as a tester is very creative and you get to work in an environment where thinking/problem solving is necessary and there is never a boring day! Each week you can be using a new tool or way of working.
What has been the best strategy used to draw people in so far?
We use many sources but perhaps one of the most powerful is through personal recommendation. We encourage all our consultants to seek out and bring in the best talent.
What does the learning programme involve?
Our Academy trainees embark on a two-year programme where they are supported through training, mentoring and real-life projects. The course has been designed assuming, initially, no test knowledge and builds so that at the end of the programme, the trainees have a very good, experience-based background in testing.
The initial stage involves introduction to all aspects of testing, building the knowledge; from first principles to quite complex test automation techniques. Thereafter, the trainees join one of teams either within our Digital Test Hubs or on a client site, continually supported by Edge colleagues and mentors. Over their first two years, they are encouraged to continually assess their own progress and identify the training they need to progress. We as an organisation support them, helping them to shape and develop their own career path.
What do you look for in a candidate?
Whilst we look for candidates with a foundation in coding or other IT technical skills, it is equally important, that they show strong interpersonal skills and positive behaviours coupled with a willingness to learn and be passionate about what they do. Our candidates come from all walks of life, but it is that spark within them that we seek out that sets them apart. We ultimately need capable problem solvers who can interact with our teams and clients.
What are the struggles that new students face during the course and how do you help to overcome these?
The first 5 to 6 weeks is very intensive. Largely classroom based but supported by exercises and real-life work. It is quite fast-paced, and we throw a lot of information at them in a very short period of time. We use continual assessment to gauge their progress and are able to provide 1-2-1 support where it is needed. We encourage them to ask questions and to use each other to sound out ideas. Our trainers have a wealth of experience and bring these to the classroom. These experiences help illustrate the concepts so that the trainees are able to see the logic behind the theory. For some this is their first job and part of the training includes professional skills and behaviours such as Resilience, Teamwork and Leadership and Work ethic and accountability. From day one, they are part of the Edge Team and can tap into the knowledge and experiences of those around them from Senior Management to trainees from earlier cohorts.
What do students usually find the best part about the whole thing? –
All our trainees rave about the quality of the training, specifically the trainers, how they are not only teachers but mentors and role models as they are all practitioners and can give real world examples.
What opportunities do graduates have once they have finished at the academy?
The opportunities are endless bounded only by ambition and personal drive. The only thing holding them back is the individual. All trainees are allocated a career mentor, usually an experienced colleague, who can help them develop their career further. We try to get the trainees out with clients as soon as we can so that they are able to apply their new skills and start to gain that all important experience.
You are also trying to encourage older learners who are looking for a career change, what are you doing to make sure that these people feel just as welcome at the academy?
Everyone who joins Edge is treated as an individual. Those who come to testing late are encouraged to share their wealth of experience which can add value to those at the start of their careers. By encouraging the sharing of information and knowledge, the learning process becomes two way; the younger trainees may be more ‘technology’ aware than their older counterparts but the older learners have working life experience and we encourage everyone to share these experiences and skills.
Do you also think that more women need encouragement to take up a career in IT and what can be done about this?
There should be no difference between males or females taking up a career in IT, however sadly there are still fewer women in our industry. Woman and girls need to be encouraged and educated that there are diverse roles and have strong role models that they can identify with. The whole industry needs to bear responsibility and present the job opportunities as gender neutral.
What do you think has been the biggest hindrance facing education and the digital sector?
There are less and less pupils taking computer science (not just females) and there needs to be more focus on it becoming a core subject in the curriculum in the same way as English and Maths are. There are also issues with perception is that IT is for ‘geeks’. Parents, teachers and carers need to be less fearful of IT and be educated that tech is everywhere and is ‘the norm’ and that careers in digital and tech are equal to traditional professions.