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 Tanya Kravtsov, Senior Director of QA at Audible, Inc., to find out more about why she joined the tech industry, what her role entails, what are the challenges she faces, and her advice to aspiring engineers and testers.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I am a Senior Director at Audible, leading the Quality Assurance organization. Audible is the leading creator and provider of premium audio storytelling, offering customers a rich destination for insight and inspiration to enhance their daily lives. The work we do inspires, entertains, and informs listeners around the world.
The audible QA team helps to deliver the highest quality experience to our customers via efficient, maintainable, and scalable software delivery processes. Our QA Engineers develop test strategies, test the product, measure test coverage and write automated tests. We have a dedicated QA Engineering team to develop automated solutions and tools to improve engineering productivity.
I also Co-Lead Audible Women in Engineering employee resource group, helping to drive tech diversity and inclusion initiatives focused on the growth and retention of women technologists at Audible.
What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?
I knew I was going to work with technology ever since I was 10 years old, playing Prince of Persia at my Dad’s office where he worked as a Network administrator, surrounded by mainframe computers. When I was in high school, I dreamed of doing graphic design or animation. I loved to create, but I was also really good at Math and enjoyed my high-school programming class (back then it was Pascal). My parents encouraged me to try out computer science and I decided to give it a shot.
It was in college when I first read about Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper and got really inspired by women who wrote the first computer program and found the first computer bug.
Can you tell me about your journey and how you got where you are now?
I am what they call an accidental tester. I took the role of a QA tester because the Web Developer role that I was hired for was cut due to the recession caused by the collapse of the dot-com bubble. While initially discouraged, I quickly realized that I can leverage my technical skills in the quality area by focusing on Performance and Automation testing, and I haven’t looked back since. After spending 10 years as an automation and performance engineer in the financial industry I took a job as a QA manager tasked with building a new team in a very technical software company specializing in data integration and big data.
Just when I felt like I fully fit in, having built a great team and knowing the ins and outs of the product, I made a tough decision to join a brand new startup as one of its first employees. That job required not only hiring a new team and establishing a new QA and DevOps organization but coming up with product ideas, purchasing and managing hardware and software for the office, and flying around the world making sales pitches. As the startup grew significantly and each day felt like a new roller coaster, I got a call from Audible.
There are few turning points in my career/life journey that really challenged me to step up and elevate to the next level, such as shifting to a leadership role and hiring my own team, stepping up on the stage to deliver my first technical presentation, and later a keynote, launching DevOpsQA NJ meetup, joining a brand new startup as a Head of DevOps and Automation and leading Quality organization at Audible.
A different kind of challenge that my career journey didn’t fully prepare me for was becoming a parent. At each of these turning points, a question pops up deep inside – have I done enough to deserve this? And while I’d be lying if I said that I can always quiet down that voice of doubt and reply with a resounding “Yes,” I do manage to overcome it by giving everything that I have to every task that’s in front of me and seeing the outcomes of my hard work.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
Throughout my career, I was blessed with great managers who set a high bar for me and taught me what a true leader should be and act like. They all have something in common – they truly care about their teams and are fully invested in growing and developing their talent and they are extremely technical and know ins and outs of their business and the products they support.
Additionally, I truly enjoy reading/listening to biographies of great visionaries like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Tony Hsieh as well as inspiring stories of influential women who helped to shape History like Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr, Annie Easley, and many others.
Last year, I started working with an amazing mentor at Audible, who shows me the true value of mentorship every time we speak. She created a safe space for me to share my thoughts and ideas, and she continuously challenges me to step up my game. I highly value this relationship.
Another big source of inspiration for me is my family and my team. My family’s love and my team’s respect is something that I never take for granted and it always pushes me to work even harder.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
These past few months turned many people’s lives upside down and made a lot of our tried approaches and traditional practices obsolete. As leaders, we had to come up with innovative ways to keep our teams motivated while maintaining and promoting an inclusive work environment. Some practices like Team office hours, Coffee chats, Happy Hours, one on ones while having a very different feel, became more important than ever. Also, despite working in all different locations, often feeling stressed and sometimes scared, innovative ideas like Virtual Office Photo Challenge, Movie Nights, WikiRaces helped all of us to feel safe, together, and included.
In addition, Audible Leaders, including myself, have been very lucky to receive great support from our HR and Executive Leadership teams to do what needs to be done to support our teams during this difficult time. This included flexible working hours, reimbursements to employees who need to buy hardware or office supplies to build a comfortable working space at home, and cross-organizational guidance to reduce meeting overload by having no meeting Thursdays and reducing meetings from 60 to 45 minutes.
Since day one of remote working, our leadership has been providing regular updates via very personal written and audio messaged on how they are dealing with the changes. Our tech leaders have held regular fireside chats with smaller groups which include live pulse surveys and inclusive discussions.
An unexpected silver lining of this new working reality is a more inclusive environment for our team members who work in the offices outside of HQ. People in our Boston and Chennai offices no longer have to be the only ones on-screen while everyone else is in the room gathered around the table. COVID leveled the playing field, everyone is in the same boat and everyone’s voice has equal weight on that Zoom/Chime screen.
What are your current goals?
My professional mission is to continuously improve, innovate, educate, share experiences and work tirelessly to help my team and organization grow and be successful. As a company, we are continuously innovating on all aspects of the customer journey and creating the most seamless and consistent experience for our customers across devices and marketplaces.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
Looking back at my career journey there are a lot of small and big wins and major milestones that I’m proud of. What I’m the proudest of are the people that I helped to grow and achieve their professional and personal goals and relationships I built along the way.
What has been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge is to continue growing and improving myself as a leader and a Quality Assurance professional while delivering on all my commitments at work and at home. Whether it was getting a Master’s Degree or a PMP certification, or running a DevOps meetup or Women in Tech employee resource group, or traveling to Sweden to deliver a keynote or Houston to represent Audible at the GHC conference, I always tried to find time to challenge myself and expand my knowledge and experience which greatly helped to get me to where I am today. With the pandemic and remote working, a lot of resources became more accessible while time became more scarce.
What is your expertise and what is a typical day for you?
I am an experienced leader and a Quality Assurance and DevOps professional passionate about quality, process automation, and delivery life cycle optimization with extensive experience building and training new teams and helping organizations adopt Agile and DevOps practices.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love working at Audible. This is the first time in my career that I’m working on a product that I’m also a customer of and what a great product it is. My family and friends listen to Audible on a daily basis and I truly believe that our product changes lives for the better.
Our culture is driven by People Principles that encourage us to be customer-obsessed, imagine and invent, and study and grow. On top of that, Audible values its employees, emphasizing inclusion, belonging, kindness, and work/life balance. What makes Audible so unique is our Activate Caring principle, striving to not only improve the lives of our customers, but also the lives of people in the cities in which we operate.
It feels truly rewarding to work for a company with a larger purpose and an impactful product.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
In addition to evolving the tools and processes, QA leadership needs to evolve as well to keep up and thrive in the world of Continuous Testing and Delivery. The key to success in leading cross-functional teams in acquiring the T-shaped skill set, where the vertical bar represents the deep expertise in quality management and leadership, while the horizontal bar depicts the ability to collaborate across areas such as Development, UX Design, Product and Marketing, among others.
In addition, strong technical background and innovative thinking can elevate the leader to the next level of thought leadership and help to create a culture of respect, trust, and innovation within the organization.
Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I already mentioned my first job as a manager at a big data technology firm. When they first invited me for the interview and sent me the interview schedule – 9 AM to 4 PM, meetings with seven people – all of them Dev Managers, Principal Engineers, and Architects, I told my husband that I’m going to turn it down.
I convinced myself that I’m not qualified for this job and I will never make it through the interview. My husband asked me, “which will you regret more, if you go and don’t make it, or if you don’t even go?,” and I knew the answer. Since then, my technique for overcoming doubts and fear is asking myself, “what will I regret more, if I challenge myself and don’t succeed or if I never try?”
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?
In technology, change is the only constant. Treat every challenge as an opportunity, learn from it and continuously grow and improve. I’m inspired by Charles Darwin, who said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.”
Also, never be afraid to ask for help. If you get stuck, try to unblock yourself but don’t be afraid to ask for help in order to move forward. Each roadblock is another opportunity to learn. There is a great quote by Martin Luther King Jr: “If you can’t fly then run if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”