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Talking Testing: Gregg Ward - Head of Quality - GoDaddy

As part of our Chinese New Year fortune Chris Brett has entered into a series of Talking Testing. Find out out about all things tech, testing and how to get into this industry with Gregg Ward - Head of QA at GoDaddy.

1. Hello Gregg, could you please introduce yourself and let us know who you are?

I am Gregg Ward, Head of Quality at GoDaddy in the business hosting unit.
I have worked here for roughly 2.5 years, I manage an organisation focused solely on Quality. Not just software testing but everything to do with quality, metrics, performance, availability to name a few areas. Personally I am a 42-year-old husband to Helen (a professional hairdresser) and father to my daughter Georgina both of which take up a lot of my spare time but when I do get chance I like to follow the football team Leeds United and fancy myself as a bit of a film critic. I live in Lincoln, a lovely Cathedral city with loads of historical landmarks and lovely woodland walks.

2. I noticed you went to the Open University in 2008, is this where your love for tech started or was it well before that?

Growing up I never found what I wanted to be, my friends had very clear ideas of their future ambitions and careers, goals and plans to where they wanted to move into after they had finished their education. Myself nothing filled me with that desire, I couldn’t see myself working in a bank or being a builder, so I just took jobs, and that’s what they were to me, go to work clock off and forget about it until the next day. So it must have been 15 years ago I decided to try my hand at web design, just a very simple HTML page, no CMS or anything, just CSS and HTML. I really enjoyed the challenge and sparked something in me, so I did some of the free W3C courses in my spare time and my appetite grew. Wanting to know more I enrolled on just a single Open University course with no plans to do more but then I discovered Java, and I can remember how the idea of object orientated programming blew my mind, I mean what a great idea, and following that I was doing 2 courses at the same time and booking myself a couple more courses to start immediately after, before I knew it I had quarter of the points needed for a degree. My wife was very encouraging and supportive, instead of just sitting in front of the TV night in night out I was using my brain and studying and getting a real buzz from sending in my work and giving it my all. Going back and sitting exams was a real hard thing to get my head around but after the first few I started to enjoy them. It’s crazy but I was working full time and studying but I was not tired and did not have the feeling I had bitten off more than I could handle it was something I enjoyed something that school never did for me personally. Looking back it is a shame I did not find this passion earlier in my life but I firmly believe I needed to be mature in myself to apply myself as fully as I did, it’s never too late to start learning and better yourself. I also achieved my Java certification in this time, it’s scary how long ago it was now, it was Java 5 I got certified in.

3. How did you move from a Developer to a Testing position, and why did you decide to go down this route?

This is another case of a happy accident or being in the right place at the right time. With 20/20 hindsight I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. As mentioned earlier I started my career in tech a lot later in life than others, I was working for a medical software company as a junior Java developer thinking that my future was sorted and my career path ahead had straight trajectory and I was happy with that. Anyway one day I came into work, I remember it well, and they were looking for someone to work on an initiative with the manual testers to start building an automation framework, for some reason no one seemed to be putting themselves forward and I was one of them, in the end I was asked / told I would be working on it. I don’t know if it was the fact I got to work on something completely new or working with the testers it opened my eyes to a different world, I loved it and worked on it for a couple of sprints. Maybe it was because I had ownership and was proud of what I had built but I started working with the manual testers upskilling them to use the framework and gradually more and more I was working on automation and not working on actual functional development. Until it became obvious to me and the team I could be more useful to become a full time automation tester, I would automate manual test cases written by manual testers and working with them I learnt how and why they approached different things with different forms of testing and why something were not viable for automation. By this point I was used to learning and well on my way to becoming a lifelong learner like I still am today. Before I knew it, I had the date for my ISTQB foundation and my understand of testing and the philosophies were making a real impact into the way I approached work and how I could communicate approaches to my team I worked with.

4. What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced within work and how did you overcome this? 

I have faced a lot of challenges in my career and a lot of them are self-inflicted especially imposter syndrome which I felt a lot in my first years in tech. I felt so out of place working with a lot of university graduates who seemed to just absorb new technologies without any issue, I had to study hard and sometimes work into the early hours to keep up. Quite a lot of the time I felt completely out of my depth, but what I did find there was no shame in asking for help, a lot of the blockers were my own ego and not wanting to admit I was struggling. Once I found a mentor, I was given the support and that someone I felt comfortable with I could ask questions and float ideas by. The change into management has been a big change, and not being tied to my IDE day in day out, people management is completely different to what I was used to. Debugging issues for people is completely different to debugging code. Luckily, I work for a great company who has supported me in my career journey, not only giving me training but also moral support where I feel I can talk openly with other managers and talk though issues, I was very lucky as the team of testers I manage are great and supported me through out with feedback. I approached management from the perspective of how I like to be managed, encourage openness from both parties and dealing with problems head on. As I have grown, I have made mistakes but the best thing to do is own them and learn from them, and now I am at the point where I am offering advice to new managers and promoting team members within my team into people management positions and building teams around them, being there for them as a mentor and giving them the support I found so helpful in my early management career.

5. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to swap job roles, was it hard to get your foot in the Testing door?

Firstly I would say talk to someone who is in the position you want to move into, get the details about the ups and down of the position. If we’re honest there are downs to every position, and having that information is the best thing you can do, thinking it will be perfect will lead to disappointment but when you speak to a tester and you can see the passion or enthusiasm come through you will understand why we do this day after day. If you want to take the steps to change ask to speak to the manager of the team but do your homework, have clear reasons why you want to change direction to a tester, show your willingness to learn, to me that is one of the most important things I would look for, that drive, that wanting to improve themselves and the teams quality standards. We are all very busy nowadays but do a few courses, find out what tech the team use, if it’s something like RestAssured or Cypress have a look on YouTube for an introduction video and be honest when talking about moving. You are not an expert, but you have shown commitment by taking the first crucial steps using your own initiative. Personally I would try to direct any interviews into my areas of strength, don’t forget you are also seeing if the position is right for you not just for the interviewer. Ask questions, ask about how they approach quality? Prepare questions ahead of time.

6. In the past 3 years you have gone from a Quality Engineer to the Head of Quality - what an achievement! Do you have any interview tips for someone who is starting out in tech?

One of the best tips I can give is be yourself, don’t try to be something you are not. When I am interviewing candidates I am looking to see the real selves, by that I mean interviews are stressful situations and I understand you want to give the best first impression but being a tester I feel one of the biggest assets a tester can have is communication, as there will be a lot of communication between all sorts of different people, developers, tech leads, team leads, project owners the list goes on. Typically, in most interviews I have been in trying to get a job I am always asked for examples of some sort of problem I have faced if it be in tech or not, and normally the example that I use is using good communication. If it is lack of testing information on a task in the testing column on Jira or explaining why testing has failed for whatever reason the better, you can communicate the quicker the resolution can be found and there is less chance of miscommunication. When interviewing someone new to tech focus on your willingness to learn, and if asked a question you don’t know the answer to be honest and say you don’t know but you find out. Don’t try to walk before you can run. Know your strengths and know that you are a good candidate and would be a valuable part of the team. Believe in yourself and prepare for the interview, take the time to present a calm informed first impression and have a glass of water to hand (one of the best tips I ever got) because if you are talking a lot your mouth will get dry fast. Read up on the company, know their history, an hour of research can make you really stand out from the crowd. You may not be an expert in their tech stack, but it does not hurt to read some blogs about testing and get a feel of what the testing community is talking about and any trends.

7. With technology changing every day, what excites you about your industry for the future?

One thing that excites me a lot with the advances we are seeing is the greater transparency in the data in applications. Logs and response time are easily accessible, meaning information can be reviewed, dashboards can be created and shared, team can know their applications inside out and follow user journeys from beginning to end promoting proactive mindsets and greater impact planning when information is freely available and everyone has access to the same information. Cloud infrastructure is opening new doors in the world of testing, it is now possible for a tester to spin up their own testing environment in a known state, not impacting others, no more bottlenecks waiting for another tester to finish before you can push the changes you want to test to a shared environment. Also non-functional testing is easier and with scalability with cloud technology testing has never been quicker or easier, opening more options for chaos testing and more advanced techniques.

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