I qualified as a librarian many years ago; when library jobs dried up in the 1970s, I worked as a wages clerk and then in social security, doing front-desk as well as back-office jobs and finally spending five years working with Industrial Injuries Benefit and the casework appeals system. Then, when UK water was privatised, I moved sideways into the regulator’s office (Ofwat), where I gravitated into the press office. For a few years, if you ever saw a statement in one of the broadsheet newspapers attributed to “an Ofwat spokesman”, that was me. Then I was headhunted into Ofwat’s then-new “Quality Assurance Team”, though QA there meant working with consulting civil engineers who were engaged to review water company data collection methodologies.
I was then tasked with devising a new data collection tool - this was in the Autumn/Winter of 1995 - which at that time was a series of paper forms, optionally available as a spreadsheet for those companies at the cutting edge of technology. Fairly rapidly, the spreadsheet became the format of choice; then as the quantity and complexity of the data we required collecting increased, the spreadsheet had more and more functionality incorporated into it. It also became the source file for a data scrape into a larger database, so at that point I was made responsible for testing the whole process “as you know what it’s supposed to do” (not best testing practice, of course; but that was then). And so I “fell into” testing.
In the meantime, I also had other tasks; I was the organisation’s leading proof-reader, though that also dovetailed with work I was doing on data quality generally (my main focus was reconciling text to tables in published reports, ensuring that the same number was quoted consistently from report to press notice to keynote speech); and at the same time I also had a volunteer role as staff representative through the main Civil Service trade union and also a certified health and safety representative.
After fifteen years testing annual iterations of the same tool, however, I was getting a little jaded, and there were no opportunities to move out of the role internally. So in 2010 I engineered my exit from the Service and set out to make a new career as a professional photographer, author and journalist. I had some considerable professional success here - three books published, a series of magazine articles either written or illustrated (or both), and photographs in exhibitions in three continents and two international photography awards won. The only problem was that I couldn’t make any money from this. So in 2012, a friend, who was a developer with a national level legal professional’s organisation, pointed me towards a temporary testing role that they were recruiting for. It now surprises me that I got that job, given how little it now seems that I knew!
I then did a couple of contracts, one for a medical equipment firm and a consultancy for a travel agent, both of which taught me a lot. But as I found contract roles difficult to switch seamlessly between, I was happy to take on a permanent role with a facilities management company who did internal systems development, until their owners decided that to be an unaffordable luxury and sacked most of the in-house team. I now work with a specialist software house, who recruited me, it seems, entirely for the range of different experiences I’ve had. It’s also only in this role that I’ve discovered the whole testers’ community, which I find to be the thing that’s taught me more about testing in one year than I ever gained in the previous twenty!