Leaders in Tech: Glyn Martin

Welcome to the next feature of our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.

Today, we talked to Glyn Martin, Head of QA Transformation at BT, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces, and his advice to aspiring engineers and testers.


What is your current role and responsibilities?

I have two ‘hats’ – operationally I’m responsible for QA & Testing of all of BT’s internal systems (e.g. Finance, Learning, HR, Group Business Functions, Supply Chain).

But obviously, I wasn’t busy enough doing that as I was given the opportunity to transform the way that QA & Testing is carried out across the whole of the IT organization within BT.

What was your journey like?

I didn’t go straight to university. After sixth form college, I was due to go to South Africa to do some charity work, but it fell through and I ended up working as the project planner for the West Coast Mainline (a £1bn project!).

A couple of years later I ended up going to the University of Birmingham for 4 years before traveling around the world. On my return, I successfully joined the graduate scheme at BT and have performed various roles ranging from business improvement to cybersecurity.

What drew you to the tech industry?

I’ve always been a good computational thinker, so the industry was a good fit from that perspective. To be honest I also wanted a reliable job that paid fairly well. What keeps me in the industry now is different, which is the vital role that technology plays in people’s lives.

At BT, we are responsible for this in so many different facets, with COVID being a great showcase of this – whether it’s supporting Nightingale hospitals or testing stations; or allowing our NHS workers unlimited data, or just keeping businesses and loved ones connected during these difficult times.

Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?

Rachel Higham – who has just joined WPP as their Global CIO, but who was formerly MD, IT within BT – has recently been a great inspiration to me. Rachel exhibited great leadership skills during her time within BT, really transforming the culture and ways of working – not just in IT but also in terms of championing diversity and inclusion, including leading the pan-BT TechWomen program.

How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?

It helps to have a ‘half glass full’ mentality, I think. During the early part of my career, someone wisely told me that risk and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. I also try to get my team to put themselves in the shoes of the person they are having a conflict with in order to find mutual ground.

What is expected of you? What are your expectations for your team?

The short answer is responsible for the transformation of QA & Test. That really boils down to people, processes, and technology. From a people perspective it’s changing the mindset and culture of the team; creating communities of practice to help share best practice; and up-skilling and cross-skilling people in DevOps, Cloud technologies, etc.

From a process point of view, it’s embracing Agile Ways of Work, taking an Automation First approach, and adopting human-centered design techniques. Technology-wise it’s developing continuous testing, network virtualization capabilities, and adopting AI to transform visual testing, amongst other things.

The expectation of my team is to fail fast, and I try to provide a psychologically safe space in order for people to take risks. Other than that, it’s to feel empowered to take full responsibility for the area they are leading on, with my focus on coaching and unblocking obstacles rather than micro-managing.

What are your current goals?

Well, non-work-wise, I’ve got the London Marathon to complete with an ambitious target of completing in under 4 hours.

From a personal development perspective, I wanted to increase my external presence this year. Although that’s been curtailed by Covid-19, I’ve still had the opportunity to appear on expert panels and speak at a couple of virtual events.

And from a work perspective, I’m trying to roll out an ambitious 80 continuous testing pipelines within IT, train up over 100 SDETS and deliver software changes 20% quicker than last year.

What are you the proudest of in your career so far?

I never like to dwell too much on the past and think you’re only as good as your last performance. One of the last things I achieved was migrating our test and defect management system successfully, saving £5m as well as improving user experience and help move to more Agile Ways of Working.

What is the favorite part of your job?

To be honest, I enjoy meeting with my team and our partners, so I’ve found the last 9 months quite difficult. Last year I would have been in India three times (as I have a large team of FTE and even a large team of partners out there), Tel Aviv, Las Vegas, Amsterdam, Prague, just to name a few.

What has been your greatest challenge so far?

I took a component lead role for our Group Data Warehouse and inherited support of a reporting-based system that was being flagged red at the CEO level. The performance went from under a second to over 45 minutes!

I managed to turn things around, dramatically improving the performance of the system and resolving all the functional issues raised – as well as delivering a number of other reporting projects successfully and also, as systems rationalization lead, reducing the number of internal systems within BT by 50% in one year.

What’s the most important risk you took in your career and why?

Earlier on in my career, I took on a project management role, PMing an implementation of Oracle Hyperion, which had a business priority of ‘100/100’. I knew it was going to be a stretch but everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

But my development rocketed by going through it and being successful in the end gave me the confidence to push myself. I suppose you do have to fake it to make it sometimes!

What have you learned from your experience so far?

Over time I’ve learned that leadership is about working for the team, rather than believing that the team is working for you – I’m a big fan of servant leadership. I’ve also heard a lot of corporate buzz words in my time and little change enacted from those words.

Without having a clear vision and a ‘toolbox’ to bring those words to the life they stay just that instead of transforming an organization. It’s the job of leaders to provide the vision and toolbox and empower the whole team to deliver on that.

Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?

A senior director once tried to explain to me “A big success for this project is that the only bugs in the production environment are unidentified ones”. Easy as that! I suppose it’s different than the normal view that Test’s role is to make sure there are no bugs at all!

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?

I think the line between engineers and testers is starting to blur. Engineers are expected to be more and more responsible for quality; testers are increasingly expected to have more engineering-type skills. So, I think it’s about as being multi-skilled as possible, including becoming more Agile and Cloud-savvy, as well as having a good understanding of disruptive technology trends.

Also, always keep users at the heart of what you do. We used to make software decisions predominately on functionality but that’s been superseded by user experience.

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