Talking Testing with Syed Ali

This week our Searchability Testing Guru Gabbi Trotter caught up with Syed Ali, for her “Talking Testing” blog series. Read on to find out more about his experience from everything to hands on Testing, teaching, speaking… and fire performing!

Please can you give us all a brief introduction of you, and your current job role….

Hi, I’m Syed Ali and @simtesting over on Twitter. I’ve been a Software Tester for 6 years and I’m currently working as a Senior Tester on a High Street Business Banking app.

You did a degree in Sociology, do you think this helps you at all as a Tester?

Ever since studying Sociology at A-Level, I’ve seen how it has a hand in everything in a way. The skills I’ve learnt studying that subject have helped in all aspects of my life, and in most jobs it can help.

What I didn’t realise with Software Testing was the extent of this. Because I studied Sociology quite a few years ago, it’s long enough for those thought processes to be completely embedded in how I approach things, I guess even before studying Sociology I have always wanted to figuratively and actually break things down to understand how they work. As a kid I used to love taking apart broken things to see what was going on inside.

The big breakthrough for me was when I joined Twitter, and found the wider Testing community on there. From Micheal Bolton, I was pointed to Cem Kaner’s assertion that “Testing is a Social Science”. This really hit me, and I wrote my first blog post about this, and my experience as a Sociologist becoming a Software Tester.

So I think the biggest help for me, was having that background caught the attention of senior Testers in the field, and that helped me develop my skills and helped me realise how much knowledge I had to bring to my work.

You are independent Tester offering your clients a wide range of Testing services, why did you first decide to go into the world of contracting?

The thought of being an independent Tester had been appealing to me, I like working on different projects, but I also wanted to see how Testing was done at other companies. Due to certain reasons I left my first Testing company and figured I may as well go for it. I was ill-prepared, and maxed out every line of credit I could get in order to make it happen. It’s still a rocky road sometimes, but overall it’s been a great move for me. I find it’s quite a different mental feel to working with companies rather than “working for them”.

What aspect of your services do you enjoy most these days, hands on testing, or the training and coaching side of things?

I really enjoy both. I’ve always enjoyed teaching/coaching/mentoring.

If teachers didn’t have such awful working conditions, then I would’ve wanted to be one, but I stayed away from that career after seeing how hard it was for my Mum who was a teacher. In the past I’ve also ran workshops teaching people Poi and Contact Staff.

I enjoy the process of teaching, mainly because of how it challenges your own knowledge. Maybe you think you know something well, but when someone doesn’t understand how you’re explaining something, do you have the skill to explain it in a different way that they do understand? I love when teaching someone expands your own knowledge, you get a sudden lightbulb moment and realise things you didn’t know before.

I really enjoy Testing though, and I guess the best of both worlds is when I pair with a less experienced Tester, and I get to teach and test at the same time.

You have appeared at a few conferences now, how did you beat the nerves to do that first talk?

In the past I’ve been on stage as a Vocalist, Poet, DJ, Fire performer etc… so with that experience giving talks seemed way easier. If you miss a beat in a musical performance you can ruin everything, but if you forget a word during a talk then you can pause, take a drink of water and use another word. There’s a lot less pressure in that sense, so the first talk wasn’t nervy. Of course there were still some nerves but given I have anxiety, I can get nervous about simply leaving the house some days!

Interestingly, I find the nerves and pressure actually increase as you do more talks and workshops. The pressure to keep creating new content, finding interesting perspectives, stepping up the quality of the talks, all of that is making it a more nervy experience for me, but still one I hugely enjoy. I feel lucky to have been invited to present at conferences, and I hope that continues in the future.

You are an active figure in the wider test community, how important is the support from this community to you?

Massively important, without the community I never would’ve realised the context of Testing being a Social Science. I wouldn’t have realised the skills and knowledge I have, without people in the community helping me to understand that. I may have been stuck in an unhappy position rather than pursuing my dream lifestyle. I wouldn’t have met so many awesome people, or thought about giving talks and creating workshops!

What is more important to me though, is feeling that I am supporting others within the community. Because of all the help I have received, I feel a greater duty to give others that same help and support. That is what motivated me to start writing about my experiences testing VR software. It was an opportunity for me to create resources for others to use, in a space where there wasn’t any. It’s also why I love attending Software Testing Clinic as a mentor, when I first started there weren’t many other mentors that were POC, but that’s increased now which is encouraging.

You are offering “the world’s first XR Software Testing workshop”, can you tell us about more about this?

XR is the cover-all term which includes VR, AR, MR, and 360° video.

So my workshop is a day-long course that aims to give people a good grounding on Testing in this new space. I concentrate on helping people get the confidence to let their Testing ability flourish. Too often we can get worried about working on a new type of Software we haven’t used before, but dispensing with those worries allows people to gain confidence.

I start with an on-boarding session that helps people become more comfortable within the headset. We then continue with some theory around this Testing, how technical aspects such as frame rate are key to providing an immersive experience. After some theory, we then get into practical sessions which we also have discussions around.

I try to strike a balance between theory, practice and discussion, I feel all those work together to give a rounded way for people to learn.

The world of Testing is ever evolving, what do you think we will be working on/testing in the next 5 years?

The more things change, the more they stay the same 
Well we can look back 5 years, were things so very different? To me the biggest change is the amount of tools available now and changes in delivery structure, i.e CI/CD, the increased use of Microservices etc…

I think there will be lots of issues with software using Neural Nets for us to work on, that’s going to be the biggest change IMO, along with more voice-assistive tech being baked into a bigger range of software.

If you hadn’t of got into Testing some 6 years ago, what do you think you would be doing now?

Anything that would pay my bills with the least amount of effort!

The job I had directly before becoming a Software Tester was a Customer Service position at an Insurance company. I have also worked in Social Policy before in the 3rd sector, but that’s a difficult area to work in especially in terms of pay. I’ve never had a career before being a Software Tester, and I worked in a multitude of jobs from being a bin-man, to working in factories, office admin etc…

I guess my dream job would be a Voice-over artist for cool audio-books.

To read more of Gabbi’s Talking Testing interviews click here, and to follow Syed Ali visit his Twitter profile here.

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