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.

Where are the unknown unknowns?

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Quote from then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in answer to a question at a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) news briefing on February 12, 2002.

I love this quote, because in software testing, we are always hunting the "unknown unknowns," that bug we believe exists but haven’t caught up to yet, that new technique for a different kind of test we haven’t tried before, and the hunt for the pernicious but tiny flaws that grow over time into horrible ugly nastiness.

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.

Now, January 2017

Thinking about
What habits do I want to install in my life? I’m learning the Elixir language with a tutorial and book from Big Machine, Taking Off With Elixir. It’s the first functional programming tutorial that hasn’t made me feel like I’m being hit over the head with a heavy mathematics textbook by someone yelling at me that I’m stupid (Haskell and Scala, this means you).

Stimuli and input
I started using highlighter pencils in books I was reading (only ones I own), it makes flipping back through them a lot faster. Started a questions log, to capture questions that get stuck in my head, an idea from Todd Henry’s book Die Empty. Planning to use the back of that notebook to record things I’ve learned, got that idea from an article by Tré Wee, 52 key learnings in 52 weeks of 2016.

Craft and unnecessary creating
Daily doodling will return after my National Novel Writing Month novel is complete. There are three chapters to go and it seems like a decent story. I have a couple of Kickstarter books on drawing, one on figures and one on cartoon character design, that should arrive soon.

Exercise and health
I got my black belt this year, so what’s next? Thinking about a personal push-up challenge. I would like to weigh less and have more endurance.

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.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Diary, week four

Tuesday 22nd November

Entering the final week-and-a-bit is daunting. I have a LOT of story still to write. Took the day off from writing, lots of stuff going on, including a working lunch and pre-Thanksgiving grocery shopping.

Wednesday 23rd November

Taking an hour of vacation time to leave early, get out to Chesterfield and write before my karate lesson at 6pm. The action is heating up, everyone is where I wanted them to be, and the character’s lives are going horribly wrong. Hoping to bring in the Travelling Shovel of Death later in the week.

Thursday 24th November

Happy Thanksgiving! Writing as the scent of roasting lamb fills the house. Only got 343 words done today, but the lamb, roast potato, mashed swede, and boiled carrots were fantastic.

Friday 25th November

Happy ‘stay in your PJs and eat leftovers’ day! I ventured out and got 25% off at the sale in Knitorious, it was quiet and I was among my tribe. Ate the same dinner as yesterday and it was just as good.

Saturday 26th November

Support your local small businesses today, online and offline. Write-in and breakfast at the Crooked Tree Coffee House in St Charles, the last of the novel-writing season. Details from reading The Hot Zone years ago are coming in handy. Crossed the 44k mark today.

Sunday 27th November

Final write-in at The Book House in Maplewood. Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays have been my most consistently good writing days this year, with Tuesdays my worst day of the week. A character woke up long enough to deliver some crucial plot information, I’m grateful, but he’s still going to die. He was supposed to be dead several thousand words ago.

Monday 28th November

Back to work, and three days to go. This is the first year in a long time that I’ll log a word count every day. Planning to validate tomorrow and see how far I can get on Wednesday. Writing at lunch in a phone room called DeLorean. Finished the day’s words before karate at Kaldi’s in Chesterfield.