St. Louis Techies Project

The St. Louis Techies Project aims to highlight people in tech in the St. Louis area. This year, for International Women's Day, the global Women Techmakers group has the theme of "telling our story." We want to tell your story!

This is my story, also available on the St Louis Techies website

How many years have you been in tech?
Since 2005, so 12 years now.

Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?
I was the science and maths nerd at school, did a physics degree because I loved the subject, and got into coding there via Fortran77 and then Visual Basic 4 and 5. My husband and I are British, we immigrated to the US in 1998 and got US citizenship in 2009.

How were you exposed to tech?
I had a Commodore VIC-20 as a small child and spent many happy hours typing stuff in, watching it run, and playing games. At University studying physics, we got access to Unix machines and Windows boxes. I married a programmer and taught myself Java so we could converse at dinner, then HTML, CSS, and other useful acronyms. After years of listening to him tell me about working with bad QAs, I got a job in that field so I could do better, and because it sounded fun.

What is your current role?
Director of Quality Advocacy for Asynchrony Labs. I serve nearly fifty quality advocates in two states, spread across three cities.

What is your proudest accomplishment?
Introducing the idea of a QA apprenticeship to the company. I took a candidate with no development background and trained him to be a QA automation engineer on one of our larger teams. After less than three years as a QA, his work is outstanding and contributes to a high-performing team responsible for multiple applications. We are currently training apprentices seven, eight, and nine.

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." Tell us about a time that this applied to you.
When I arrived at Asynchrony in 2013, I was one of nine QAs for about two hundred developers. Many teams did not have a QA person, and the QAs worked in isolation. I wanted to change that, despite being told that "Test-driven development means we don't need a QA."

I implemented automated tests on my team, learned C# from my team lead. I started a weekly QA stand-up to connect the QA team, asked for and got a free month of Codeschool.com for QA people to continue learning, and drove hard to be the best QA automation engineer my team had ever seen.

Now the QAs are a team of nearly fifty for four hundred developers. Teams request a QA on startup, the QA team meets every other week to share knowledge, and we are continually training each other, pairing with QAs and developers, and having fun.

What are you learning right now?
The Elixir language. Current goal is to write myself a web server that will return a correctly formed HTCPCP 418 error, see https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2324 for details of the spec I'm working from.

Describe a time where you solved a problem in a creative way. For example, did something in your personal life trigger a solution to a problem at work?
I was trying to coordinate QA activities while being a full time QA on my team, and we hadn't been able to hire a replacement for me. I asked for and got permission to hire an apprentice, thinking of my father's experience when he was apprenticed to a local carpenter as a teen. His apprenticeship changed the course of his life, I wanted to give someone else that chance. It was a risk, my apprentice took a huge leap of faith and we muddled through a three month boot-camp until he was ready to start flying solo. I've continued to meet with him to advise and encourage and hear his successes and experiments, I'm so proud of what he has become.

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?
Speaking in front of groups of strangers has always been terrifying for me. My mentor challenged me to visit the CoderGirl meetup and talk about software QA. I prepared a speech, got myself a green laser pointer and did it. I felt horribly nervous but people liked the talk. I have taken on part of the new hire orientation presentations at work, so I speak in front of a group every month and over time it has become easier. It's still scary though.

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?
Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do this, that something is 'too technical' for you to understand, that your role and discipline is a second class citizen. March forth and be awesome!

What are your hobbies?
I'm a 1st degree black belt in Chinese Kenpo, which took over eight years of training. I knit, I spin yarn from fleece, and I write a novel every year with National Novel Writing Month.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?
The people here are friendly, the weather is constantly changing and the summers are glorious. The town is big enough to get band concerts but not so large it feels like a New York or London. I have history here, my favourite bread shop and coffee place knows my name and my order, and I feel like I belong here.

Who inspires you?
The people in my life who struggle with mental illness and refuse to give up against often overwhelming difficulties. Walking forwards against a depression hurricane is a struggle I share with them.

What tags would you use to describe yourself?
Android, C#, cat-herder, English, immigrant, Java, kenpo student, knitter, leader, lifelong student, manager, muppet-wrangler, QA, QA engineer, tester, wife.

2016 in review

I drove a race car around a Nascar circuit in March for my 41st birthday, reaching 106mph! It was an awesome birthday gift from my husband.

I was promoted to 1st degree black belt, on Friday 13th May, by Ben Pratt of Tracy's Karate West. Started this journey in December 2008 with Karen Luesse as my instructor, switched to Ben after Karen went out for surgery late December 2013.

We visited Washington DC for our 21st wedding anniversary, saw Phantom of the Opera at the Kennedy Center, and went to the White House and the Smithsonian.

I read thirty-five books in 2016, two were re-reads. I started but did not finish nine additional books, I'm getting comfortable with not finishing a book that does not hold my attention. This was the year I started using highlighter pencils and writing in books, starting with Ryan Holiday's "The Obstacle is the Way" in October.

In 2016 I knit twenty-six projects, fourteen of which were gifted to people. Older projects were also gifted, I've given over a hundred and twenty knitted projects away over the eight years I've been tracking projects on Ravelry.

I wrote 50,000 words of a passable novel in November (still in progress), my eleventh novel from thirteen years doing NaNoWriMo. I believe I may have a great novel in me, and I'm eleven novels closer to that manuscript than when I started writing in 2004. My lifetime NaNoWriMo word count is 589,088 words.

Better English Scone recipe

I've been tweaking my scone recipe to improve structural integrity, after at least three test batches and direction from Angie Ruiz, this is the new and improved recipe.

Better English Scones

Makes about 13 scones and one runty little test scone

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of flour (I used half wheat flour and half wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar (not necessary if you use white flour)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of nutmeg or Penzey's Cake Spice
  • 6 oz baking raisins, or chopped dried cherries, or chopped dates, or walnuts, or diced orange peel
  • 4 oz butter
  • 4 oz brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • up to 200 ml of milk

Put flour into a bowl, add salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and cream of tartar and mix. Rub butter into flour until mix looks like bread crumbs. Add sugar and mix again.

Stir in the raisins/cherries/dates, make sure they are evenly distributed. Put 100ml of milk into a jug, break an egg into it and beat. Mix in egg/milk slowly with a fork until you have a springy, slightly sticky, dough. You might need more milk, pour out another 100ml but don’t use it all.

On a floured surface, roll out to 3/4 inch thick, cut into 2in rounds and put on a greased baking tray. Brush tops with the leftover milk and sprinkle with brown sugar, or cinnamon sugar if you prefer.

Bake at 450F for 20 minutes, they should be golden brown on top. Eat with butter and strawberry jam or honey at around 3pm, with a mug of hot tea with milk.

Overnight Breakfast Glop

Can also be called "pudding" if "glop" sounds unappetising. This recipe uses the US tablespoon, which is a 15ml liquid measure. I put everything in a Blender Bottle to get everything mixed up, it works well. Also I don't have an electric blender. If you don't like the texture of tapioca pudding, you probably won't like this, the chia has a gelatinous texture when it's hydrated.

Makes 1 serving as written.
Prep time is 10 minutes BUT you have a 30 minute pause in the middle, AND this needs to be left for at least three hours to let the chia seeds do their thing. Or leave it in the fridge overnight.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of almond milk (or your milky substance of choice)
  • 2 tablespoons of Organic Gemini tigernut smoothie mix
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed
  • 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds

Optional ingredients, choose one or two:

Put the milk into a Blender Bottle and add all the ingredients except the chia. Mix well. Add the chia, mix again, and leave in the fridge for a half hour. Mix well, decant into another container, and put back in the fridge. Clean the Blender Bottle immediately or stuff will cement onto it. Leave for three hours, or overnight. Eat the following morning with a spoon, top with fruit or nuts if you like.

I found chia recipes when I was looking for Paleo alternatives to oatmeal, and it is surprisingly filling. This glop has a lot of texture from the ground flax, chia, and tigernut, you need to use a spoon instead of trying to drink it.

(If you're not using Amazon Smile and making Amazon donate to National Novel Writing Month, please consider doing that.)

Recipe: Rock Cakes

Why yes, I am pathologically incapable of following a recipe as given. I assembled this from several recipes online and tweaked it to work with US measures. I made two batches, my other substitutions are below. This is a good recipe for using up small amounts of dried fruit and nuts leftover from other recipes.

Rock cakes, batch #2 , with diced dried orange peel & cherries #baking

A photo posted by Alison Hawke (@quantumtea) on

Ingredients:

  • 8oz self-raising flour
  • 3oz brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of spice (Penzey's Cake Spice and Baking Spice worked, get something with nutmeg in)
  • 4.5oz unsalted butter (1 stick and 1 tablespoon)
  • 5oz or more of dried fruit and or nuts
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Makes 16 rock cakes. Set the oven for 350f.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and spice together. Cut the butter into small slices and rub it into the flour mix until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the dried fruit and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg, milk, and vanilla extract together.

Add the egg mixture to the flour and stir until you have a lumpy, sticky dough. If you need to, you can add a teaspoon more milk.

Put a dollop of rock cake into each of 16 muffin cups, sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 350f for 15-20 minutes. At the 15 minute mark, see if you can push the top of a rock cake down. If you can, they probably need another 3 minutes.

These two batches helped clear out a bunch of stuff from the pantry, and also tasted good. Not too sweet, a little crumbly, and full of interesting flavours.

Substitutions:
Instead of white self-raising flour, you can use whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour and turn it into self-raising flour by adding 3 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Add a half cup of ground flax seed to the dry ingredients.

Mix and match your dried fruit. I used 4oz baking raisins and 2oz walnuts for batch #1, then 5oz diced dried orange peel, 1oz baking raisins and 1oz dried cherries for batch #2

Rehydrate a teaspoon of dried orange peel, add it to the egg mixture.

Books to re-read

I was that child in school who read the encyclopaedia, cover to cover, Aardvark to Zulu. I got six books a week from Ipswich Library every Saturday while my parents did the grocery shopping, I read my way through the children's library and branched out to adult science fiction before I left for university. This site has over a decade of reading logs and there's been a definite shift towards management and leadership books in the last two years that coincides with a job title change to director. I am always studying.

There are some books that have earned the status of "books I want to re-read regularly." It's a short list.

Colin Urquhart "My Dear Child"
This book is by an English author, I found it when I was first dealing with clinical depression, and it is a reassuring read. When I can't see how God could exist, this book tells me that he does, and he cares.

Chris Baty "No Plot? No Problem!"
I love this book. It's encouraging and funny and everything I love about National Novel Writing Month in book form.

James Martin, SJ "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life"
I'm not a Catholic, but this book feels like it was written for me. It is comforting and challenging at the same time, but not condescending or guilt-inducing. A friend at work recommended it and I'm thankful she did.

Todd Henry "The Accidental Creative"
I never thought of my job as a traditionally creative one, but I make my living by thinking and solving problems. I spend a lot of time in my head at work, and this book has lots of practical suggestions for using my mind and my time in better, more productive ways.

Marcus Aurelius "Meditations"
Reading this book feels like I am reading the source material for several other books I've read. This translation feels like a collection of sentence fragments in places, but there's a lot of good advice in here.

Stephen M. R. Covey "The Speed of Trust"
Trust is important to me, I want to be trusted and I want my trust to not be broken by others. This book explains a lot about why trust is important, and how to build trust.

Robert Sutton "The No Asshole Rule"
I've loaned my copy out to someone, but this is a fantastic "how not to be an asshole" manual. The comments from readers of this book became Sutton's "Good Boss, Bad Boss," another good read.

I drove a race car!

On Saturday 19th, I went out to Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois, and I drove a V8 600hp 4-speed Nascar vehicle on the track. My top speed was 106mph, and I had a blast! I have a new respect for power steering, because the race car didn't have it and wrestling it around the corners wasn't easy.

This was an awesome birthday present!

106mph. Best birthday present ever!

A photo posted by @quantumtea on

New Zealand Chelsea Buns

I've made one batch of these from my mother's recipe, I made a few mistakes but they were still delicious.

New Zealand Chelsea Buns.

Ingredients for the bun

  • 8oz flour (I used whole wheat flour)
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 3oz unsalted butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup of milk

Ingredients for the filling

  • 4oz brown sugar
  • 2oz butter
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon

Heat oven to 425f.

Rub the butter into the flour and baking powder. Mix with the beaten egg and add milk a little at a time until you have a lump of dough. Roll it out into a long strip, at least 11in long and 8in wide.

Cream the butter, sugar, and cinnamon together. Spread across the dough in a thin layer. Roll up the dough on the long side and seal the edge with a little milk. Cut into slices and put in a foil-lined 8x8 dish.

Bake for 20 mins, you should see the filling melt and bubble.

My big mistakes were that I didn't roll the dough out thinly enough, and I didn't spread the filling over the whole width of the dough, so some parts of my buns are missing cinnamon filling. But they still taste delicious.

Batch #2 will be cooked at 450f to see if that gets the sugar all melty, and double the cinnamon in the filling.